Baby Bear Goes Camping

I love to camp. Though it’s not something I grew up doing, Papa Bear and I have enjoyed several camping trips during our time together and knew that we wanted to introduce it to our kid as soon as possible.

What I love most about camping is that it allows me to disconnect from everyday stressors  and reconnect with nature and, more importantly, myself. Camping reminds me to appreciate the serenity of nature in a way that I simply cannot do from the comfort of my home. Sure, sleeping on the ground isn’t exactly like spending a night at the Ritz, but it sure as hell is a lot cheaper and literally keeps me grounded (and I don’t use the term “literally” lightly).

I love that camping lends itself to physical activity; being able to hike all day is my idea of a great time, though I certainly appreciate that others may prefer to lounge around the campfire with hot dog skewers and fully reserve the right to elect this option any time I wish. Plus, who doesn’t love roasting marshmallows? I’m not crazy about them in real life, but I’ll go down swinging if anyone says my crispy black ones aren’t the very definition of perfection.

Long story short, Papa Bear and I knew that the lessons learned at a campsite were ones we wanted to teach our children: self-sufficiency, resilience, and the need to be able to go with the flow. Which is why we booked Baby Bear’s first camping trip when he was 11 months old. It is also why we brushed it off when the first attempt blew up in our faces by way of massive storms and 95-degree weather.

Now, at 15 months, Baby Bear can proudly say he’s successfully camped twice. While I don’t want to put words in his mouth–though, who am I kidding? I do this on the reg–I will say that if the amount of dirt under his fingernails and all over his body were any indication, Baby Bear friggin’ loves the outdoors.

That said, here are the lessons had to learn when taking him camping.

The Dos & Don’ts of Camping with a Baby

The Dos

  • Do be flexible. This is so cliché, but it’s worth repeating because nothing will go precisely as you plan or anticipate. Try to see the positive and not sweat the small stuff.
  • Do go car camping. I would love to say we hiked to our campsite with all our baby gear, but until he can carry it himself we will have to settle for parking at our site. That easy access is extremely valuable.
  • Do choose somewhere within easy driving distance from home (at least initially). Just in case the camping trip blows up in your face as our first did to us, it’s nice to be somewhat close to home. Many of the pictures below were taken at Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit in Wisconsin, about two hours north of Chicago. It was the perfect distance away and provided us with stellar, dog-friendly hiking trails and private, family friendly campsites. Plus, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail goes through the park, so we were able to hike part of that as well.
  • Do unplug. Try turning off your phone and leaving it in the car. Yes, the sheer number of pictures in this post is evidence that I did have my phone around, but I promise it was also off for a large portion of the time. And it felt really good.
  • Do pack simple and easy-to-eat foods. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor when you go camping. The following suggestions can be made with the help of a cooler, your hands, tin foil, the campfire, and/or a propane camping grill. They all received the Baby Brown Bear Stamp of Approval, too.
    • Breakfast
    • Lunch
      • Simple sandwich materials like bread, lunch meat, cheese, and mustard (other toppings optional).
    • Snacks and supplements
      • A large water jug with a spigot. While not necessary, it’s really nice to have a small stash of water already at your site when you have a baby.
      • Fruit such as oranges, bananas, and apples.
      • Pre-chopped veggies like cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
      • Organic baby pouches (for the babe or you, in a pinch).
      • Junky snacks like chips and cookies (per Papa Bear’s recommendation, of course).
    • Dinner
      • Foil packs, like the (delicious) ones we did below:
        • Locally grown green beans with butter, salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic powder.
        • Ground beef with pre-chopped onions, celery, butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
        • Potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Do bring the following baby stuff:
    • A carrier for hikes (Ergo 360 pictured, but Deuter Kid Comfort II Child Carrier even more highly recommended).
    • A stroller for when you need to strap your kid in so you can set up the campsite.
    • A kid’s camping chair for when you want to take adorable pictures and relax together around the campfire (Melissa and Doug Giddy Buggy Chair pictured).
    • An easy-to-use pack ‘n play (I am obsessed with the 4moms Breeze). Co-sleeping would likely be easier for the babe, but having him in this meant I was able to put him to bed at his normal time and return to the campfire without worrying about him rolling all over the tent. While he ended up coming to sleep with us in the middle of the night on some of the nights we camped, at least I had a few hours of good sleep before he was jammed in my armpit. Our tent is an older version of the REI Base Camp and comfortably fits the Breeze, two adults, an overnight bag, and a dog.
    • Sunscreen and bug spray (Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34 highly recommended).
    • A mix of clothing options, including shorts, t-shirts, pants, long-sleeved shirts, short/t-shirt jammies, full-length sleepers, socks, a hoodie, and shoes. Temperatures fluctuate quite a bit from the heat of the day to overnight, so layers really come in handy.
    • A sunhat (i play. Baby & Toddler Flap Sun Protection Swim Hat recommended).
    • Refillable water bottles for you and baby (Baby Bear loves this CamelBak Kid one).
    • Diapers, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Oh, and a couple big garbage bags. Enough said.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t go camping with your baby when the weather is out of control. We learned this lesson when we stubbornly insisted on driving for two hours to the site, setting up camp, and trying to put Baby Bear down before admitting that it’s probably not a good idea to leave a baby in a tent that’s a stifling 90-plus degrees. Especially when a massive storm is headed your way. Just don’t even bother; you can always go back.
  • Don’t waste your time bringing a picnic blanket. Unless your baby isn’t moving much yet, this will be completely useless.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your little one roll around, dig, and/or lather himself in dirt. Part of the appeal is getting closer to nature! Let him learn about bugs and rocks. Have a (one-sided) conversation about how plants grow. You can wash up when you get back home. Speaking of which…
  • Don’t shower. Most car campsites have working showers, but I suggest you try to resist. Let yourself get dirty, too. Enjoy living simply for a weekend. But, do brush your teeth. Bad breath and gingivitis are hard and fast don’ts.
  • Don’t forget to hike and explore. Like I said, I absolutely love to hike and be active when I camp. Get out there and get (safely) lost on a trail. Leave your phone and your worries behind.
Kettle Moraine Pike Lake Unit in Wisconsin.
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This baby loves to sleep in carriers.

