Snapshot of a summer afternoon

She clicks her laptop shut and announces, “Well, that’s enough for today.” She considers her son’s laundry basket, the dirty dishes, scattered hot wheels in the playroom. Working is her default mode; she finds it hard to relax. But the sun is shining through the blinds, and there’s a kiddie pool filled to the brim waiting in the backyard. Finally a dry, hot day after weeks of rain. She will not waste this afternoon checking off to-dos.

“Honey, we have a surprise for you,” she says, rousing her son from his nap. “We got you a little pool.”
“Mama! We’re going swimming?” he says, eyes widening.
“Yes, we are — in our backyard.”
He squeals with delight.

They slap on swimsuits, tank tops, sunscreen. He races into the yard, and spies the pool. She watches him dip his toes, one at a time. Then: splash! He plops in the pool and stomps his feet in the water. She sighs and leans back in her lawn chair. Thwack! He throws a soccer ball into the water, mischief in his eyes — a flash of the future. She wants to freeze time, or at least make it slow down.

Now the sprinkler’s running, and he’s chasing after their neighbor. They zip and zag through matted grass. They spin and twirl under an arch of droplets, little bodies shaking with laughter. It seems deliciously sinful to be sitting here under the sun, with no agenda whatsoever. When was the last time she felt this way? A giggle rises in her belly. She cannot remember.

Last night she dreamed she was floating in the ocean, arms spread wide, rocking among the waves. What a gift to be freed from deadlines and bedtimes and appointments to make, from time marching on. What a gift to float — untethered.

”It’s after 5,” her husband remarks, breaking her thoughts. “Guess we better start grilling, huh?” She nods reluctantly, then calls out to their son, “Buddy, five more minutes!”

Later, she crouches in a tiny toddler chair across from her son, who’s lapping at a popsicle — a bribe to come inside for dinner. Ice cream drips down his chin and he closes his eyes, smiling. She pops her popsicle in her mouth. (She needed a bribe too.) A burst of strawberry, tangy and cold, sweetens her tongue. Together they linger, savoring the taste of summer.

Becoming

I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you for how pivotal it is to become a mother. It’s not that they don’t try. In fact, when you’re expecting, you may find everyone from your great aunt to your coworkers to well-meaning strangers dole out parenting advice. Whether they’re parents or not, many know the searing ache, the bliss of parenthood from their own lives and feel the significance of this new chapter of life of which you’re on the brink.

The journey to parenthood is in and of itself a new chapter, one that for many women and men is full of hopes and heartache. I remember this pain well. Several summers ago, while vacationing with dear friends from college and their families, I stood sobbing in a bathroom stall, wracked with envy. The only childless couple on the trip, my husband and I watched as their beautiful children shared hugs, spread joy and spilled Cheerios.

At the time, we were months into trying for our first child, and it wasn’t going great. For one, after months off birth control, my hormones were all out of wack. Getting pregnant was supposed to be easy, I thought. But now, at 30, it had become clear conceiving a child was much more calculated than others let on. I worried that my body was failing me. I worried we’d waited too long. I worried that my deepest fear — that we wouldn’t be able to have a child — might be true. Over that long weekend, while I observed my friends love on their littles, the thought that dominated my consciousness was, “I want that. Badly.”

Little did I know, I had that. I was actually pregnant with my son, and the hormones were making me tired beyond belief and weepy. The next chapter of my life was already underway.

Flash forward to today. Today is Mother’s Day, and I am actually spending part of it alone in a Starbucks writing. Time alone is a true gift for mothers of small children like myself. It’s what I asked my husband for this holiday, and he graciously granted my request.

Now I am two years and counting into motherhood and feel like an old veteran. I know this sense of security is sketchy at best. Like the time after my son began sleeping through the night consistently, but then began to act — as toddlers often do — in new, headstrong ways. Because I’ve been there before, I know I’ll forever be encountering new challenges and delights. Or, as my coworker and friend Karen says, “Bigger kids, bigger problems.” The constant change of motherhood is exhilarating and unnerving.

But going from expecting to birthing a baby, that change, that new chapter of life is monumental. And not just because your baby is changing. You are too. Those early, grueling months of learning to change diapers and feed a baby on demand are a time of becoming.

In her piece, “The Birth of A Mother,” reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks says it’s “an identity shift, and one of the most significant psychical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience.” I read this piece weeks into new motherhood, and it brought me so much peace and clarity, I teared up. This year I even had the privilege to interview Sacks for an article I wrote for The Everymom. When we spoke, Sacks said it’s time for us to shed light on this major life transition so that new moms know they’re not alone in their mixed feelings.

