I think I do a lot of things right as a mom, but I've totally TOTALLY failed on this front. I have blank baby books (two or three of them!) but none that have anything in them.
I feel terrible about this. My own baby book is a treasured posession. I love reading my mom's notes about what gifts people brought me as a newborn, and each of my firsts. I love the lock of hair she saved (almost the same color as my daughter's!). I love my mom's tiny tiny neat handwriting, which has changed so much over the length of my life. I love looking at my old report cards and school pictures.
It isn't that I haven't marked down any memories or milestones; I have. I also have stacks of important saved items, like the impossibly small hospital anklet with "Baby Girl Bumgarner" printed on it, the extra copy of her first passport photo, and a large stack of cards from her first birthday. I also have thousands of photos on my computer and almost-monthly letters that I wrote to her during the first year, and a digital calendar where I took note of all sorts of firsts.
But none of this stuff is in a book.
I don't know, maybe it doesn't need to be. There are so many ways of capturing memories these days. I think part of what's holding me back from starting an actual baby book is just not knowing what to put in and what to leave out. Do I print out all of my Facebook status updates from the first several months of her life? How do I wittle down the thousands of photos to one for each month? How do I include the letters, or do I want to keep those separate until she is older? What about all the precious videos of her from my iPhone? Should I include a DVD?
I'd love to hear from some of you other busy mamas. Do you have baby books for your babies? What form do they take? Do they have digital as well as physical components?
And those of you with older kids, what did you do? How do your kids feel about their books, or the lack thereof, as the case may be?
Last week we went to an open house at a Waldorf-style preschool. The main room was filled with wooden toys - trains and treehouses and a rocking horse with a woolen mane. The walls were draped with naturally-dyed silks and hung with art projects made of dried leaves, sticks and seed pods. There was a toy kitchen with little aprons, a full set of miniature mixing bowls and spoons and a basket of wooden eggs and colorful vegetables. The nap room smelled of lavender floating in dim filtered blue light from the lacy curtains. The Bean dove right in to play, clambored all over the kid-sized furniture, and cried hard when it was time to go.
When we arrived back home I gazed balefully around my living room, noting all the ways it didn't live up to the serene environment at the school.
I was the kind of mother who would use cloth diapers, follow attachment parenting principles, only buy wooden toys, and breastfeed on demand until sometime in toddler hood. I was the kind of mother who would journal daily about the experience of motherhood, have a detailed, heirloom quality baby book, and dress my child in hand-knitted and hand-sewn clothing. My child would be clean, never have a snotty nose, and I would not tolerate tantrums in the grocery store. My daughter would not wear pink or play with princesses or Barbies, and my son would have a baby doll and a shopping cart. No guns or other violent toys would be allowed for either gender.
Oh, the naiveté of the uninitiated.
Do you know how much work cloth diapers are? How expensive wooden toys are? How annoying it can be to nurse a squirmy toddler when she only wants to snack? Do you know how cute pink hats with big flowers are? When did I think I would have the time to hand-make my child's clothes?
It is good to make parenting choices thoughtfully. But I have found a balance of realism helps my sanity.
I do consider carefully what foods I feed my daughter and usually choose organic and fresh. But Goldfish really are the perfect toddler snack-on-the-go.
I'm still nursing at 15 months and have no plans to wean soon, but I re-direct to her sippy cup when I need my personal space or it is the third or fifth time she's asked to nurse in an hour. We co-slept until her squirming and grabbing was making me lose too much sleep. I am really grateful for my less-interrupted sleep and I really relish our early morning cuddles when she moves from the crib back to our bed.
I am thoughtful about the toys that come into this house, but they are not all made of wood and some of them have batteries. I don't allow any that don't have off switches and the ones that have volume controls are all set to "low." There are very few character products, but Pooh and a couple of Blues Clues softies can be found in evidence. I'm still holding firm on Barbie and the princesses. But if the Bean really really wants a tiara and a tutu when she's bigger, I'd probably let her have them. Countered, of course, with copies of books like Cinder Edna, The Princess Knight, and the Paper Bag Princess. And a sturdy pair of OshKosh overalls.
