Motherhood: Two years in

On the way home from picking Emmett up today, we decided to ruin prelude our dinners by stopping for a little fro-yo at Menchies because it’s Tuesday, it’s hot out, I’m pregnant and he’s charming. (And we got a call from the doctor today saying, without much detail yet, that his allergy levels have gone down considerably. CELEBRATION!)

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The yogurt mustn’t have spoiled things too much, because later during dinner (Joe and I did a weird parental hand-off in the Menchie’s parking lot so I could swing by the dsm unveiling) Emmett said to me: “How was your day, mom?”

If I could describe this 2-year-old phase, it’s a little bit tug-of-war and a lot of heart-melt moments when you realize your child may actually be listening and learning from you after all. We make family meals a time for sharing stories, and I’ve been asking Emmett how his day was, and asking him to ask his daddy how his day was. For him to ask me, unsolicited, was magic, pure and simple.

When we drive past Gray’s Lake and see a sailboat, he quotes to me from “The Max Book” aka “Where the Wild Things Are,” and when we pick raspberries in the backyard he pretends to be Sal and I’m mama bear. We got a goldfish with some of his birthday money (which he named Rock) and he said to me, right in the middle of PetSmart – “Mom, this is Rock. I love him!”

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My baby is a little boy who uses colloquialisms (currently: “you’re kidding me!” “guess what?!”), narrates everything he’s doing, calls his parents names (“worm sandwich” and “dirty sandwich”), offers to help, and asks me not to sing to him (“Don’t make that noise, mom!”). He tells us how much he loves us (soooo much), with big hugs around the neck and wet, open-mouth kisses.

My baby is a little boy who skins his knees, cruises on his bike, pages through his books and watches construction sites with rapt amazement. He’s growing more cautious as he learns the world isn’t all soft surfaces. He’s growing more confident as he assists with every day chores, like making coffee.

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My baby is a little boy whose curiosity and comprehension expand on an hourly basis, and who daily makes me chuckle with disbelief at his intelligence and compassion.

One minute, I’m chasing – reminding him to stop at the end of the sidewalk. Another minute he’s demanding to be held, or screaming himself to sleep in my bed, tiny feet digging into my kidneys. Keeping up with this emerging personality — who exercises his independence and his neediness, delighted and devastated by the realities of life on an ever-changing basis — is like running in the sand. I know we’re getting somewhere, but the footing is constantly shifting. Can’t beat the view, though.

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At this point, my biggest concern is figuring out this next phase of childcare. He’s been with my amazing sister-in-law since my maternity leave ended, but she’s about to have her third child and our hope is for our second child to join her when my maternity leave ends this winter, so it’s time for Emmett to move on.

I’ve taken for granted how amazing it is for him to be able to tag along to the zoo or science center or various playgrounds  and take epic naps and for me to never have to worry about his safety or whether he was in the care of someone who loved him. We’re still third on the waiting list for the full-time program down the street, which was my original plan for him. I think we have a spot for him in a dual language program, which is an interesting environment, especially for such a verbal kid, but the fact that the center hasn’t been returning my e-mails makes me uncomfortable.

Motherhood is all sorts of letting go and listening, so I suppose it’s time to take this next step and then listen and trust him when I ask how his day was.

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P.S. ICYMI, my last post was a shoutout to a few local mamas who I admire! 

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Local mama love

I’ve been mulling a post marking my second year of motherhood for a few weeks, but I just can’t seem to gather my thoughts. So much has changed since the first bewildering weeks, and yet two years in, I’m still asking myself how the heck other parents do it on pretty much a weekly basis.

So, while I continue to gather thoughts, I wanted to give a shoutout to a few local moms I admire. There are a couple dozen I’m missing here, obviously:

If there was some sort of pageant for captain of the crunchy mamas, I think Jenn Riggs would be crowned. I first saw but didn’t meet Jenn at a baby story time during the first few weeks of maternity leave. She was this cool looking lady with crazy curls and tattoo sleeve and this relaxed, happy vibe. Coincidentally, a few weeks later I joined a “natural fit mamas” workout class that Caeli Esser was instructing, and Jenn happened to be the coordinator. Jenn’s the kind of natural connector and resource that new moms need. She’s honest that it’s not always easy, but radiates joy.

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She’s a doula, and started a forest friends play group concept, and any woman who can double fist a glass of wine and a small goat is clearly a goddess.

(Also, if you’re looking to connect with moms in the outdoors, I saw there’s a DSM chapter of ‘Hike it Baby‘ that got started!)

