This is our life: The wee hours

It’s 5:30 a.m. Emerson, who is lying beside me, begins to wiggle and stir. She flips over to her left side. Still asleep. Flips over to the right side. Still asleep. She calls out “daddy!” Still asleep. But, I. I am awake. I’m trying desperately to ignore all the thrashing, but knowing it’s a losing battle makes it impossible to fall back asleep. I pull out a boob and shove it in Emerson’s mouth. She instantly settles, and I think maybe…..just maybe. But, a minute later, there are limbs flying in every direction. Emerson (still asleep) stretches both her legs up in the air and then splits them with a violent force. One leg on mommy, one leg on daddy. She does the same with her arms. Up in the air, and smack! I get whacked in the eye, and then she rests her hand on my cheek. Alex is lucky (at this point). He only gets hit in the back. Emerson is now lying completely spread eagle, while Alex and I cling to our respective sides of the bed.

5:45 a.m. Emerson gets sick of nursing. Instead, she begins to round house kick Alex. Bam. Bam. BAM! After about eleven kicks, Alex is frustrated so he turns over to face us. He falls immediately back to sleep (while I stare at him, full of resentment). As soon as he’s asleep, his mouth opens and he begins to breathe heavily. Into my face. And I can’t turn over, because Emerson has decided to start nursing again and I don’t dare move her….I don’t dare wake her up! So now, I am choking on Alex’s horrific morning breath. Right into my face. I push him. I manually close his mouth for him….and it pops right back open. The bad breath fan continues. I use my pillow to create a barrier.

6:15 a.m. Emerson is still asleep, but begins to crawl across my body. She collapses with the upper half of her body on top of my chest, and her legs on Alex’s stomach. She rhythmically kicks Alex in the gut, over and over, until Alex finally puts his arm over her feet in an attempt to stop the pain. Emerson gets annoyed. So, she rolls away. Onto my head. The weight of her body is now suffocating me, meanwhile, she seems perfectly comfortable to lie on top of my face. But, then she’s not so comfortable anymore. She rolls away toward Alex. She is now lying horizontally across both our pillows….butt in my face, naturally. She farts. Still asleep. I am not amused so I move her back into a normal position on a normal part of the bed.

6:30 a.m. Emerson wakes up. But, she’s still drowsy so she continues to lie there while singing to herself. The singing gets louder. And louder. Until she is screaming out random words—some real, some made-up. She gets stuck on the word “daddy,” which reminds her: oh my god, daddy is right here in bed with me! She sits up and starts smacking daddy on the back.

“Hi, daddy. HI, daddy! HI, DADDYYYY!!!”

Alex whimpers, but doesn’t budge. Displeased with his reaction, Emerson crawls onto daddy’s pillow and begins to poke him in the eyes. She sticks her fingers up his nose. She pries his mouth open and pokes his teeth. She grabs his ear and wiggles it back and forth. Alex is trying his hardest to fake that he is sleeping. So, Emerson grabs his eyelids and opens them.

“Hi, daddy!!”

“Hi, Emerson,” Alex mumbles.

I lie there secretly smiling, because damn. If I’m not sleeping, I sure as hell don’t want to watch my husband lie there, immune to the miniature acrobat in our bed. But, Alex still refuses to accept that sleepy time is over. He pulls the covers up over his head. My resentment grows.

6:45 a.m. Emerson gets bored with daddy so she crawls back over to me and proceeds to open the shirt I just buttoned up.

No, Emerson. Num nums have closed up shop. No more num nums!

Emerson ignores me. She finds her way into my shirt, literally laughing, and begins to nurse again. I want to stop her, but I also don’t want to get out of bed….so I let her nurse. Back and forth, back and forth. She switches breasts like she’s eating at a buffet.

7:00 a.m. I can’t take anymore. And I’m definitely not getting any sleep. I get out of bed and open the shades. Eventually the bright sunshine annoys Alex enough and he gets out of bed, too. “Emerson, you are one thorough alarm clock,” he says.

Good morning.

This is our life.

This is our life: Our first break from parenting

We hired some help recently. Just a little help. So I can have a mere hour or two a week to actually get things done, work on my career, or maybe just sit in an empty room doing nothing. Because, after a year of being with Emerson every waking (and non-waking) moment of my life without even one day (or night!) off…..sister needs. some. help. And so, I asked an amazing high school girl I met a few months ago to help us out.