Moral of the Story

At the end of the day, you’re going camping and it’s supposed to be relaxing. The above suggestions are just my opinion; you don’t need a lot of stuff, and even this is probably overkill. What matters is that you get outta Dodge and into Mother Nature. Take your baby, clear your mind, and you’ll figure it out as you go. If all else fails, you’ll add to your growing pile of parenting failure memories.

Let me hear from you. What are your suggestions for camping with kids?

 

 

 

The Power of Mom Friends

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Jumping sunset poses not necessary, but highly encouraged.

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Being a mom is a heavy task, and when you step back and really think about the daunting responsibility you have of not messing someone up entirely, it’s enough to send you straight to your wine shelf. Really, you–yeah, yeah, and your partner and community–are responsible for the outcome of a human being. Think about it: the power to turn your child into a total dick is right at your fingertips.

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but all that considered, it’s no wonder even the calmest of moms is occasionally riddled with anxiety and guilt. For the number of Super Bowl champs who say they first and foremost need to thank their mothers, there are even more sociopaths who blame theirs for their problems. I’m not saying my son will turn out like Norman Bates or anything–my God, I would not look good stuffed–but the possibilities of his future personality are endless.

It’s times like this, when I find myself going down an irrational rabbit hole, that I am particularly thankful for my mom friends. You know the ones I’m talking about: the friends who justify your neuroses, pull your head out of your ass, and bring some friggin’ levity back into your life.

I hate to categorize friends in this way, sticking them in the oft-dreaded ‘mom’ bucket, but I’ve found that there’s really no better term for the kind of person I mean. Simply put, a real mom friend is not just a fellow mom you call to schedule play dates; a real mom friend is someone with whom you can commiserate and share your greatest parenting fears and victories. Non-mom friends can certainly lend a sympathetic ear, but I’ve yet to meet a non-mom friend who can comfortably discuss baby poop, much less casually over lunch.

What does it mean to be a mom friend? Let me count the ways.

A mom friend will…

  1. Convince you that your baby won’t develop body dysmorphia because you think it’s fun to use Snapchat filters on him.
  2. Never ask you to do jumping jacks because she knows that no amount of kegels will prevent you from peeing yourself a little (or a lot).
  3. Drink a glass of wine in solidarity after you text her the word “poo-pocalypse.”
  4. Encourage you to keep watching HBO in front of your baby because it’s highly unlikely he understands the concepts of sex or violence yet. And that Jane the Virgin is actually educational what with the exposure to Spanish and all.
  5. Concur that it’s totally normal to shower every two days and wear yoga pants exclusively.
  6. Hear you utter the words “I’ve got a sausage in my pocket” and appreciate that you brought a snack instead of judging you for your sexual euphemisms.
  7. Agree that it’s prudent and not at all absurd to have a zombie apocalypse plan.
  8. Talk with you for 45 minutes about your nipples without batting an eyelash.
  9. Be so well-acquainted with your labor and delivery story that she probably knows your vagina more intimately than most of your sexual partners combined.
  10. Assure you that the dirt your baby just fisted into his mouth is an efficient and all-natural alternative to a probiotic and a multi-vitamin.
  11. Offer to watch your baby when you feel the need to be literally anywhere but with said baby.
  12. Remind you that there’s really no such thing as an “overachieving” baby and that they all develop at different paces.
  13. Help you weigh the pros and cons of going back to work and support your decision no matter the path you choose.
  14. Have a meaningful conversation with you about politics, religion, and the scary world we live in because she respects you and reserves judgment even when she has different opinions.
  15. Open up to you as much as you open up to her.

