Friday, December 26, 2008

Almost there

Dear boy,

Merry Christmas! And happy eleven-month-birthday, son. It's getting harder and harder for me and your dad to remember a time when you weren't a part of our lives, home and family, especially now that you're such a vocal and mischievous contributor. 

Your smile has always been a bright spot for us, but lately you've taken it to new levels. You don't just smile anymore as much as you dare us NOT to laugh at you. To call you a happy baby would be a major understatement -- you're just blessed with an outgoing and naturally upbeat personality, for which we are thankful. 


This last month has brought lots of changes. You're pointing at things and people now that have captured your attention, and while it's a perfectly normal developmental milestone, your method of pointing is anything but run-of-the-mill. I have yet to capture a picture of it, but you fold your thumb down against your palm and point with your other four fingers in the general vicinity of what you want to indicate, and your dad and I can't get enough of it. When we ask you what you're looking at, and you pop out that four-fingered salute, we never know quite what to rest our eyes upon, but it hasn't been too much of a problem so far. I kind of hope you never figure out how to point any differently, because I love your way of doing it now. 

You've also fallen in love with your board books, and I cannot be any happier. Hooray!! Another reader in the house! Storytime before bed never fails to captivate you, and you play with your books now all on your own, even frequently choosing them over the noisier, battery-operated toys at your disposal, a choice I heartily appreciate on many levels. Not only have you learned to employ your tiny thumb to turn the pages of your board books, you've also figured out how to rifle through magazines faster than I would have thought possible. So far your periodic reading has been limited to "American Baby" and "Parenting" magazines, but we're thinking of getting you your own subscription to "The Economist" and "Business Week."


Now that your upstairs playroom is functionally complete (meaning it's baby-safe and filled with toys, not that I've repainted it or hung up anything cute on the walls -- there just aren't enough hours in the day!), you spend lots of time there with me on any given day. When you want a respite from your toys, you always know how to take a break -- you crawl to the window, pull yourself up and peer over the sill to stare down at the neighbors as they come and go. You are more interested in the lives of our neighbors than I would have thought possible for a child under the age of one, and your intent face makes me laugh. Sometimes your dad and I try to figure out just what you're keeping tabs on, and we wonder if you're noting who's pulling up in a new sedan, who's got a new bike, and who's accepting yet another FedEx package. If the neighborhood watch ever needs another member, I'm signing you up.


Not all new developments are easy and breezy -- I'll admit that sometimes your determination and sheer force of will are hard to handle. You are a remarkably happy baby, as I mentioned, but I've been amazed by how committed you can be to doing things on your terms. If I'm helping you move a large toy that you want to play with on your own, you'll grab my hand and push it aside. If I've walked into a room holding a snack that's not baby-friendly (like something with peanut butter on it), I'd better have something else to feed you or you'll let me know you're displeased. If you want to feed yourself Cheerios and I try to hand you one, I can expect to be sweeping up the floor, since you'll pitch them overboard faster than I can say "multi-grain." And if I want you to take just one more bite of pear-pineapple but you're done, then BY GOD, YOU'RE DONE AND NO ONE'S GONNA MAKE YOU EAT ANYMORE. You definitely know your own mind, and it's going to serve you well in your adult life, but I swear, kid -- it can make parenting a challenge, to say the least. Still, I would not have you be any other way. I have the feeling you came by that fierce independence honestly enough, and I know that both your daddy and I value that about our own personalities.


Speaking of feeding yourself, you're doing so with more regularity and more success. It's so much fun for us to watch the physics of how you manage getting one tiny piece of cereal to your mouth, a short distance but one apparently fraught with insecurity and danger. Lately you've gotten much better at the pincer grip of picking a Cheerio up with just your thumb and first finger, but your earlier attempts were hilarious demonstrations of the meaning of the word "overkill." You'd grab one Cheerio in your palm, wrapping all your fingers securely around it as if you expected someone to spirit it away from you by magic. Then you'd cram that whole hammy fist into your mouth and try to open your fingers while they were lodged between your gums. More often than not, those moist Cheerios ended up in your lap or on the floor, but you've shown steady improvement, and are probably eating up to 75% of what we put on your high chair tray these days. And you always love to celebrate your success when the food's in your mouth, which is infectious. We do a lot of clapping and "yay!"-ing.



As I noted, you love storytime before bed. We always make sure we get in at least two books before bedtime (after your bath and prayers), and it's your daddy who reads them to you. This is for a couple of reasons -- after a long day at work, both you and he enjoy having some quiet time together, and also, when I try to read books to you at bedtime, you seem much more interested in moving on to the next phase of the going-to-sleep routine -- nursing. So I usually retreat to the hallway and watch you surreptitiously from the doorway as daddy reads you your books and sings your prayers with you. You never know I'm there -- I make sure you don't see me, since it tends to bring storytime to a grinding halt when you're crowing for sustenance -- but I watch you every night. I have the feeling that there will be a lot of times in your life like that, son -- you won't realize it, but I'll be there, watching over you and hoping and praying for you to be kept whole, happy and healthy.


This time next month, I'll probably be writing about how you're walking. You've come so close to taking your first steps -- you stand unsupported now with regularity, and you're starting to lurch toward things several steps away, a development that's both exciting and terrifying, since you're so much more prone to accidents now. And I have the feeling that everything will feel completely different once again when you're toddling around instead of crawling, like we'll be starting over with a new baby, one who doesn't explore the world at his feet, but one who runs through the world around him. How will we be parents to that new little guy? I don't know, but I trust that we'll figure it out together. You've shown us all along how to be the parents you need, and we'll just keep holding your hand when you need it. That's the easy part. The hard part is always the part where we have to let go.

I love you, son.

Love,
mommy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Here's the Christmas card I would have sent. Sort of.

Every year I have the best of intentions with holiday cards. I make lists, I buy postage, I drag my collection of snowmen-themed cards out of storage, I make sure my favorite pen has ink in it. And in recent years the trend has been that that's where it ends.

Now that we have a baby, it stands to reason that from now on, any cards we send will feature said baby. Prominently. So since I didn't send out the cards I should have, here's a picture or two that might have been used on one. 

The kid made out like a bandit. You think he could have spared ONE smile.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

In my defense, I NEVER CLAIMED to be normal.

If I ever walk up to you and sniff your face, you can blame my aunt B.

When I was a little kid, I used to spend afternoons after school at my grandparents' house. My aunt, who wasn't yet married at the time, still lived with them. And occasionally, she'd let me watch her put on her makeup. 

