Two

StrybisTwo years ago, I gave birth to you, little one. You burst into our lives in the most dramatic fashion and left us breathless, in awe of your tenacity.

Two years of singing lullabies, tickling your belly, making you pancakes. Two years of pediatrician visits, sleep deprivation, gnawing worry. Two years of surrender. Two years of joy. 

These days you’re wearing bigger jeans and bigger feelings — on your sleeve.

Suddenly your legs look longer; your grasp of language is stronger.

You run-jump-tumble-flip in the span of a blink.

Wasn’t it just yesterday I had you snuggled in the crook of my arm, smelling sweet and fresh?

Yet here you are, my not-so-baby boy. You are SO alive.

Lately you’ve been taking my hand and pulling me into your imaginary kingdom where Elmo, Mickey and Snoopy play together. You’re singing your ABCs and “Jingle Bells” at random and you’re obsessed with playdough. You have strong opinions about fruit snacks (love them) and socks (you prefer mismatched). You love to read. You hate bedtime. You chatter constantly. You notice everything. You still need us to help you get ready, but daily you’re becoming more independent. And strong-willed. 

Sometimes, raising you pushes me past my limit. For all the times I’ve let you down–and those to come–please forgive me. Hands down: being your mama is the hardest job I’ve ever had.

It’s also the greatest privilege.

The ache, the bliss of watching you grow heightens the tenor of ordinary days, blessing my life with meaning.

Two years of loving you deeply. The toughest two years of my life. The most beautiful too. 

Happy birthday, son. May your year ahead be filled with delight and discovery.

Looks like surrender, feels like home

erin and jackI open the door and see him dead center in a sea of toddlers, tears streaming down his tiny, flushed face. “Mommy!” he sobs. “Oh poor buddy,” I say, rushing forward, folding him in my arms.

His teacher tried to reach me earlier, but I missed her calls. That Tuesday, while I sat in meetings, my son developed a fever — slight at first, but escalating to over 100. She reports she comforted him all afternoon, but he’s still in a lot of pain. My heart lurches. She, not me, held him. I feel like a horrible mama.

At home I treat his fever with fire engine red Tylenol, saving Motrin for bedtime. Even with painkiller, however, Jack is up every three hours that night, crying out in pain. I hold him; I rock him; I lie on my side next to his crib, rubbing his back, willing him to sleep while he writhes in discomfort.

Curled up on the cold hardwood floor, I feel angry. Angry because my son gets sick all the time, because my husband is away on business, because I know I’ll have to take yet another sick day tomorrow, because I’m selfish — all I want is to retreat to my warm, cozy bed. I will myself to stay.

I’m tired. I’m tired of juggling parenting and providing, feeling like I don’t do either well at all. At 32, I’m envious of 25-year-old me, who can go to bed early or stay out late — her choice; who can sleep in or get up early for a run — her choice; who doesn’t worry about interruptions — leaving work early or getting up in the middle of the night for her son. I used to be single — and free. My thoughts are interrupted by light breathing. Jack’s finally asleep.

The next morning, mercifully, Jack’s fever breaks. He still can’t go to daycare, though, so I call in sick, and we snuggle up in my bed — he watching Team Umizoomie on my laptop, me dozing in and out. I dream about my son’s first year of life, 3 a.m. nursing sessions, pumping, babywearing, washing bottles, complete and utter dependence, complete and utter exhaustion. I wake up grateful.

Eventually Jack’s hungry. “Waffle?” he asks. “Sure sweetheart,” I reply, peeling myself out from under the covers to shuffle toward the kitchen. I place an Eggo waffle in the toaster. I gaze toward my bedroom door. I know this in my heart: Motherhood is a place that looks like total surrender, with independence tugging at its corners. It’s also a place that feels like home.

Keep watch

Little boy looking out plane window

“I see cars!” my son says, his face pressed against the window.

“Good. Jack, what else do you see?” I ask.

“It’s sunny! It’s sunny!” he declares with a grin.

We discuss the clouds and the wing and the plane’s descent; he’s testing his growing vocabulary, a tiny reporter riveted by the world around us. Eventually Jack sighs and settles back in my lap. I kiss his head.

While our plane dips toward Orlando, I’m so focused on landing with minimal crying/disruption/noise, I don’t appreciate the sweetness of this exchange until later. Looking back, it’s my most poignant memory from this vacation.

If we let it, parenthood imparts us a second chance to see the world anew, to witness its startling beauty through the eyes of our children. It wakes us up to the wonder of an ordinary moment, looking out an airplane window.

Although I’m the one that started our game of observation, on the way home, closing in on Chicago, Jack initiates it.

“I see planes! I see lights!” he says, turning to me, eyes dancing.