Most importantly, a mom friend will lament with you, listen to you, or give you a hug when you’re feeling sad, guilty, happy, or all three (read: postpartum hormones). A lot like a spouse, I suppose, a mom friend will love and support you in the good times and the bad.

So let’s all rejoice in our mom friendships! Being there for your fellow mom during what can sometimes be a serious and isolating experience is something to be celebrated and cherished. And, really, who can better understand how hilarious it is to watch your baby get stuck in a hamper?

 

Baby Bear’s Favorite Children’s Books Part II

We just completed Rahm’s Little Readers, the Chicago Public Library’s summer reading program that challenges kids to read at least 500 minutes between June and September. In addition to reading, participants must complete two activities from each of the following categories: talking, singing, writing, and playing. Technically speaking, Baby Bear doesn’t write yet–or talk or sing much, for that matter–but luckily for him, his Mama Bear had some crayons and a strong grip to force his hand.

Nonetheless, when you read for at least 500 minutes, you end up repeating a lot of the same books. It’s necessary, then, to find books you, the reader, genuinely enjoy as much as your babe.

The following books are among our favorite right now, be it for their illustrations, text, and/or interactivity. Take a look and maybe you’ll find your next favorite, too! (See part one for more ideas.)

Another Short List

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
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It’s only fitting that the first book on this list is a nod to one of the very things this blog’s name references. Eric Carle is undeniably one of the most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators of all time (he’s 87 now!). Fun fact of the day: Brown Bear was a collaboration. It was this book that actually kicked off his career in 1967, followed by the arguably more famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969.

Baby Bear and I started reading Brown Bear mostly because liked it so much, but before long, I noticed that he’d reach for it on his own. He seems captivated by Carle’s signature bright and blocky illustrations (much to my chagrin, he wiggles in excitement every time we land on the damned purple cat) and eagerly turns the pages to see which animal is next. What’s especially fun is when he points along on the last spread as we recap all of the animals.

Curious George Pat-A-Cake!

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Curious George Pat-A-Cake! by H.A. Rey
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Who wouldn’t love Curious George in finger puppet form? Baby Bear sure does, and has been grabbing George’s little monkey hands for as long as he’s known how to move his own.

With five brightly colored pages of pat-a-cake rhymes, from the classic “baker’s man” verse to an appropriately themed “yellow hat man” one, babies can’t help but to smile and clap along. This is a great diversion book, too, having stopped at least a few crying fits in this household.

My First Slide-Out Book of Colors

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My First Slide-Out Book of Colors written by Early Start Editors and illustrated by Abdi Moshiri
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No, the text in this one isn’t exactly Newbery material, but it’s straight-forward and easy for even the youngest listeners to understand. Each page shows a color followed by two objects of that color. A third object is shown in black and white until the reader pulls out its corresponding tab and its color is revealed. For example, “This is the color yellow. The chick is yellow. The taxi is yellow. What color is the banana?” When you pull out the tab, you learn that the banana is yellow! Good job; you’re getting the hang of it!

Just recently, Baby Bear has become a little obsessed with pulling out and pushing in each tab. Every time we read it, he is engrossed to the point where he actually wants to flip it back and start over. At this pace, this kid is going to know his colors early!

What I also like about the book is that it contains ideas for the reader to encourage more interaction so the book won’t grow stale. The orange page suggests pointing to and discussing each image in addition to talking about the color (e.g., “What do you do with a carrot?”). It’s always helpful to have new ideas like this.

Where Is the Green Sheep? / ¿Dónde está  la oveja verde? 

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Where Is the Green Sheep? / ¿Dónde está la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo
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We have quite a few bilingual books, but this one is my favorite. Depending on how long I need to or can occupy Baby Bear, I typically read it all the way through in one language, then start over in the other. The illustrations are simple yet whimsical. The sheep in the story aren’t just any old boring sheep, either. There’s a sheep in the bath, a Singin’ in the Rain sheep, a surfing sheep, and even an astronaut sheep! “Here is the wind sheep. And here is the wave sheep. Here is the scared sheep, and here is the brave sheep. But where is the green sheep?” or “Esta oveja juega con el viento. Y esta oveja juega con las olas. Esta oveja está asustada y esta oveja es valiente. ¿Pero, dónde está la oveja verde?”

My only complaint about the book is that the English version rhymes but the Spanish one does not. While I appreciate a straight translation, I would prefer the content to be changed slightly enough to make both versions equally fun to read aloud. Either way, this one is in our diaper bag at all times.

Peekaboo Kisses

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Peekaboo Kisses by Barney Saltzberg
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As you can tell, Baby Bear is really starting to enjoy interacting with his books. This one is a particular favorite because it has the baby trifecta: flaps to lift, textures to touch, and a mirror at the end.