But then, the day arrived. For the first time EVER, I was off the clock. And Alex came home early from work. So, we were both off the clock. The problem was we had no idea what to do with it. Emerson—who usually will not let me leave her alone with anyone other than Alex—suddenly didn’t need me. She was totally in love with her new friend and didn’t even notice, let alone cry, when I left the room. I was astonished and suddenly found myself wandering around the house, feeling nervous and confused, not knowing what to do.

But then I bumped into Alex in the living room and felt a spark of excitement. “We are alone in a room without a baby!” I said, expecting to be met with equal excitement. But, my husband just looked up the staircase to the bedroom, and said he wanted to take a nap.

A nap?! But, we’re alone in a room. Isn’t this what we’ve been missing the past year? What about all the months you’ve spent feeling lonely, because I’m always with Emerson?

“Yah…..I guess you’re right. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we could just sit on the couch and talk. Or cuddle? We never get to do that!”

And so, we sat down together, but it felt strange. No one was interrupting us. No one tried to tackle us apart when we cuddled. Was Emerson okay? What was she doing right now? No. Push it out of your mind. Enjoy this moment. Talk about something interesting. Make out. Come on…

We tried.

The thing is, in the absence of our baby, we felt free. But, we were not free in the way we used to be. No. Now, freedom meant not having to find our second, third, fourth or fifth wind of the day. Freedom meant not having to ignore our needs and aches for the well-being of another. Freedom meant abruptly feeling the weight of an entire year tending to our child come crashing down on us. And so, after five minutes of talking about Emerson, the room began to spin. All that cuddling on a soft, comfortable couch was too much for us—we were just two exhausted parents.

“Just go take a nap, baby. That’s really all you’re capable of right now.”

Alex rolled off the couch and dragged himself up the staircase as I sat in the living room comatose…until I was needed again.

This is our life.

Emerson’s party

Although I lost many hours of sleep preparing for Emerson’s party—brainstorming, stressing out, feeling overwhelmed, getting excited—I have to say that it was worth it! I put time and energy into the details more as a celebration of what Alex and I had survived and accomplished, but was pleasantly surprised to see that Emerson thoroughly appreciated it, as well. I am pretty sure it was the best day of her life. I mean, she was the center of attention, there was so much entertainment, she got to climb on and rip open piles of presents, and her parents let her make an enormous mess with a cupcake. By the end of the party she was flat out screeching with delight at the top of her lungs, jumping and flapping her arms…she was totally crazy, but in a good way. And all of it made me so happy. It was incredible to watch a room full of people love her….and for her to receive it all.

I didn’t get a chance to take many photos of the party details that I spent months researching, pinning, hand making and trolling Etsy for. Yes, I’d say I put just about as much effort into this party as I did for my wedding, only on a shorter timetable! Here are a few of the details….

My jumping off point was this beautiful banner that I knew I wanted to use. Originally, I was going to make one myself, but mamas don’t have endless amounts of time. Enter Etsy. I bought the banner from Starlit Nest Gifts—beautiful shop, highly recommend. It made me feel good knowing that it was still handmade—even if they weren’t my hands—and I can’t speak highly enough of the quality.
Next I added another ever-popular party choice: stripped paper straws in mason jars. I know it seems like everyone these days is using these themes, but I happen to think vintage-y bunting banners and paper straws in mason jars are just so lovely no matter how often I see them.
In addition to framed photos placed on all the tables, I posted a mini clothesline (a combination of ideas from Pinterest with my own spin) displaying photos from each month of Emerson’s life. I used baker’s twine in hot pink and aqua (party theme colors) for the mini clothesline from the same Etsy shop I purchased the straws and matching cupcake liners from. By the way, I will be using Cakes and Kids Too in the future for my party needs—amazing selection of party decor items! Check them out!

I attached the photos to the “clothesline” with hot pink Washi tape (Michael’s purchase)—super simple and inexpensive.