My aunt's makeup ritual would have been elaborate to an ADULT. To a second-grader, it bordered on the mystical. She would take a seat at her low vanity table, and survey her assortment of vials and compacts and tubes. First was the concealer, dabbed on in strategic places, then blended carefully. Then came liquid foundation. Then powder. Then eyeliner (this took a while, as she carefully pulled and lifted the applicator to create an almond eye shape, almost feline at the outer corners). Then eyeshadow -- three or more colors, painstakingly applied and blended. Then a touch of lipstick to the mouth, and dotted on the cheeks and forehead and rubbed in to give her face a rosy, pinky glow. At each step, she'd pull back from the glare of the vanity mirror and check the overall effect, frequently moistening a finger to undo the latest application, grumbling under her breath until she had the cosmetics on the way she wanted.

The whole process took over 45 minutes. And this was makeup ALONE. Hair and wardrobe hadn't even been considered yet. So it's really not surprising that she would therefore be so meticulous about the finished product. If we ever reached up to hug her after her ministrations, she'd hiss, "Watch out! Don't touch my face!" It wasn't long before she'd perfected the air kiss, a quick peckish motion in the vicinity of your cheek in greeting. 

Over the years, she became less adamant about the absolute-no-contact rule, and modified her salutation into a sniff. In order to preserve her carefully applied lipliner and lipstick, she'd curl her lips into her mouth, and press her nostrils onto your cheek, inhaling at the same time to create a light suction effect, not unlike a kiss, I suppose. In Vietnamese, the phrase you use to describe that little sniff is hit vao, pronounced HEET vah-oh, and it's become the standard greeting for more than one of the perfectly-made-up women in my family. If it hadn't started when I was such a little kid, it would probably seem gross, but at this point, it's just what they do. I've even caught myself doing it when I greet them in return, strangely. 

And there was the one time I did it to a girlfriend who is not acquainted with my family, and heck, she's not even Vietnamese. Not that that would have helped.

She'd just had a baby, and husband and I had gone over to visit the new little family. As good friends do, we'd made and brought dinner along with us, so when I saw my friend for the first time, my hands were full of a slow-cooker, teeming with some kind of soup or stew. A hug (our normal greeting) was therefore out of the question, and without thinking about it at all (clearly), I leaned down and sniffed her cheek. 

Keep in mind the poor woman had recently had her first baby. She was wearing her glasses, which means she hadn't been sleeping regularly enough to know when to put in or remove her contact lenses. And chances are, if you're not sleeping regularly, you probably haven't had a regular shower routine, either. Not that I even remember whether she smelled bad or anything, but if you hadn't showered recently and a friend put her head next to your face and inhaled sharply, wouldn't you feel uncomfortable?

The instant I'd done it, I thought, "Hey, I'll bet that seemed REALLY EFFING WEIRD to her." But I had no idea how to address it. She didn't say a thing about it (the fact that she didn't rear back as if I'd tried to bite her is a testament to her grace and poise), so I pretended like nothing strange had happened, and to this day we've never discussed it. 

So, I'm just sayin'. If I sniff you, it's 'cause I love you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So much for Dr. Spock.

Every baby book you read tells you that during his first year, your baby will progress from a newborn to an infant to a toddler. 

They lied. 

Here are the real stages of development, as recently experienced by myself, husband and boy.

Stage 1: The Sleepy Bundle.
This stage is very short-lived, usually limiting itself to the hospital duration only. It's characterized by long stretches of sleep, punctuated with short stretches of nourishment or digestive-system testing. This stage allows new parents plenty of time to rest and get charged up for what follows, though they nearly always squander this time in admiring the Sleepy Bundle.

Stage 2: The Angry Blob.
Shortly upon arrival home from the hospital, the Sleepy Bundle metamorphoses into the Angry Blob. Scientists are not certain how the Sleepy Bundle is sentient enough to realize that the supportive nurses at the hospital are no longer around, but it's incredible how accurate this timing is. The Angry Blob has a lung capacity approximately seven times that of the baby in its former stage, and makes use of it frequently. It's normal for new parents to become terrified of their own baby while he or she is in this stage, and begin to tiptoe around the house during the rare moments of quiet that present themselves, out of fear of awakening the Angry Blob. This stage usually lasts approximately until the baby's eighth to tenth week.

Stage 3: The College Roommate.
At some point, the Angry Blob bestows its first smile upon its parents. When this occurs, the baby's parents usually forgive all Angry-Blob outbursts that have preceded the smile, and enter into a new relationship with the baby. They will tolerate long stretches of indifference, relish the occasional grin, and clean up the baby's messes and various odors, which is why the stage is named as it is. This is known as the College Roommate stage also because the baby's parents will consume an inordinate amount of delivered pizza, out of proportion to that of any healthy adult diet, due to the sheer convenience of the meal. The College Roommate stage usually lasts until about the baby's fifth or sixth month.

Stage 4: The Benevolent Dictator.
Once the baby passes into the sixth or seventh month, smiles and laughter become more frequent, and the baby even learns a few useful party tricks, such as waving "bye-bye," blowing kisses, or creating farting noises on someone's bare arm or cheek. Because parents and their circle of family and friends will do anything to receive the favor of these small performances, the baby soon learns to lord these behaviors and use them at the most opportune times (usually to extend playtime, delay bedtime, or receive a tasty morsel). While this is clearly manipulative, most babies have learned to smile so charmingly that no one minds this arrangement. 

Some babies are still in this phase at their first birthday. However, as is becoming apparent with boy, others may enter into a fifth stage.

Stage 5: The Best Friend (a.k.a., The Siamese Twin).
As the baby develops a sense of self and identity, he or she also realizes that parents are separate entities as well. Therefore, whenever the parent who is present attempts to leave the room (for such selfish reasons as relieving his or her bladder, or going to work to earn money to make the baby's LIFE POSSIBLE), the Best Friend cries real and terrified tears at this seemingly unnecessary and traumatic separation. Parents find themselves resorting to ridiculous behavior to avoid the tears of the Best Friend, who now is carted along everywhere, such as to Wal-Mart, the grocery store, Home Depot and the restroom (thus earning the alternate name The Siamese Twin). 

Though we have not yet experienced the stages past these, we hear from friends that the second year holds such exciting new developments as The Prima Donna, who throws tantrums in public at the slightest provocation, and The Contradictor, who will disagree with any idea just for the pleasure of saying, "no."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Print this out and put it in your wallet, son.

Dear boy,

Most of the time, I write you letters just to tell you how much I love you, or to catalog your rapid growth and capture the incredible journey you're on. But this time, I'm writing to apologize. This is something mothers aren't known for doing, son, so you should probably keep this post bookmarked, and just refer to it in the future when necessary. Which might be often, as you shall see.