Each page begins with, “Peekaboo! I see…” along with a picture of an animal hiding behind its hands. The reader must lift the flap to reveal what animal is hiding and what kind of kisses it offers. For example, “Peekaboo! I see…furry puppy kisses.” As a bonus, said furry puppy has a nice, soft patch of purple fur for baby to feel.

Babies pick up on rituals, and, as such, Baby Bear has started to preemptively cover his eyes/forehead before each new page. It’s adorable.

Quick as a Cricket

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Quick as a Cricket written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood
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Baby Bear received this book for his first birthday, and it’s quickly become one of my personal favorites to read to him. Self-described as a “joyful celebration of self-awareness,” Quick as a Cricket uses contradictory animal similes and beautiful illustrations to capture the many dimensions and colorful imaginations of children. My favorite stanza (and corresponding imagery) is, “I’m as brave as a tiger, I’m as shy as a shrimp, I’m as tame as a poodle, I’m as wild as a chimp.” Plus, Baby Bear’s version came with a cool personalized touch: his aunt wrote the Spanish translation on each page. Thanks, Aunt B!

Little Blue Truck

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Little Blue Truck written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry
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I mean it when I say that Little Blue Truck is a great read for children and adults alike. It’s short enough for Baby Bear to stay engaged but long enough to develop a thoughtful arc about the old golden rule and contains language that’s extremely fun to read aloud.

“Little Blue Truck came down the road. ‘Beep!’ said Blue to a big green toad. Toad said, ‘Croak!’ and winked an eye when Little Blue Truck went rolling by.” You’ve no choice but to enhance your animal noise skills if you read this enough.

I also enjoy this book for its illustrations, which evoke in me a Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia for the countryside I didn’t know I had.

LMNO Peas

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LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
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I’m passionate about this book because it is exceptionally playful and creative, an alphabet book like no other. Perhaps the most talented and diverse group of peas in existence scatter across these pages to teach kids the ABCs.

“We are peas–alphabet peas! We work and play in the ABCs. We’re acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space. We’re builders, bathers, and bikers in a race.”

Not only are these fun rhymes to say aloud, but the illustrations are surprisingly detailed and clever, too. Who would have thought two peas roasting marshmallows could be so cute? In what is an outwardly simplistic book, I find something new and equally entertaining each time we read it. This book earns a Baby Brown Bear Golden Star.

More Books, Please!

At some point in the near future, I may need to admit to a slight children’s book hoarding problem, but I’m not there yet! What are your favorite children’s books?

 

Motherhood: The First Year in Review

First and foremost, I’d like to apologize for my recent absence. We’ve had a slew of gorgeous family weddings and get-togethers that have happily taken me away from my computer. In the meantime, I hope you’ve been reading some of my summer book suggestions. If so, I’d love to know what you think so far.

Secondly, and more importantly, in my time away, Baby Brown Bear turned one! Over the last few months, I’ve anxiously awaited–nay, actually felt apprehensive of–his first birthday. It’s hard to say why exactly, but I think it’s because it’s a rather significant milestone in a mother’s life. It’s important for the baby too, I suppose, but it’s not like he cares or will remember it. In fact, I’m not sure he has any sense of time at all at this point, aside from the difference between daytime and nighttime (and thank God for that). But for a mother, it’s when you earn a metaphorical “hey, you made it” sticker.

You made it!

At a year, at least outwardly, it seems like most mothers have found their stride. Though a baby constantly changes and a mother must adapt her parenting tactics accordingly, she at least has an idea of what works well. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff to the same degree she did just twelve months before. She also knows that she must add at least 20 minutes to a given time frame to account for any number of baby-related delays.

She has relaxed into her parenting approach and no longer hears that constant nag of self-doubt (or, at least, she can ignore it). And, most importantly, she’s kept her baby alive and well for an entire year. Though, to be honest, it really freaks me out when people congratulate me for that. One, I don’t like to think of the implication that I might not have been able to keep him alive for a year. Two, it makes me feel like they are jinxing our good health. We all know how fragile life continues to be well past a year (and all those horror stories in the news certainly don’t help). As a mother, I don’t think I’ll ever fully settle without worrying at least a little bit about baby’s well-being.

Better yet, a year marks a full rotation around the Sun. If anything, that’s why we should congratulate each other. We’ve just traveled about 584 million miles!

Take that, Executive Platinum status.

In all seriousness, a year is an easy milestone because it’s one of the most prominent measures of time. It’s a natural reflection point. “A year ago right now…” is an exercise that appeals to the emotional side of nearly all human beings. Mothers especially. Engineers less so (I say this with love, Papa Bear).