We did a brunch hors’ d’oeuvres buffet with mini pancake stacks (with whipped cream and strawberry topping) and mushroom spinach quiche cups. My amazing husband made little flag toppers for the pancake stacks using bamboo skewers (cut in half) and leftover Washi tape (thanks, honey!). This is not a photo of our actual pancake stacks, but they looked just like this:
The last bit I will share about was one of my main birthday concerns: the big (cup)cake smashing tradition. I wanted to give Emerson the chance to have fun with this, but I had two concerns. My first concern being that I didn’t feel too excited about going from one extreme to another—Emerson has never had any sugar, but I’d then be giving her a huge, concentrated bomb of it. So, I wanted to make cupcakes that utilized some form of natural sweetness and no added sugar. There will be plenty of time for real sugar, after all.
My second concern was introducing new foods one at a time. Given her strong family history of food allergies, Emerson has not had any dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, or wheat/gluten yet. So, I needed a cake that was allergy-free and sugar-free. Not the easiest kind of cake to make! After trying a few recipes I found on blogs and Pinterest, I settled on a Vegan Carrot Cake (original recipe found here– but I modified it). In trying out recipes, though, I determined that the ingredient that makes allergy-free treats still TASTE GOOD is SUGAR. Yes, they taste horrible without it. Sigh. So, I resolved to allow my child to have a tiny bit of sugar by adding a thin layer of homemade maple buttercream frosting (dairy-free but can be made with real butter, too) on top of her sugar-free cupcake. Recipes below…

healthy vegan carrot cake muffins
makes 6 muffins
ingredients:
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill or Namaste Foods)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup organic carrots, grated
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar-free applesauce (I prefer to make this myself- steam, then puree the apples)
directions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375º F.
  2. Line muffin trays with liners.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. Fold in the grated carrot and applesauce.
  4. Scoop the batter into baking cups and bake for about 10 minutes, or until done. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely.
dairy-free maple buttercream frosting
 
ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp real maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter substitute (I use Earth Balance Coconut Spread-amazing!)
directions: 
  1. Soften butter.
  2. Add all ingredients to a bowl or Kitchen Aid.
  3. Beat until smooth and creamy.

One year of Emerson: the video

Okay, let’s try this again! It took me weeks to put this video together commemorating Emerson’s first year…..and when it was finally up, youtube muted all the audio. I’m so bummed because this montage went so well with Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” The peppy version best known as the Parenthood theme, that is. But, apparently that is like the one song you can’t use (thanks a lot Parenthood copyrights!). Regardless, these are the words I still hear when watching the video:
May God bless and keep you always
may your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
and let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
and climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

Of course, “love you more than anyone” isn’t a horrible substitute. Here is the video with a song I used for my pregnancy video….

One year of Emerson

So, it’s done. Emerson is one. And I am sick with a cold on top of horrible seasonal allergies thanks to the time and stress that went into preparing for the big birthday party. It was a lovely day filled with so much happiness, though….but I will share more about the party in a separate post. Because this. This is the last monthly update. Although children’s ages are still given in months until they are at least two-years-old, in reality we have really moved past “months.” Emerson has seen a full calendar year, and we will never have a year like the first one. So bittersweet.

Side note: I’m not sure if/how I will continue these monthly updates. I’ve done weekly and then monthly updates since I was 13-weeks pregnant. So, on the one hand, it feels kind of strange to not do updates anymore. But, I also feel like it makes sense to stop at a year…like it becomes boring or repetitive for readers. What do you think?

***

Emerson has made it very clear the past month that she is a little person now, not a baby. Previous to this shift, I knew we were in for some big changes when she suddenly became very clingy and started asking to be babied. For weeks, when I would pick her up and hold her on my hip, she would wiggle herself down into my arms until I was cradling her like a newborn. And she would want me to just hold her like that, nursing and rocking for a long while as she stared up at me. Of course, Emerson is not a little baby anymore. She is so tall that her long legs have nowhere to go when she is being “cradled.” So, I would have her little body in my arms while her legs stuck straight up in the air, her feet usually ON my face (yes, like feet on my cheeks or toes digging into my eyes). I kept saying to Alex that it was like having a giant golden retriever that ignores her size and pretends she’s a lap dog.

Then, one day, after all of that closeness and cradling and reassurance, Emerson began to walk and point at everything and then say the words of the things she pointed at (she can say a list of about ten words now!) and feed herself and grow hair. She clearly knew she was turning one. And I wasn’t the only one it was bittersweet for. No, Emerson also needed to reminisce and be a baby a bit longer, and then let go and let ONE wash over her and pull her into toddlerhood.

***

Emerson has noticed that she is growing hair. I catch her rubbing her hands over her head or excitedly trying to make a mess of the tiny hairs growing on top of her crown. I have to say, I am pretty darn excited myself to see what she looks like with hair! I’m so used to the baldness at this point that part of me assumes she will always look this way. I seriously cannot wait for braids and buns and pigtails….

