Category Archives: Life lessons

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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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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Big brother, little…

Let’s just go ahead and put 2015 down as the fastest year in human history, OK?

Somehow, I am halfway to being the mother of two. Emmett spent the first night in a toddler bed last night*. Two of our three summer weddings have already happened. I turn 30 in three weeks. The peonies are blooming! Slow your roll, 2015. Geeze.

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And by “slept in his toddler bed,” I mean we found him like this in the morning. 

Did I mention that I’m somehow halfway through this pregnancy? (Although, let’s be real, I fully anticipate going to 42 or even 43 weeks.) I am definitely rounding out quite a bit, and all I want to eat is bagels and cream cheese. Healthy options, of course. And I’ve  already had one big cry about the polar ice caps melting, one of the many pretty-much-out-of-my-control terrors that grips me when it comes to bringing children into this big, imperfect world.

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image via Stately Type

We decided to find out the sex of Baby #2 this time around for a number of reasons. Some practical (I’m looking at you, multiple Space Bags full of baby boy clothes), and some more personal.

I had this cinematic vision of someone yelling “It’s a boy!” when Emmett was born. But instead of a calm, natural birth, it was a pretty traumatic ordeal and in the chaos it was more like “Let’s get this baby to the NICU!” The first few weeks postpartum were also pretty emotional and trying for me. I feel like if I know a little bit more about the person I was growing, I might bond more quickly and strongly from the get-go. (Fingers crossed no NICU, too.)

I think love for our children is like the birth of a solar system, with this ever-expanding infinity of emanating outward.

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I know a lot more now, which is to say that I know that I basically know nothing and that each baby/child/person is completely different and designed to keep parents on their toes.

Either way, I’m excited to know we’re having a baby girl in October. I’m going to have to play Sarah Kay on repeat for the next five or so months.

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me “Point B,” because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.” – Sarah Kay 

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Reading lately

I’m finally, FINALLY starting to feel less like a zombie and staying up later, so I’ve been getting more reading done.

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Our latest book club selection, The Paying Guests was a pretty steamy read, set in 1922 London, and rather suspenseful. I stayed up until MIDNIGHT (on a Saturday night in my pajamas) to finish it.

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I just read probably the best answer ever to the age old “Should I Have a Baby or Establish My Career First?” dilemma. Way to go Heather Havrilesky, Ask Polly columnist for The Cut.

Choice quotes:

Because having it all, by its very nature, implies that you have a lot more than you can handle. Who can handle “it all,” anyway? “ALL” IS A WHOLE FUCKING HELL OF A LOT.

Choose both. Choose the career AND choose the baby. Don’t put off one for the other. Choose both now and later and accept that you’ll be juggling for years no matter what you do. Even if you never have a career, you’re going to feel like you’re juggling. Parents juggle. Why not juggle things you love? Sure, you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Accept it and move forward.

One other thing: Being pregnant makes you irritable and ambitious at the same time. Use that energy to fuel your new business. Once you stop feeling hung-over around the clock, you’re going to want to conquer new terrain and strangle anyone who tells you to “relax” with your bare hands.

That last part, so true. I’m finally coming out of hibernation mode and I’ve put my Let’s Get Shit Done maternity pants on. Bring it.

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Oh, and the book that kept me up and turning pages last night (in a totally different way than The Paying Guests), a geek-out over “Diving Deep in Community Engagement: A Model for Professional Development,” edited by the fierce ladies Mandi McReynolds and Emily Shields, two women who I feel very fortunate to have gotten to know over the past few years.

When I interviewed for my job in Community Relations at DMU, I know I wanted to move my career in this direction, and opening the book was like lighting a torch inside of a cave. I’m just wrapping up my first year in this position and opening Diving Deep was like seeing the way forward illuminated. It feels wonderful to have such intelligent, supportive professionals down the street (and in my Facebook friend feed so I can send them fangirl messages late into the evening, of course) as I move into year two.