“That’s great, buddy,” I reply. “What else do you see?”

Lately I’m realizing I too need to keep watch for goodness in the world. To look for the light. It is the only way to seize hope when all looks grim.

Keep watch. Seize hope. Our children are leading the way.

Adventures in toddlerhood

DSC_5408-2Hilarious. Frustrating. Joyous. Alarming. Welcome to our adventures in toddlerhood.

Ever since our son Jack turned one it seems time–and Jack himself–is in overdrive, slowing only for the occasional skinned knees, tantrums and snuggle sessions with mama or daddy. At 17 months, Jack’s scaling furniture, testing boundaries, chasing the dog and uttering words (“No!” and “Daddy” are current favorites).

Each day he’s becoming more independent and fleet-footed. Although I can’t really call myself a new mama, I continue to be newly amazed by all the changes Jack’s experiencing on a weekly and even daily basis. After returning from a recent five-day work trip, I couldn’t believe how tall our son looked. (Did he grow an inch while I was away?!)

More and more I’m realizing that if I don’t stop to capture these moments here, I might not remember them as well. So I’m writing a snapshot of this moment in time for our family, and also for everyone interested in what’s new in our world. Some observations…

Jack’s motor development has grown leaps and bounds.

Whenever we’re at home, he’s constantly trotting back and forth from the dining room to the living room to the playroom and back. He’s so fast, if we’re not careful, we can lose track of him in our house and once discovered him standing on the couch, which was funny/frightening.

The playground near our home is one of Jack’s favorite spots. Running to and from various platforms, sliding, playing in the nearby dirt and grass, and sitting on the firetruck are his go-to activities. He also enjoys interacting with neighborhood children who play there. Seeing him smile at and play with others melts my heart and makes me glad Jack’s building valuable socialization skills at daycare.

We had one injury scare–Jack konked his head on the sidewalk a month ago (we iced it; he was fine)–but I know given his age we’ll likely see more. I dread this, but I’m trying to accept this is just a part of parenthood that makes me very uncomfortable. The lack of control, the knowledge I can’t protect Jack from everything, it’s … terrifying.

Toddler communication is fun! (And it can also drive me crazy.)

Though our precocious, willful toddler quickly mastered and loves the word “No,” one day after daycare we discovered Jack can shake his head “Yes!” Awesome! The occasional affirmative head nod from him is a fun treat and balances out his endless (frustrating) refrain of “No.” More and more it seems like we’re understanding each other better and I just love that.

Other words and phrases we hear on a regular basis: “Bubbles!,” “Shoe,” “Mama!/Mommy!,” “More?,” “Woof-Woof,” “Where’d you go?” or just “Go?” He recently learned our dog’s name, “Gus,” though his pronunciation sounds a little more like “Gu-uh.” I’m looking forward to later this summer, when Jack turns 18 months, as our pediatrician said we could look forward to a “language explosion” at this age.

Also on the communication front, I was fascinated to discover Memorial Day weekend that Jack will respond to requests from his dear great-grandma. At her house, she’d suggest Jack pick up a toy and bring it to her or to me. Most of the time, he actually listened to her and followed directions! I was beside myself in surprise and delight.

Sleeping through the night and other pipe dreams.

I covet the day our son finally naps and sleeps consistently. Parents of older kids, is this dream unrealistic? Jack was sleeping through the night around 11 months but because he’s been so sickly we’ve struggled with consistency for the past half year, having relapses in sleep health whenever his poor little body was unhealthy. Sickness would come, we would adjust our nighttime response and routines to care for Jack as best as we knew how, then he would get better. In that time night-waking would become the new normal and getting back to our old normal was always a struggle.

I never know what to write about handling sleep because I feel very conflicted about it. We’ve tried a variety of techniques–cry it out, rock it out, “no cry” sleep solution, etc. and to be honest, I’m not convinced there is one “sleep solution” even though books and expensive sleep coaches say otherwise.

Ever since Jack came down with the dreaded hand-foot-and-mouth virus, which took a toll on his little body, his sleep regressed. That was over two weeks ago and although Jack is healthy again, his sleep continues to be inconsistent. We continue to deal with this in the most gentle way we can manage. Poor buddy (and poor us!). We will get there… until the next sickness strikes. In the meantime, prayers appreciated.

Behavior highs and lows.

High – I love how complex Jack’s play and make-believe is becoming! He’ll sit by himself and play with his pretend kitchen, stirring toy car “soup” and popping fabric vegetables and blocks in the oven. He also loves rearranging his toy furniture across the house. Yesterday I found his “Jack” arm chair from Pottery Barn propped up against our master bed and paused. I wonder what’s going on our little interior designer’s head!