In the last few days leading up to Baby Bear’s birthday, I was in an incessant state of reminiscence. Down to the hour, I reminded Papa Bear what we were doing a year prior. “Today was my last work day and I had no idea!” “This is when I took the dog to the beach; our last time alone together before baby came.” “Right now  I was having brunch and poured almost an entire bottle of Cholula on my eggs.” “This is when we were driving to [a friend]’s house and my water broke but we didn’t realize it yet.” “This is about when I had that delicious glass of wine. What a great way to settle into a labor.” “Right now is when my water started to gush in my parents’ kitchen. Remember that picture we took together and it was our last as a childless couple?”

Imagine how many of these Papa Bear heard over the course of the day and a half that was my labor. It was never-ending, but it helped me cope and digest my bewilderment that an entire year had passed.

“Remember that time at band camp the hospital?”

I remembered everything from those 36 hours, more so even than the ones that followed, with such crisp detail, with more clarity than I ever remember anything. It’s like my thoughts, actions, and emotions were crystallized to ensure I never forget how it felt to stand on the precipice of complete and utter change. Like those mosquitoes forever stuck in amber in Jurassic Park, my pregnant self feels frozen in time.

Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth.

But, as much as that is true, it’s incredible to me how different I feel, too. Alongside this trip down memory lane, I couldn’t help but compare life now to a year ago, for me, my baby, and our family life in general.

Past to Present

Physically, I am completely different now than I was this time last year. I’ve lost the 60 pounds (yes, you read that right) that I gained. In fact, I now feel stronger than I ever did before pregnancy, largely because I now only have time for short, high-impact workouts instead of the long runs and gym visits I once enjoyed. Plus, nothing will make you feel as strong as carrying and birthing a baby.

I am woman. Hear me roar!

Though I finally feel like I’m once again in control of my body and am proud of the hard work I’ve put in over the last several months, returning to my pre-baby shape does serve as a bittersweet reminder of the growing physical distance between baby and me. With each passing day, he needs me less and less. No longer does he need to nurse every two hours. No longer can I clearly remember how it felt to have him move in my swollen belly. Where we were connected for nine months, then nearly connected for a few more months after that, it’s clear to see he’s becoming increasingly independent and separated from me. While that makes me happy and feel like we’re doing something right, it also makes me realize how much time has passed since his birth. And how fast things will continue to go.

I’ll tell you one thing that never goes back to normal, though, and that’s a breastfeeding mama’s chest.

Meanwhile, Baby Bear is almost an entirely new person. He’s gained roughly 15 pounds, probably 11 or 12 inches, and now has discernible facial features instead of a more generic newborn look. He doesn’t lie around and sleep between feedings anymore, but is a force of nature. He crawls, stands, shuffles, climbs, and dives everywhere (including many places he shouldn’t). He smiles, laughs, mimics, and experiments with sounds and words. He’s responsive, inquisitive, flexible, happy-go-lucky, and fun. More and more do I realize how much of a mind of his own he has, and so far I’m excited to say it’s one of a very thoughtful, loving little boy.

How can a little baby be my best bud?

Situationally, life is significantly different. All throughout my pregnancy and even after Baby Bear was born, I was sure I would go back to work. I barely even entertained the idea of staying home because it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I placed so much of myself in my job and was proud of the work I did. So much so that it was one of the ways I defined myself. When I even thought of not returning, one of my first thoughts was, “Who would I be without a job?” Looking back, this seems ridiculous, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t sure how I’d define my worth if I quit.

The first inkling I had that maybe, just maybe quitting was worth considering was about a week after Baby Bear was born (because, let’s be honest, that first week was a whirlwind in which I was not thinking about work at all). As I sat in the rocking chair in Baby Bear’s dimly lit nursery, holding a peacefully sleeping baby in my arms, panic struck me. How on Earth was I to leave this angelic, completely dependent little being behind to go to the office? Was anything I did there really more important than being with him? It was an idea that took hold and burrowed its way deeper and deeper into my head and heart.

It was those eyelashes. Have you even seen a baby’s eyelashes?

Within a few weeks, I was starting to test out how “stay-at-home mom” sounded when I said it aloud. I was far from committing to it, but I was beginning to entertain the idea. As I looked into Baby Bear’s face and as he gripped my finger with his tiny little hands, I was becoming more certain that my sense of worth was only going to flourish if I stayed home.

Within a few more weeks, I knew it was the right decision for my family. By that point, I absolutely dreaded going back only to give my notice because I didn’t want to feel judged for my decision (the same for which I had shamefully been known to judge others). I also didn’t want people to think that it had been my plan all along and that I had lied about it. I had severe anxiety even up the morning of my first day back (12 weeks is such a joke, by the way). Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised–even shocked–when I received nothing but support and understanding.