I'm glad my daughter likes to dig in the dirt and explore her surroundings, but that means she gets dirty. She wears mostly cotton and I just do a bit more laundry. I'm pretty zealous about keeping her face and her nose clean, but sometimes a little crustiness can't be helped.
The part of me that wishes to be a perfect mom wishes my house echoed that lovely preschool. But I also realize that is unrealistic for my real life. It is good to have something to strive toward, but the space I have created is good. Very good, in fact. I am glad that there are preschools like the one we visited where she could go and be nurtered differently, but in concert, with the way we live at home.
In motherhood, as in my life before, I am always in search of balance. When my daughter was new the piece of advice I heard most often was, "Become comfortable with change." Seeking balance in an environment that is constantly changing can be infuriating. Or it can become a dance.
I was going to write this post about handmade gifts you could make for Mother's Day. But you don't need me for that. Just go look at Pinterest.
I have such mixed feelings about this holiday. It feels forced, a Hallmark Holiday. It has only been an official holiday since 1914, though the idea of a day to honor motherhood can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman rites. In the US, the national holiday became so commercialized so fast that even Anna Jarvis, the woman championed it, died regretting what had become of her intent: simply a day to honor one's mother.
As the eldest sibling who lives closest to our mother, marking this holiday has fallen to me for the last many years. I don't mean that to sound like it has been a chore. Mom and I have grown a tradition of going shopping for garden plants and having brunch, and I have very much enjoyed it.
But now I'm a mom, too, and suddenly the idea of planning the Mother's Day celebration myself is really annoying. I want to claim my turn to be honored. I'm going on strike. Someone else gets to plan.
On my first Mother's Day, last year, I was still in the fog of having a newborn baby. It hadn't even totally sunk in yet that I was a mother. I had brunch with my family that day and I think the LHM gave me flowers, but I was only half there.
But this year I want to be honored in very simple ways. I want my partner to spend the day with me and Bean and I don't want to make any decisions about what we will do. I want someone to clean the crumbs out of the back seat of my car and take it to be washed. I want to get a pedicure sometime this month and have an hour or so off duty on a nice day to read a book in the sunshine. I'd like someone to help me decide what kind of compost bin to buy and then go pick it up for me. And yeah, I'd like to go to the plant sale with my mom and have brunch with her and my family.
I just don't want to have to make the reservation.
I have a couple of kids music CDs. They are still in their plastic wrappers. We listen to a lot of music around here, but none of it would be tagged "Kids" in iTunes.
My Bean likes best when her Daddy plays his guitar, but she's pretty happy with recorded tunes, too. She was pretty excited to discover those little black boxes we always have in our hands (see photo above) also make music.
She's partial to music with a beat. She likes vocals with passion. She likes it when her mama sings along. And she loves it when one of us picks her up and dances around the room with her.
She's been dancing since she was able to stand up. Her response to the question, "Do you want some music?" is to wiggle her body. She now signs "more" and then wiggles when she wants me to turn on the house soundtrack. Like when she's eating breakfast. Or coloring. I came up behind her a few days ago just after turning on the stereo and found her balanced at the coffee table, feeling the music. Hip, hip, shoulder swoop, bounce bounce bounce. She didn't know I was there and continued grooving while I stood there with a lump of love in my throat, grinning like a goon.
Old Ani DiFranco albums. Because she's my daughter. Probably because she heard so much Ani while still in the womb.
The funkier of Sean Hayes' songs like Dolores Guerrero and Feel Good.
Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits. This album is summertime to me. It requires throwing open all the doors and windows and sitting out on the back deck, barefoot and drinking iced sun tea. We were visiting someone last weekend at a vacation resort and The Joker was playing a couple of doors down. Bean wiggled and wiggled until her father set her on the ground, where she immediately started dancing.
Lullabies and Wind-Down Tracks (as recommended by Mama)
Two albums are in the CD changer in my car and never come out: Chris Pureka'sDrylandand Deb Talan'sA Bird Flies Out. Both of these would put her right to sleep when she was younger and I resorted often to the car when she wouldn't nap.
The album Good Night, Baby has only three tracks, but they are long. They are very relaxing instrumental music, mixed with ambient sounds including a heartbeat and rainfall. Awesome any time she's having trouble settling down into sleep.