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February funk

I spent February in a funk — acting as my own trash-talking Kanye, sabotaging my self-confidence after the honor of being named the 2014 Amy Jennings YP Impact Award winner. IMG_20150204_202253 The week before the awards, I was excited about our family vacation to Florida, realizing a lifelong dream to see the manatees in their natural habitat. I had a hunch, and a few days before we took off confirmed that we would be bringing another teeny tiny family member along for the adventure.

I don’t know why (well, partly, hormones, I imagine), but winning that award sort of freaked me out. It felt really full circle: I moved to Des Moines in 2007 not knowing anyone, got to meet lots of people and learn the city through my job at Juice, quit to be more involved in community projects, and seven or so years later was recognized by my former employer for that community impact. There’s a sweetness to the cycle, but I also felt a strange sense of oh-shit-where-do-I-go-from-here, exacerbated by the knowledge that in about 9 months I’d be burrowing in with an infant, trying to figure out life with two kids.

I’m scared that I’ll get overwhelmed and ‘disappear’ from the doers club. I don’t like feeling wiped out and not leaving myself time to sew and read things and drink wine with friends. The first trimester is mostly about exhaustion and worry and extra bowls of cereal — at least for me.

I know that life has its seasons and that by choosing a family I will have to say ‘no’ to some things. (I kind of have this personal rule now that I try not to be gone more than two evenings a week and one big weekend chunk, out of fairness to Joe and a need for balance.) I know there are lots of amazing examples of people with kids who stay active. I read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and laughed and felt a little bit better, but also a lot bit in awe of her. 7 There’s a lot of talk about attracting talent to Des Moines and I think the same leaders who are interested in luring young people to the city need to consider what will keep them here. Retention is just as important: it would be a pity to see people who come here to kickstart their careers leave at that point when all we’ve invested in their development is paying off. And for those of us like me, who maybe five to seven years into our Iowa lives start families of adorable Iowa natives– our ability to be involved is only as strong as our support networks.

Although I have no intention of leaving, Joe and I don’t have any parents in the area (my mom lives in Chicago and his in Council Bluffs). It seems that many times once people have children, they move back to a hometown because having grandparents nearby helps with childcare. We get many ‘boomerang’ Iowans back this way, but could lose others.

I strongly believe the second half of the YP equation is encouraging employers to provide flex time, family leave and – ideally – access to affordable, quality childcare options. And for us young professionals to support each other and value the choices that each of us make in how to spend our time — out and about and at home. Because who among us really has it all figured out?

March forward!

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Behind the curtain

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. I had the flu (a gift from my sweet child), went to a musical (Book of Mormon!), hosted a mini-conference that 75+ people took part in, and it turns out I was named a finalist for a local young professional award (thanks to a thoughtful nomination from a friend).

I’m not writing about it to #humblebrag; I could list dozens of people in our community whose work I admire and who are way more deserving of recognition. It was exhausting and exhilarating and it left me feeling like I need to explain.

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Recognition is really nice, although not completely comfortable. The stories that highlight nominees for these kinds of awards don’t necessarily explain how they do what they do. Inevitably, there’s a big team behind the curtain.

Luckily, every single job and boss I’ve held in this city has allowed me to be a master of my own destiny. They’ve given me the flexibility (and encouragement!) to take random meetings, to flex my schedule when need be (I worked 32 hours a week the first six months of Emmett’s life), afforded me great vacation/sick time (yay journalist furlough and higher ed jobs!), and space to explore possibilities. This is so important. If employers want to attract and retain creative, engaged people, you need to give them a leash long enough that they can pursue their passions in concert with their work.

Luckily, I have been able to navigate the delicate tightrope of quality childcare support. My sister-in-law is a saint to whom I owe a huge piece of my sanity. She’s incredibly flexible, patient and I trust she loves Emmett every day while I’m at work like she does her own girls. She’s never going to receive any big public recognition for what she does, but caring for small people is the hardest job. Hands down. (I’m also happy to have joined a great babysitting co-op to fill in for date nights and whatnot, because when you don’t have grandparents in your city, you really need a tribe.)