I only need look back on my posts from the early days of my son’s life — when caring for a newborn was all consuming, when sleep was a battle, when I felt a love so strong it scared me (still does) — to know the weight of learning to mother.

One of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist, begins her book, Present Over Perfect naming a period in her adulthood in which she experienced dramatic change as a “sea-change, the journey from one way of living to another.”

And that’s exactly what happens when you become a mother. With a newborn in your arms you toss all your old habits and ways of living out the window and learn to live with and care for another person. Your person. You are no longer alone. You trade freedom for a new way of living. You are a mom! Niequist goes on to say this about her major life transition:

This is a love story, like all my favorite stories. It’s a story about letting yourself be loved, in all your imperfect, scarred, non-spectacular glory. And it’s about the single most profound life change I’ve yet encountered.”

–Shauna Niequist

I could say the same about my motherhood journey. And I’ll add this: loving my son was the most profound life change I’ve yet encountered. Being his mom is one of my life’s greatest love stories, and it’s still unfolding.

About a month before I gave birth to my son, I started this blog. Since 2008, after I graduated from college and became enamored with blogs, I wanted to have my own. I made a few feeble attempts at blogging over the years but in December 2016 I finally committed. In committing to this blog, I not only committed to writing, I committed to myself, to my story. I was beginning to believe that my words might matter to others.

Then, in January 2017, Jack was born and writing our story has been a tool for me to process, heal, share and reflect on all the highs and lows I’ve encountered throughout motherhood. What a gift to be a mother-writer, what an incredible gift. I look back and see my journey of becoming is written in my heart and on the page — of this blog, my journal, other publications.

In writing through motherhood and sharing it with others, I’ve connected with many other parents — a great blessing. Parents of older children often respond to my stories with comments such as, “Savor it!” and “This time goes so fast.” God, if they only knew just how much I agreed with them.

I’m doing everything in my power to savor this time, even when it’s boring (ever watched three episodes of Umizoomi in a row or cluster-fed a hangry newborn?) or hard to be present (when you have a million deadlines to worry about at work and dirty dishes piled up in the sink). That’s exactly why I’m writing through motherhood — so I can remember it. And give thanks for it. Also: I want others to remember too. Ultimately, when I give birth to a story and offer it up to others, I want it to be a gift that they might use to claim their stories as well.

My friend and writing mentor, author Callie Feyen wrote this about her daughter, “I am a writer because of her not in spite of her.” This resonated deeply with me. When I finally took ownership of my identity as a writer — when I realized I wasn’t just a journalist, I had my own stories to tell — was, consequently, when I became a mother. For that, I am deeply grateful.

A mother’s worry

“Jack got in a fight at school today,” she reports, pushing an accident slip toward me.

I take the slip and crouch down to examine a fingernail-shaped scratch on my son’s head. “Poor buddy,” I say, pulling him into a hug. I look up and ask, “What happened?” “He and another boy wanted the same toy,” his teacher answers. I pepper her with more questions — does this happen often, is Jack getting along with the others, is the other boy hurt — while Jack wriggles in my arms, eager to escape.

Later, as I slip Jack’s red Velcro shoes on his little feet, our eyes meet. “Honey, I’m sorry about your fight. Are you OK?” “Uh-huh,” he nods his head and looks away. I am not convinced. “Fights are gonna happen,” I go on. “We need to play nice with our friends. We say ‘I’m sorry’ when we mess up. And we forgive others when they hurt us.” The words hang in the air and I realize this is only the beginning. In three years, Jack will start kindergarten. Then he’ll face schoolyard squabbles and bullies and even lockdown drills. This thought hits me squarely in the gut.

One of the most painful truths of motherhood is that the more my son grows, the less I can protect him from getting hurt. I blink back tears. I take my son’s hand in mine and we walk out to the car in silence.

Later, at bedtime, Jack rests his head in the crook of my arms as I rock him back and forth. At two years old, his lanky legs spill over the side of the rocking chair. Together, we sing the ABCs, the rainbow color song and happy birthday (his current favorite). Someday he’ll outgrow this ritual, I think.

Despite Jack’s protests, I lift him out of my arms and gently place him in his crib. I kiss his head and whisper, “I love you buddy.” Jack stops whining for a moment. “I love you too, Mommy,” he sighs.

The world is harsh, but it is also beautiful. Although I cannot keep my son from experiencing pain, I can carry him with my love. And though I’ll never escape my unspeakable worries, I can hold onto this moment and let it carry me through the night.