Here's the thing. I thought I would be immune to at least most of the crazy things that women do when children leap from their wombs. I was sure I'd be able to resist the siren call of saying, "I told you so," or "Because I'm the mommy, that's why," or even "Just wait till your father gets home." I was positive I'd never put a jacket on YOU just because *I* was cold. And I never thought that I'd give in to picking up your messes YET AGAIN, muttering the whole time about "maids" and "gratitude" and "someday-you'll-see-what-I-mean."

But now I'm not so sure. A couple things have happened lately that make all those actions seem inevitable. And I feel like I should tell you about them, because they might happen again, and someday you'll be sentient enough to be utterly humiliated by them.

Last week, we were out on a short walk around the neighborhood, enjoying the mild weather and slanted evening sunbeams. We stopped to talk with some other mommies and babies doing the same thing, and when I glanced down at you, I noticed that I had missed a spot when I was wiping your face after your last meal. (To be fair, son, this is not entirely my fault. Whenever I commit the indignity of trying to render you mess-less in the facial area, you scream and carry on as if I were injecting you with some kind of experimental medication, or attempting to separate your limbs from your torso. You are amazingly adept at arm-swipes and hand-waving, so the damp paper towel doesn't always find its mark entirely.) Not wanting to be the mother who let her baby walk around with cereal and green beans on his face, I clicked my tongue in embarrassment and (this pains me to admit) licked my thumb, and applied the moistened digit to your face to work off the crusty remains of your dinner.

None of the other women around me seemed to give it a second thought, son, which tells me that it's a common occurrence on a street crowded with families with young kids, but as I was swabbing you down with The Mommy Venom Against Dried Foods, I was chagrined. It was happening! I was turning into every mother I'd ever heard of, including my own! I'd thought I was immune, safe from this transformation. I'd thought I was cool enough to resist the urge to put my own SPIT on the face of my progeny. Apparently not, however.

I'd managed to shake if off as a one-time transgression until today, when I feel like I've passed the point of no return. Just now, as we wrapped up a late lunch, I plucked you (face shining from my ministrations with a moistened Brawny) from your high chair and took you to the area your daddy calls The Pit -- the family room, which we've modified with the installation of a large baby gate that cordons off a baby-safe area where you can play and crawl happily. As I set you down to play, I noticed that there was a multi-grain Cheerio stuck to the back of your soft knit pants. Without hesitation of any kind, son, I plucked it off of you and popped it into my mouth. After all, it wouldn't do for it to be ground into my newly-vacuumed carpet. 

While I crunched, the magnitude of my actions hit me like a punch in the gut. I'd just unstuck cereal from my child's clothing and eaten it off of him like some sort of starving person. And now I think it's all over, son, and so I'm saying "I'm sorry" ahead of time. If we're ever out and I approach you with a saliva-wet finger in front of your friends, or if I eat the leftovers of your meal RIGHT OFF YOUR PERSON while your horrified buddies look on, I am truly sorry. It's a DNA-level transformation, son, and it cannot be resisted. 

By the way, you should know it's not just your mom who will slowly be descending into behavior unfit for public places. The other day, your dad admitted that when he saw you about to grind a spit-out strawberry-apple puff into the carpet, he took that soggy piece of cereal out of your hands and ate it himself. Which means he basically ate food you'd already chewed. 

At least if you shun us, I guess I'll have company.

Love,
mommy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Twitter me this ...

So I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. As you can see from the left-hand sidebar here. And it's fun, and I really do like it. But there's a whole subculture around it that I know nothing about.

I assumed Twitter was like Facebook, in that you look up people you ALREADY KNOW and have a new, mobile-phone-based way to keep in touch with them. But what I'm finding is that a lot of people use Twitter to MEET NEW people. So I jumped on, ready to connect with the handful of friends I knew who were already using it -- and now I'm getting random people "following" me. Which is flattering, but, um, kind of a lot of pressure.

Supposedly, Twitter's intended to let you address just one question: "What are you doing right now?" And you can answer that and tell your followers what's going on from hour to hour in your life, if you want. And that's cool, and I'm warming up to it. 

Problem is, while I'm always doing SOMETHING, it's not exactly pithy Twitter material. "Changing a diaper. Again." Not so fascinating. "Catching a nap while boy snoozes." Good for me, right? But who cares? So I've tried using Twitter (to date, anyway) just to share some random thoughts. What I'm wondering, what just occurred to me, what I cherish about the day. 

And now I have an all-new format in which to feel pressured to be clever and fascinating. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Joy to the world

Husband and I hosted an interfaith devotional service last Sunday (we do this the first Sunday of every month). A friend of ours put together the readings, and organized the selections around the theme of "joy." It seemed perfect for this time of year, when so many celebrate a joyous occasion, and these are my favorite readings from the program.

From the Baha'i Writings:
Be happy and joyous because the bestowals of God are intended for you, and the life of the Holy Spirit is breathing upon you.
From Philippians 4.6-7:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus ...
From Islamic Scripture (Rabia):
O my Joy and my Desire and my Refuge,
My Friend and my Sustainer and my Goal;
Thou are my Intimate, and longing for Thee sustains me;
Were it not for Thee, O my Life and my Friend,
How I should have been distraught over the spaces of the earth;
How many favors have been bestowed, and how much hast Thou given me
Of gifts and grace and assistance;
Thy love is now my desire and my bliss;
And has been revealed to the eye of my heart that was athirst;
I have none beside Thee, Who dost make the desert blossom,
Thou are my joy, firmly established within me;
If Thou are satisfied with me, then,
O Desire of my heart, my happiness has appeared.
From the Kenyan tradition of Kikuyu:
O my father, Great Elder,
I have no words to thank you,
But with your deep wisdom
I am sure that you can see
How I value your glorious gifts.
O my Father, when I look upon your greatness,
I am confounded with awe. 
O Great Elder, 
Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly,
I am your warrior,
Ready to act in accordance with your will.
From the Hindu Scripture of Tulsi Das:
Grant me, O Master, by thy grace
To follow all the good and pure;
To be content with simple things;
To speak no ill of others;
To have a mind at peace;
Set free from care, and led astray from thee
Neither by happiness nor woe;
To consider my fellows not as means but ends,
To serve them stalwartly in thought, word and deed;
Never to utter a word of hatred or of shame;
To cast away all selfishness and pride.

Set thou my feet upon this path,
And keep me steadfast in it:
Thus only shall I please thee, serve thee right.
And one of my favorite Baha'i prayers:
O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou are my guide and my refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. 