Low – One of the big things I’m dealing with right now is Jack testing his boundaries. He is sweet as sugar one moment, then angry the next when he doesn’t get his way. Jay and I sometimes joke that our willful little boy is a little tyrant prince. Just today we were clearing dishes after dinner and I grabbed Jack’s milk cup from his high chair. Instantly he became furious we took it away (mind you, it was empty). Cue: Screaming, laying on the floor, and shouting “Noooo! Mine!”

Friends, is this normal? The twos are supposed to be terrible and three-nagers are a thing, but I thought we had some time before things got this hairy. Or perhaps you’ll say that’s tame compared to what’s next…

High – Jack is finally showing more of an interest in reading! Praise be! He will actually fit into this family of bookworms… 😉 Current favorites are Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed and Little Blue Truck. There’s always so much joy and laughter during story time. I can’t wait to continue to share the fun of storytime with him and he grows older and understands more.

Low – Sometimes when we’re walking Jack doesn’t want to hold my hand anymore. I guess this is a good thing because it’s a sign he’s developing independence, but it makes my heart hurt. Watching him grow up is bittersweet.

My no. 1 lesson

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed being a toddler mama, and I’m so grateful to have Jack in my life. Working motherhood is tough, but it makes the moments I have together with my family all the more sweeter. I want to savor every part of motherhood–laughter, tears, hugs and kisses–this is what it feels like to be fully present in this life.

I’ve noticed past six months have been so different from the first six months of Jack’s life. Last year, before and after he was first born I read parenting books and called on friends and family for parenting advice. Of course I called the pediatrician a lot too. This year, I’m doing less asking and more trusting my gut instincts related to parenting. I may be calling the pediatrician just as often but I’m definitely calling on myself more to make tough decisions based on information available and importantly, what is congruent with our family values.

The more I lean into love, grace and kindness as a parent, the more I see it reflected in the little person I’m helping raise. The no.1 lesson I’ve learned parenting a toddler is to be present and to trust myself.

Summer mom

“I wanna be one of those summer moms who makes bucket lists and pool trips and spoils dinner with ice cream,” I lament to Jay while putting groceries away on Saturday.

I envy the summer moms. I see them strolling the neighborhood in their top knots and tank tops, babies in tow, seemingly schedule- and care-free.

Our weekends, in contrast, are a whirlwind of laundry, weeding and tidying up toddler messes—always prepping for the workweek ahead. “It’s hard when we both work full-time,” he says, rinsing dishes in the sink. I sigh.

My mom was a summer mom. She had summers off from teaching, and we went to our community pool often. My brother and I spent hours racing up and down the waterslides. We’d come home—soggy, spent and smelling of chlorine—then change into warm, dry clothes and collapse on the couch with cool, fruity popsicles. The memory is delicious.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m packing for a business trip while our son is napping. I spy my swimsuit in the closet and pause. In one swift motion I grab it and announce, “We’re going to the pool!” “Which one?” my husband asks. “I’m not sure yet…”

45 minutes later we’re at the neighborhood pool. I breathe in the smell of sunscreen, wiggle my toes in the cool pool water and revel in this perfect, 80-degree day. Our son is giggling at the mini geysers in the kiddie pool, and I can’t stop smiling. I’m deliriously happy.

I am a summer mom; I just had to believe it.

 

P.S. That night we totally had ice cream for dinner.

Marriage after baby

“So… what’s your marriage like now?” I remember asking friends after they had babies. Since we became a family of three, I’m finding the answer to this question isn’t easy to distill into a soundbite. It’s better as a story . . .

On our first date after Jack was born, my husbnd I try hard to focus on the fancy drinks and the cool venue and avoid conversation related to baby. It’s just us. Alone. Having sushi!

Conversation flows easy. We hold hands. We actually take our time eating. No matter how much sushi I consume–the one pregnancy craving I can finally indulge–it doesn’t fill me up.

This date is *supposed* to be fun, but I can’t relax. I check my phone for the zillionth time for messages from my mom, the babysitter. No messages. I look up and sigh.

A dad and his young son settle in at the table across from us. “He loves sushi,” he says sheepishly as we look their way.

My husband and I exchange a glance—it’s as if both our hearts heave a sigh of relief. I chuckle, and we finish our date making small talk with with them, swapping stories about our sons.

As we exit the restaurant I squeeze my husband’s hand. Our bellies are full and our hearts even fuller, eager to come home to our son.

This is love after baby.

 

 

Fear and great love

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ―Frederick Buechner

If we were having coffee right now, I’d tell you the emotion I’ve been battling most lately is fear.

Fear is an uncomfortable emotion to harbor: Fear tells us we are weak and insignificant. Fear makes us believe are powerless. Fear can paralyze us from taking action, the very thing that can save us.