This changed the way I thought about hospitality

Credit: Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

In the two plus years since we’ve lived in our new home, I’ve had a lot of design flops. There was the time we tried an online design service that suggested we order a rustic café table for our bay window. Once unboxed and assembled, the table was noticeably too tall for the space—a big disappointment. (It has since been relegated to the basement.) Or the time I hired a talented interior designer for a three-hour consult session to help us pick out furniture. She came and left in one swooping whirlwind of measuring tape and Pinterest boards. Afterwards, I sat alone at our dining room table, staring at her hastily assembled email of suggestions, overwhelmed at the tasks ahead and by the sense I wasn’t really heard.

Our living room’s been a thorn in my side since we moved in, mainly because in my eyes, it’s still “unfinished.” Anyone who knows me well knows I hate a job undone, a task uncrossed off the to-do list, and perhaps that’s what bothers me most of all – not the stuff in the room itself, just the fact we haven’t gotten the mix of items in it right. For a while, I even let this hold me back from inviting over guests.

Despite the fact that I know I should feel differently, I cannot seem to shrug these insecurities about our home. Though I love guests, I’m often afraid to host them.

I would venture to guess I am not alone in this feeling. There is something about opening up our homes that makes us vulnerable. When we host a visitor, we expose our dusty corners, unfinished window treatments, the bin of wrinkled laundry waiting to be folded. We show off the beautiful parts too. Our guests take in our taste in furniture, books, art. They taste our food, see our family photos. Oh, and our peeling baseboards. Our homes have a way of outing us. And what I mean is simply our homes show we are flawed. Our homes show we’re human. This is really hard and good for a recovering perfectionist like me.

But I realized by inviting neighbors into my home — for a planned gathering or, better yet, an impromptu cup of coffee — I practice bravery. Anyway, is a home really a summation of fancy, good-looking stuff that gets posted to Instagram or is it about the people inside of it?

When I think back on all the times I’ve been invited into others’ homes, I rarely recall if they had a fabulous rug or an unfinished kitchen. I think most about the way being in their home made me feel and how I was so grateful to be invited in. 

My friend Megan has this thing with inviting people over — for dinner, snacks, Bible study. All in all, she is an excellent hostess. That’s actually how we met. We were strangers and she invited us into her home for a church barbecue. What I love most about Megan’s hospitality is that it feels effortless. When she hosted us at her old apartment in Chicago, her home looked as though real humans lived in it, not like an HGTV space. The food wasn’t always ready, which was good, because I could help cook or while she cooked, we could sit and talk. Whenever I was at her place, I felt so comfortable and loved.

Like Megan, I love making others feel comfortable, but I’ve struggled with this worry that my home wasn’t good enough for them, for one reason or another. But what I found recently when I invited friends over for a book chat is that none of them were worried about my chipped baseboard or retro light fixture. They were interested in my art and the food and sharing stories. As we sipped Pinot Grigio on that rainy, spring afternoon, I realized how silly it was to fixate on all the unfinished stuff when there was so much to be grateful for. For one, I did have a perfectly imperfect, beautiful home. Furthermore, here was this new group of women who were smart, kind and funny. Making friends in your thirties is hard and I’m glad to have met other women in my neighborhood who are eager for connection.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, has an incredible book of stories and recipes, Bread and Wine. She recounts well-loved family recipes — her mom’s blueberry crisp, which I make often — and tales of sisterhood built through a monthly cooking club. I devoured the book when I was in my twenties and thought, Gosh, one day when I grow up and move out of the city, I want to have a cooking club like her. I want to have a community like her. Now I’m in my thirties, I live on the city’s edge and I want this more than ever. Who among us doesn’t ache for sacred community?

In Bread and Wine, Shauna talks about the need for tables, gathering people around them, for ditching our worries about appearance and focusing in on what matters — the brave act of opening up to others. She writes that hospitality “is about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories.”

And sure enough, what happened at my recent book chat is what always happens when you put a table between women and when you’re brave enough to slow down, ask hard questions and really listen. We cracked open a book briefly. We sipped wine. We broke bread. And we talked about work and motherhood and infertility and hope and purpose and it was indeed sacred. 

Gosh, I couldn’t have been more wrong worrying about the window treatments in my home. All that really mattered was that my neighbors felt at home enough to share their hearts.

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.

How I coped with weaning my son

Erin and Jack

About a month ago in August, after a three-day work trip to Boston, I stopped breastfeeding my son. He was 17 months old, and my husband and I thought this trip was a good opportunity to wean him.  Prior to the trip, he comfort nursed twice a day, in the mornings and evenings. I dropped to these two sessions when Jack turned one–I’d planned to stop when he simply lost interest.