O God! Thou are more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord. 
Such beautiful words, and such purifying thoughts! And it's all so simple, and yet living it is so very difficult. So here's to doing your best, right? I needed this guidance now more than I even knew last weekend. 

Monday, December 08, 2008

With apologies to Walt Whitman

O baby! My baby!
(Inspired by "O Captain! My Captain!" [which is a much drearier piece].)

O baby! My baby! Your bedtime's here again.
And questioning your wakening isn't an "if," but "when."
The bath is done, the books are read, the prayers they are all chanted.
Your socks are on, your shirt is tucked, your bottom's been a-panted.
Now, shh! shh! shh!
As I walk you through the air
And place you in your snuggly crib,
Then descend the well-worn stairs.

O baby! My baby! It's only been an hour,
And yet you're up and crying now. Will I ever shower?
I go to you and scoop you up, and settle you to nurse,
And when you're done, I put you down, and when you cry, I curse.
So rock, rock, rock
As you suck without a care,
And I place you back in bed again
And sneakily go downstairs.

My baby's up and wailing now, it's not yet ten o'clock,
If only this could just be solved by changing out his frock.
He's dry and clean, he's nursing again, eventually he'll sleep.
And someday when he sleeps all night, I probably will weep.
So I hug, kiss and snuggle 
My sweet, warm teddy bear,
And patiently await the night
I don't have to climb the stairs.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Leaning on You

Dear God,

Do You still do the lightning-strike thing when people are displeasing You? If so, I'm ready. Because I know I'm a moron. Or at least I'm acting like one now. But I'm having a weak moment, God, and I hope You'll understand.

Here I sit, absolutely snowed under with blessings. I've acknowledged this lots of times, here and elsewhere. I know, completely, how lucky and loved I am. And yet I'm sad. And angry, and frustrated.

Please, God, send me wisdom and strength. Help me to open my eyes and see You walking with me, as I know You are, even though I feel alone. Give me patience and courage. Even as I speak to You now, I know You are answering my prayer, because it just occurred to me for the first time that maybe, this sleep issue of boy's isn't so much a test for him, or even just for me as his mom, but for both his parents together. It's rare that we find anything we can't agree upon completely, Lord, and here you've given us an opportunity to develop that ability. 

I pray, then, that you give me not just tireless patience with boy, but continued understanding and empathy with his daddy (whose only transgression is to want what's best for boy, just as I do). Help me to be not just a dedicated mommy, but a loving and supportive wife, too. Enable me to be the partner that husband deserves. 
Is there any remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God, He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding.
As always, Lord, I am humbled by Your abundant gifts and blessings. Thank You for the love and grace You have shown me, always.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

House rules

We try to keep it simple around here, but we do have a few rules everyone has to follow.

1. No talking with your mouth full.


2. Speak up and contribute to your family ... and to your community. Make your voice heard.


3. Playing with food is ok, but only if mommy says so.


4. Learn something new every day.


5. Be proud of yourself and who you are.


6. It's ok to feel less than happy. Just be honest.



7. No passing of gas at the dinner table.




Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I couldn't have said it better myself.

My sister-in-law sent me the most amazing e-mail today, and I felt so exhilarated by it that I had to post it here. The excerpt she sent me was a scanned piece from The Washington Post, called "Tell Me About It." And I liked it so much I've RETYPED it here. If I knew what date it was circulated, I would include that, but I have no clue -- I'll cite it the best I can. This piece is written by Carolyn Hax of The Washington Post. You can reach her at tellme@washpost.com.

So -- this one's for my sister-in-law, and for screamy mimi. And for shorty, and dooce. It's for my girlfriend Laura who reads this blog and has two amazing kids herself. It's for N, also a mother of two, and C, whose baby is just four months younger than my own boy. It's for my incredible girlfriend K who is a mom to an adorable one-year-old, and who has battled cancer and numerous health issues herself since her son's birth (she just finished chemo and radiation, and her spirit inspires me every day). It's for all the moms in my mom's group. It's for any mom anywhere who's ever felt frustrated with the fact that her to-do list never seems to get completely checked off on any given day. 

There's a good reason for that. Multiple reasons, in fact. As you'll see.
Dear Carolyn: Best friend has child. Her: exhausted, busy, no time for self, no time for me, etc. Me (no kids): What'd you do today? Her: Park, play group ... 

OK. I've talked to parents. I don't get it. What do stay-at-home moms do all day? Please no lists of library, grocery store, dry cleaners ... I do all those things, too. I guess what I'm asking is: What is a typical day and why don't moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home nine hours a day (plus a few late work events); I manage to get it all done. I'm feeling like the kid is an excuse to relax and enjoy, but if so, why won't my friend tell me the truth? Is this a contest ("my life is so much harder than yours")? What's the deal? I've got friends with and without kids and all us child-free folks have the same questions.  -- Tacoma, Washington.

Dear Tacoma: Relax and enjoy. You're funny. 

Or, you're lying about having friends with kids.

Or you're taking them at their word that they actually have kids, because you haven't personally been in the same room with them. 

I keep wavering between giving you a straight answer and giving my forehead some keyboard. To claim you want to understand, while in the same breath implying that the only logical conclusions are that your mom-friends are either lying or competing with you, is disingenuous indeed.

So, because it's validation you seem to want, the real answer is what you get. When you have young kids, your typical day is: constant attention, from getting them out of bed, fed, cleaned, dressed; to keeping them out of harm's way; to answering their coos, cries and questions; to having two arms and carrying one kid, one set of car keys, and supplies for even the quickest trips, including the latest-to-be-declared essential piece of molded plastic gear; to keeping them from unshelving books at the library; to enforcing rest times; to staying one step ahead of them lest they get too hungry, tired, or bored, any one of which produces checkout-line screaming.

It's needing 45 minutes to do what takes others 15.

It's constant vigilance, constant touch, constant use of your voice, constant relegation of your needs to the second tier. 

It's constant scrutiny and second-guessing from family and friends. It's resisting constant temptation to seek short-term relief at everyone's long-term expense.

It's doing all this while concurrently teaching virtually everything -- language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, discipline, curiosity, creativity. Empathy. Everything.

It's also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy, and then, when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend, a good friend wouldn't judge you, complain about you or marvel how much more productively she uses her time. Either make a sincere effort to understand, or keep your snit to yourself.
Can you hear me clapping?