Luckily, I have a spouse who always encourages me to do what I want. This isn’t just limited to career pursuits, but the soul-recharge that comes with my Friday night book club, or getting away for a bit to take a sewing class or go for a run. And when I’m done doing my thing, he most likely has made some ridiculously delicious dinner, so I don’t have to think about that. Mostly we scratch our heads at how people who are parents ever leave their homes, and then we decide instead of ever cleaning our house, we’ll attempt a family hike. Without this guy, I would spend way, way too much time in my own head. Mostly worrying or feeling guilty about something I’m doing or not doing.

Whether or not I “win” the YP award in February, the fact the I get to go to work in a job I love and live in a community that lets me pursue and explore so many ideas (and embraces me when all I want is to hang out in my sweatpants), is a huge reward in itself.

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Motherhood: 18 months in

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This isn’t the right analogy in a lot of ways, because I’ve always loved my son. But early on he often felt like this really cute but exhausting roommate who did a lot of puking on me at the just the wrong times and turned my nights and days unpredictable and my body unfamiliar. Early motherhood kind of strung me out, living with this demanding relative stranger who was my own flesh and blood.

Parenting a toddler is pretty challenging, too, but I’m finding the experience enjoyable and rewarding. Suddenly, that darling mystery is turning into a charming friend. (Don’t get me wrong, because there are tantrums. Full-on, face down on the floor screaming and kicking tantrums so ridiculously textbook that I have to stifle my laughter.) I think it’s his grasp of language, and imagination. Personality. Sometimes, a taste of my own sassitude bounced back at me.

I’ve learned that days go most smoothly when I don’t expect Emmett to be occupied by a toy, but try to engage him in an activity. Sometimes this means we can work on parallel projects and sometimes it means I’ve become a boat and he’s riding my legs down the river, or we’re making soup together. The whole world has clicked for him and he wants to be a part of it. And, as parents, we’re re-discovering the world and words, too. (Of course, I felt less starry-eyed about this stage a few weeks ago, during an epic sleep regression that meant Joe and I would take turns falling asleep with Emmett on his floor at 3 a.m.) Daily life.

The joy of hearing his litany of two-word phrases: up high! another one! bless you! help you (for help me)! go outside! close door! His little inside jokes (which might be hilarious to just Joe and me) and the way he tickles my back and his obsession with trucks and cooking and books and bubbles and babies. The way he voice-over-narrates his every activity: Running! Pooping! Falling! His malapropisms: waffles = awfuls.

I’m in love. And, with babyhood in the rearview mirror, I think – I hope! – if and when we get on that crazy train to number two – I’ll embrace the early weeks and months a little more.

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Plus, a few favorite parenting links lately:

I heard this Fresh Air interview of the author of Overwhelmed when it first came out, and it was on when I turned on the radio to run a friend to an errand this morning. Totally what I needed to hear. Again. (I just went back and noticed I linked to it in my post about motherhood, 9 months in!)

A friend who is a new mom linked to Our ‘Mommy’ Problem awhile back and I kept thinking ‘YES!’// I love being part of a book club where it’s about being a woman and a reader (and wine-drinker/pizza-eater) and not necessarily about being a mom.

Catching up on ‘How we Montessori’ blog posts for some simple activities Emmett and I can do together. I read this when I was pregnant/he was tiny and it seemed like it would take forever before he could actually do any of the work, but I suddenly realized he’s ready for some of these concepts. He moved his learning tower over to help wash dishes last night and loves putting away and getting out his own plates and bowls I put in a bottom drawer.