What is your favorite music to listen to with your little one? What music do you like that is actually kid's music?
I have been cooking dinner with Bean at my feet for a while now. She has a set of play food and play pans and access to the tupperware cabinet. But as she gets taller and more inquisitive, I've been getting more and more nervous about her roaming the kitchen below hot pans and near a hot oven. Her dad doesn't get home from work early enough to help distract her during this window of time, so I needed another solution.
I read about the Fun Pod on Liz Lamoreux's blog recently. Her daughter is just a little older than mine and at about the same developmental stage. A couple of local mom friends with slightly older toddlers have the Learning Tower, but I was worried about the open sides. Bean isn't quite walking yet, and I was afraid she'd slip and fall out. Or climb in when I didn't want her to have access to the counter. Also it has a huge footprint and I do not have a large kitchen.
The Fun Pod was exactly what I was looking for. It allows Bean to be up at counter height with me, safely, and only when I want her there because she can't climb in and out on her own. It is sturdy and stable, but small enough that I'm not tripping over it. It is short enough to fit under the counter when not in use. The Pod can be adjusted as she gets taller so it should be useful until she is several years old.
Our kitchen isn't arranged in a way that allows her to be very close while I'm actually cooking, though I have let her play in the sink behind me once and I imagine it will be great for her to help me clean up when she's a bit bigger. Usually I set her up on the opposite side of our penninsula, in the dining room, but facing me. She can color, play with blocks, or eat a snack while I cook. She's not underfoot, is safe from the hot stuff, and can see me. She also asks to get in throughout the day so she's in and out of the thing all day.
I'm cheap when it comes to baby stuff. With the exception of her car seat, I've managed to source almost all of her big items free (from friends or freecycle) or used and cheap. But I'm really glad I invested in this item brand new. We use it so often, and will be using it for years.
Being a mom is a full time job. Launching a business is a full time job. Doing both at once is a bit overwhelming.
The only way I manage to keep it all together is to have a detailed to-do list. But it is so easy to become slave to my list. The never ending list.
Tonight I gave myself the night off. Coconut chai and triple ginger snaps and an episode of Grey's Anatomy over a new sweater project for my girl. The list will still be there in the morning.
When I find myself in a period of focused drive like this, I have to remind myself to prioritize self care. Self care doesn't always feel "productive." Spending time taking care of myself doesn't show measurable progress toward my goals. But it is so necessary.
It may sound strange, but I added a "self-care" section on that to-do list. Putting tasks on my list means I do them, and putting self-care on my list brings it up to the level of importance equal to the business and household tasks that it sits beside. Tonight I took a few minutes to add some things to it: journal time, sleep in one morning this week, finish the blanket project.
But the list is long and I know I will still spend more time on the "work" tasks than the "fun" ones. So this week I'm going to try a new iPhone app as a way to remind myself to pay attention to myself. Bloom, by the company MindBloom, is an offshoot of their online Life Game. The app allows users to set up "Blooms," or reminders, to do various things. For example, I can schedule a Bloom with an inspiring quote, a reminder to drink a glass of water, or just to take a big deep breath. Used together with the MindBloom online tool, or even a Life Plan like Michael Hyatt writes about, Bloom could be a powerful tool to create change in one's life.
But right now I'm just interested in reminding myself to breathe, slow down for a minute, take a mini rest.
Have you used Bloom, or MindBloom online? Do you put self-care on your to-do list?
My fingers are cold. The back of my neck is cold. My toes are cold through my fuzzy socks. My sweater's sleeves are pulled down past my wrists and my legs are curled up beneath me but still the chill of this house creeps in.
I crave tonight the ability to focus on one thing but my mind is jumpy and electric. It is listing for me things I need to get done before the contractor starts work on our bedroom next week, the list of topics I'm narrowing down for queries, the format of the magazine I was studying earlier today, the schedule of my busy day tomorrow, and telling me I really should get up to get another of those yummy heart-shaped cherry jellies I brought home from Whole Foods this evening. In the space I can wrest between those thoughts the sound of the monitor flows in. I hear the hum of the humidifier which has become our white noise machine but my ears strain for sounds of rustling or cries. The baby is sick and as much as I have things I need to do on my computer tonight before I go to bed, the length of the house feels too far away from her. The audio thread keeps me just enough in the room with her to let me keep working away at my list for just a little longer.