The other adorable thing Emerson has added to her bag of tricks is making pretend phone calls. She’s been pretty obsessed with the telephone for a few months, even though Alex and I are so not phone people. We gave her an old phone as a toy, but it just isn’t her jam if she can’t hear a dial tone and input numbers into the speed dial (Emerson now has more contacts on our phone than we do…..J2IJ-TT at 222, for instance). She also holds pretty much every object she finds up to her ear, or often just her hand. She says “hi” and then proceeds to have what sound like very serious business calls. It’s so interesting to watch a child learn intonation and conversation flow well before they can speak in real language. I may not know what she is saying, but based on Emerson’s phone conversations, she is clearly in charge and assertive. I always thought I’d give birth to a little hippie child, but I’m fairly certain I gave birth to a Wall Street tycoon.

To end my (possibly last) update, I will leave you with my feelings (as posted on Facebook) on May 12th:

As of 3:08 pm this afternoon, I have a one-year-old. As much as I intentionally savored every moment with my little girl-doing my very best to enjoy each phase, never being too busy to stop for a cuddle, celebrating every milestone both big and small, and appreciating the beauty in the midst of challenging times—this year still managed to fly by at a speed I’ve never known. Happy Birthday, Emerson Winter! You are beauty, wit, pure joy, comedy, confidence, gentle love, fierce enthusiasm, and daring adventure. You were born with the beat in your soul and and feet ready to dance. You are my heart. And the best Mother’s Day gift I could ever ask for! Thank you for blessing my life and inspiring me to be the best version of myself I can be. I love you!

I spent weeks making a video commemorating Emerson’s first year, but youtube muted all the audio because I used a Bob Dylan song (the Parenthood theme….it was so perfect). So instead I offer you….a GAZILLION photos (I seriously could not put down the camera given how nostalgic and emotional I was feeling all month…and I’m actually in the photos for once!)…

Happy one year, Emerson Winter!

Life in motion…and coming attractions!

I have a long, unpublished list of posts sitting here given I’ve been working on so many (emotionally-driven) projects in celebration of E turning one this coming weekend. I’ve overwhelmed myself to a serious degree, though. I just can’t seem to take enough pictures, film enough videos, write enough words, make enough personalized decorations for the big party, put together enough time capsules commemorating the past year for Emerson to open up someday, or make enough crazy media pieces. I’m out. of. control.

And so, I’m slightly paralyzed. I mean, I have no business taking on so much, especially given I’ve basically been taking care of Emerson on my own the past week. And I’m totally, ridiculously sleep-deprived on account of the fact that Emerson starting WALKING, and girlfriend cannot sleep because of it. AND. I’m up to my eyeballs in party planning, which is sort of my least favorite thing to do.

So. I guess my point is, I have so much to share with you all….it’s just coming out slower than anticipated. But, look forward to some great stuff in the next week! I’m talking video footage of me in labor (um, yes!), a special video dedicated to one-year of Emerson, a give away (oh yes, free prizes for y’all!), about a gazillion photos, and much more!

For now, I have some short clips of Emerson learning to walk. Mind you, I absolutely die at how cute Emerson’s crawl is, and will be so sad when she finally gives it up and walks 100% of the time (she’s still crawling a lot). Oh, the sound of a baby crawling, happily and rapidly, about the house: smack, smack, smack (go the hands on hardwood floors). And Emerson has the sassiest crawl I’ve ever seen—swaying her hips from side to side and squealing with delight. Sigh. BUT. A baby learning to watch is thrilling. And so adorable. And it just makes me giggle.

Emerson’s steps are still a bit tipsy, but she’s been making a lot of progress every day. Here are some of her first steps….

Just us girls

Alex has been traveling with his school this week, leaving me all alone with E for the first time. Quite honestly, I’ve been dreading this week since the beginning of the school year. I was panicked at the thought of three full days without my partner in parenting. Because, parenting can be kind of intimidating at times. Overwhelming. Exhausting (obvs). Challenging. Although I am the primary caregiver and spend the vast majority of my day parenting alone on a daily basis, this felt different. There was 127 miles dividing our family. There would be no daddy coming home at the end of the day, sending the house into a roar of squealing and laughter. There would be no daddy on the other side of the bed….just an empty space where my hand usually rests on Alex’s shoulder, and Em’s hand usually rests on his arm. There would be no daddy to cook us dinner while we did bath time and pajamas upstairs. No, it would just be us girls.