We watched “The Gruffalo” and then “The Gruffalo’s Child,” two delightful short movie adaptations of children’s books that are streaming on Netflix. Joe and I loved it just as much as Emmett, who was calling out the names of all of the animals. In snowy scenes in the sequel, he was feeling empathetic about the Gruffalo child being out in the cold. Needless to say, we’ll be getting these books!

I wish I’d known about The Longest Shortest Time when I was in those early months. It’s still pretty great at this point. And the spinoff tumblr, It’s Like They Know Us.

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Back to School

Summer flowers are browning around the edges, and the sound of the high school band practicing out on the field provides some pep for our morning walks.

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Back-to-school time is one of my favorite fleeting seasons. I have the urge to dress in corduroy. But instead, I’ll do what a grownup lady who has grad school in her rearview mirror will do, and go bag shopping. I ruined my old one with hard boiled eggs — don’t ask. CARRY_-_GREY_TRIANGLE_15_grande

My friend Katy recommended bookhou and it looks like my new autumn companion will be this lovely Grey Triangles tote. 

And, in the vein of lifelong learning, I’m taking a Skillshare class about nonfiction writing. It’s a series of pre-recorded videos and some discussions, resources and a mini assignment, “taught” by one of my favorite writers. More on that later.

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As it happens

I was going to tell you about my day last Thursday, about how — after the funeral for Joe’s grandmother, I took the train from East Chicago into the city to take the bus back to Des Moines, and had a few hours alone.

How wonderful it was to walk past the Art Institute of Chicago, one of my most favorite places, and wander into the Lurie Garden and dip my feet into the shallow urban creek and read a few chapters of a book in solitude. The sound of jazz in the distance. The scent of midsummer blooms with names like ‘purple lance astilbe’ and ‘white dragon knotweed’ and ‘queen of the prairie’ transcending the Chicago’s smells. The view of the Lake and sailboats bright blue and white, just like the clouds. The skyline and street-level architecture familiar to me. The energy of the city streaming in through my smile. I drank it in.

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But really, sometimes it’s just relishing the aloneness. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of event-planning and logistics, and quiet time by myself allows me to recharge so I feel like I have the mental capacity to get. it. done. Also, I think we readers are never alone, and never get annoyed by waiting when we have our books.

(On the ride out, we listened to The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime on CD. Personally, I’ve finally discovered Joan Didion and am ob-sessed, although I sometimes have to read a sentence three times and I really have zero knowledge of the politics of Latin America. This week, I finally tore through Someone Could Get Hurt and did a lot of out-loud laugh-snorting.)

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Motherhood: One year in

I celebrated my first anniversary as a mom last weekend, chasing my freshly minted 1-year-old boy. These days he is bursting with energy, curiosity, things to say. Pausing every now and again for a few cuddles before his next expedition.

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I think back to the days and nights of last June, when new motherhood was an overwhelming tidal wave of emotion and exhaustion. I remember what everyone told me: The days are long, but the years go by so fast. And it’s true. Here we are, heading into a second summer, older, and maybe a little wiser.

I’m by no means a perfect mother, but I am a happy one.

There isn’t much room for selfishness in motherhood. The million little chores and acts — the diaper changes, meal preparations, bathtime and bedtime routines, up rocking in the middle of the night — involve choices that put your child’s interests before your own. The weight of this responsibility is enormous and sometimes, if I’m honest, it can drag a mama down.

It’s in the midst of these days that we parents need to – proverbially – do what flight attendants direct in every safety spiel: Put your oxygen mask on first. You won’t be able to help the kid next to you if you can’t breathe.

Do all those little thankless tasks. And do something for yourself. Don’t feel guilty. Take a shortcut, if you can, call a sitter, lean on your spouse and give yourself permission to focus for a little bit on something just for you. The book club with your girlfriends. A long run. A pedicure. A getaway.

 I’ve learned that if I can’t recognize the person I want be when I look at the mirror (or, more often, my calendar) — how can I expect my child to see that in me? 

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My earlier posts on motherhood are here.

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