The LHM texted me tonight to tell me he had posted and then pulled a photo of our Bean joyfully eating a birthday cupcake from Facebook because one of his friends had just posted that his nephew had died after surgery yesterday. "How, exactly, does one observe the period of mourning on Facebook?" he asked. I don't think I would have pulled down the photo, were I in his shoes. I have lived enough life to have felt the continuum of it, from heartbreakingly beautiful to heartbreakingly awful, often enough side by side. Somehow it seems fitting for even my Facebook news feed to reflect that ebb and flow. My heart breaks for the grief of his friend (more for that child's mother), but my first response to the news was to pull my daughter close and look again at how beautiful and miraculous she is. I would not wish to rub my joy in my daughter's life into the would of that family, but my joy is fierce because I know how much I stand to lose. I know how easily I could be destroyed if anything were to happen to her.
I knew something was not right with her all day today. There wasn't any one particular thing she did, but I kept looking for clues. Twice she pulled on her ear, and several times she lost her balance and bumped her head. She has wanted to nurse much more today than is usual and she hasn't wanted to range far away from me in her play. Over and over she would pull up on my legs and ask to be held, ask to nurse. And then tuck herself in to me, far less squirmy than usual, and gaze up at me with drowsy eyes. When we were out running errands this afternoon she was drowsing between each stop, which is unusual. In the grocery store she stayed tucked in to me in the carrier and still, just looking out quietly over the edge of the hood. Once back in the car she feel asleep before I even pulled out of the space. These things are not normal. I knew there was something wrong. When I took her temperature tonight I was almost relieved to see it was a bit high. Finally, some proof of my intuition. But also, the prickle of fear knowing that something is wrong with my baby and I don't really know what or how long it will take her to ride it out. Always the fear that it will turn dangerous, that we will need to rush her to the ER for help. Always I imagine that the worst will happen. Not the worst - even in my imagination my fear stops me short of the actual worst. But the worst I can imagination, that I have imagery for. Always I go there right from the start.
My child has been healthy in her first year. She has had a couple of colds and only one with a fever, but even then the fever was not so high and acetaminophen brought it down quickly. We have been lucky. I know mamas who have been though much more with their little ones, walked much closer to the edge of despair than I have had any reason to. Because it is such a fine line we walk. Babies are so small, so fragile. So much can go wrong. So many things can hurt them. And I have lived enough life to know that many things will, whether they leave visible scars or invisible ones. And it is not possible to love our children less to protect ourselves. I love her full tilt. I would not love her any less.
And so I sit here next to the monitor, straining to hear her soft sleeping breath over the hum, and know I will soon give in and go curl up next to her to keep vigil over her sleep.
At this time last year I was in labor. I had been in labor for over 60 hours. I was hurting, tired and just a little bit scared. And as it turned out I had most of a full day yet to go before you were finally born. I should write the story of your birth for you. I should write the story of my pregnancy for you. I should write out the story of the love between your father and I. I should tell you the story of your name and how long we took to decide on it. There are so many stories I want to tell you, to capture for you. I want to make sure you know your history, who your parents are and how much you were wanted. How much you are loved and were loved even before you were born.
But I'm not really ready to tell those stories yet. For now, only these fragments:
You were conceived on a night that was both hard and wonderful. Something happened that night that made me realize your father was going to be there when things got tough and that I could depend on him to be my rock. My rusty old heart creaked open a bit that night, and you chose that moment to enter.
My pregnancy was both hard and wonderful. I have never felt so beautiful as when I was pregnant. Also I was often sick and had a very painful period of back issues. But I loved feeling you move inside of me. I loved having your companionship in my body. I spend a lot of time wondering about you. Who would you be? What would you look like? What was my life going to be like with you in it?