Some of my coworkers had made that decision themselves, and hadn’t returned to the workforce until their children were grown. They told me how happy they were for me because they had absolutely never regretted their time at home. Other coworkers had decided to return to work because it was the right move for their families, and they sympathized with how tough of a call it is, especially when babies are still so helpless. A Canadian colleague said it was a shame the U.S. didn’t offer a full year off because then they wouldn’t lose so many good colleagues. It was a flattering, but sadly true comment.

All told, it was an eye-opening moment because it was one of the few times I’ve experienced women coming together to talk about their shared experiences, specifically the shared difficulty they face when considering career and family decisions.

Luckily, I’ve been witness to a lot more of that kind of vulnerability and acceptance in the last year as I’ve found myself surrounded with incredible, positive women. It’s a powerful thing when we support each other and stand united.

Let’s quickly acknowledge that it’s complete bullshit that the U.S. is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave.

A year into the stay-at-home mom thing, I can tell you that I have never for one day regretted the decision to quit. There are certainly some aspects of the job I miss, mostly my coworkers, and I do sometimes wonder how the yet undetermined gap will affect my career in the long run. But when I think of the alternative, I would not change it for a second.

Not that I know any differently, but I think staying at home has given me the opportunity to know every facet of my son’s personality from its inception. I’ve seen his first smile and know the differences between his morning smiles, his tired smiles, his bashful smiles, his excited smiles, and his lovey dovey smiles. I know what toys he prefers when we travel and what toys he prefers before nap time. I know what makes him giggle when nothing else will (jump squats), or least stop crying (a creepy YouTube video of “Wheels on the Bus”). I know myself well enough to know that if I were working full time, I would be over committing myself as usual. I think I’d be less attentive to the minute details that make Baby Bear who he is.

Pause.

Now, don’t misread me. I’m not on a high horse to tell all women that they should stay home because it is what’s best. I fully acknowledge that it’s not the right decision for everyone. For one, women should take pride in the work they do and should continue to do it if it makes them happy. I also know that for many women it isn’t really a choice; they must work to pay the bills.

As a former daycare kid myself, I think kids who have non-parent caretakers turn out wonderfully. My little analysis isn’t about me passing judgment or thinking I have a holier-than-thou answer to life. This is me spending a little time to reflect on my own experience.

While I’m here, I also want to make clear that, while I spend an awful lot of time thinking  and writing about motherhood, I don’t adhere to the belief that women don’t truly understand life until they’re mothers. Some people want kids, some people don’t. I think what’s most important is that you recognize what would make you happy.

In my short time as a mother, I’ve learned kids don’t necessarily make things easier, the path to self-discovery included. (Of course I say this as I’m writing an essay about how my perspective and self-understanding have broadened in the last year). Motherhood isn’t the answer; it just provides a different lens through which to look at the world.

Maybe motherhood is the answer to you. What the hell do I know? My experience is inherently different from yours. That’s what makes life so interesting! Let’s embrace our differences just like we embrace our similarities.

Unpause.

Okay, so I don’t regret quitting. What else has changed in the last year?

Let’s get the bad stuff over with first. I’m way more addicted to my phone than I ever was before. It’s my worst bad habit, and is one that makes me feel incredibly guilty at all times, especially when I look up to see Baby Bear watching me. Honestly, I don’t even care about what’s happening on Facebook, so why do I check it 7,000 times a day?! I hope that with awareness and time, this gets better, especially as Baby Bear starts to engage with me even more.

We’ve also battled a couple pretty bad illnesses over the last year–the norovirus is the pits–but knowing that it could be so much worse helps to keep things in perspective.

And, try as I might to shut it out, I’ve developed the infamous Mom Guilt. It’s so easy to question every single move you make as a mother, especially when the anonymous assholes of the internet shame you on all sides. This is where having a trusted pediatrician and reassuring friends makes all the difference. When I mention how I feel bad about the margaritas I had for dinner the night before, my good friends don’t judge. Instead they ask, “Ooh where’d you get them?!”

I never valued happy hour more than I do now.

Now the positive changes. There are so many!

I thought becoming a mother might make me worry more, and while I have anxieties about all sorts of bizarre things–some of which are rational–I think it’s done the opposite. When thinking of how it’s affected me, I can’t help but immediately note how much more patient I am. In fact, I’d say I’m more patient, open, and reflective. I think these qualities have grown partly because I have more time to grow them. I’m no longer running from one place to another and trying to squeeze in my life after hours. Instead I can stop and observe life around me. I’m not rushed anywhere (though I’m still often late), and if I am, I now realize it’s only myself I have to blame for it.

I don’t even get annoyed when going to the grocery store, doctor’s office, or DMV anymore because I have the time to wait. It’s a miracle!

I also believe this time and reflection have made me kinder. I certainly care more now about the plights of others. I think I was a kind person before, one who cared about people, righting wrongs, and ridding the world of injustice, but I didn’t do much about it. I’m not saying I’m doing a lot about it now, but spending a year watching and interacting with the people in my community certainly makes me want to try harder.