Now, let me clarify -- I am blessed with friends who have never openly wondered whether I've developed bedsores from lazing around in my new lifestyle. I can't say that I have a "Tacoma, Washington" among my loved ones. So this isn't so much a redirect of this rant to the people in my life as it is me flying high the banner of the stay-at-home mom -- and of her understanding circle of dear friends. Because I know I've fallen off the radar of a lot of people who are important to me -- I was never the world's best correspondent, and now it may be months between calls or notes or Facebook Wall postings. And they may think they've fallen off of MY radar, but that's not true. For what it's worth, I think of them -- of YOU -- all the time. I remember birthdays, wonder how someone's mother is doing, wish I could be there for him, plan to call her. I miss people I taught with, worked with, danced with, laughed with. And if those people are YOU, I want you to know -- you are still important to me. 

Don't give up on me. I'm still here. My hands are full and every hour is a balancing act, but I AM here. With everything I've got, thank you for being understanding and patient and flexible. 

Monday, December 01, 2008

What's the sign for "bittersweet?"

Ages ago, before boy was even a thought, husband and I watched some friends teaching their baby sign language. We were amazed, impressed. "We're doing that someday," we said to each other. "All it takes is consistency, right?"

Ahem. Here we are with a ten-month-old who still has no predictability to his sleep, and I thought consistency was EASY?! Ridiculous of me. Still, we've at least been doing the sign for "more" with boy consistently. Apparently.

Because he signs it now. 

At some level, it's not a big deal. It's like smiling back at someone, right? It's like waving bye, or clapping your hands when someone else does. Babies mimic the actions they see. So why do I get tears in my eyes when he does it?

I think it's because now, he knows what it means, not just how to do it. He signs, "more" when we're eating and he wants another bite. He signs "more" when I say, "Baby, do you want more?" He GETS it. Without even talking, he can ask for something he wants. And it's incredible. 

He's done it six or seven times over the last two or three days, and every time he does it, I want to call the news stations. "You've GOT to see this," I want to tell them. "My son TAPS HIS FINGERS TOGETHER. It's the greatest thing EVER." And I know how dumb that sounds, and I know that kids all over the world do this kind of thing, and that he's not the only one or the first one or even the best at it, probably.

But it's one more big step in boy communicating with ease. It's one more huge jump in his rapid development, one more way I watch him learn something and have to praise him around the lump lodged firmly in my throat. 

It's one more way my baby's growing up. And it's beautiful and perfect. And it's breaking my heart.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Legends

Every family has stories, the stories everyone in the family knows by heart and can finish if someone starts. These are a few of mine.

** ** ** ** **

I heard this one countless times as a child, and every time Grampa told it, I loved it more.

When Grampa was a little boy, he and one of his brothers were playing down by the creek behind the family farm. They happened upon a turtle nest (pit? what do you call what a turtle lays eggs in?), and were so taken with the round, dimpled turtle eggs that they filled their pockets and lunch pails with them. Carting their treasures home, they smuggled them into the house and played with them for hours, rolling them around like big marbles. When it was time for bed, they wanted to hide their new toys away from their mother's eagle eyes. They scampered down the basement steps and secreted their find away in various nooks and corners.

I can imagine Grampa as a little boy, skipping around the basement, his shoulders hunched in an effort to be furtive, seeking out dark spots, tucking round leathery eggs underneath burlap sacks filled with dried corn, balancing them on top of jars of canned peaches and beets. I can hear him giggling behind his hands, trying to be quiet, shushing his brother when they both get too loud. And I can see him tripping over the stairs as he rushes back up to get ready for bed, trying to get ahead of his mother's prompts. 

The next day dawned, and as usual, Grampa and his brother were expected to complete their daily chores. In the hustle and bustle of the day, they completely forgot about the turtle eggs that lay quietly all over the basement. That is, until the day a few weeks later, when my great-grandmother went down the basement stairs to fetch up some pickles to go with supper, and was greeted by dozens of tiny, clumsy, flapping turtles. 

Grampa always said he'd never had his behind reddened like that, before or since.

** ** ** ** **

My dad is a police officer. Has been for over 20 years. He's seen his share of awful and amazing things, and has dozens of stories. But one of the stories that is the most vivid to me only starts off scary -- it has a happier ending.

My dad and his partner were called to the scene of an armed robbery. One of the people they found at the scene was a man who had been shot in the chest. The two officers began to administer first aid, but it became apparent that the victim's lungs had been punctured, and he couldn't draw breath. Thinking quickly, my dad slipped the cellophane wrapper off of a pack of cigarettes lying nearby, and held the thin film of plastic to the man's wound. He says he heard the plastic instantly sucked tight to the man's body, and all of a sudden the victim drew his first deep breath -- the film had sealed the wound, temporarily giving the man a closed chest cavity again so that he could breathe. If it hadn't been for my dad's presence of mind, that man might not have lived, but instead, he was conscious and breathing when the paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, where he received treatment for his injuries. And survived.

** ** ** ** **

When I was a little girl, I would beg my parents to read stories to me before bed. I was happy to hear my books read over and over, but my parents got bored soon enough, and one night, my dad decided he could tell just as good a story as any in a book. So he settled me under the covers and told the following tale.

Once upon a time, there was a princess. And she was a good princess, but sometimes she got bored in the castle. So one day she went outside to play. Her parents the king and queen told her to stay close to the castle, and she promised she would.

But she strayed a little far into the forest, and as she was walking, she heard a noise behind her. Boom, boom, boom, she heard. She turned around, but there was nobody there. Startled but brave, she kept walking, hoping she'd imagined it. 

Before long, she heard the noise again. Boom, boom, boom, she heard. Once again she whipped around, but there was nobody there. 

Scared now, the princess realized she didn't know the way home. She turned in the direction she thought would take her to the castle and started hurrying to get out of the forest. And then she heard it again. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! She turned around, and there, standing before her, was an enormous boogeyman. He had great sharp teeth and huge claws, and he was ready to eat her up.

The little princess whirled around and started running as fast as her legs would carry her. She could hear the boogeyman behind her, roaring that he would catch her. Quick as a flash, she ran up a big hill, and putting her shoulder against a huge boulder, she pushed with all her might. The boulder broke away, gathered speed and headed straight for the boogeyman, getting faster and faster as it rolled down the hill. And just as the princess had hoped, it rolled right over the boogeyman, and mushed him flat as a pancake. And so the princess went straight home, and never disobeyed her parents the king and queen again.

The end.

** ** ** ** **

Yes, every family has stories, and over the last month, I've told a number of mine. Now that National Blog Posting Month is over, I'm releasing myself from my self-imposed commitment to a daily post. But I've found that I like posting frequently, Internets, so I'm hoping that I can keep things fresh for you here at writesoftly. I do love feedback, so if you find yourself chuckling or sneering or wiping away tears or craving a Pizookie, leave me a comment to let me know.

And thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A world ago

We actually did exist before boy was born. I know it's hard to imagine (it is for ME), but I have evidence. 

