Saturday, November 16, 2013

Christmas Card Season

I stayed up too late last night working on our Christmas cards. Though my perfectionist tendencies make this process long and occasionally frustrating, I really do enjoy looking through photos, choosing the best designs and perfecting them. In the midst of my late-night working, I posted a little note on Facebook about some of my thoughts on cards, and people seemed to like it. So I've added to it a bit, and am sharing again.

My Unsolicited Tips for Holiday Cards:
  1. Please include yourself in photos. Your kids are adorable, but I'm friends with YOU and want to see your smiling face too!
  2. You don't have to have kids to send a photo card. We have a single cousin who sends photos from her travels each year that are just gorgeous, and several friends' cards feature cute pets. My mom even sent a card one year of herself posing with her attractive taxi driver during a trip Italy. 
  3. Zoom in. All card-making sites let you do this. Almost all photos look better because of it. 
  4. Max out at four photos. More than that and your faces are too small to admire.
  5. I totally recommend After exhaustive searching last year, I found them to have the most unique designs, best paper, and yet still be quite affordable. (unpaid plug!)
  6. Proofread/check your grammar. You probably do not need any apostrophes in your family's name (e.g. it's incorrect to say, "Happy Holidays from the Smith's.")
  7. Yes, people still love cards. Facebook photos are great, but getting mail--smiling at my friends' lovely faces, and hanging them up around my house--is a highlight of the season.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chicken Stew with Dumplings

I'm trying to use my slow cooker more as a way to efficiently use my two mornings each week at home with Amelia, and to make my evenings a little less chaotic. I'm picky about recipes, though: no canned soup, no paste-like rice, nothing with a "Mexican" theme.

Last night, I made this stew by combining two recipes I found on Pinterest and then making some changes, and it turned out amazing. It's the flavor of a warm, cozy end to a chilly fall day. It tastes like comfort. Both kids devoured it. In order to be able to reproduce it, I wrote up what I did, and thought I'd share it with y'all.

Chicken Stew with Dumplings
With big servings, feeds two adults and two kids

3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh or frozen veggies you like (recommended: corn, peas, baby bella mushrooms)
1/2 of a medium onion, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence (can sub with a combo of rosemary, thyme and/or lavender)
1 teaspoon sage
salt and pepper
1 package (3-5) chicken thighs, skinned (can use with our without bones)
1 1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup fat-free milk (I used soy)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Buttermilk dumplings [recipe below]

1. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic to slow cooker. If using corn (or any hard veggie, like a winter squash), add it as well. Sprinkle with Herbs de Provence. Add chicken and sprinkle the chicken with kosher salt, lots of cracked pepper, and sage (I like a lot of sage and add more). Pour in chicken broth.
2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours (if no bone in your thighs, you can do 6 hours) or on high-heat setting for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. If no heat setting is available, cook for 5 to 5 1/2 hours.
3. After cooking, turn the cooker up to high. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and chop it up; remove from bones if needed, and throw out bones. Return the cut chicken to the cooker.
4. In a small bowl, stir milk and flour until smooth. Stir into mixture in cooker.
5. If adding peas or mushrooms, put them in now.
6. Make buttermilk dumplings [see below]. Drop them on top of the chicken mixture (keep a little space between them, if possible, since they'll expand). Cook an additional 20-25 minutes (do not lift lid during this time). Scoop into bowls and enjoy! Top with extra pepper if you're inclined.

Buttermilk Dumplings

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt 2 T minced parsley
1 T dried dill (the dill really makes these, IMHO - don't skip it)
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup buttermilk, or more as needed

Stir together dry ingredients. Cut in butter and stir until mixture resembles course meal. Stir in buttermilk and mix only until combined. Add a little more if it needs to come together. Pat out into 1/2 thick. Cut out 1.5 inch sections and drop on top of stew.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Sylvia turned four yesterday. Here's a look back at her fourth year.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Accepting the Princess

You guys, I'm struggling. I'm conflicted between the media-savvy, educated, feminist side of myself, and the desire to be an easy-going, supportive mom who doesn't project my issues onto my kids. The issue at hand: princesses.

I have a four-year-old (well, she turns four tomorrow). As with just about every other girl her age that I've met, she's into princesses. And by "into," I mean, it's what she wants to dress up as (daily and for Halloween), be when she grows up, and play with toys related to. In fact, yesterday we threw a princess-themed birthday party, in which 11 kids dressed in skirts and tutus constructed crowns and blew out candles on a castle cake.

Looking "fancy"
I want to object. I want to preach to her about the dangers of thinking that a man must save you, of obsessing about your own appearance, of all the destructive culture associated with pretty pink princesses. I've read so many articles on this, nodded my head, sworn that I won't let my daughters define themselves by pink dresses and sparkly adornments. I've done all I could to not encourage the interest, diverting her attention to other things and encouraging art, exploration, gymnastics -- anything not about clothes or prettiness.

But then...then I started really talking to her. When she told me she wanted to be a princess when she grows up, she also followed up by asking me what princesses do. I told her they work hard to be nice to all kinds of people, learn many other languages, use really good manners, and travel a lot (hm, not a bad example). She liked the idea, and we had a good chat about her Spanish classes at school as she deftly used her fork through a whole meal (a rarity). When she had the opportunity to dress as a princess for her birthday party, she chose the formal-though-fraying "real" dress I bought for $3 at a consignment sale over her licensed Disney Belle costume, and turned down her very fancy queen gown because it was too long to allow her to do the monkey bars at the playground (she was also fine not carrying a scepter or wearing her big tiara, because they'd also present challenges while playing).

So, I think my concerns that she's signing up for a life of subservience and obsession with appearances are not actually valid. She thinks princesses have magical powers, probably because Sophia does. She likes that princesses wear fancy dresses and jewelry, but she seems to know that's not practical all the time. Though pink is her favorite color, she adores her orange scooter with blue helmet, and has started to enjoy clothes that are really colorful, as opposed to just all pink. She does like to look pretty and talks about being beautiful more than I am comfortable with, but I try my best to counter that with discussions about what's going on in her head and her heart instead.