Until I went to therapy a few years ago I wasn’t emotionally aware enough to realize how often I felt scared. I think most of us are more fearful than we let on in our carefully captioned Instagram posts and casual conversations. Everyone’s afraid.

Lately the fear has been acute, like hunger pangs in my stomach I can’t seem to satisfy.

Maybe it was my recent discovery that I’m an enneagram type two, motivated by a deep need to love and be loved by others. (If you have not checked out this personality framework, do it now. It’s my new obsession.) This realization was terrifying and affirming and, like a true two, I immediately wondered what I could start or stop doing so that people would like me more (face palm). I’m afraid I can’t change or work around my weaknesses.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had many writing “wins” lately and I’m feeling like an imposter. Sure, I’m an editor and I work with words every day. But to claim I’m a writer? Some days I’m not sure I have what it takes. There are so many writers out there who are more talented and have more interesting stories to tell. I’m afraid no one wants to hear what I have to say, that my work won’t be of service to others.

Maybe it’s because my son just turned one and it seems like yesterday we were taking him home from the hospital, nervous and excited. Sometimes I worry I’m missing out on his life, on raising him while I work full-time. I need to work to provide for our family, but I desperately crave more time with my son. What if I regret this choice later? I’m afraid of regret.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid . . .

Last week on Valentine’s Day I was determined to shake off my anxiety and make this a special day for my family. We had heart-shaped pink pancakes for breakfast. Jack sent his grand and great-grandparents valentines. Jay got me the roses. It was a good day.

It was also Ash Wednesday, so I went to midday chapel. I received my ashes. I prayed.

Then I heard about the Parkland shooting. At first, I felt nothing. I was numb.

As the news rolled in, all I could think about was our son. I imagined him 15 years later, in high school. Jack the teenager cowering under a desk, fearing for his life. The baby I carried in my womb for nine months and nursed for a year shot dead in a hallway, blood splattering the floor. I thought of all the parents who woke up to this nightmare Wednesday afternoon. I thought of my mom an sister-in-law, both teachers. I sobbed and sobbed.

One of the worst parts of being a parent is realizing again and again that no matter how hard you try you cannot protect your child from everything. As any mom or dad will tell you, from the moment your child enters your life you will learn to live with the gut-wrenching fear that your precious son or daughter could die at any moment for any reason. Your child gets older, but it never gets easier. In our current cultural context, I think it’s only getting worse.

Places I have to worry about my son getting shot:

  1. Church
  2. School
  3. Mall
  4. Movie theater
  5. Concert
  6. Sporting event
  7. Airport
  8. Basically anywhere

We shouldn’t have to live with this. We shouldn’t have to die like this. And we definitely shouldn’t throw up our hands and say, “I guess since we all disagree on the root cause of gun violence in America, we should just do nothing. This problem is just too complex for us to solve.”

Fear continues to creep in and cripple us—and the very people we elected to protect us—from taking action to address this issue.

In her recent statement on the Parkland shooting, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said, “We acknowledge our own failings and ask God to guide us in finding new ways to turn the tide together on both the availability of assault weapons and the lack of mental health care.

But we know that those things alone won’t solve this epidemic. All of us, including the church, must take a close look at ourselves. How are we cultivating a culture of violence, hatred, anger and fear, and how can we participate in building a counter-culture where people can experience God’s intended peace and life abundant for all?”

Amen! Yes, in the U.S. we have a serious culture issue at hand that’s playing a big rule in this mess we’re in. We glorify guns and violence in our media. We socialize our boys to suppress their emotions, to objectify women, to value “winning.” We play violent video games and watch violent movies. We stand idly by as others are bullied or isolated, too absorbed in our own lives, too afraid to show them compassion.

We are broken people. But my faith tells me that we can change. That the church—whose membership continues to be in decline, especially among younger generations—is relevant today because it offer tools for change. The church teaches a powerful, countercultural message of hope, healing, forgiveness and love all wrapped up in the story of Jesus.

I’m terrified of what we Americans have become. But I also have hope. God is calling us, as he always has, to love one another. What would it look like for us to let go of fear and live in great love instead?

Great love means seeking to listen and understand our neighbors before choosing sides. Great love means noticing our own complicity in the problem and resolving to change. Great love means honoring our neighbor’s emotions and stories. It means caring for everyone’s children–not just yours and mine. It also means: Reclaiming our schools and public spaces. Prioritizing people over weapons. Seeking common ground. Resolving our conflicts without violence. Prioritizing peace. Cultivating respect. Loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I’m outraged by the Parkland shooting. And I’m especially outraged because we know it won’t be the last. But we must do everything in our power to stop this senseless, savage violence in our schools and other public spaces. And although we aren’t all politicians or activists, we are all citizens and have an influence on our inner circles. Just look at the brave teens from Parkland who are working tirelessly to persuade our lawmakers to take action on gun control. Together we *can* affect change.

