August Around Here

The month starts on a high note: the baby takes his first steps when I’m at work, and then many more steps not long after. By the end of the month, he is confidently toddling all over everywhere, shaky eggs in hand.

In July, I told my therapist that I was struggling to make time to connect with the big kid. He suggests that putting it on the calendar would be a good start. And so I do, and on Saturday, we bike to the farmers’ market, then to get his hair cut, then to a new-to-us cafe for a brownie, coffee, and chess. It’s a lovely morning in a lovely weekend. In the afternoon, we walk to the campus art museum to take in a remarkable exhibit from Tara Donovan. The big kid comes home and draws pictures of the art to include in one of the near-daily letters to his grandparents.

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Then on Monday, early in the morning, the phone rings. My grandma has declined overnight. I nod in sort of comprehension, finish my breakfast, and unload the dishwasher before leaving for Iowa instead of for work. Grandma is tired, suffering, in and out. When she is present, she is herself. When she isn’t, she calls for help. Everyone looks as exhausted as they must feel: my parents, my aunt, my uncle, the neighbor. We take turns holding her hand, talking to her, listening to the care team, and going through things in her room. I stay until mid-afternoon, when I leave to drive the 3 hours back home in a daze.

Two days later, I am at Maggie Daley Park with the big kid, a visiting friend, her son, and her cousin. The big kid runs ahead into the cauldron-like play area. When we get there, he’s nowhere to be seen. If he hears us calling his name, he doesn’t respond. I run around, half frantic. The park is crowded and maze-like and not a familiar space for any of us. In the midst of this, my phone rings again. I know what the call will be, but I can’t take it because I can’t find my child. Moments later, my friend finds him – he had climbed up into a play structure, got scared, and couldn’t climb back down. I climb up, retrieve him, and hug him, crying and overwhelmed. We decide to get lunch. On our way down Randolph, the phone rings again, and in the middle of noon traffic in downtown Chicago, while the big kid is chattering away about lunch, I learn that my grandma has died. My friend stops in the middle of the street to hug me. We eat lunch – I couldn’t tell you what. I’m too frazzled to explain to the big kid what has happened.

The rest of the day – the week, even – is lost in a daze. A security guard at Whole Foods asks if I’m OK as I cry in the floral section. We take a bottle of wine to the Middle Eastern restaurant and drink a toast over our falafel and salads. I spend two days trying to organize my work life so that I can be out of the office unexpectedly.

Before we leave town, the kids and I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to buy the apples my grandparents grew – Lodi – so that we can turn them into applesauce, a gallon made at my parents’ and another half gallon made at home, the repetitive work of peeling, slicing, and stirring soothing aching hearts, albeit temporarily.

We spend two days at my parents’ house doing whatever we can to help or distract. I take the kids out to harvest beans from the garden, left neglected due to all of the back and forth from the previous week. The baby pulls up on the garden wall and takes a tumble, and I carry him inside covered head to toe in dirt, and happy as can be.

And then we drive to Iowa for the services, and spend a day feeling many things all at once, but mostly feeling exhausted to the bone and turned inside out.

At the end of that week, the baby turns 1. Our wonderful, silly, precious last baby. As with many second-borns, the milestones that were so enormous for the big kid feel slightly less so for the small one, or at least are more easily obscured, or maybe it’s just that everything is happening all at once this month. We celebrate with a beautiful birthday cake at my parents’, and then with a morning trip to the beach, cupcakes and favorite foods, and playtime in the park on his actual birthday. We adore you, little boy.

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And then the next day, we’re off to the northwest suburbs to spend the day celebrating the wedding of a dear friend who snuck off to the courthouse just like we did, opting for a relaxed celebration with a few friends and family months later. It is an idyllic day on the lake – good friends, good food, happy kids – and we feel honored to be included.

I go back to work after a week away, and I’m drowning. Just when I think I might be getting on top of my to do list, I come down with mastitis – I’m fine at noon, but starting to feel unwell at 3, and by 5pm I am in my bed sweating through a high fever. The rest of the week is lost in a fevered haze.

Finally, finally, things start to look up. I work the entire last week of the month, with no sick days or other calamities. We go to a housewarming party, where the big kid kicks off his shoes as if he’s at home. A new coffee chain opens in our neighborhood and we take full advantage of all of the free days and previews. The weather is perfect, and I’m able to go running.

Where did the month go? I don’t really know. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed.

August Reads

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August Eats

My heart wasn’t really in a cooking place this month, but fortunately, it’s high season at the farmers’ market, so we mostly worked with what was available:

  • Tomatoes:
  • Sweet corn, straight into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. The kernels steam on the cob, and you can shuck it at the table, using the husk as a handle.
  • Melon upon melon, including a delightful tasting at the farmers’ market of 5 varieties of cantaloupe, 4 watermelon, and 3 honeydew, all delicious.
  • Apples, prepared the way my grandma would: in pies and applesauce.