The whole city seems to be awaiting the birth of Ms. Emily Lang’s baby girl, and although that occasion will officially make her a mama, her work with youth as an educator and inspirer has already cast her as a mother figure. Keep your eyes on RUN DSM. I’m so excited that my daughter might just get the chance to go to school with hers. I hope that they pass poems in class. Her spoken word piece on 10 things she wants her daughter to know is full of goosebump moments:

Everyone needs that friend with whom you can be totally truthful, vulnerable and ridiculous. Extra bonus when she has a few extra months of motherhood on you and can be both a guiding star and sounding board for joys and challenges. For me, that’s Arin Hummel. You might know her as the co-owner of Ephemera, the darling stationery shop with the red and white awning in the East Village. Arin and I came of age together and I’m so glad we get to share this next stage of making-it-up-as-we’re-going-along parenthood together. And also moments where we’re more just goofy ladies giggling in the back of a burlesque show, out past bedtime.

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I’m so glad to know such cool women/mamas. I think I might also do a post about how a babysitting co-op works, because lots of people ask and I’ve found ours to be a super supportive network. Shoutout to co-op mama, Alexson, who had her second baby yesterday! We’re growing!

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Prairie Party at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Pick a blue sky day when the clouds are extra fluffy, pack a picnic and head to Prairie City, where the buffalo roam and butterflies flutter freely.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me 8 years of living in Central Iowa to experience the beauty of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. We went to their Concert on the Prairie fundraiser on Friday night, and it was such a treat to explore the visitor center (after hours-ooh) and wander the paths nearby. (Joe, with local wine in hand, of course. Pretty picturesque happy hour.)

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We learned about conservation efforts and there was a casual dinner and a concert by the Big Blue Sky project, and Emmett mostly entertained himself by touching plants and throwing clods of dirt into the air.

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The visitor center has lots of classroom space, interesting exhibits about prairie habitats and restoration, and a sweet little kids puppet theater, among other features.  DSC_0075  .

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Emmett was too scared to go into the cave maze area, but I was all honey badger don’t care.

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We also drove through part of the 700-acre enclosure that is home to bison and elk, which felt like being on a special little safari. I definitely poked my head out of the sun roof to get a few more photos.

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As part of his job at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Joe is learning more about ecosystems like the tallgrass prairie and oak savanna that are native to Iowa, but now rare after European settlement. I’m glad he’s teaching us, in turn, and that Emmett is getting opportunities to be in nature.

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I kind of wanted to wear a Laura Ingalls Wilder bonnet and sing the Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces” at the same time. There’s enough land out here I could probably do this without anyone seeing, but a nice lady offered to take a quick family photo, so I kept in the crazy this time.

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge features miles of trails, and I can’t wait to go back when we’re able to do some more ambitious hiking. Also, we’ll need to work in a stop at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, which is owned by a friend-of-friends and is supposed to be pretty amazing.

P.S. In further evidence that I’m turning into my mother, I picked up a flier for the NSNWR’s 1st Annual Pollinator Fest happening Saturday, June 20 2015 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.. It’s a free, family friendly event that will feature some special kid-oriented activities (bug hunts! storytellers! crafts! pollinator seed packet giveaway!) 

Find the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge on Facebook.

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30-before-30: How’d I do?

Oh, hey, I’m 30!

I’ve actually been looking forward to this birthday for awhile. I’m pretty happy with how my 20s turned out, so it’s not that I was wishing them away, but the 30s seem to be the decade of really owning where you’re at and appreciating life’s journey. Most of my good friends are rockin’ their 30s already and seem to agree. It’s a decade of feeling more comfortable in your skin. Right before it really starts to wrinkle, right?

So, how’d I do on my mostly random Before-30 list? Did I accomplish everything? Not even close! Maybe 14-30. But I’m seeing it half-full, because making the list definitely inspired me to try a lot.

When I look back on the time between when I created the list (August 2013) and now, I’m amazed by all of the opportunities and experiences, big and small, life has bestowed on me. What’s more, many of the things I did manage to do were accomplished while growing another human being and raising a baby-turned-toddler.

The list:

1. See manatees in the wild. Status: Achieved, January 2015! Kayaked with them, too. Huge, life goal unlocked. Read more.

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2. Complete a sprint triathlon. Status: HAHAHAHAHA. Swimming is still part of a triathlon, right? Pieathalon, 2020?

3. Finish the quilt I started for my mom’s 60th last fall. Status: Maybe in time for her 64th birthday. But I have made some cool baby quilts, in the meantime, including this self-designed dog quilt for my bestie, Regina.

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4. Learn how to shape and fill in my eyebrows. Status: Kind of. Was introduced to the best product ever for lazy brow-enthusiasts: Modèle Sourcils Brow Groomer. Magic wand!

5. Complete and submit a short piece of fiction for publication. Status: Still just freelance magazine pieces, because let’s face it – it’s nice to get paid.