So here’s how I’m choosing to act: I’m choosing to raise my voice and shout, “Enough!” especially to our legislators. I’m choosing to get involved. I’m choosing to raise my son in a way that defies toxic masculinity. I’m choosing to keep praying, to vote conscientiously, to act conscientiously, and to look for the people around me who might need a little extra love.

I can choose to live life afraid. Or I can choose to live courageously in love.

I choose great love. What do you choose?

The wonder of one

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Jack, today is your first birthday. One year ago your daddy and I were on our way to Lutheran General Hospital so I could give birth to you. (You were in my tummy, but you decided it was time to come out!) At 8:05 p.m., when you finally took your first breath, we cried tears of relief and joy.

I thank God every day I get to be your mama. Watching you grow, learn and explore the world has been awesome. As I reflect on our year together, I think the biggest lesson you’ve taught me is that there is wonder in every moment of this life, great and small.

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In this picture, you’re only a few days old. You had just left the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and were receiving heat lamp treatment for bilirubin. Your daddy and I were eager to bring you home so we could all be more comfortable. (Although, as brand new parents, we were also a little scared!) We asked God for strength and wisdom to keep you healthy and safe as we learned how to be your parents.

I wonder what you were thinking and feeling this day. There was so much to see and process in your new environment! It was exhausting, and you took a lot of naps. I hope you felt safe, protected and loved when we swaddled you and held you close.

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Fast forward a couple months. We’re in your nursery doing tummy time. You don’t like it but Dr. Graham says we have to keep doing it so you can strengthen your neck! I have two weeks left for maternity leave and I’m savoring these slow, sweet days we spend together. After I took this photo, you lifted your head off of the knitted blanket and observed the gray walls of your room. You might have even watched our pug, Gus, playing on the colorful carpet. All the wonderful things around you were coming more into focus. A couple weeks ago you’d learned to smile at me and were trying it out a lot. This made your tired mama so happy and proud.

 

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At six months old, you’re working on pulling yourself up. When you discover daddy at the top of the couch, you burst into a smile. Your one-of-a-kind smile, with its dimples and cleft chin, lights up my heart. (Your unique cry, on the other hand, is terrifying–did you learn that at daycare?!) In this picture, your mama was delighted by your good mood and feeling worn down by the juggling act of working and motherhood. We had just started teaching you to sleep by yourself but it wasn’t going great. You eventually get the hang of it, some months later. I’m sorry that was so hard.

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You love your daddy so much, Jack. Many people say that you are a miniature version of him. While I agree, I also think you look a little bit like me. Nearing eight months, you are still especially attached to me but as you grow older, you and daddy deepen your bond. In this picture you are napping on his shoulder after your first visit to Valparaiso University, where mama and daddy met and fell in love. Watching you two spend time together makes my heart sing.

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Jack, I love seeing the world through your eyes. On this day, we were celebrating my birthday. We ate brunch at Ann Sather’s in East Lakeview, and you had the best time munching on eggs, fruit and potatoes. You also loved looking out the restaurant window. What did you see? Lots of dogs, I think, and neighbors waking to and fro. Daddy and mama were so excited to show you our old neighborhood that day. We lived there for more than five years before you entered our lives.

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Here you are peeking out the mail slot of our home. At 11 months and two weeks old your curiosity is insatiable. You’re getting into everything–the kitchen cabinets, the toilet paper roll in the bathroom, the dog’s crate. You especially love finding small corners and spaces sized just for you and snuggling up against them. Your little world is expanding and it’s such a blessing to watch you explore it.

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Now you are one year old and becoming more and more independent. I see how much you’re learning at daycare and feel grateful for the friends you’ve made and the experiences you’ve had there. This makes the time we’re apart feel a little bit easier.

Jack, I admire your adventurous, loving spirit. You’re constantly on the go, climbing, crawling and exploring. You show others how much you care by giving them hugs or pats on the back. I especially like your silly dance moves and your infectious laugh. You wave to friends and strangers, clap your hands to music, and make some funny noises with your mouth. You’re babbling “Ma-ma” and “Da” and “Na-na” (for banana) and you’ve even said “Hi!” and “Uh-oh.”

With you in my life, everything is new again. And so much sweeter. Happy first birthday, Jack buddy! We love you so much.

Six months and counting

calendar

One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has this expression she often uses: “The days are long, but the years are short.” This idea has always resonated with me, but after six months as a new parent, it holds new meaning.

Just a month ago my days began at 2 a.m. for a feeding and diaper change, followed by a 4:30 a.m. feeding and a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. (These were preceded by an 8 p.m. bedtime for my little one, followed by an 11 p.m. feeding.) All in all, that’s a lot of time spent nursing and not much sleeping.

