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.

 

February Around Here

It’s cold. It’s cold. It remains cold. We remain cooped up inside. Was there ever a time when it wasn’t cold? Will there ever be a time when it isn’t cold? Will this winter ever end? There comes a time every winter when the weight of it falls heavily on me and everything feels terrible. It’s good to know this about myself, and better to have a partner who recognizes it before I do. That doesn’t make things better, but it helps explain why they feel so hard.

I’m so busy, busier than I can remember being in a long time. I don’t even try to make plans, as canceling plans is already part of the to do list. The biggest thing to plan this month: 2.5 days in Champaign for an immersive professional development program, except that with childcare arrangements and travel, it’s more like 4 days away from home. So many things to figure out, so hard to trust that the details will fall into place.

The baby is enamored of the cat. His big brother loved her as well, but this mutual adoration never fails to warm my heart.

After years of driving all over the city in search of a decent haircut for the big kid, we settle on a salon in the neighborhood and couldn’t be happier. The stylist asks him his age. “I’m 4.” “Well, I’m 5!” The big kid laughs, relaxes, leaves with a small packet of Swedish Fish.

The baby is increasingly interested in food. My phone fills up with photos of him covered in various things as he figures out how to connect hand to face. He’s still not sold on avocado, but loves sweet potatoes, pickles, cucumbers, broccoli, salmon, and bread.

 

The big kid practices writing by copying out of books of poetry. He makes Valentines for his grandmothers with very little assistance from me, apart from me pre-printing HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY. I’m immensely proud.

On a very cold day when we can’t possibly go outside, we all load up into the car and drive to the gym, the final frontier of my private life, and I walk on the track with the baby in the carrier while the big kid runs back and forth between his Papa and me, a full 20 minutes of uninterrupted running. Now every weekend he asks to go to the “racetrack”.

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Work is exhausting. The busyness is good, but there are many days when I come home completely drained, but with work to do as soon as the baby goes to sleep, which isn’t happening as easily these days as it did before. So many other things put off, balls dropped hard and deliberately.

The baby is six months old. I can’t believe it. I don’t know where the time is going, except that I do: it’s slipping by, like sand through glass, measured out in diaper changes and breastfeeding sessions, in small arms wrapped around my neck and open mouthed “kisses”, in late night wakings and bleary eyed early mornings with him asleep in my arms. So hard to wrap my head around the fact that all of this will pass so quickly, and will never come again, when it all still feels so fresh and new.

The big kid is a bundle of nervous energy as we prepare to go to Champaign. He doesn’t want us to go, and doesn’t want to go to his grandparents’ house, and conveys all of this to us with constant running around and wound up screaming. And then on the other side of the trip, he’s a mess of big emotions, ups and downs, inconsolable tears and so much screaming. I remember these rollercoasters from my childhood, and am once again humbled by the experience of parenting and being parented, remembering that it isn’t our job to avoid these situations but to help him weather these storms.

It is strange to be in Champaign and not see my Champaign people. The professional development stretches me in different ways than I expected. I sit up late one night reading Beck Tench’s writing and thinking intensely about presence. With the big kid off at his grandparents’, it’s almost like a honeymoon for our smaller family, though no one gets as much sleep as we might’ve hoped.

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We celebrate our first wedding anniversary the day after returning from the trip to Champaign. The weather is lousy, and the children are restless, and the service is terrible, and there’s no parking, and we return home stressed and exhausted, resolving to make plans for an actual date, to prioritize time away from the kids to the extent we’re able to make it happen. The big kid and I make a simple apple tart to celebrate.

The kids love each other – LOVE each other. One lights up at the sight of the other. This won’t always be the case, but it’s wonderful while it lasts.

February Reading

February 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

 

October Around Here

We got into a good routine. Up early with both kids, a game of mancala or a phonics lesson over the first cup of coffee. When it was time for the first nap, I would take the baby out for a walk while the big kid played piano or did math. In the afternoon, another walk before dinner. More home cooked meals than I thought possible. Bedtime less of a hassle now that the big kid’s afternoon nap was gone. The overnight still more sweet than frustrating.