Additionally, I occasionally have a flash of the other things she'll be into throughout her life: maybe she'll want piercings and tattoos, maybe we'll fight over her wardrobe, over her pushing herself too much to excel at a sport, over her hatred of family dinners, or spending too much time talking to strangers online or crushes on the phone. Maybe there will be cheating, or exhaustive perfectionism, or laziness. There will be plenty of things I may object to, as well as plenty of times I will bite my tongue to try to avoid criticizing what is important to her.

For right now, though, at tender, precious, innocent and silly age four, I think I'll leave princesses alone. I will allow her the love of sparkles and roses, of fluffy dresses and big bows, without fearing she'll be a bridezilla at age 27. I hope that I can instill in her what's most important on the inside, so that as she changes what she wants to look like on the outside, the good stuff still remains. And I hope that I can prevent seeing the worst in every phase she tries out, and instead try to see the light, and understand the joy, that it brings to my dear girl. Because I think I've realized that allowing her to be happy--to do what makes her happy--will likely have the best results of all.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Parenting Advice

Baby Boomers' Bible,
or Why Gen X is in Therapy
In case you haven't heard, parenting can be hard. Faced with the need to not only keep a helpless creature alive, but then try to mold that creature into a kind and socially adept person (bonus points for polite, respectful, motivated and independent), we parents often look to others for advice. In my parents' time, that meant reading one of a few sacred tomes (my mom's choice was Dr. Spock and Emily Post) and talking to the pediatrician as if he were God. Now, we modern parents can read five bazillion parenting books, as well as peruse mommy blogs, attend parenting courses, join support groups, or scour those terrible collections of human suffering, parenting message boards.

I am a researcher at heart, so I've read a lot of blogs, clicked through the links to read original research, and checked in regularly with some parenting sites. There is...a lot. On the other hand, I have generally veered away from parenting advice books. Mainly, they just seemed like a lot of work (to both read and enact). Beyond the "how to keep a baby alive" books that I earmarked those first few months of the first kid's life, I have read exactly two parenting books (or skimmed, really). I picked up both from the library after particularly difficult weeks with my three-year-old.

The two books I read were complete opposites. One was all about emotionally supporting your delicate and fragile child. The other was about being the authority figure and establishing boundaries. Both cited extensive research justifying their strategies. Eager for help on sleep issues, I've read pediatrician-authored blogs extolling co-sleep and others passionately against such dangerous behavior, as well as those saying my kid needs to cry to learn to sleep, or that she'll lose all trust in me and be emotionally detached if I don't respond. I've been told that no one-year-old needs to nurse at night, or that many do, or that time-outs are the best punishment, or that all punishments are harmful and unnecessary. I've read that I should make my preschooler try all food on her plate, and that doing so will give her food issues. And I don't even know where to start on rewards or treats for good behavior or "good" eating.

I've come to realize that parenting advice is actually just parenting support. You find the books or blogs that support making the decision you were going to make anyway. Want to spank your kid? You'll find experts backing you up with statistics on why it works. Want to nurse until your child is three? You'll find communities of folks telling you that you're healthier and smarter than other moms. Want to make a star chart, use shame as punishment, give an allowance, let your kid choose all her clothes, pick your battles, or raise children as in Biblical times? You can find research and guidance to help you feel like you are making the best decision. Bravo for you - you're doing it right!

Parenting advice, it seems, is doled out much like the news these days. If you don't like President Obama, you can tune into Fox News and learn all the well researched, expertly argued reasons why he is a horrible leader. It will seem like The Truth, because it will be delivered by professionals who have found the research to support their opinions, who have then been given the platform to share those opinions as if they are fact. No news organization--just like no parenting advice book or blog I've come across--is going to say, "Hey, this is just how we see it, but really there's so much information out there that we really aren't sure what's right anymore." But that's what is happening: we live in an age of incredible amounts of data, research, and knowledge, in which everyone's an expert and we all have a platform to publish our findings (this blog included!).

So what's a confused parent to do? I've decided to stop reading the books and skimming the blogs. In fact, two nights ago, while trying to "sleep teach" (not "train," say the bloggers!) the baby, I read tons of blogs while listening to my kid cry, and I found myself reading only the ones that said it was OK for her to cry, and skipping over the ones that said I was cruel.* So I was seeking advice only to censor what I didn't want to hear. Again, what I was really craving was support, not wanting to be told what to do.

So, I'm done. I mean, I'm sure I'll still read some blogs--because who doesn't need some support sometimes [all the time]?--but I'm not reading them for instruction anymore. Instead, I'm going to stick with my favorite kind of advice: talking to other moms. I have friends out there raising some pretty fantastic kids, so I figure they must have a few tricks up their sleeves. I'll take in their ideas and use some, toss out others. I'll let them tell me about the research, the books they've read, the blogs they follow--but mainly, I'll just follow their examples. Because the most research I think I need is whether or not I think your kid is a good egg. Because in parenting, raising a good kid and surviving the process makes you the wisest expert I know.

*Turns out, it was cruel to me to listen to her cry so long, so I caved after two hours. And yes, I realize the irony of writing a blog about not wanting bloggers' advice, after having posted an entry giving sleeping advice, only to have a baby who now actually doesn't sleep. The interwebs are unforgiving.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Me! And them! But usually them.

So, I had put in a tickler file (i.e. my desktop post-it notes, the only place where my ideas may not be forgotten) to write a blog post about finally returning to me. I shopped for new clothes over Mother's Day, which was both a triumph of personal gifting (something for me to make me feel good), but also one of the first two-hour blocks I had spent away from my baby -- and I wasn't even frantically working! For a few weeks after, I felt like things had shifted. I wasn't just the mother of a preschooler and baby, but I was a fun, working woman who had some friends she saw sometimes. I started to be a more present wife and found myself talking about things that weren't related to kid poop or sleep. It was refreshing.