Days spent caring for baby are indeed long–longer, certainly, than life before baby and pregnancy, which I sometimes miss (I’m looking at you, eight hours of unbroken sleep). Yet when I look back on these past six months with our son Jack, I still find myself in awe of how fast they flew by and how much I wish time would slow down.

When I meet other mothers and we get to talking about how fast children grow, they look at Jack and say to me, “Enjoy!” And I’ll tell you what I tell them: I am. I am enjoying every moment. Jack’s presence in our lives is an incredible gift.

Jack and ErinEach month has had its ups and downs but I think this new stage–six months and counting, I’ll call it–is my favorite thus far. Now Jack is entering the sweet spot between baby and boy. He’s sitting up with ease, eager to interact and noticing so much more of the world around him. He’s trying out solids, on the verge of crawling (but thankfully not there yet) and still loves to cuddle. Every time I hold him close I count it as a blessing from God. This feeling of being loved and needed, of loving deeply and holding my son close while knowing I need to be held just as much–it’s life-giving. I’ve never felt more content than when I’m holding this little boy in my arms.

Of course there have also been tears. More tears than I’d like to admit, or that I ever expected–tears of sadness after dropping Jack off at daycare for the first time, tears of worry after we started sleep training, tears of utter exhaustion in my office cubicle … The truth is, nothing can properly prepare you for the way becoming a parent will test you, stretch you and shine light on all the flaws and insecurities you harbor. As a mother, I’ve surprised myself in the ways I’ve become more flexible and easygoing or stepped up to the plate when the occasion called for it. (And I’ve also crashed and burned and needed to call for backup. See this post.)

So after six months, what have I learned?

In the face of conflict, seek connection.

Unfortunately, going back to work and Jack starting daycare was a trigger for me for postpartum anxiety. Up until that point, I had experienced ups and downs on maternity leave, but it paled in comparison to the heartache I felt leaving my son for the day those first few days (actually, that first month) of daycare. I wasn’t terribly confident in my decision to go back to work full-time–and if I’m really honest, I still struggle with it on occasion–but I need to work to provide for our family’s wellbeing, so it’s not really up for debate. I was lucky to come back to a job I love and an incredibly supportive supervisor. Even so, I had a hard time adjusting to my new normal.

So did my son. In his first few weeks, Jack struggled to take bottles at daycare and started waking up regularly at night to nurse after months of sleeping well. Because of this I worried about him often, and the frequent night-waking started taking a toll on my body.  I constantly felt run down and on the verge of tears. If weren’t for my fellow working mamas who listened to me vent or helped me troubleshoot problems and assured me I wasn’t crazy via text, I’m not sure I would have made it through. They are goddesses who have done it all before and are eager to offer support whenever I’m facing a conflict–and let’s face it, there’s a lot of conflict in parenting–so we’re pretty well connected these days. They are a true Godsend, a lifesaver that lifts up my heart whenever I feel it sinking.

New and veteran mamas out there, remember this: you are not alone. Your village of fellow mamas is here for you.

Give yourself permission to slow down, simplify and shift some responsibilities. 

Earlier this year we had a series of trips and family obligations that filled up our weekends so much that we weren’t even having fun anymore. As a result of these busy-bee weekends, my husband and I would enter the work week unprepared and unhinged … and without groceries or clean clothes.

After three weeks of last-minute takeout and laundry fiascos, we came up with a solution–we instituted a family travel ban. This meant no more back to back outings without downtime. We needed rest, we needed Sabbath, we needed time to get organized and importantly, catch up on chores.

When you’re juggling work and caring for a little one, keeping up with regular housework is hard nearly impossible. Life gets so harried. But you’ve gotta eat, and wear clothes, and be able to find your keys so you’ve gotta make room for cleaning.

So, we gave ourselves permission to slow down, and we simplified our weekends. Gone were the days of trying to cram workouts and church and brunch plans and errands into one day. Instead, I focus in on one or two things that really matter to us–like visiting my folks in the suburbs–and stay close to home the rest of the weekend so we can tackle the backlog of household chores.

My mom, who worked full-time since I was in first grade, did the same thing. She used to joke about the maid not having made an appearance at our house in a while (meaning herself), when things got really busy during the week.  She’d catch up on the weekends, and I’ve followed in her footsteps, well, with one tiny exception:

I. Don’t. Do. It. All.

That’s right, I don’t do ALL the cleaning, nor does my husband. We hired housecleaner to help us twice a month and I can’t tell you how much that helps.