And then I went back to work

And it was good in some ways, and challenging in others. First the baby didn’t like the bottle, and then we figured out a bottle that worked. Then the baby decided he didn’t want to take daytime naps, and then they sort of started working, but not always.

On my first day back at work, I also started therapy to help make sense of the grief and anxiety that have weighed me down since the baby’s difficult birth. I sought out therapy after my hospitalization back in March; it took this long – and a referral from a second provider – to actually be seen.

Babies are full of mystery, and every day is a work in progress. I have several weeks of paid and unpaid leave remaining that I will use up by taking Fridays off. This didn’t feel as good initially as taking several more weeks off with my little baby, but now that it’s been a few weeks, the three day weekends are providing to be essential: one day to catch up, one day to relax, one day to prepare for the coming week.

Speaking of which, it’s Sunday afternoon, and that means the Sunday reset: taking every stolen half hour to restock diapers, put away laundry, prepare ingredients for upcoming meals, coo at the baby, or convince the big kid to run another block.

October Reading

October Eating

This.

There’s nowhere I want to be but here.

Nothing I want to do but this.

Nothing I’ll ever do that could be more important than this.

I had no idea.

I don’t ever want to forget.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

September Around Here

We survived the first month with two kids. The baby continues to be easy. The big kid continues to be challenging. I imagine that at some point, these things will meet in the middle.

This month, the big kid turned 4. In past years, we’ve opted for a special outing rather than a party or gifts – this year he got the water bottle he wanted, and we celebrated by going to the Arboretum for “a nice troll hunt” and having pizza for dinner. This year, however, he seemed sad that we weren’t celebrating with others – when we finished making his birthday cupcakes (chocolate blueberry, his request), he asked who would be coming over to share them.

10 days ago, it was 90F when we went to a fall bonfire at the park that is effectively our back yard. We toasted marshmallows and swatted mosquitoes and bounced the baby and assured the big kid that his friend would be there soon – and then comforted him because he hadn’t understood that sharing birthday cupcakes with her meant that they were taking the remaining two cupcakes home.

In 10 days, I go back to work after 8 weeks at home. I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about this, as you might imagine. I’m devastated to be leaving my baby when he’s so small. I’m anxious about the adjustment period for everyone. I’m overwhelmed because if we’ve struggled to stay on top of all of the things with all of us home, how are we going to manage when I’m gone a third of the day? I’m not sure what to anticipate when I go back, workwise, since nearly 6 months have passed since my boss and I were both in the office. I’m worried about finding a balance between work, family, and home responsibilities while still making room for myself. For the last few weeks, I have intended to take some time to think about how I want to try to strike this balance, about my intentions as I return to work, about my expectations as I end my leave. Now, to make time for that.

I feel worn thin. I’ve had complications that have prevented me from exercising yet – and the new schedule means I don’t know when exercise will happen apart from a lot of walking – which is good, but not enough when exercise is the primary way I maintain my mental health. Like many women, I’m struggling with a Supreme Court hearing that is effectively gaslighting half of the population. I’m trying to find space to deal with trauma feelings from a difficult birth on top of existing trauma feelings from my heart crisis. I’m holding my babies close and hoping that we can do a good enough job of parenting them that they don’t grow up to reinforce the patriarchy.

September Reading:

September Eating:

2017 in Meme

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
What did I do in 2017? Participated in a protest march; ran the entire Lakefront Path; made an impressive-looking maqluba; potty-trained a kid; broke a finger; baked with aquafaba; kept a book club going for the entire year; submitted an article for publication; went an entire year without getting my hair cut*.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
About half of them, and probably.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister, sister-in-law, and several friends had babies this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My friend Molly passed away at the beginning of the year.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new places this year. Conference travel to Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. An overnight to visit my grandma in Davenport. A one day trip to East Lansing for a football game with Mom. A quick trip to Madison to celebrate the kid’s third birthday.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
An actual vacation, as Timehop keeps reminding me that I haven’t been out of the office for a full week since we went to Belgium in September 2016.