Also, the first of likely many cakes from Simple Cake – this time the milk and honey cake for the baby’s birthday, with blueberries for the guest of honor, and honey whipped cream for the rest of us.

 

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May Around Here

Where did May go? Lost in the flurry of moving preparations, and then blacked out by the incredibly challenging move itself.

On the first day of the month, I chop my hair off, all of it, as short as it’s ever been. Of course on haircut day, my hair looks as good as it ever has.

Two trips to Rockford, both celebratory, though the baby cries most of the drive. A Frozen birthday party for a five year old. So many little girls in princess dresses. Bubbles and sidewalk chalk and the baby rolling around. And then my sister’s graduation from nursing school at the university – then a college – where I graduated 18 years ago. I just about burst with pride for her, colored with a shade of nostalgia for my own college experience. The arts center where the ceremony is held smells familiar, even after all of these years.

In the same week, the baby sits up on his own, pulls up to standing, and figures out crawling. All of a sudden, he’s into everything, making our small space feel even smaller, especially as the boxes pile up.

I am working on learning Dutch, albeit slowly. I do a few modules every day, often while pumping, and send Nicolas screenshots of the silly phrases Duolingo has me say. For example: “Pardon, ik ben een appel.”

We spend an evening at the Field Museum at their member night, well worth the ruined bedtime. The big kid gets a coooooooooool airbrushed seahorse tattoo that we’re sure will end in heartbreak with swimming lessons a few days later, but it hangs on much longer than we expect.

The baby starts playing peekaboo at the dinner table. It is excessively cute.

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Mother’s Day is delightful, despite a very early morning with the kids. I’m gifted solo time – a run, coffee and letters, solo grocery shopping – beautiful tulips, and a funny plant picked out by the big kid. We go to the zoo and have an early dinner and ice cream after the kids are in bed.

The baby is sick for a week, rashy and sleeping poorly. I alternate between trying not to worry and obsessively reading about measles.

The guys finally make it to chess club at the library. The big kid wins several of his games against kids twice his age. He’s gotten SO GOOD so quickly, handily defeating me and occasionally defeating his papa.

The baby is finally old enough – nine months, I can’t believe it – and the weather finally OK enough to go for a stroller run or two. He generally isn’t inclined to fall asleep, but he falls asleep at the point when I turn around to head home. This gives me hope for summer weekend runs – if summer ever arrives. I take both kids out one morning, and a tiny baby squirrel takes refuge under the stroller!

For yet another year, we do not do Bike the Drive, despite it being on my 40×40 list. (Perhaps I’ll give myself through my 40th year to finish?)

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But mostly, mostly, mostly we spend the month packing, trying to strike a balance between getting ready and staying sane in our small space. The move itself is challenging and awful and takes about four times as long as it should, but the kids hold up tremendously well under pressure, dramatically better than I do, and it does (or it will) eventually end.

May Reading

May Eating

  • Two impromptu meals at Le Pain Quotidien using the gift card we were given after our disastrous anniversary lunch:
    • A Mother’s Day late lunch/early dinner with wiggly kids and lots of bread
    • A lovely sidewalk patio dinner on a rare date night out without kids
  • Dinner with dear, dear friends at Habana Libre on the eve of our move

April Around Here

We book a babysitter and finally go out for that milestone birthday – fish and chips and a cocktail at a spot in our old neighborhood that, it turns out, is full of young families on a Friday night. We (I) ogle other people’s babies while missing ours, then take a walk past our old garden plot and our old apartment. I miss the life that we had there, and the golden light of early evening. We don’t often see that light these days.

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The big kid takes swimming lessons at the University pool. It’s well organized chaos, and I’m grateful that he’s hanging on someone else for a change.

I mark seven years on the job with a coconut donut. This is the longest I have worked anywhere.

We plan to visit my ancient grandmother for Easter, then change those plans at the last minute. Instead, we stay home, dye Easter eggs, and make a disastrous batch of matzo ball soup on a rainy weekend.

We find outrageously cheap flights to Belgium, a trip we were certain we couldn’t afford this year. Instead, we will spend 3 weeks there in the late fall, our flights entirely covered by travel points, with our housing nearly free as well. It’s all happening!

The baby still hasn’t figured out crawling; instead, he hops on his butt like a frog. It’s surprisingly effective.