Friends! (Especially parents!) If you haven’t experienced the life-changing magic of hiring a housecleaner, please give it a try. Life is too short to spend all your precious free time cleaning. Note: I absolutely recognize it is a privilege to be able to hire help, and we do budget for it over other things–such as eating out–because it makes a big difference in our sanity.

Ever since we did these three things, it’s helped us to enjoy the weekends again while feeling less overwhelmed during the workweek. It’s easier for me to revel in small moments with Jack, whether it’s a long walk in our neighborhood with Gus or just playing together in our living room floor on a lazy Saturday morning.

Above all, treat yourself with grace and loving-kindness.

Recently one of the writers I work with published a blog  that really spoke to me. It’s as if she had written it for me, a tired new parent, and I was so grateful to have that message that week. Pastor Janelle Hooper says,

We often think we need to be experts in it from our newborn’s first cry. Don’t get me wrong—do all you can to be ready for parenting with prenatal classes, books and babysitting. … No matter how much or little you prepare, there will always be ways in which your children and God surprise you.

If we can give ourselves a measure of grace knowing that we want what is best for our kids, and we promise to provide the basics of food, shelter and love—beyond that, is there room enough to say we are practicing all the other aspects of parenthood?

What would it look like if I approached parenting with the same mindset as I do yoga? Yoga, for me, is play. It’s something I look forward to every day. Importantly, it’s a form of exercise and self-expression I am continually working on. There is no end goal, but each time I step onto the four corners of my mat I strive to be a little better than before.

There are so many “shoulds” floating around parenting blogs and articles–you should breastfeed your baby, you should only use organic products, you should never let your baby cry it out, you should do sleep-training--many of which are contradictory. What these differing opinions indicate to me is that there is no one right way to parent. So why do we keep pretending that there is? What if becoming comfortable with parenthood is as simple as recognizing at the end of the day we’re all just doing our best and we may feel like we’ve messed something up but at least we tried?

As of late I’ve been working on a personal paradigm shift to replace the negative thoughts I’ve been having about parenting (I’m petrified of messing something up and ruining my son’s life) and instead giving myself the same grace I would extend to a friend (Just keep going. You’re doing great, mama!).

There are no perfect people and no perfect parents. If I can enter my role as mother each morning with the same mindset I have when I step on my yoga mat–the idea that I am always practicing, never perfect–I can begin to let go of the insecurities and doubts that cause me stress and just enjoy the fun of parenting. Because for all I’ve said about how hard it is, being Jack’s mama sure is FUN! Some of my best memories have come from these six months in life, whether it’s the Christmas-morning anticipation I get every day driving to pick up Jack from daycare or the way his smiles and laughter make my heart melt.

I’m still struggling with sleep.

Sleep loss is incredibly debilitating to your spirit (not to mention your mind and body) and this has been our family’s Achilles heel/biggest parenting challenge since I went back to work. Jack’s lack of sleep (and our own) has been a major source of anxiety and we can’t seem to figure it out. I have wanted to write about this so many times but it’s hard to put it into words.

I will say this: We have been trying to get Jack to sleep better. Key word here is trying. And lately it seems like it *might* be getting better. I’m praying hard for that. 🙂

In closing

Phew! Thanks for sticking with me through this long-winded post. It’s been a while since I wrote and I hope you enjoyed this family update!

Tell me: What are you celebrating today? What are your current struggles? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

From boyfriend to husband to father

The fathers we know and love have back stories, lives that were once free of the weight of parenthood. Before bedtime routines and bottles of milk and early morning wake ups, there were probably more late nights out with friends, bottles of beer and lazy Saturday mornings spent sleeping in (the same could be said of most mothers, too!). I talk a lot about motherhood on this blog, how it’s shifted my perspective and priorities and given life new meaning, but I haven’t said much about fatherhood. And although I can’t and won’t speak for all the dads out there, I can say this–one of the great joys of this year has been watching my husband Jay become a father. Here are a few things I’ve observed…

Fathers are feeling burdened, too

When I first met Jay, we were carefree college students: He was a fraternity guy and ultimate frisbee player studying to be an engineer. I was an English major and a sorority girl who worked at the school newspaper. Between the two of us, I was often the one who was anxious or worried, constantly chasing a deadline for feature stories for the paper or essays for class. Jay, on the other hand, was the laid back one, perhaps the least stressed person I knew in college. No paper or test or deadline could rattle him (it helps that he is one of the smartest people I know). He always knew how to help me relax when I was feeling overwhelmed.

Fast forward 11 years: Now we have a mortgage, a dog and a new baby, and we’re both grappling with the pressures that come with balancing the roles of provider and parent. I’ve watched how fatherhood, and the great responsibility it entails, weighs on my husband. For the first time the guy who never used to worry has … worries. And with good reason: there is a lot to worry about when you step into this role, to start, just making sure you keep your baby alive.