6. Read the Anne of Green Gables books. Status: I read the first one! IT was just like the PBS movie that I know by heart, which is to say – AMAZING.

7. Visit the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah. Status: We have an early fall babymoon-type weekend in Northeast Iowa planned, and this is so on the agenda.

8. Take Emmett on a Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad ride. Status: Achieved, in pajamas! We did the Santa Ride, which was kind of overrated and crowded, and at night when it was hard to see out the windows, so I’d like to do a summer picnic ride, too.

9. Shoot the hot dog gun at an Iowa Cubs game. Status: Achieved! One of the best experiences of my life in Des Moines to-date. Read more.

10. Take a dance class with Joe. Status: That would involve having regular date nights, right? Maybe there’s something on Netflix?

11. Bake a multi-layer cake from scratch. Status: Achieved! Two layers and dripping frosting (also from scratch) count, right?

12. Do Yoga in the Park at Gray’s Lake. Status: Achieved! Even better? It was on a weekend visit with Regina. Actually, this week I also did yoga at Greenwood Park with Pop Up Yoga. Check out their events this summer!

13. Learn how to get a hula hoop twirling from my arm to my waist. Status: Does taking a hula-hoop class one morning at the Des Moines Social Club count? I’m counting it. Read More.

14. Float down the river in a stock tank. Status: A girl can only dream…

15. Have my own stamp fabricated. Status: I kinda started on this a few times, but no finish.

16. Take a spontaneous road trip to somewhere more than 2 hours away. Status: Achieved-ish! Clearly I was delirious when I wrote this list as a new mother. Iowa City is almost two hours away, and we hopped in the car on Memorial Day to spend a pretty spontaneous afternoon with two families we rarely get to see. And we peeked at Iowa’s Largest Walnut Cane Rocking Chair in the Amana Colonies (the basket and broom shop was closed!) through the window, which totally makes it a road trip.

17. Make cheese in the kitchen and have a few friends over for a wine & cheese tasting. Status: I have a cheese kit and everything, so I have no idea why this hasn’t happened yet.

18. Plant sunflowers. Status: Planted them! They did not thrive, but I did get a few blooms.

19. Have a buy nothing new month. Status: My debit card statements will probably tell me otherwise…

20. Take an online, non-academic class. Status: Achieved! I took a creative nonfiction class taught by my idol, Susan Orlean, on Skillshare. I’ll confess that I didn’t make time to do the assignment, though.

21. Tour the Iowa Capitol. Status: Achieved! We got to do tours as part of Mentoring Day on the Hill when I worked for “I Have a Dream.”

22. Visit a psychic. Status: Achieved! One of the most fun dates Joe and I have had. Read more.

23. Order from the swim-up bar at Adventureland. Status: Probably not going to happen for this preggo this summer.

24. Organize my basement craft corner. Status: Meh. Still looks like a hoarder lives here, but I did tidy up the other day before we got a new washer/dryer delivered. Also, this was a lame goal. Instead, I went to a live Burlesque show at the Vaudeville Mews with a bachelorette party! Woo! 

25. Go on a house tour in Des Moines. Status: Achieved! Not only did I go on my neighborhood tour, I volunteered for it.

26. Take a Chicago Architectural Boat Tour. Status: My brother made us a “coupon” for tickets to tour (and an offer to babysit!) and we SO need to plan a July/August trip to Chicago when there isn’t another big event going on.

27. Hit balls at a driving range. Status: Kind of fore-got about this one! Nope.

28. Learn to drive stick. Status: I can drive on lonely country roads, but not out to get groceries. Still scared of stop-and-go, hills, sharing the road with other vehicles.

29. Learn a recipe for something complicated by heart. Status: Does taking photos of meals Joe makes count? Naw.

30. Ride at least one day of RAGBRAI, the Register’s Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Status: Was planning on doing a day last year, but Joe’s grandma passed away. We did a 35-mile ride on the Wabash Trace that doesn’t quite count, but made me feel better about achieving this goal! Pie!

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Hey, girl

When we found out we’re having a little girl in October, everyone, of course, started asking if I was excited to get all sorts of girly stuff. I always want to say something sassy about how kid stuff should just be kid stuff – dolls, trucks, play-dough, etc., but I’ll admit there are a few things that make me squee about having a daughter on the horizon:

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Embroidered Romper

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See Kate Sew DIY printed doll fabric  collection 

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Celtic knot headband
(I’m not into the huge flower headbands on baby girls, but I love a jaunty jersey one.)

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A vibrant mini quilt to hang by her crib
Babies love high-contrast, but I don’t actually see myself sewing something so involved in the next four months!