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A bike trailer shows up on a neighborhood listserv for cheap, so at the end of my intentional spending Lent, I make an impulse buy. The same day, a strap on my bike helmet breaks. This is how it goes – one spontaneous purchase results in others, necessary or no. That was weeks ago, but weekend weather and plans have yet to allow us to go for a ride.

The big kid wins a prize at an Easter egg hunt – a basket full of candy on top of the candy he collected in the hunt. I hate feeling like the food police, but this candy is just awful, and I’m grateful that we already had a wonderful box of treats at home from the Zurenborg Paashaas, as it means the big kid is absolutely fine with sharing.

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I present at a conference that is pretty far outside my wheelhouse. The opening plenaries are engaging and challenging, and I feel grateful to be there. There will be no conference travel for me this year – or perhaps next – and while that’s fine, it’s also a little sad.

Mom comes in for a quick visit, arriving after work on a beautiful Friday night and leaving in an incoming snowstorm Saturday morning. Will this winter ever end? We just do the normal things – dinner at our favorite Thai place in the neighborhood, breakfast errands at the grocery store – but decide to scramble the routine a bit in order to try to win free pie for a year. The first 50 in line win – we are #53-57 due to folks cutting in line. Ah well, we still had pie.

There’s that saying about not crying over spilled milk – I have the most epic spill of my pumping career, but thankfully, I realllllly needed to pump, so I am more concerned about the carpet underneath the spill than the spill itself.

A few weeks after we made a list of all of the things that we want in a new place – a place pops up on the University marketplace site that checks all the boxes. It is as good in person as it seemed in the ad, so we throw caution to the wind and put in an application despite having 6 months left on our lease.

And so the rest of April is consumed with housing worries – will we get the place? Can we afford the place if we get it? Our application is approved – now, can we find a subletter? Will one of the many people who comes through to see our apartment decide to take it? Again, can we afford it? One thing after another, which will likely continue until we are settled in with a subletter secured.

But! In a month or so, we will move to the northwest corner of our neighborhood into a condo rented from an owner. We will have a dishwasher and laundry in unit. We will have windows that look out into trees. We will have central AC. It will be stressful until we get there, but we will get there.

April Reading

April Eating

January Around Here

We weather the polar vortex with cinnamon rolls and Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, congee and oatmeal, layers and blankets. Will this be the coldest winter of the baby’s life, or just one of many freak storms as climate change continues to shift the Overton Window of normal?

The baby cuts his first tooth at 5 months, 4 months earlier than big brother. I am more sad about missing out on months of toothless gummy grins than I am about the terrible bites – though there are many of those, particularly as tooth number 2 appears a week later.

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My device check-up is fine. and the device is recalibrated to lower the charge since I’m responding so well to it. In the following week, I’m aware of being paced several times, enough to feel concerned. I’m fitted with a monitor that I have to wear for 2 weeks of no swimming, no baths, no long showers, no sweat. The baby tries to rip it off on the second day. I couldn’t be happier to send it back. I’ll find out in a few weeks if they learned anything meaningful.

We try, again, to make room in our living space. Things are shuffled around; a small table is sold. It feels a little better – until the terrible cold snap, when we pull the couch (rather, the bed it contains) away from the windows, and everything feels overwhelming again.

The baby kicks and kicks and kicks and kicks and KICKS AND KICKS AND KICKS. His relentlessly busy feet are a source of joy.

I make a snack breakfast for myself one morning, prompting the big kid to request one for himself morning after morning. Some mornings it feels too fiddly for 6:30am; most mornings it feels soothing to adjust slices of apple, cucumber, and bread, a quartered egg, a few olives just so.

We bundle up and walk through the empty zoo on a perfectly sunny 9 degree day, peeling off and then reapplying layers as we duck into buildings to see the fennec fox, the giraffe, the tropical plants in the conservatory.

We struggle with big feelings, big needs, big frustrations. I reach the point that I reach in every winter where everything feels too hard, except that this year it feels like it came earlier than usual. I spend a weekish in a fog of discouragement.

For my birthday, brunch at The Gundis: olives and honeys and jams and cheeses and bread and borek and lentil soup and a tofu scramble and tiny cups of tea. Everything is perfect, including the sleeping baby on my chest. We walk around N’s old neighborhood, stopping for cappuccinos at Intelligentsia (free in return for filling out a satisfaction survey) and cupcakes at Molly’s. The management company treats us to a day without water for the second year in a row. Later that week, we leave the kids with a babysitter(!!) and have a wonderful dinner at Virtue and an adequate cocktail at Bibliophile. We need to do this more often than once in a blue moon.

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I take the kids out to my parents’ to celebrate my niece’s birthday – the same as mine. The big kid plays with his cousins while I try to convince the baby to nap in unfamiliar places. I’m so busy wrangling the baby while trying to be helpful that I miss moments of big feelings, and am heartbroken to recognize the ways that I let the big kid down when he needed me.