Your birth was both hard and wonderful. It did not go as I had planned, hoped, or imagined. It hurt much more than I expected. You were not born at home as I wanted, or in water like I wanted, but birthing in the hospital was far better than I had feared. There were only short moments when I was scared for your safety because I had the best birthing team I could have hoped for. Feeling you move through and out of my body was primal, magical. You were delivered into a room full of people who loved you the instant they saw you. And when they laid you on my belly and you looked at me with your big dark serious eyes, I was so amazed I could hardly catch my breath. I made you. We made you. And you are so beautiful. You are so perfect.
On the eve of your first birthday, I am still in awe of the fact of you. I MADE you. I grew you inside my belly and here you are, this little person with a personality, opinions, a sense of humor, an ability to show delight and love. You are exactly the combination of your father and me. Your eyes are the shape of mine. Your upper lip is the shape of his. You have his long toes and long legs and my short torso and light hair. You are cautious like me and physical like him. From both of us you inherited a deep curiosity and desire to figure out how things work. Your blue eyes are all your own, a quirk of genetics that I'm so grateful for. You are amazing. So beautiful. So perfect.
Just in the last month you have gone from being a baby to being a toddler. You got suddenly so big and tall. You are no longer long, but tall. You are not yet walking (though when you decide you are ready, I think you will just get up and walk across the room), but you cruise around confidently and crawl really fast with your hands slap-slapping across the floor. You stand up straight now - no more bowed baby legs. You are lean and strong. I can see the muscles in your thighs, your arms, across your back. Your body is so beautiful - I love witnessing your unselfconsciousness in the way you move and I hope that lasts for a very long time. You are very vocal. You have a sound to call us, a sound to direct us to get you something or take you somewhere, a sound of greeting for the cats, a sound when you are excited to nurse. You babble to yourself when you play, you practice syllables and the back and forth of conversation with me while we eat or shop or play together. You say "num num num" when you are eating food you particularly like (blueberries and bananas this week), and in the last couple of days you have been saying, "ma ma ma" to everything around you but me. You laugh when I say, "That's me!" so I'm pretty sure you know what the sounds mean. You have learned to shake your head "no" though only sometimes does it really mean "no." You are practicing to see when it fits. I ask you a rhetorical question: "Stella, did you drop that cup on purpose?" You shake your head no. I give it back and you very purposely hold it off the edge of the table and drop it again. You shake your head no. And then grin that toothy grin at me.
You have all eight of your front teeth and in the last two weeks grew two more – a canine and your first molar on the bottom right side. You were surprisingly mellow about the molar, though it took a chunk of gum off as it came through and must have been incredibly painful. But you are always mellow.
You have learned to hug this month. You hug me, you hug your father, you hug the cats. You discovered baby dolls when we were visiting our friends in Australia and you hugged them, too. I admit I bought you a stuffed koala bear in the airport on the way home because you pointed at it and made your "I want that!" sound and when I picked it up and let you see it you cuddled it. Instant mama puddle. You are still hugging it at home, too.
You also learned how to negotiate steps while we were traveling, practicing up and down and up and down the one step into the room where we slept at Jo’s house. Now you can go up and down the two into and out of my studio like a pro. I sit nearby and marvel. You are so confident.
You are an incredibly happy child. This is what strangers comment on the most. When we go shopping we are stopped every few minutes by people who want to tell me how beautiful you are, what a wonderful smile you have. That you are the cutest baby they've ever seen. In restaurants you charm the wait staff and usually end up in their arms before the food even arrives. Yesterday at Trader Joe's I let you sit in the front of the cart (such a big girl thing and you were very excited about it). As we were standing in line, a woman maybe in her 50s looked over from the line next to us and you bestowed your magical smile on her. "Thank you!" she said to you. "You just made my whole week!" Your favorite part of riding in the cart is when I push you over the bumpy bit between the door and the parking lot. I thought it would scare you the first time, but you laugh and laugh.
When I write you these letters I am so aware of all that I’m leaving out. How much I’ve forgotten already each month. All those tiny things you do that I’ve already lost track of. I wish I could hold all of it, each little wonderful moment, but they slip though my fingers so fast. Instead I try to hold on to the cloth of the moments all strung together, the tenor of our days. It has to be enough.
This year has been an amazing journey and I'm so grateful for it. I am so grateful for you. Happy birthday, my little love.