And then...July. After returning from the beaches, we had minimal plans. I thought it would be good to take a break from scheduled activities and enjoy these free days with my girls. Turns out, that knocked me down a few pegs.* Sylvia is testing authority, napping erratically, and challenging me daily. Amelia has added another wake-up or two to her already crappy night of sleep, and can be lovely or annoying during the day, depending on, well, who knows what. She naps before Sylvia wears down, so I get no work/break time during the day. Oh, and it's been storming nearly every day, making it too rainy or too horribly humid to spend much time outdoors.

I am counting down to the start of school for Sylvia, and Mother's Morning Out starts soon after for Amelia. I'll have TWO WHOLE MORNINGS to try to find that person again, the one who didn't scream at her kids, wore something besides beat-up khaki shorts, and had conversations beyond negotiating the number of pretzels that can be consumed at snack.

In the meantime, sorry about all the kid posts. But these days, life is all about them, even when I try to make it about me.

*I am loathe to ever complain about this, knowing that many moms have to work long hours away from their kids and would love a day or week in my shoes, home and schedule-free -- but you know, we all struggle in our own ways. I'd kill for an office to go to some days.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Emotional Year

One thing about not sleeping well for a year: it makes the days long, but the year fly by. I'm having trouble believing Amelia is one, so I made a sentimental slide show to remind me how time has passed. I love this little nugget.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Amelia at One Year

I cannot believe a year has passed. Between our lack of sleep, chasing a busy 3-year-old and learning to run a house with two kids, this year has flown by. Amelia was a warm, hungry little nugget strapped to my chest in the Ergo for so many months, but starting in early June, when she turned 10 months, she became a little girl all her own.

At 10 months, Amelia learned to crawl (and soon after, pull up), and the world opened up to her. She was no longer fussy, whiney and hard to deal with. Turns out all that crankiness was just frustration at not being able to explore her world. She is now curious, active, funny, and rather mischievous. At Isle of Palms in mid-June, she explored the house, tried to keep up with her cousins, and happily inspected every block, shell and water bowl she could find. At the Outer Banks, she was thrilled to explore the sand and ocean, as well as any place we visited. Once we returned home after a month’s absence, she ransacked the house, opening every cabinet, pulling down anything on a table or in a drawer, and trying desperately to climb the stairs anytime we weren’t watching. Baby proofing has been a challenge.

With this new-found energy, she is also happier to be away from Mama. She lunges her hands and body toward Daddy, Nanny, Pop, and occasionally a friend, to give hugs or just change location. She giggles and teases, uses her hands to explore new faces, and tries to convince anyone holding her to take her someplace where she can get her hands on more stuff.  She reaches for everything, fiddles with anything, and constantly needs something to be working on.

She communicates quite well through shrieks, grunts, and hand gestures, but she has also picked up a few words. She clearly said “dog” several times in July (at Grand’s dogs), and she seems to have said “cup,” “up,” “Pop,” “Mama” and “Dada” (though the latter are more like long strings of syllables: mah-mah-mah, dah-dah-dah).

She does not like eating pureed foods, so she’s been eating finger foods all along. Her favorite foods are guacamole (no matter how spicy), shredded cheese, blueberries, chicken, black and cannelloni beans, frozen peaches, and peas. She prefers adult food to baby food, choosing pretzels and sausage over teething biscuits and puffs. She wants to eat like her sister, so she’s already trying to use forks, spoons and bowls.  She wants to eat what we eat, so I’m rather embarrassed at the amount of salt and sugar she has consumed compared to her sister at this age.

The most common thing I hear from friends and strangers is that Amelia is just so pretty – and of course I agree. Her eyes have stayed lakewater green, a dark, multi-faceted green-blue-grey color. Her hair, which started coming in just last month, is medium blonde, and is forming small, soft curls at the back of her head. She has a huge grin that shows off her four teeth on top and two teeth on the bottom. She has her sister’s and Nanny’s round face and big cheeks, and her Mama’s milky white skin.

To this very biased Mama, she is showing signs of being very intelligent, quickly picking up on what things are used for, and solving little problems easily. She knows what to do with a crayon and a phone. She is clearly inquisitive and stubborn, and wants to figure everything out. She plays very well by herself, as long as she has plenty of items to sort through. Favorite games include taking all the crayons out of the jar and then putting them back in, removing all puzzle pieces from a box, putting on as many necklaces as possible, and trying to put the lids on Tupperware containers.

She is still a pretty terrible sleeper, waking 2-4 times each night to nurse. But she naps well, goes to bed easily, and falls back asleep easily after nursing. As independent as she is sometimes, she still needs time with Mama, requesting to get back in my arms several times a day for nursing or just comfort. She is quite snuggly and very social. She is one year old going on five, and I think she’s going to keep me running after her for years to come.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Here, There and Back Again

Hello, my little neglected blog. Not only have I been away from you, but I've been away from my reality for a while. Much like last summer, we did some epic traveling and time with family (pictures pasted below).

On June 15, we drove to Isle of Palms, SC, and spent a week with D's family in a lovely beach house, our fourth year to do so. The six cousins played together, the eight adults lounged together, the couples went on dates, and a massive jigsaw puzzle was completed. It was low-key, relaxing, and fun. On June 22, D drove home with his parents (he has to teach second summer session), and I drove 12 hours with the girls to the Outer Banks of NC, where my mother lives, right on the beach. We stayed for almost three weeks, which included a visit from a dear friend who lives in DC, the baby getting an ear infection and then a high-fever virus, Sylvia going to Bible school and swim lessons, and many brief but wonderful mornings and late afternoons on the beach, showing the girls one of my favorite places in the whole world.