What did we do, you ask? 

We took ski vacations.



We traveled to cool cities like Chicago.


We read books. That weren't written by Sandra Boynton or Dr. Seuss.


We got tan.


We took beach vacations.



We went to lots of weddings, and caught lots of bouquets (here we are at husband's brother and sister-in-law's wedding, and I'd just caught her flowers).


We went out to dinner.


We went out in nature, further away than our neighborhood.


We met celebrities. (Here I am with Dash Crofts, of Seals and Crofts.)


We went to grad school. (This is clearly on husband's graduation date and not mine.)


Then, when we learned a baby would be joining our family, ... we ate. And got kind of round. At least I did. But I was supposed to.


And we spent a lot of time touching The Belly.


We took artsy-fartsy photographs.



We slept. So we didn't have bags under our eyes.


And we were out in the world after 7 p.m. Here I am! And it's dark outside! Wow!


And as great as that life was, it doesn't hold a candle to this one.

I'm getting wiser by the minute

Things I've learned as a mother:
  • If you're working in the kitchen and you suddenly realize it's too quiet ... well, it's also too late.
  • Yes, he CAN reach your diet Coke where you left it on the end table.
  • You cannot make a kid stand up if he doesn't want to. It's frustrating and hilarious at the same time to try. 
  • You also cannot make a kid eat something he doesn't want to eat. Before boy, I used to think that when parents said, "She's such a picky eater -- I can't get her to eat XYZ," that they weren't trying hard enough. When I admitted to our pediatrician that I used to think this, he laughed until he had to sit down. There have been meals during which I've broken out in a real sweat trying to get boy to open his little pinched lips for just ONE MORE BITE OF PEAS, PLEASE, KID, JUST ONE. Nuh-uh. 
  • You can move swiftly through a bath, and read stories at a good clip, but you cannot rush a kid's actual falling-asleep process. Just take a deep breath and settle in for the count.
  • Breast milk doesn't stain.
  • Breast milk poo does.
  • Respect the baby's sleep at almost all costs. It's impossible to build your entire life around his early bedtime and his two naps a day, but everyone will be happier if you do your best to try to let him get the rest he needs. 
  • You bought a diaper disposal thingy. Use it. (This one's also known as, "If you put a dirty diaper in the rarely-used guest bathroom trash can and forget that it's there, no one will like you for it when it's discovered the following week.")
  • It's not necessary to always do the baby's laundry separately from the grown-ups' laundry. Actually, it's kind of fun to find tiny socks lurking in the corners of your t-shirts.
  • No one like to hear their baby yelling, but sometimes you've just gotta clean out that nose.
  • "Sleeping when the baby sleeps" may be the most over-used piece of baby advice ever, but it may save your sanity if your little one is not a good night-time sleeper. I've rediscovered the beauty of the nap.
  • Your parents are actually geniuses. You never understood them the way you should have. They are wellsprings of fantastic advice and insight.
  • You still don't want to turn into them. 
  • But you probably will, anyway.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Never again. Or at least, not for a long time.

Husband and I hosted 19 people for Thanksgiving dinner.

... ... ... [Still waiting for my award.]

On paper it sounded great and easy -- my dad and an aunt and uncle were handling turkeys, mom was doing mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy, plus pies, my brother and sister-in-law were handling a veggie tray with a local prized buttermilk ranch dipping sauce, and my other aunt and uncle were bringing a special family recipe of cauliflower in a delicious bechamel sauce. So I really only had to get the house ready and make a salad, plus appetizers.

Why do I have to make things complicated?

Here was the appetizer list: 1) Brie with crackers. Easy, right? Open the package of Brie and arrange crackers artfully around the cheese. 2) Mini-quiches. Once again, easy, because I decided to cut a few corners and buy frozen apps. AWESOME idea. 3) Deviled eggs, one of my personal specialties. 4) Goat cheese spread on bruschetta with olive tapenade, another one of my go-tos. For the salad, I decided to make a refreshing cucumber-edamame salad, with toasted almonds and asparagus and parsley in a zesty lime dressing. 

The problem with the above menu is that it requires some prep work that I should have done the day before. Boiling, peeling and preparing three dozen deviled eggs, chopping cucumbers, blanching asparagus and edamame, and mincing olives takes time. And on the day of a big dinner, time is what you don't have a lot of, if you have a ten-month-old. 

What was I doing the day before, you ask? I was stringing lights. When we celebrated our marriage in January of 2007, our reception had a snowflake/winter theme, and the kind souls at the reception hall agreed to hang strands of white icicle lights from the ceiling for us in loops and lines to create a starlit night effect. It was magical, and we had oodles of lights left over, so I decided to put them to use. I lined our second-floor banisters (visible from the first-floor family room) with icicle lights, and then suspended and crisscrossed the rest of the lights above the open family room itself, so that in the evening, the lights put off a gentle, sparkling glow. It was gorgeous. But that was only after I'd spent the afternoon first untangling nine strands of 300-count white icicle lights, testing them to ensure they were in good order, then devising a way to fasten them to the banisters and hang them above an open-ceilinged room, WITHOUT getting them tangled in the ceiling fan. 
By the time I got the lights hung, it was way too late in the day to get all the food prepped. So I went to bed at 1 a.m. after having done only about a fourth of it, thinking, "No prob. I got this covered in the morning." Trouble is, I forgot that in order for boy to nap, I'd have to be out of commission while I lay down with him. Stupid, stupid me. Foregoing his nap was out of the question, since we knew he'd be up later than usual, so there went almost two hours of precious prep time. 

Somehow, though, (read: with husband's generous and superhuman assistance) we got just about everything done before everyone arrived at 6 p.m. Sure, I didn't have any makeup on or my hair completely brushed (it was still semi-wet from a hasty shower and pulled up into a makeshift bun), but by God, the food was hot and tasty and artfully arranged on all-white platters and plates. 

Eggs were gobbled, quiches devoured, Brie attacked, veggies crunched, tapenade spooned. Drinks were served. Lights were admired. The baby was fussed over and passed around. And by the time we all sat down at the two tables set for nine and ten people, we were ... probably too full to do the food justice. But we gave it our best. 

And sitting at the kids' table, sweaty from running around and feeding mashed potatoes to an overtired baby while husband made sure everyone's drinks were refreshed, I realized that THAT was what Thanksgiving was all about. It's always been my favorite holiday, and I half-joke that it's because it's all about food, but that's not true. It's about family. It's about the people who will come over to your house and give you a hug with extra squeeze just because they're so happy for you that you're married and enjoying life as a new parent. It's about the fact that your dad will laugh heartily and sincerely over dinner at your house because he really likes your husband, after all, and maybe even loves him a little. It's about having your grandparents over to your home for the first time, and seeing that they share in your joy, and watching them hold their great-grandson with pride. It's about realizing in the moment before dinner that you have so much to be thankful for, that NOT being thankful would be truly shameful, and unfair to most of the world who don't have the chance to enjoy the things you probably take for granted. 