Jack loved nursing, and I did too. Yet over time, it became clear those two feedings were affecting Jack’s sleep. Bedtime wasn’t so bad, but I knew Jack needed me to fall asleep. Mornings, on the other hand, were a challenge. Jack rose every morning at 5 a.m. crying out for me to feed him, a call I loved and hated. I loved starting the day with him. I hated the 5 a.m. part.

On one particularly exhausting morning last spring, I took Jack to back to our bed, positioned him the crook of my arm and elevated his his head, then fed him, blissfully, until we both fell asleep. This became our new routine, and it was something I savored. Early mornings became much easier, until Jack’s wake-up time started creeping from 5 to 4:45 to 4:30 to 4 a.m. By summer it was clear something had to change to remedy the situation.

For months I was so afraid of what was on the other side of weaning. Weaning marked the end of Jack’s babyhood, even though he’d dived into his toddler phase in February, when he took his first steps. Once Jack was weaned our relationship would inevitably shift. In August, it was time for that shift.

A difficult transition

Weaning, like breastfeeding, was surprisingly painful. Unlike breastfeeding, where the pain is raw and physical, the effects of weaning hit me squarely in my heart.

The night after I returned from Boston, I led Jack through his usual bedtime routine, skipping his feeding. He’d already experienced three nights like this; I hoped it would seem normal. Standing at the foot of the crib, I cradled Jack and sang him a lullaby, the final step in his routine. He wrestled and craned his neck toward my breasts. “Milk? Milk?” he asked sweetly. My heart dropped.

“Mommy doesn’t have any milk now,” I answered gently.

“Milk? Milk?” Jack asked again, and I shook my head no. He screamed violently. I tried to stay calm, but I could feel the panic rising inside my chest. I put Jack down in his crib; he went ballistic. I picked him up again, he tried to nurse, then cried, so I put him down again. He cried harder. I hated that I couldn’t soothe him with nursing. I worried: Did I wean him too soon? Soon I was crying too–big, heavy tears.

The noise woke my husband, who was asleep in the other room. “Erin, Erin, are you OK?” he called out sleepily. Jack cried. I cried. Jack cried some more.

“No,” I finally blurched. “Help me.” I was so overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure I could last any longer. I wanted to run far away from this baby, this choice, this heartache. I tried to hold Jack and rock him, but he continued to wrestle. On the verge of collapse, I felt my husband’s loving arms encircle my waist. He stood behind me and rocked me–and our son–in his arms. “Shhh” he whispered, urging both of us to relax.

Jack finally fell asleep that night, but I couldn’t. I tossed and turned, plagued with anxiety. I couldn’t stop turning over this choice in my head. Had I made a mistake?

I loved everything about breastfeeding my son: the soothing effect it had on him, the bond it created between us, the feel-good chemicals it created in my body, and heck, the calorie burn was a nice treat. Most of all, I loved that it was a way for Jack and me to start the day together, and to reconnect after a long day, usually spent apart at work and daycare. Now our special time together had ended, and I was full of sorrow and doubt.

Morning came. Some time between 4 and 5 a.m., Jack called “Mommy! Mommy!” I felt so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I roused Jay and asked him to take over. I couldn’t do this, it felt too damn painful. Jay helped my son with his morning routine that day. For Jack, that morning and the one that followed weren’t as painful. Morning nursing sessions were easily replaced with breakfast. He had some moments of frustration about the change, but they paled in comparison to what we saw at bedtime.

Bedtime, which was once so easy, became a war. Jack didn’t want to be rocked to sleep. He didn’t want to be patted to sleep. He didn’t understand why we were skipping his favorite part of bedtime, when he reconnected with his Mommy. He was frustrated–he longed for his old routine. I did too, but I knew it was too late to go back.

Some nights I cried, but other nights I got angry. Once I got so angry at Jack for refusing to lay down in his crib I stalked out of his room and slammed the door loudly. “I can’t go back in there,” I fumed. My husband roused himself from bed and finishing putting Jack down.

My whole body, especially my breasts, ached for Jack. My hormones were out of control. I was irritable and grouchy, and also weepy and sentimental. I mourned the change in my relationship with Jack. Would we ever be close again? I kept googling “weaning and depression” and only came up with a few helpful results. I read all of them. I texted my mom friends for advice. I called my mom. I wrote in my journal. I went to yoga.  I allowed myself to feel sad.

A week passed and one day, Jack slept until 6 a.m. When I looked at my phone I could barely believe it. Finally the early rising we’d grappled with for 17 months was righting itself. We had made the right decision after all, I thought, and my heart felt a little lighter.

A silver lining: Reclaiming my time

Jack’s sleep continued to improve, and so did our moods. We were getting along better, learning to connect in new ways. The breastfeeding hormones were leaving my body, and after about two weeks of sadness, anxiety and frustration, I began feeling like myself again. The only thing that hadn’t changed? My body kept rousing itself around 5 a.m. each morning.