What I'll Remember Most:

  • Amelia, who can now finally crawl, became a joyful, energetic baby. She is suddenly happy, adventuresome, and generally just thrilled to be alive. She was a delight to be around (when she wasn't sick) and happily played with family members or alone, busily exploring her new world.
  • After visiting friends in Charleston, we were caught in rush-hour traffic that was backed up due to flooded streets. It took us two hours for a trip that should have taken 20 minutes. In the end, we had to drive the Subaru through water so deep it went over the wheels, leaving several cars stranded beside us. It was scary, stressful, and very frustrating--especially with two cranky girls in the back seat (Amelia cried for over an hour of it).
  • Sylvia learned to put her face in the water, and immediately decided that it was *awesome.* 
  • My sweet friend and my mom stayed up with me past midnight one night as I cradled a vomiting, feverish child, talked to an on-call nurse, and went through my first real "do I need to go to the emergency room?" scare with Baby #2.
  • One of our first evenings in Kill Devil Hills, I took Sylvia out swimming around 6pm, since the water was relatively calm. For the first time in my 34 years of going to this beach, we saw two whales, breaching and frolicking about 100 yards out from us. 
  • Sylvia and Amelia both loved watching a lively performance of Puss in Boots at The Lost Colony (a great choice, since Sylvia and I had just read the book). Sylvia even got to talk to the princess! 
  • Sylvia climbed her first rock wall and also thought that was *awesome.*
  • I turned down a new client and quit a volunteer job I should never have taken on, all in the name of trying to clear my schedule and have less stress. Now that the guilt has passed, I feel so much better.
  • One of my godmothers (and her husband--not technically a godfather but has served the same role) came to visit, and we had wonderful, meaningful conversations. The girls adored them.
  • My last night there, I watched a thunderstorm roll in (they came and went our whole time there, but usually rained on the ocean and not the beach). The dark sky and sea were the same color until long, branching flashes of lightening lit up the swirling mountains of clouds. It was stunning.
  • Mom and I ate caramels, drank wine, and talked most evenings. It means so much that I'm now friends with my mom.
  • The squirming, hugging, wrestling and joyful reunion of the girls with their daddy, at 9:15pm after an 11-hour car trip, was almost worth spending 20 days away from him.
Also of note: D's grandmother passed away soon after we got to NC. She was two months shy of 99 and in rather good health until having a stroke. She died peacefully a week later with her children by her side. D drove with his siblings and their kids the 14 hours from Clemson to Indiana to attend the funeral, but the girls and I stayed where we were (at the insistence of everyone involved). I was sad to miss the service and the time with his father's family, but I was not sad to miss the cross-country driving. Two 11+-hour trips alone with the girls was enough for me. But still, it was strange to miss a major family event.

Now I'm home, though it doesn't feel like home. We've had massive rains here, flooding playgrounds, parks and houses. You have to wade up to your thighs to get to D's parents' dock, and many other docks are totally under water. Our vegetable garden is failing due to too much rain -- the complete reverse of our normal issues. The land is soggy, fecund, almost primal in its moist heat. And the raucous thunderstorms keep bringing deluges.

And now, some photos:

Amelia and me at Isle of Palms
D and his sister with the girl cousins

Sylvia and Dr. Michael having big talks

One of the many storms that brewed over the sea
Amelia celebrates July 4th

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mama's Dirty Little Secret

I have many talents in life: I'm a fairly good baker, I have good balance, I know a lot of grammar rules, I have no fear of public speaking.  Housecleaning, however, is not one of those talents. I mean, I know how to do it. My parents were big believers in chores, and I had to do laundry, scrub my bathroom, vacuum and dust on a very regular schedule for most of my childhood. I can clean up my house quite nicely before a party (though please don't look behind my closed bedroom door), and I think I was a fairly good roommate who kept common areas neat.

But just because I know how to doesn't mean I want to. I will happily cook a three-course meal with a two-layer cake before I'll bother picking up a dust cloth or pulling out the vacuum (though I do hate the dishes after the cooking). I occasionally get bouts of motivation, where I'll clean all the bathrooms, or vacuum every bedroom, but then I run out of steam and get overwhelmed realizing how much else needs to be done (must I clean All the Things?!).
(c) Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Having children forced me to do better. Setting their tiny bodies on the floor made me realize the need to vacuum. Serving them first foods forced me to mop the kitchen floor regularly. Cloth diapers and a million tiny onesies turned laundry into my most dedicated hobby. I began to clean more, but it was never enough, and I lived with constant guilt about my dirty house and frustration knowing it needed to be cleaner.

There was another layer of guilt too. When I had Sylvia, I quit my 9-5 office job. I was a stay-at-home mom, and as such, cleaning duties fell almost entirely to me. It was part of the job I signed up for. I couldn't really get away with blaming it all on my husband anymore, as he was out of the house 40+ hours a week, and I was home most of the day. I should have had time to clean. I should have been more inspired to clean. But it never happened, and the guilt (and dust) grew.

After each of the girls were born, my parents gifted me money to hire a housekeeper, and those few months were glorious times in which All the Things were clean at the same time (!), and I actually felt at ease in my own home. I wanted desperately to keep paying them to clean for me, but the guilt of doing so as a stay-at-home mom was too great: I should be able to do this. It's part of my job description. We have one salary and money could certainly be spent better elsewhere.

But I started talking to other moms -- other stay-at-home moms -- and I learned a little secret. Lots of people hire house cleaners. I should note that my mom friends are all solidly middle class. This is not a group of society moms hanging out between spa appointments and luncheons at The Club. Yet almost all of them scrape together funds to pay someone else to clean their homes. No one really talked about it until I asked, but all were quick to admit that it was worth every penny.

So a few months ago, I hired cleaners full time. They come every other week, and it is glorious. They do a better job than I ever could, and they've relieved me of guilt, embarrassment, and probably a few health-code violations. It's worth the sacrifice to our budget to make the house run better.