We watch videos with the baby of his cousin rolling over. A few hours later, the baby rolls over again. And again and again and again. Perhaps he needed inspiration? His cousin is also eating all kinds of food, and we talk about how neither of us feel ready for him to take that step, but the next day he is fascinated by us eating, so I offer him oatmeal, which he spits out like poison. He seems to like the idea of eating more than the actuality of it.

January Eating

 

40 Months

I think we’re actually done nursing.

I said all along that I would follow his lead, that I would keep going as long as it worked for both of us. That turned out to be 40 months.

For a long time, he would wake up and ask for “mai” (which in the final weeks turned into “maik”), and we would shift out to the couch to nurse before or after breakfast. Sometimes he would nurse for 20 minutes, sometimes less than 2. Sometimes he would ask again during the day. Most of the time he wouldn’t.

For the last month, nursing has been uncomfortable for me. I pumped once over the holidays and barely expressed anything, so I knew that there wasn’t much left – it was more about comfort and connection than slaking the even slightest thirst. So when he asked for “maik”, I would often stall, telling him we could have some after breakfast. Many mornings, he would forget. Some mornings, he insisted, and we would stay in bed and nurse. Once in awhile, he was really upset. Most of the time, it was fine.

The last few times, we talked about how we could try, but if it hurt, we would have to stop right away. He said he didn’t want it to hurt. I said I didn’t want it to hurt either. So we would try, and it would hurt, and then we would stop.

It was the same story last Sunday, the 28th. He asked. We tried. It hurt. We stopped. He hasn’t asked since. And now I think we’re done.

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December 19, 2017

2017 Resolutions In Review

1. Eliminate credit card debt.
Done. With a balance transfer about to start accruing interest, we decided the best thing we could do was use some of our savings to pay off the remaining debt.

2. Take action every week.
I kept this up for a couple of months, but like many, I lost steam.

3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.
Good enough! We didn’t finish the list, but we kept the book club going all year, so I’m going to treat this one as a success.

4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule.
I managed the conferences, but didn’t manage much else. I have a couple of things that I want to work on this year, so maybe I’ll rededicate myself to this one in 2018.

5. Finish weaning.
Despite my sad post a couple of months ago, we’re still nursing pretty regularly. I broke out the pump last night, and that made me feel like I was ready to be DONE all over again.

6. PR at any distance.
DONE. I blew away my 5K time in Champaign in April. I had hoped to PR in the half, but considering how hard I’d run the night before, I was totally fine with just finishing.

7. More regular visits with family.
Done. The kid absolutely will not nap when we’re out in Rockford, so since he’s doing better with car naps (and in the car generally), we were able to make more day trips happen.

8. At least two blog posts/month.
Technically done. By the numbers, this was a success, though posting dropped off pretty significantly after the beginning of the year.

9. Try at least four new recipes/month.
Done, for sure.  The My New Roots cookbooks were my go-to source.

10. Make time for monthly dates.
Monthly dates didn’t happen, but we did manage some child-free time about every other month. In 2018, I would love for us to GET AWAY! OVERNIGHT! WITH NO CHILD! but that continues to be a tall order.

Ends and Beginnings

Out of nowhere, the three year old has abruptly started losing interest in nursing. I knew this would happen eventually – and he is right on track  – but he’s been so committed to it for so long that it was easy to forget that it would actually happen.

We night-weaned back in June. I went away for a few days, and when I came back, we decided that the night time nursing was done. It wasn’t hard. We were all ready. We get better sleep. It’s the best. Should we have done it earlier? Probably, but there were always excuses. I can’t regret what felt like a good choice, even if it wasn’t the best choice.

I’ve talked to lots of friends as their kids weaned. They talked about losing interest, getting distracted, nursing for short periods of time – or of just being done one day, with no warning. I knew materially what to expect, but I didn’t know what it would feel like, not really.

Three years and one month is a very long time. I feel extremely fortunate. So many friends have had a hard time of it, needed to stop before they wanted to, struggled with the realization that it just wasn’t going to work. It hasn’t always been easy, but compared to many, it has been effortless.

There have been windows of time when I felt like I was ready to be done, where the physical contact was just too much, where my nipples hurt, where I was just over being pawed at all the time. But there have never been windows of time when it felt like he was ready to be done – not until now, when there are as many nights that he doesn’t want milk as there are nights when he does, when I’ll ask and he’ll say “no, stories!” and snuggle up with his papa, leaving me to sit on the couch sort of blankly staring at my phone instead of holding my kid close.

He’s three. I knew this was coming. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a little wrecked by it.

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