I am a lucky, lucky girl. Even though I still can't feel the tips of my fingers after peeling three dozen eggs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

This is all you get for now.

More to come. I just hosted 19 people for Thanksgiving and they've left and I'm staring approximately 27 pounds of leftovers in the face. 

And my fridge is already full.

I will post more tomorrow. 

Happy turkey day. I'm grateful for Pepto-Bismol.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Five-sixths of a year

Dear boy,

How, exactly, did your daddy and I become the parents of a ten-month-old? We have no idea how it happened, and yet, here you are. Happy birthday, ten months ago.

Yet again, the last month has brought about amazing and exciting changes in your growth and development. Weighing in at a solid 19 pounds, you're a pound away from meeting the weight requirement to transitioning to a forward-facing car seat. It's a change we all await eagerly, probably no one more than you. I know I'd hate to be facing the rear of the vehicle anytime we went anywhere. I don't blame you, really, for melting down on long car rides.

One thing that hasn't changed, though, is your sleeping. You're still a challenge in that department, and something tells me you always will be. A typical night looks like this ... You're asleep in your crib at 6:40 p.m. You wake up and are nursed back to sleep at 7:20, 9, 11:15, and 2:50 a.m., going back into your crib each time. Each of those nursings takes between 10-30 minutes. (If I'm really lucky, you'll let me rock you to sleep in the big comfy chair in your room. For any other baby, this would probably constitute regression, but hey -- if you're falling asleep without nursing, I'll take it -- it's one step closer to falling asleep without me at all.) When you awaken again at 3:45 a.m. or so, I just give up and bring you downstairs to bed with us, an arrangement that leads to blissful semi-sound sleep for all of us until around 7:15 when you get up for the day. You are ROUGH on your momma, kid, but I am so over you crying in your room alone in the middle of the night, which we tried for several months. It just never really stuck, and since we were all miserable anyway, I figure this arrangement keeps you rested and happy, your daddy sleeping through the night so he can work and fund our play-filled lifestyle, and me ... well, I just nap with you when you do, and it's been fine. Someday, though, son, I have daydreams of sleeping longer than three and a half hours at a stretch. 


You've always enjoyed outings, but it seems as though you're more into being outside now than ever. Maybe it's because the weather has been so gorgeous, I don't know, but whatever the reason, we take more walks now and you love it every time. Even just getting the mail makes you so happy. And it's a mellow happy -- you usually lean back in your stroller and smile peacefully at the world around you. We discovered this weekend that it's a great way to calm you down before a nap, so at least through the fall and winter we may be on more outings than ever.



This month, you've been introduced to more solid foods. And not just baby food, but real food, table food like your mom and dad eat. Sort of. I don't know the last time I ever had zwieback toast, for instance, but you're loving the chance to munch on whatever we're having that's safe and relatively healthy. Your latest new foods include Pop-Tart crusts (which you adore -- it's gotten to the point now that when you see that silver foil package come out of the pantry, you start smacking your lips in anticipation), macaroni and cheese, pudding, Kix cereal, and even a tiny bite of a baked Cheeto. (Um, yeah -- I take back that part about being relatively healthy, but in our defense, you don't eat very much of the stuff I just listed. Except for maybe the Pop-Tarts.) You do swimmingly with anything bite-sized that we put into your mouth with our fingers, but lumpy food from a spoon still throws you for a loop. It's like you assume that if it's on a spoon, you can just swallow it without chewing it, and your gaggy faces are tremendously melodramatic. 


Another one of your favorite things is being naked. The fewer items of clothing you're wearing, the happier you are. This one, I really don't get. Your dad and I are modest people who aren't really into showing skin, so your love of the naturalist lifestyle is one that baffles us. Still, you're at an age where it's pretty much acceptable to appear en dishabille, so we're ok with it for now. We really only humor you right before bathtime, anyway. 



One of the most fun changes you've undergone lately is an even greater desire to converse with us, or even with yourself. You spend your playtime just chatting and babbling away to no one in particular, though it all gets cranked up a notch if we start answering you. You make sounds that could be the words, "momma," "da-da," "wow," "hey," "ball," and "teeth." We have no way of knowing if you're actually saying any of that and meaning it, which has been frustrating since I want to write SOMETHING in your baby book under "first word," but we'll just have to wait and see. 


It's been incredible to watch you get an appreciation for the reactions people have to your antics. Lately you've been doing things on purpose, just to get people to laugh at you.  You make "kh" noises, hoping someone will make them back at you to start a volley of throat-clearing. You watch someone leave the room, then bellow, "EHH!" at them until they answer with, "Hey!" To which you respond, "EHH!" and so forth.


And most recently, you've developed a new smile, which you bestow liberally upon us, as it causes us to laugh at you to no end.

video

Sweet baby, you are a delight and a miracle, a blessing and a joy. Even when I'm worn out from being up with you six or seven times a night, even when you're resisting bedtime just to play a little longer, even when you're giving me the silent treatment and a cold stare from your high chair because you REALLY don't want any more sweet potatoes, I have never loved life better than I do now, because I get to be your mommy. Sometimes, your dad and I just watch you as you play, your relatively big and beautifully round noggin balanced on your impossibly slim little neck, and we marvel at how perfect you are, how funny you've grown, how astoundingly much we love you.

I will ALWAYS share my Pop-Tarts with you.

Love, 
mommy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home, sweet home

When I met husband, he was a mid-twenty-something mechanical engineer, living in a one-bedroom apartment near his company's field office. Every room in that apartment opened off the living space -- there was not a single hallway. It was big enough for one, sure, but not what you'd call "roomy." That tiny apartment will always be beautiful to me in memory, because it's where we spent our time in the process of falling in love. Even now when I drive by the complex on the freeway, I smile.

Shortly after we met, husband was promoted and started a new job at his company's headquarters building downtown. He and his brother moved into a spacious three-bedroom apartment closer to the center of town. The apartment was a definite step up in terms of style and space, and his brother and I got along very well. And yet I mourned that tiny one-bedroom apartment I'd known and loved, and where I felt so safe. There in that little space, husband (who was still "boyfriend" at the time) and I were the lord and lady of the manor. We called all the shots from what to have for dinner to how late to hang out until I left for home, to what movie to rent on a Friday night. It was just the two of us, and I was terrified that his move would mean a loss of privacy for us. To complicate matters, when I first arrived at the new apartment to visit after work one day, husband's brother's girlfriend had already unpacked all the common areas and decorated with things I'd never seen before. It definitely didn't feel like "our" space, and I missed that sense of security and safety I'd come to depend on. 