I feel such a passionate need to leave behind a better world for my son, and feel the need now more than ever to lead by example. I’m no longer responsible for just myself, but now have to act on baby’s behalf, too.

As I mentioned in my open letter last month, I feel that Baby Bear is my legacy and I want to ensure as best I can that he is kind and fights for what is right and good. If I don’t act this way now, he won’t learn to either. Maybe another reason I’m supposed to stay home is because it affords me the time to become more active in giving back to my community. Maybe I can become a better and more vocal advocate for change. I’m tired of sitting back idly.

It’s hard to say how I would feel if I were working, but knowing myself and the amount of stress and responsibility I sign up for, I don’t think I’d have the time or energy to give any of these things nearly as much dedication or thought.

Now I do have time for that.

I also think I’m more confident than I was before. It’s hard to tell if this is because I’m getting older or if this is because of motherhood; it’s probably somewhere in between. Unless it affects me, I’ve stopped caring what other people do with themselves and have realized I don’t care what people think of what I’m doing either. I like and am proud of who I am, and I’ve finally accepted that’s what is important. I think it’s also because I’ve worked hard to maintain a sense of self and nurture my friendships and interests. With the help of an involved partner and more-than-willing grandparents, I’m able to exercise, play games, go to the occasional dinner, and read. I prioritize my mental and physical health because it curbs my anxieties and makes me a better friend, partner, and mother.

Happy self, happy life?

This last year has also made me feel more grateful for all of the good in my life. In addition to having the necessities like a roof over my head, plenty of food to sustain me, and an abundance of clothes to keep me warm (or cool), I find blessings everywhere I look.

My family and I have our health and a comfortable lifestyle that allows us to go on fun adventures. We have supportive and generous friends, both new and old, who help make us better people. We have an incredible extended family, including three amazing great-grandparents and four fabulous grandparents. We have a not-so-cuddly but oh-so-sweet dog who begrudgingly allows Baby Bear to tug at his tail and climb on top of him. I have a loving, hard-working, and attentive husband whose support in this whole parenting thing means more than I could possibly describe. I have an adorable and lively little guy whose smile tugs at my heart every single time. Life is good, man.

And I tell you, nothing helps remind you of that more than watching life pass you by. I literally watched the seasons change this year. I go on a lot of walks with the babe and dog and pass by many of the same parks and gardens day after day. Over the course of the year, I saw trees shed their leaves only to blossom again a few months later. I saw flowers wilt and freeze, then bloom with more vibrancy that I could ever recall. I actually bask in the sunlight now, especially in the winter when I’d previously wake up, go to work, and come home in the dark.

I am so thankful for the life I have, for the time I spend with Baby Bear, and for the world around us. This year has allowed me to grow.

To infinity and beyond.

But, now that baby is a year old, many people are starting to ask me what’s next. Will I go back to work soon?

I think there’s a natural tendency we have as human beings to anticipate the “next” thing. “Once X is done, we’ll be able to focus on Y,” or, “Life will be easier once Z is over.” That may be true, and it may be a great way to get through some of the more trying periods in life, but for me, right now, I don’t want to wish away time any faster than it’s already going.

I don’t know what’s next. Yes, I may be missing out on some cool opportunities, but for now I’m happy just being and savoring. I’m doing what’s right for me, what’s right for my family, and damn if I’m not enjoying it.

Cheers to a phenomenal second year. And many more.

 

 

 

[Cover photo source]

How Motherhood Changed My Understanding of Time

Time is such a funny thing, isn’t it? The concept of time. It’s rather grand in theory and is the kind of thing that makes your brow furrow if you think about it too long. Time. Time. TIME. It completely loses its meaning.

What does time mean anyway? Well, until recently I never concerned myself too much with the passage of time other than to use it as a filler during small talk. “Wow, I can’t believe it’s already [insert month]. This year is going by so quickly!”

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[Source]

Upon conception, though, time is measured very differently, carefully even. With the help of an app, I could easily tell you at any moment exactly how many weeks (and days) pregnant I was. I’m not sure about you, but until then I had never measured my life in terms of weeks minus the occasional vacation countdown. (Baby’s progress, meanwhile, was measured in comparisons to increasingly large fruits and vegetables. Thirty weeks? Baby is the size of a butternut squash. Kind of a strange custom, really, but a lot of things about pregnancy and motherhood are strange.)

All you think about when you’re pregnant is time. “How much time do I have to finish the nursery?” “When will baby be born?” “Will we ever have time to play board games again when baby comes?”

It should prepare you for what’s to come, but it doesn’t even come close.

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Will the time ever come where I can see my legs again?
Pictured: Me at 37 weeks

Time stopped the day Baby Bear was born. It stopped the moment he was born.