Also, for me, I’m checking to see if our insurance will cover this Freemie breast pump because let’s be honest, pumping is the worst and this model was designed by a female ER doc with some brilliant ideas. I read about it on Madison’s blog the other night and was instantly obsessed. I’m totally planning to watch Parenthood and/or The Good Wife as my pumping show this maternity leave.

I need to remember I’m having an autumn baby. All of this looks so summery, like a berry popsicle. Speaking of…

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Time to get outside in DSM

I’ve always been interested in conservation and community, but Joe’s new-ish job with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has me following more closely than ever. Summer is definitely in swing!

I’m hoping the weather holds up for the LAUNCH event at Waterworks Park tomorrow! Joe will be helping with the INHF booth. Download the Iowa By Trail app before you go to see exactly where everything will be going down.

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We also scored tickets to next weekend’s Concert on the Prairie benefit. I’ve never been to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (there are bison there!!!) and this seemed like the ultimate excuse to enjoy the outdoors at the end of the week, and it’s kid-friendly, so Emmett will hopefully enjoy it, too.

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If you can’t get outside but want to make an impact on the outdoors, check out the MPO’s interactive game to voice your priorities for the future of Des Moines’ creeks and rivers and see how different regional projects might affect what you want.

The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is launching a first-of-its-kind effort to plan water trails in the Greater Des Moines area. The idea: Come up with a master plan for 150 miles of creeks and rivers, including better maps and signs.

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Friendships and flowers and trying to be better

Most of my true and forever friends are peonies, or hydrangeas, or the plucky purple iris that push up through the pachysandra in the long-ago-planted landscaping of my front yard. They’re hardy perennials and they appear to need little tending or encouragement to dazzle me with their brilliance, if only for a short while every year.

I am a lazy gardener. And maybe I’m too lazy of a friend.

This month, I’ve been thinking hard about my friendships. Why some have lasted (it always amazes me that there are people who have put up with me for decades, now!), where I need to put more effort, and which people have the potential to blossom into something deeper than a casual acquaintance.

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When I was in middle school, I hung on the fringe of a few groups, but didn’t belong to the nucleus and didn’t get invited to all of the core friend things. In high school, I forged bonds with a group of girls in cross country, but between college and Des Moines, I’ve now lived away from them for three times as long as our high school experience. I’ve kept a few close college friends — mostly roommates who have seen and miraculously accepted me despite it all. Friends I’ve made here in my 20s are bountiful, but there are probably only a handful of people I’d call if I needed help, or whose back door I’d knock at unannounced. I know, I probably need to read Mindy Kaling’s book, right? We’d be besties, I’m sure.

Traits that make me a bad friend:

  • I am mostly awkward on the phone. (And most of my dearest friends are long distance!)
  • Gift-giving isn’t really my love language, and I forget that it’s others’.
  • I don’t really ‘hang out’ in an unplanned, unscheduled, let’s-see-where-the-day-takes-us way. (I overschedule myself.)
  • Even though I’m an extrovert, I value (cherish!) my alone time. (Any other ENFPs out there feel me on this?)
  • I worry too much about asking people to do things because making plans is sometimes a logistical pain, or I’m not convinced they’ll have fun.
  • My spouse is my best friend and I pretty much don’t have to worry about any of the above with him.
  • I am pretty active on social media so feel like I totally know what’s going on in your life and we’ve had a long and meaningful conversation about it, but really I’ve just hit the “like” or “heart” button.

Well, my sweet perennials, I apologize. I’d like to be better.

I’m trying to apply some of the same concepts I’ve used to accomplish things in my professional and extracurricular life to my relationships. Does that sound ridiculous? I’m just talking about setting priorities and following-through and managing time in a way that makes plans possible.

Instead of saying “let’s grab lunch sometime” I’m working to immediately suggest a few dates. When I think about someone, I pick up the phone. (Mostly this occurs while I’m out walking the dog, which is sometimes the only peace and quiet I can find, or on my 15-minute drive to pick up Emmett. This is the perfect amount of time to touch base, before I get all weird and rambley.) I’m trying to invite people to a weeknight dinner, even if an unfancy crock-pot meal is all we can muster. I make time to attend my book club (so many ladies I like in one place!). I’m commenting in addition to “liking.” I’m showing up, in the flesh, because a 2-hour drive to Iowa City isn’t an impossibility. I’m actually putting a stamp and address on the card. Saying yes to more invitations.

I am still doing none of these things as often as I would like, or to the degree that my friends deserve. I want to show people close to me how much I value them, because that’s important work. It’s life’s work. What joy to put on the gardener’s gloves and spend time in the company of friends.

 Also reading: What being a BFF Means in Your 30s

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