It wasn't long before that apartment felt like my home away from home as well, though -- as I soon learned, wherever husband was always ended up feeling that way for me. He and his brother lived there for two years, and then husband decided to build a home in the suburbs. He graciously asked for and accepted my input on all aspects of the new house -- from floor plan to elevation, cabinets and countertops, paint and brick, tile and carpet. Whatever was picked was what we'd chosen together -- even though it wasn't my home, I wouldn't be living there, and I wasn't contributing a cent to the place. At the time it felt perfectly natural, and only now, looking back, can I fully appreciate how truly committed to one another we were, felt and acted. 

All the design decisions made and paperwork signed, construction began late in 2001. Early one morning before work, husband made the drive from his apartment to the lot of his future home, and in the wee hours he stood at the foundation of his home and tossed into the wet cement of his slab a time capsule. In the package were some pictures of the two of us and a letter we'd written the week before. 

I have a copy of it still. It's dated November 13, 2001. And I remember sitting at the dining room table, crying as I wrote it. Is it a silly letter? In some ways, yes ... but in ways I'm not ashamed of. Is it a dishonest letter? Not anymore, but it was at that point -- as you'll see, I wrote it as if husband and I were already married, which we would not be for another five long years. But we trusted so completely in that outcome, knew so surely that we were right for one another, that it seemed to make perfect sense to assume we'd be married and living together in one home at some point in the near future. 
This slab at [address] was poured on November 14, 2001. If you are reading this, know that once upon a time, two people lived in this home who loved each other very much. [Husband] and I have been together for exactly 26 months today, and are completely devoted to one another. Our love is a gift from God, and we are united in all aspects of our lives by His grace and His will. With His blessing, we know that our love will continue to illumine our lives, and will shine into the next world. Reader, know that once upon a time, two people fell in love deeply, completely. I know that [husband] is my heart, my soul, the answer to every prayer I have ever uttered. Thank God he feels the same way about me. 

We are two children of God, with one faith, one love, one purpose, one dream -- to live lives of kindness, joy, generosity and love. 

Wherever we are in this world or the next, know that we are rejoicing in God and in one another, always and equally.

** ** **

That's it. I don't know that anyone will ever find and read the original letter. I don't know if it even survived the process of the cement curing around it as the slab hardened. But it doesn't really matter if it did, because in my mind and in my heart, it's there. Husband carefully placed it in the corner of the house where the master bedroom would be, and so now as I get ready for bed, I think of that letter sometimes, quietly and forever declaring our connection to one another, literally making up the foundation of our days. 

Sometimes we talk about our next home, and what it will be like. There are things about this home that aren't perfect -- the air conditioning units outside are right by the master bedroom window and they're LOUD ... and all the ceramic tile we so carefully chose means that you can hear pretty much any noise in the house from any room -- and we know better now what we need in the physical layout of a home. But leaving this one will break my heart someday. This is the first place I ever lived away from my parents. This is where I was married -- right here in front of the hearth, with a few family members and close friends in attendance, smiling through tears at the culmination of years of patience and love and faith and hard, hard work together. This is where I spent my pregnancy with boy, where I had a home office I worked diligently from at a career I enjoyed and at which I had grown skilled, where I brought my son from the hospital. Someday soon (too, too soon), this is where boy will take his first steps, utter his first words. Maybe the Tooth Fairy will visit him here for the first time. I think of leaving this place and it's as if I am contemplating removing one of my limbs -- it's such a part of me, of us, of my little family. 

And yet, I know that wherever my favorite man and boy are, that will be my home, surely. I know that wherever we make our address, we will worship God there together, and He will protect us, and we will trust in that protection and feel grateful for His myriad blessings. So when someday comes, I'll be ready. 

I'm just glad it's not today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Money matters

Before I left my consulting career to stay at home with boy, I was a little worried. I'd talked to a few women who said that they found being at home after becoming accustomed to lots of professional interaction to be on the stagnant side -- that they missed the constant challenges of work and clients, the stimulation of their colleagues, the constructive pressures of the fast track. I also wondered what it would be like to suddenly stop contributing financially to our marriage and family -- I'd been working and sharing in family expenses since I was seventeen, so the change in my role from breadwinner to at-home caregiver was one about which I fretted a bit. 

I knew what I DIDN'T want to happen. I didn't want to regret leaving my professional role. I didn't want to feel like less of a contributor to our family in any way. I didn't want to feel like I'd lost a voice in how we spent what we earned. And I didn't want to feel like I had to get purchases approved by husband.

As it turned out, we handled the change in finances the way we've handled everything else -- with lots of open and honest communication. We've agreed that for major purchases, we'll consult with each other, no matter who's doing the actual spending, and we've each been true to our word. Regular "maintenance" purchases don't require such scrutiny, and once a month we look over our expenses together to make sure we're on track and in line (husband is a big one for Microsoft Money, Excel spreadsheets and categorizing expenses -- it makes reporting really easy). One unexpected change that's come of me being a stay-at-home mom is that I've suddenly gotten in touch with my inner thrifty self. I was never the one of us who questioned expenses with, "Do we really need that?" or vetoed a suggestion to eat out, but now I find myself in the role of expense manager, and I like that I've found a new way to contribute positively to our finances -- by helping us continue to be smart about how we're spending what comes in. I'm proud of this new hat I'm wearing, and I take it seriously. I think we've drastically reduced our eating-out expenses since boy was born. We even take time, three or four times a year, to discuss upcoming expected purchases and prioritize them, like updating furniture in the office, acquiring a hutch for the dresser in the nursery, planning for Christmas gifts, etc. Sure, we'll splurge now and then (um, hello? I got a MacBook for my birthday), but largely we're making one income work out for us without our savings having to suffer for it -- an accomplishment I am happy to attribute to husband's careful planning and our shared commitment to me being with boy every day.

And my career? There are things about it I miss, like the amazingly talented people I worked with. I learned so much from working alongside all of them, and they weren't just smart, they were fun. Not having a regular chance to interact with them is a definite "minus", but the "plus"es of being at home with boy far outweigh it and the few others on that short list. One of my former colleagues said, "Being a stay at home mom is the toughest job you'll ever love," and she was absolutely right. And another wise coworker told me I'd never regret it, and I believe that's true. I certainly haven't so far. 

How could I possibly?