I’ve always been a morning person, but after giving birth to my son that shifted due to his schedule and my sleep deprivation. Honestly my whole world shifted when Jack arrived and I never thought I’d be able to reclaim my mornings–until now. I used to get up early to workout, but I had a pretty established evening workout habit these days. What to do with this time?

One of my dear friends is a full-time working mama and prolific, accomplished writer. I’ve always admired how she prioritizes her writing amid her many responsibilities as a manager at work and mother at home. She told me her secret: getting up early a few times a week to fit in writing. When she shared this with me, Jack wasn’t yet one, and I knew it would be a long time until I could try this for myself. At August’s end, I had an epiphany: the time was now.

Thus I began reclaiming my mornings and rising early to write. Replacing something I loved so much–nursing Jack in the morning–with something I love that’s just for me–writing–has been amazing. It helped me let go of the final dregs of sadness about nursing Jack, and it’s helped me move forward in my writing goals. It’s been about a month since I started, and I’ve worked on a handful of writing projects–some to pitch to publications, some to share in this space and on Instagram, others just for me.

I worried I’d lose steam but I haven’t. It feels amazing setting aside this time for myself to do something I love most mornings during the workweek. It’s only an hour or so, but writing in the mornings before Jack’s awake, making time for myself first thing, sets the tone for my entire day. As many mothers know, feeding a child takes a lot of your time an energy, especially when your child is young and you’re on call about every two hours. Now that I’m finally on the other side of breastfeeding,  I’m so grateful Jack and I were able to share that special time together and I’m also delighted to finally reclaim my time for myself. This is a new beginning for me; these writing sessions are my silver lining.

Children grow so quickly–from exclusive breastfeeding to fruit and veggie purees to table foods to weaning, from crawling to toddling to walking to full-out running, from cooing to babbling to words to phrases–and each time Jack grows I continue to be amazed and surprised. Sometimes, like with weaning, the change is especially hard. Other times, like when Jack started talking, I was thrilled.

What I’ve learned from this is that it’s OK to mourn change even while you celebrate a new beginning. Looking back, I can barely believe I breastfed Jack for 17 months. I’m grateful was able to and I’m grateful we had that time together. Although weaning Jack was painful, he is sleeping better, is more independent and we’ve grown to connect in other ways.

Here’s to difficult goodbyes and new beginnings. May you find your silver lining.

Are you an early riser? Have you had a similar experience with reclaiming your time after a major life transition? I’d love to hear from you–message me or comment below.

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.

Counting the joy

full moon illustration
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

It’s 2:21 a.m. and I’m wide awake, snug in my bed. My toddler son, who is fighting a cough, finally nodded off an hour ago after a never-ending interlude of cuddling, shushing and patting.

Eyes squeezed shut, I try and will myself to join him in peaceful slumber. But half a dozen worries crowd my mind: Is this a sleep regression or is my son’s cough serious? I forgot to call the pediatrician yesterday. Am I a bad mother? Am I working too much? We are facing a serious family issue this summer. How will we survive this painful chapter? Will it break us?

I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, yet sleep evades me.

So I count breaths. I count sheep. I count to-dos. Nothing works.

I think back to a year ago, when my son was just a baby who battled sleep. Some nights, when he was overtired, no amount of shushing or patting would soothe him. I used to rock him and sing Bing Crosby, “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sleep, and I go to sleep counting my blessings.”

It didn’t always help him, but it helped me come back to a place of calm when all I wanted to do was break down and cry myself.

OK, Bing. Back to counting.

1. My son relaxed on our couch in the crook of my arm, his tiny fist stuffed with graham crackers, gaze fixed on the TV screen, head bobbing to the music of Moana. Blessing.
2. How he gobbled up green beans, carrots and ravioli for dinner—from my plate and his—and smiled with contentment. Blessing.
3. His squeals of laughter when I tickle his belly. Blessing.
4. New words and phrases: “bubble, Cheerio, thank you, where’d you go?” Blessing.
5. Generous hugs for dada and mama before bedtime. Blessing.

6, 7, 8, 9 … Dozens upon dozens of ways my son lights up our lives and shines light on the extraordinary gift of each moment on earth. His very existence the most joyful blessing.

Some point during all this counting I fall asleep.

At last, rest for this weary mama. Blessing.


Sometimes when we are overwhelmed and overloaded, taking a step back to give thanks for all that brings us joy can usher peace into our lives.

If you are having trouble with sleep too, try this: Breathe. Notice joy. Give thanks. Rest.