Then there is the inevitable, “Am I doing this right?” worry that accompanies parenting. There are a million and one ways to sleep train, and not enough evidence-based research to point to one right way, Jay pointed out the other day. The amount of resources and books and blogs is daunting.

Let’s not forget the challenging and confusing societal expectations around fatherhood in America. When I talked with Jay about the way women take on mental load of parenthood, he agreed and added that he thinks there are other mental burdens dads traditionally take on as well, especially when it comes to plans for household finances and yard work. While we’re committed to forging a more egalitarian marriage than prior generations, we inevitably fall into some gendered divisions of labor (mental and physical), but we’re aware of it and trying to do what works best for our family.

Regardless of how you split it up, parenting is a lot of work, and it’s emotionally and physically taxing. He probably wouldn’t say it but I’m so proud of how my husband has handled the new heft of fatherhood with so much grace. And even though there are more pressures and more worries, Jay’s still the one that helps me relax at the end of the day.

Parenthood has brought us closer together than ever before

After our son’s dramatic entry into the world, I was emotionally traumatized and physically drained. I needed more support than ever from Jay and at the same time we both had a new focus–a little one that needed all our support. Even though we were separated from Jack on those early days–he was floors away in the NICU–nothing would stop me from my quest to breastfeed our son. And Jay joined me in that quest.

At all hours of the day, Jay would help me into my wheelchair and we’d make the 15-minute multi-elevator trip to see Jack. When we got there, my husband would help lift Jack into my arms because I was still too weak to do so and encourage me when I got discouraged if Jack didn’t latch. Those trips back and forth to see Jack were full of laughter and tears and heartfelt conversation about our new son. We were both in awe of Jack and frustrated by how hard breastfeeding was (it hurts, it’s awkward and you have to do it all the time when babies are very little). It is thanks to Jay that I was able to persevere and pull off breastfeeding Jack after my C-section and Jack’s stint in the NICU.

What I didn’t know until later that week was that the whole time I was suffering, Jay was too–he had been nursing a cold and foot pain–but he never once  complained. Instead he accompanied me through my pain and held me when I needed it, because that’s what fatherhood required of him in the moment. When he’d admitted this to me later that week, after Jack was out of the NICU, I asked him to go home and take care of himself, to shower, take a nap and get the medicine he needed.

This dance of caring for each other and Jack and caring for ourselves has continued since we took Jack home. We are more open and honest with our aches and pains (emotional and physical) than ever before–and we each take turns being one another’s caretaker.

There’s no shortage of articles online about the ways becoming parents can put stress on a marriage. And there’s no question that it does. But I count myself as lucky because parenting has only brought us closer together. Our secret? It’s a willingness to be vulnerable with each other and accept help when it is offered. He lifts me up when I am weak, and I do the same for him.

Fatherhood is feeling left out, and more whole

When we  first got our puppy Gus, my husband took a short puppy paternity leave to feed, nurture and potty-train him. As such, the two have built up this incredible bond and are often inseparable at home. This sometimes made me feel left out but I realized that this doesn’t make my dog love me any less, Jay is simply his primary parent. We found other ways to bond and build up our relationship, and I just love how Gus brings so much joy to our lives.

Now that Jack’s in the picture the tables have turned and I am his primary parent. I know that this sometimes means my husband can feel left out and I see the pain this causes him. I think it’s especially hard because our son is so little and can’t do a lot so it’s harder for Jay to bond with him. On the other hand, the bond I share with my son from carrying him in the womb and breastfeeding him is very strong. A father can’t compete and shouldn’t–and I know Jay is building a different sort of bond with Jack just as I have with our dog.

Speaking of being left out: Dads don’t always get included in the baby showers or celebrations when new babies come in. I actually think that’s kind of a shame. I think we should change that. Babies are a life-altering, joyous gift and although fathers don’t carry babies in their bodies, they certainly carry them in their hearts. Why can’t we start including dads more in these celebrations?

We should include them because creating a family is a very special gift. I also know from Jay that our little family has brought new meaning to his life, a wholeness, a completeness that comes from being a family of four (yes, we include our dog, we firmly believe dogs are part of the family too!). I’ve seen how fatherhood has given Jay a new sense of purpose and delight. The love he has for Jack shines so bright, it is stunning.

A few final thoughts

Whenever our friends ask us about parenthood, these three words come up: hard, rewarding and fun! Having a little one is an incredible, life-altering adventure and there’s no one I’d rather do it with than Jay.

Here’s the best part: Each year as we age and grow, I love Jay even more deeply than before, from boyfriend to husband to father. Jay, even though we keep saying this has been the hardest year yet, I’ll take all the hard moments for the small, sweet bursts of joy we’ve shared together as parents. I love you, babe.