This Mother's Day, I hope all you moms out there will realize that you can't do it all. It's OK to ask for help. And it turns out, more moms than you realize are getting some help. And for you dads and kids out there, for Mother's Day or any other occasion, considering getting Mom a service instead of a gift. A house cleaner, a masseuse, a tax professional, or someone to cook up three casseroles for the freezer: these pros will give mom the break she deserves, and will perhaps allow her other talents to shine through.

So I guess this means I should start baking more cakes.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sleep Update: Because You Care

I seemed to have touch a nerve with my last post, as I have heard back from quite a few folks. I was honored to have another mom -- a high school friend I had barely talked to in decades -- tell me that I was her inspiration to try gently sleep-training her 18-month-old, and it worked in one night! Another mom from Sylvia's preschool had been lying down next to her 8-year-old every evening, and after reading my post, decided that maybe she could stop. She did, and he didn't bat an eye. Now, I'm not advocating that all moms stop cuddling their babies, but these two moms were ready for some space and just needed a little encouragement to get it. I was proud to help.

Many other moms have asked me, "So, are you enjoying getting all that sleep?" To which my answer is, NO, because we're not really sleeping. I mean, it's better -- better than when we were up every 45 minutes, and better in that Amelia sleeps in the crib and I have a little more autonomy and life is slightly more predictable. But after that first successful week, she backslid quite a bit.

First, it was a few fluky nights of more regular wake-ups. It turned out she had an ear infection, which required ten days of antibiotics. After letting her do what she wanted for a week (which was to wake up every two hours), I went back to trying to get her go longer. Somewhere in the middle of all that, she cut her first two teeth. Now, some nights, she can sleep five hours. Others, she's up after 1.5 hours.

The good news is that she has the skill set: I can put her down to nap wide awake, and she'll fall asleep within two minutes. Our bedtime routine is easy and non-taxing. When she does wake up, we nurse quickly and I'm back in my bed within seven minutes. The bad news is that some nights I barely get two hours of uninterrupted sleep. And I never know which nights those are going to be.

So, bottom line: baby sleep is rarely perfect. Even those of us who make the decision to try sleep training don't end up with perfectly "trained" children. Maybe some day I'll stop nursing her at night, which would likely end some of the wake-ups, but for now I think she needs me. Or maybe she doesn't. But we're doing pretty OK, we're getting by, and I know this won't last long. I'm trying to be zen about it, realize this is my last baby, my last time to snuggle and nurse and rock at 3 a.m. Meanwhile, I'm also cheering that soon (SOON!) I won't have to snuggle and nurse and rock at 3 a.m.

So I continue to be a poor example of What To Do or even What Not to Do. We are getting by. We are being flexible. And frankly, that's about the best I can expect with a baby. For those of you with natural sleepers: good on ya! For those of you awake all night: I feel ya. And for all of us caught up in-between: this too shall pass. We'll all get some 18 years or so.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Requisite Mommy Blog Sleep Post

This post is about getting our baby to sleep. This means I will likely bore the pants off of some of you, and anger or offend others. In either case, I apologize. 

Over the past few months, things around here started to break down. Most of it was due to sleep deprivation. The baby fell into a pattern of going to sleep in the crib around 8 p.m., waking up and wanting to nurse every 30 minutes to 1.5 hours (usually around 45 minutes) until about 11 p.m., when I'd bring her into bed with me. There, she'd wake up wanting to nurse on the same intervals. Some days, she'd nap well and on a regular schedule (assuming I nursed her to sleep for about 20 minutes first), which helped, but other days she'd take 20-minute cat naps throughout the afternoon. I was drained, my boobs hurt, I wasn't very fun to be around, I had no social life. All of these traits are normal in new moms, but as we started pushing eight months of it, I knew something had to give.

Don't you want to see me every hour of the night?
I generally follow Attachment Parenting guidelines (though I do like cribs), and have always been opposed to sleep training (defined as letting a baby cry alone in the crib to "learn how to self-soothe"), since it seemed unnatural and possibly cruel. If nothing else, I just don't have the heart to let my baby cry it out. With Sylvia, D and I often argued over his wanting me to let her cry vs. my rush to soothe her. Sylvia woke up 1-3 times/night until she was fully weaned (around 14 months), and even after that woke up pretty regularly for a while. At age 3.5, she still gets up a few times each week. With Amelia, I tried about 6 weeks ago to just hold her and let her cry (withholding nursing after a quick wake up), and I caved after 15 minutes. I just couldn't do it.

The breaking point was my trip to Alexandria, VA, last weekend for a combination social/work weekend. Though I had a wonderful time, it was very frustrating dealing with a baby who barely stayed asleep for 45 minutes before requiring 15 minutes or more of nursing. I missed big chunks of a party that was being thrown for me, and I was groggy and sleepy without my chance to sleep in (no husband with me to help in the morning) or take naps (too much to do). Other families were there with their same-aged babies, who were happy and social and could sleep better than mine.

Returning from my trip exhausted, weary and overwhelmed, we knew it was time to do something different. A good friend who has similar parenting philosophies to mine gave me step-by-step, encouraging advice about how she followed Good Night Sleep Tight, a book that advocates staying with the child as she cries and works to sleep. Though I liked the idea, my husband was not on board for helping with this, and I was convinced that my presence (i.e. boobs in sight but unavailable) would upset Amelia more than help her. This proved true two weeks ago when, overly frustrated and exhausted one night, I left Amelia to cry in the bed, and it lasted less than 10 minutes before she fell asleep soundly. There are plenty of examples in books and online of folks using the Ferber or Weissbluth methods whose babies cry for hours -- and I refused to put Amelia (and me!) through that stress. I didn't want to cancel out eight months of trust and attachment with two nights of terror. But she seemed ready to sleep without me, so I decided to trust my instincts and see how bad it would get....