7. What date from 2017 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
At the moment, nothing stands out.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I’m pretty damned happy with some of the work I did this year.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I have basically lost my last shred of patience over the holidays between multiple days of sickness and extremely cold weather have kept us cooped up inside. I’m sure there have been days when I was grumpier, but not in awhile.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
In August, I broke my right ring finger while getting on my bike. Yes, you read that correctly. I also had a wicked stomach bug over the holidays.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
We picked up an electronic keyboard for $30 a few weeks ago, so that’s been the standout purchase recently. Other great buys for the year include the Fjällräven totepack N bought me for my birthday and the terrible spiralizer I got for free that convinced us that we would actually use a spiralizer. Oh also we finally bought an actual bedframe after multiple years on the floor.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I never cease to be proud of and amazed by my sister.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Most elected officials’.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and drink and rent, as usual.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Aquafaba, spiralizing, weekend long runs (miss u, warm weather), being able to walk to work.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. thinner or fatter?
I’m striking this question.

iii. richer or poorer?
More money and less debt than this time last year.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
The usual: sleep, running, time with friends, lying on the couch doing nothing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Emotional labor.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We’ve made a real effort to keep all holidays low-key. Sometimes it’s really hard, but sometimes it’s really worthwhile. This was the first year the 3 year old was excited about “Christamas”, and basically everything about the last month was magical for him: making decorations for our tiny tree, opening the doors of the paper advent calendar, drinking hot cocoa and shaking sleigh bells at the winter celebration in the park, looking forward to eating apple pie at my parents’ house on Christmas Day. The day itself was hectic and exhausting after a 4:45 wake up, but he was so happy, and there were big hugs all around, and now I understand why parents work so hard to make these moments special, even if their kids won’t remember.

21. Did you fall in love in 2017?
We finally moved to the neighborhood where I work after almost six years in my job. When I first moved to the city, I had absolutely zero interest in living in this neighborhood as it felt like the suburbs, and that was NOT the point of moving to the city. Priorities change, however, and the move has been such a net positive for our family that it’s caused me to see the neighborhood in a whole new light.

22. How many one-night stands?
Also striking this question.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Comrade Detective, followed distantly by The Crown, Game of Thrones, and Twin Peaks. Also let me just tell you that texting about TV with my pal Jimi makes just about any show better.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
See above re: elected officials.

25. What was the best book you read?
This was the year that I maxed out my library account – apparently you can only check out 50 books at a time from the Chicago Public Library? Most of them were for the kid’s obsessions with dragons and Mr Putter and Tabby, of course, but I read a number of good books as well – more than in the last few years put together. My top three were:
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life – Amy Krause Rosenthal
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – Roz Chast
Liturgy of the Ordinary – Tish Harrison Warren

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
The new lcd soundsystem album was the first album in a looooooong time that I deliberately chose to sit down and absorb the first time through rather than treating as background noise.

27. What did you want and get?
Good news.

28. What did you want and not get?
Impeachment.

29. What was your favorite film of the year?
Moonlight absolutely destroyed me.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I got a brand new birthday buddy – niece #4 was born on my 37th birthday. My fell on a Monday, so a friend babysat the night before so that we could go out for a wonderful birthday dinner at Dusek’s. I was pretty hung over the next day. We went out for lunch and coffee, and apparently had pizza for dinner, though I can only tell you that because I’ve been keeping track of our dinners in my planner all year.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More time at home with friends. I sincerely miss having the people I love in my home, even (or especially) when it’s for no good reason.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?
My Lent challenge this year was trying out a capsule wardrobe. My core wardrobe was something along the lines of 4-5 sleeveless tops, 3 cardigans, 2 skirts, a favorite t-shirt, and a pair of jeans (and maybe other things that I’ve forgotten because it was 9 months ago). These were, of course, the things I gravitated towards wearing anyway, but I was surprised to find that it wasn’t difficult at all. Of course, you’ll note that workout clothes aren’t included in there – or pajamas, for that matter – but these 12ish items worked out just fine for me. So: drapey sleeveless tops, a colorful skirt OR sweater paired with a dark sweater or skirt, kneesocks or tights, and practical shoes.

33. What kept you sane?
Running. My sister.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Nicolas Jaar tweeted about frogs and I replied and he liked my tweet and it was basically the best.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Everything was terrible all year. It’s hard to pick just one.

36. Who did you miss?

*I may have actually gone a year between haircuts before, but not in at least a decade, and since that’s long enough for things to fall off a credit report, I think that’s long enough to count here.