After a 36-hour labor (an amount of time I will never forget), I was practically delirious. Luckily Papa Bear was a little more with-it than I because otherwise I’m not sure I’d remember anything from that first day. At no point did I really know what was going on around me or what time it was. All I could do was flit in and out of sleep with this incredible baby on my chest. Our visitors brought us bounties of food (including a steak and a long-awaited Portillo’s hot dog; I never seem to forget food), I know I showered at some point (the best shower I’d ever had), and I waddled to pee under the watchful eye of a nurse a handful of times. Otherwise, everything is a blur. I was exhausted and so overcome with emotion that even when we decided on his name I was not entirely alert.

In the days after his birth, I felt awestruck and more nostalgic than I’d ever been. Which was a strange feeling given that I had this new baby in my arms. I looked back and reminisced about the entire birth experience. I felt sad that each new day took us further away from that glorious moment when we first laid eyes on each other. Glorious sounds a little flamboyant, but that’s the only word I can use to describe it. Though I felt like we were still in a daze and had a hard time remembering what day or time it was, I already wanted to slow down and make sure I was truly savoring everything.

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Please, never let go. (Okay, maybe let go, we’ll cut your nails, then come back.)
Pictured: Baby Brown Bear’s 6-day-old hand grasping my thumb

But then, miraculously, life continued on. Our whole lives were building to this moment and yet it passed like any other. Papa Bear and I adjusted to parenthood–this probably shouldn’t be in past tense–and have had to succumb to the now advanced pace of time.

When Baby Bear was three weeks old, he and I started attending a wonderful group for new moms (about which I will write more later). At the time, he was one of the youngest babies there. While it had taken so much effort and planning to arrive even somewhat on time, I sat there in bewilderment as the moms of older babies seemed to be so at ease with their babies and their new lives. They were relaxed and took all the things their babies did in stride while those same things still caused me so much anxiety. I admired these ‘older’ moms and hoped that some day I’d feel that way too.

I didn’t recognize it as it was happening, of course, but one day I looked around the room and realized that my eight-month-old was now one of the oldest babies there. As I tried to reassure these ‘younger’ harried and frazzled moms that life gets easier, I marveled at the fact that these babies were even born. How was it that the world didn’t stop turning when Baby Bear was born? Logically, of course, I knew this was ridiculous, but I couldn’t shake the sensation. My life monumentally changed; I no longer had a paying job, I wore yoga pants nearly constantly, I spent a lot more time with my dog, and, oh yeah, I had a baby to care for every second of my day. Was there a little tremor, at least, when he was born? Could other people feel it too?

Every single day seems to pass differently than it did before. It is simultaneously more and less structured. I no longer worry about catching the bus to catch the ‘L’ (good riddance, rush hour commute). Now, my life is measured by library times, nap times, bath times, and bed times. The weeks and months pass at an alarming speed, but that’s partly because of how much can change between each one. During one week, he peers up at me with his little toothless grin; the next, he is accidentally biting me because he hasn’t adjusted to his teeth yet.

As annoying as it can be, his life is being measured by what milestones he is hitting (or not hitting). Mine seems to be going in reverse of his. One day he will no longer fit in my arms. With each passing milestone, we are one step closer to him leaving for college. It might be a little bleak, but it’s true. Try as I might to savor each and every moment, I often catch myself scrolling through Facebook and then feeling overcome with guilt that I’m not just staring at his angelic sleeping face because it won’t always be there.

See, that’s the problem with parenthood that I wasn’t really prepared to handle: I have no idea how much time is left to enjoy each thing. It can be anything from something as innocuous as how long he’ll end up napping that day, to something more important, like how long he’ll want to keep nursing. I sometimes wish I knew. Not so I could feel better when I zone out, of course, but so I could just appreciate it even more. Mom guilt aside (that’s a whole other topic), I just want to be able to thoroughly enjoy each moment without thinking of and worrying about how fast it’s all going.

Every single parent we know has at one point told us to “enjoy it because it goes fast.” Of course I understood what they meant, but I really couldn’t wrap my head around it until it started happening to us, too. Last week, a friend said to me, “I can’t believe he’s almost one!” I stopped her, but then realized that his first birthday is only a couple of months away. It made me want to grab him, squeeze him, and never let him go.

Even now, as I type this, I have to fight the urge to let him sleep instead of waking him so I can snuggle his nine-month-old self. That’s another funny thing about parenthood: as excited as I am for him to go to sleep so I have some time to myself, I often find that I miss him only an hour or two later. In all of this blur of time, he’s become my best little buddy.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that motherhood has completely morphed the way I view and experience time. It’s no longer just something to casually remark upon. It is now something to be truly cherished. Baby Bear, I never want to take you or anything you do for granted. You are my miracle.

Plus, all of this is just another reason not to worry about setting him down to fold that pile of laundry or scrub the tub. Because, really, given how fast these babies grow:

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[Source]