On Monday, I sent D and Sylvia away to sleep at his parents' house so I wouldn't have to worry about the whole house hearing cries. The first night, I put Amelia down drowsy but awake and left her in the crib, crying. She cried (not very hard) for 14 minutes before sleeping for 3.5 hours. It was amazing. The worst part of that night was when she called out from 3-4 a.m., but she was just yelling a few times, never really crying or upset. I didn't stick to any book's assigned time (waiting exactly 8 minutes or only soothing her for 30 seconds), but rather listened to Amelia's cries: when she was really mad, I assumed hunger, but otherwise it was more like frustration.

That was five days ago, and since then she's done a pretty awesome job of going to sleep and staying asleep in the crib, sometimes as long as five hours. I've kept detailed notes on her progress, but that is likely more than any of you want to know. We haven't followed the three-nights-and-you're-done! progress of many other bloggers' stories, and she didn't suddenly start sleeping 12 hours, but we are certainly on a path to improvement. I am still nursing Amelia twice each night -- around 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. -- so that has made the process calmer and easier. My babies tend to have fast metabolisms and she's not eating much solid food, so I feel like she needs to nurse still. I sense she may drop the early morning feed soon, but we'll see.

The improved nighttime sleep has also improved naps. She goes down on a regular schedule and is happy to be in the crib. There have been some flukes and some messed-up days, but all-in-all, everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- about our days and nights has improved. I am in a better mood than I remember in months. My marriage is better this week. I returned to cooking better meals, playing more with my older daughter, and getting more work projects done (less need to nap!). I joined a Book Club and was able to leave the house from 8-10 p.m. without fretting. I have the inklings of a social life on the horizon, and maybe even a few dates with my husband, and that feels so restorative.

I've learned a few things from this process:
  • Things we fret about for months often resolve themselves quite easily. There was a lot of drama in this house about sleep training -- going back to our first kid 3.5 years ago. All my plans, all the talk, all the worry fell away to just doing what felt right one night. And it worked.
  • Timing is important. I don't think Amelia nor I were ready for this a month ago, but we were both ready this week. I'm still glad I had her in bed with me for eight months. I'll miss that time.
  • Books are good guidelines, but those authors don't know your kids. I read Good Night Sleep Tight and the No Cry Sleep Solution, as well as a lot of blogs. I liked some ideas, was horrified by others, and tried and failed at some proposed solutions. In the end, what worked best for me was advice and encouragement from mama-friends, and then doing what I knew was best for my kid and my family. Some might not think that waking up twice each night is a good thing, but it works for my family now.
  • "You gotta put your own oxygen mask on first." This gem is from a dear friend, which was just what I needed to hear to realize that sometimes it's OK to prioritize myself; in fact, in doing so I can then take better care of my family. I needed sleep, and I needed to nurse less, and those needs are as important as the baby's. My marriage, my relationship with my elder daughter, and the functioning of our house were also important. 
So that's my long and dull post. But you know what? Because I've had some sleep, I had some time to post! So maybe I'll start blogging again more....

Monday, March 4, 2013

Opposition We Can All Agree On

I don’t often get political here. Sure, there are a lot of issues I’m passionate about…but I’m also pretty lazy. And I don’t like to offend people. And it’s just tiring to care all the time. But I’m currently up on my high horse about a new bill being proposed in the SC House that I find truly baffling in how unnecessary and, well, cruel it is. SC House Bill 3731, “the SC Lay Midwife Act,” is currently in committee, and it seeks to redefine the role of midwives in South Carolina, which would effectively shut down their legal practice.

As you know if you know me or read this blog at all, I’m a proponent of natural childbirth. I am thrilled to live in a state in which midwives and home births are legal (only true in 27 states), so that I could have the choice to have the type of birth I wanted (a choice made after years of research, health evaluations and personal reflection).  I have nothing against hospital deliveries and I recognize their importance and need – but I wish that all families knew about their options and were able to make a CHOICE about where and how to birth.

Bill 3731, which you can read in full text here, will make it nearly impossible for midwives to do their jobs. It demeans their hours and hours of education, their autonomy, and their relationships with their clients. I oppose the bill personally for a lot of reasons, but I thought it would be more effective to discuss why YOU, dear reader, should oppose it too. My master’s degree taught me nothing if not to consider the audience for any persuasive writing, and so I present to you my arguments, shaped for a variety of audiences who may not otherwise give a flying hoot about baby birthin’ in SC.

The “I Don’t Know Nuthin about Birthin no Babies” Arguments Against H-3731

For Tea Party Republicans
We don’t need more government enacting more bureaucracy over programs that are currently working just fine.

For Capitalists
This bill calls for every midwife to be directly supervised by an obstetrician. So that means obstetricians are in control of their own competition. This creates a monopoly, a trust of only one type of business service being offered to SC consumers.

For Republicans
Midwives and the birth centers they own and run represent hundreds of small businesses across the state. To shut them down is to close businesses in communities large and small. Furthermore, home births and births in birth centers cost an average of $4,000, versus the average hospital birth of $8,800. Midwives offer an affordable option for those paying cash or those with insurance. Medicaid currently covers midwives in SC – offering a significant savings for the government.

For Democrats
Midwives are most often hired by the underinsured, the poor, immigrants (legal and not), and religious communities. These people seek childbirth options that are familiar, and they are often passionately opposed to hospital deliveries. They will likely use midwives even if they become illegal, creating potentially dangerous scenarios when extensive medical care becomes necessary.

For the Patriotic
The US is 173rd in infant mortality rates. We are 136th for maternal mortality rates (deaths in childbirth). This from a country that claims to have the best health care system in the world? Clearly, our childbirth system is broken, and it takes very little research to see that all the top-ranking countries use midwives extensively, and most promote and support home births. Why would we want to oppose something that will improve health rates in our country?

For Anyone Working in Alternative Medicine
This bill defines “lay midwives” as people with “little formal training or recognized professional education in midwifery, who learned by accompanying doctors or midwives attending home births.”  In fact, SC’s midwives are fully licensed and regulated by DHEC. They work through formal education programs (outlined by DHEC) and complete intense (1:1 or 1:2) apprenticeships that last about 2-3 years. They take a formal examination in front of a review board and then, once licensed, meet continuing education requirements and regular peer review. Thus, the implication is that no medical school training equals no formal training. So that means you chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists and the like are now “lay” workers with “little training.” How does that feel? Should you be watched over at all times by people who went to “formal” medical school?

For Obstetricians (yes, you too!)
There is a shortage of OB-GYNs. Rising insurance costs make this field expensive and difficult. I've heard stories of OB’s being overworked, pulled too hard away from their families, and generally overwhelmed, which added to the expense of running a practice, make many leave the field. So why not share the work with midwives? The midwives can handle the low-risk patients, and you can practice your medical skills with mothers who need your education and experience. It’s not competition when there are plenty of mothers to go around. Plus, do you really want the extra work of overseeing midwives while handling your own patients?

For Women (and Men Who Want to Have Babies with Women)
This is not about where you want to give birth. It’s about having a choice. Whether you want to be drugged into a coma in the fanciest hospital suite around, or alone in your candle-lit bathtub at home, you likely appreciate your chance to make that choice. Let’s ensure that all women of SC can continue to make the choice.

If any of this convinced you, please take action. Here’s what you can do:

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shopping List Revealed

Last night I finally purchased my shopping cart from Amazon, which I'd been compiling for over a week. This cart is a surprisingly revealing snapshot of my family's life right now. I purchased:

  1. Baby food freezer trays. Amelia is six months (!) and so we're starting solid food. So far, after her initial enthusiastic consumption (and then vomiting) of applesauce, she is dubious of the idea. Food is fun on your hands, not in your mouth, Mom. I know it doesn't help that I have to force-feed her pink bubblegum-flavored liquid antibiotic two times per day. If that was among my first exposures to food, I'd be dubious as well. Yet, I shall plow ahead and begin making a variety of colorful purees to freeze in my new trays. 
  2. A new DSL modem. This is not very exciting. Our current modem blips out (technical term) at least once a day, and AT&T tells me it's my modem's fault, not theirs. I find the purchase symbolic, though, because I'm now working from home enough to notice that my Internet blips out one or more times per day. I happily have about 10 hours/week of work, and I even had to turn away a client (one I was excited about, even). My little business seems to be taking off, and I find the work interesting and the income (tiny though it may be) exciting.
  3. Nose-hair trimmers. We are getting old. D especially is getting old. He now has hair growing out of weird places. Because he is a dude, though, and dudes -- especially married ones -- don't have to fret that weird hair is growing out of their faces, it has become my job to purchase the equipment to fix it, and then ask him to fix it. He doesn't care one way or the other that a small forest is sprouting out his nose. Oh, to be a dude sometimes. (I should add that my husband is very attractive and hygienic. Just...hairy.)
  4. A novel. While my cheap self usually gets all my books from the library, I'm into a somewhat trashy trilogy that my local library is never going to stock. I have happily returned to reading novels every night, and often while nursing during the day. I've plowed through some literary ones, some beach books, and a few in-between. I'm enjoying connecting and reviewing on Goodreads, as well as taking a break from bad daytime TV.
  5. A toy doctor's kit. I put this on Sylvia's birthday and Christmas lists, but she has not yet received one, so I'm giving it to her for Valentine's Day. She loves to play dress-up, and she also loves to play being a doctor, but she has yet to combine the two. I hope by giving her a doctor's bag, she'll take a break from dressing as a princess. More likely, she'll just become a princess with a stethoscope. That's OK too.
So there you have it: we are aging parents of two who enjoy reading and the Internet. Shocker.

I enjoyed this exercise, and would love to see others' Amazon carts for similar extrapolation. I know there's a blog that keeps track of discarded grocery lists. I wonder if there's one for abandoned Amazon carts?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The good and the bad

It seems like a recent theme of my entries is how the good and the bad come together. Most parents of young (or all?) children will understand this: life can be friggin hard and kinda wonderful all at the same time.

The bad: Sylvia and I have had a virus for 16 days. It has disrupted our sleep and made everyone cranky. Earlier this week, it morphed into an upper respiratory thing, and after Sylvia started coughing too much to sleep, and occasionally coughing until she threw up, it became time for a reevaluation and some antibiotics.

Also bad: Amelia has been waking up at night about every hour. I get excited when she sleeps for two hours straight. She wakes up to nurse and returns to sleep quickly, but still - I haven't had a full sleep cycle in over a month. We have changed sleeping arrangements, bedtimes, routines, and nursing patterns, all at no avail. If I didn't have baby-mama magical powers, I don't know how I'd be holding it together. As it stands, I'm just barely staying this side of sane.

The good: I have some new freelance clients and I'm loving it. I've been writing social media copy for a vineyard in Virginia, which has made for some fun research about wine and food, and helping promote a big DC fundraiser. I'm also managing a Twitter and Facebook account for a dog magazine, which is interesting. I'm enjoying using techniques I taught in class and writing a lot more. It's all quite fulfilling.

Also good: last Thursday was my first day of grandparent babysitting. D's parents took Amelia all morning while I worked I their basement, and the baby and I survived just fine. They then picked up Sylvia from school and kept her most of the afternoon. After a morning without the baby and an afternoon with the elder kid, I was revitalized and totally in love with my babies again.

It's now time for another night, another week. Here's hoping we get some sleep and health. All in all, though, we are blessed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Overview

A friend blogger posts these questions and answers each year, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. Admittedly, my answers will get repetitive, as bringing a new life into the world was a pretty capstone event for 2012, but here goes...

1. What did you do in 2012 that you've never done before?

The biggie was giving birth at home. I was also humbled to promote myself as a freelancer and ask friends for work. Oh, and I presented my thesis research at an academic conference - my first to attend and present at.

2. Did you keep the resolutions you made? Will you make more this year?

I don't make resolutions. I generally try to be healthier, mentally and physically, each year, but I don't set concrete goals.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Me! And some of my MOMS Club friends, as well as a dear childhood friend. Also a few college friends I keep up with on Facebook.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes, my husband's maternal grandmother died. She was 92, very active and sharp till the end. She spent her winters in Clemson, so I knew her quite well. She was smart, well read, loved to eat good food and chat over the dinner table. We all miss her. Christmas was a bit sad without her.

5. What countries did you visit?

None. I was pleased just to leave the state a few times. D and I pledged long ago to vacation abroad at least every other year, but the kids have put that dream on hold for a while.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

Full nights of sleep! Between my pregnancy and this baby, 2012 was not a well rested year. I'm doubtful it'll be much different in 2013, but 2014 should be my year....

7. What dates from 2012 will be etched in your memory and why?

Hm. I'm not great with dates, even though there were some big events this year. May 19 stands out: the day one of my best friends was married. I read from The Alchemist at the ceremony, and D and I enjoyed a brief babymoon on the NJ shore. It was a fun weekend with dear friends and precious "grown-up time." On August 8, I delivered my baby girl - on her due date, no less! And on November 3, Amelia was baptized at our lovely church, followed by a small but warm party with family (and lots of long-distance love sent by godparents).

8. What was your bravest achievement?

Having a healthy birth in my home, with no fear.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I don't feel like I was a very good friend this year. Some of my friends are going through difficult times right now, and it has made me realize how little I do to truly engage with the people I love. Distance sucks.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully, nothing major affected my health. That said, I am normally quite healthy, but I spent the first half of 2012 sick as a dog. My pregnancy-weakened immune system caught every bug that blew through this town. I spent days at Urgent Care with breathing problems, likely the result of pregnancy-induced asthma (a first for me). We blew through our Flexible Spending account by summer trying to get me well. Thankfully, it all cleared by May or so.

11. Where did most of your money go?

Well, it dried up quite a bit when the semester ended in May, since for the first time since I was 14, I was earning no money. The money we did make went mostly to our house, which we finally bought (after a year of renting due to a weird title issue). Down payment, mortgage, a few repairs, painting...that'll dent your savings. I also spent more than I should have on food. I cooked a lot of fun dishes in 2012.

12. What song will always remind you of 2012?

A tie: "Call Me Maybe" and "Somebody That I Used to Know."

13. Are you (a) happier or sadder, (b) richer or poorer, (c) fatter or thinner than you were last year?

A - this is tricky. Being a parent of a new baby brings a lot of joy, but also a lot of frustrations and exhaustion. I was probably more consistently happy in 2011, but had more moments of great joy in 2012.

B - Poorer. I miss having a salary.

C - Fatter. 2011 was my thinnest year since high school. In 2012, I gained 40+ pounds in pregnancy and am still carrying some of that around.

14. How did you spend Christmas?

My mom came to visit, but she was sick with an upper respiratory virus. She went to bed after we opened gifts on Christmas morning and missed the whole day. But we hosted a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at our house for our clan, my mom, my parents-in-law, D's aunt, and a family friend. After opening gifts at home Christmas morning - a happy event that took almost 3 hours, as Sylvia happily played with each new present - we took giant naps, then spent the evening at D's parents' house, with his sister's family up from Atlanta. It was all rather low-key but fun.

15. Did you fall in love this year?

I fell completely, utterly in love with an 8lb precious child I met on August 8. She holds a very large part of my heart in her tiny fingers.

16. What was your favorite TV program in 2012?

Downton Abbey. Honorable mentions: Call the Midwife, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, The Newsroom and Project Runway.

17. What was the best book you read in 2012?

Probably Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (I know, 15 or so years late). I also really enjoyed The Memory Keeper's Daughter, The Cove, The Birth House, and The Language of Flowers.

18. What did you want and get? What did you want and not get?

First, a healthy child (praise be!). Next, a child who sleeps well at night.

19. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?

I turned 33 in February (my Jesus year!). My birthday is on Valentines' Day, a difficult day to go out to dinner or host a party, so D typically makes me a nice meal. I was in the middle of one of my many diseases, but we enjoyed a late (after Sylvia was in bed) meal of fondue. I recall enjoying the candlelit dinner, but having to take a break for a severe coughing spell.

20. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

Large and comfortable - I was pregnant or nursing the whole year. That said, I did discover the joys of maxi dresses, and the comfort of tunics with leggings, both trends I will likely keep once I have my shape back.

21. What kept you sane?

Social media. I love connecting with friends and knowing others are having similar experiences, especially with children.

22. What political issue stirred you the most?

The rise of the Tea Party and their effect on the Republican Party platform really frustrates me. The Newsroom (TV show on HBO) eloquently explains the takeover better than I can. But I was often worked up by ignorant, closed-minded, uncompromising folks having too much say on national news networks and within party war rooms. An uneducated populace gets me all riled up.

23. Who did you miss?

My dearest childhood girlfriends are scattered around the country. We try to get together every year, but it didn't happen in 2012. I miss them.

24. Who was the best new person you met?

My second daughter, Amelia. I've also gotten to know more moms in our MOMS Club, and I'm very much enjoying their friendships.

25. Tell a valuable life lesson you learned this year.

You can't plan for everything, but often the change is for the best. I had planned to give birth at a birth center, but ended up doing so at home. I had planned to keep teaching college classes, but that changed unexpectedly, and out of my control.

26. What song lyric from 2012 sums up your year?

Oh I don't know. This question is better suited for college-aged me. I'm just thrilled to have some great Pandora stations, and a daughter who loves kitchen dance parties.

Happy 2013 y'all!