But, what was I so afraid of?

I used to make a living taking care of other people’s children all alone. Newborns, toddlers, school-age kids. With multiple family pets and houses three times the size of mine to tend to at the same time. And I never felt anything but confident in that role. I was never afraid or nervous. I had it covered. But, it’s been such a different experience—emotionally speaking—with Emerson. All my years of “practice” did not prepare me for motherhood. Nor did the piles of books I read while pregnant. It all felt different with my own child. My first child. I was nervous and so very glad that Alex was home with me the first four months of Em’s life. We figured it out together. We became a unit. But, then Alex went back to work.

It was insane to me that given all my experience and knowledge, and four months “getting used to” having a baby at home, that I was still scared to begin my role as primary caregiver. But, there are a lot of things to learn when it’s just you and a baby. How will you go to the bathroom, cook meals, shower, clean? When is your lunch break? How do you get ready for bed at night when your child is melting down because she very suddenly hit a wall of exhaustion and needs to go to bed….like right now? How do you keep in contact (i.e. phone, email, etc) with anyone….ever? How do you handle not having even a millisecond to yourself?

You just do.

That’s the incredible thing about motherhood—you discover what you are truly capable of. Your only choice is to figure it out. To solve problems. To carry on. To be strong and adaptable. So, of course, I quickly learned how to take care of my 4-month-old all day when Alex went back to work, and I didn’t skip a beat when he finally left for his trip earlier this week. Yes, I was sad when he left. Yes, I am beyond tired. Yes, I am ready for him to come home and give me a break! But, we were fine. In fact, Em and I had a beautiful week, and somehow my house isn’t all that destroyed (hmm….is it really the baby that makes all the messes in this place?).

It was definitely exhausting, but I feel silly to have spent months dreading this time alone, because I learned to appreciate something so very special on a much deeper level: mother/daughter awesomeness. Emerson and I obviously have quite a strong bond already as we spend every single day together. But, this week was different. Maybe it’s Emerson’s age and recent development, maybe it’s the fact that it is sunny and warm out (finally!) so we were able to do some really fun things together. I don’t know. But, I got my first glimpse of “girl time” this week. We slept intertwined in the middle of the bed, enjoyed lazy, long meals together, combed each other’s hair and played with makeup, splashed in the lake, had a little visit with grandma (thanks grandma!). There was a different energy to our days. That “girl time” vibe that only girls know.

As much as I love “family time” and am grateful to have a partner in life and in parenting, it was incredible to really appreciate that there is even more to love about being part of a family unit—the subunits. The husband and wife unit. The mother/daughter unit. The father/daughter unit. More units yet to be conceived. And they are all amazing and important and necessary for different reasons. Hooray for family!

 

This is our life: Lowering my expectations, Part II

I wrote about lowering my expectations yesterday….more specifically about a poop on the floor incident. But, that was more of a thoughtful piece, unlike my usual poop posts. Have I said the word “poop” too much in the last three sentences? Or in general? Interesting side note—I actually would not ever say the word “poop” until I was 23-years-old, and that was only because I started working at a daycare center and had to. Before that, I would literally cringe whenever someone would say the word. I couldn’t stand it. In fact, my college boyfriend used to taunt me by listing various ways of expressing the act of pooping. And I would scream and beg him to stop while he laughed hysterically. True story.

This might be the biggest tangent I’ve ever gone off on….

Anyway, what I meant to say here is that while my thoughts about the poop on the floor incident were more profound than funny when looking back on it, it wasn’t exactly that way in the moment. Here is the actual conversation (in part) Alex and I had while I cleaned poop off the floor (by the way, I’ve said poop seven times so far, but here’s some more):

Alex: You’re actually taking this really well.

Alexa: Actually, I’m just so pissed that I have to keep it inside.

Alex: Oh, that’s going to work out really well for all of us. Just say it all to me now. Come on, let’s have it…

Alexa: Okay. Are you an idiot? Why didn’t you just put the poopy diaper in the bucket meant for poopy diapers? It’s right there! Why the floor?!

Alex: There was still poop on Emerson! I didn’t really give any thought to the poop in the diaper. I just threw it on the floor to get it out of my way.

Alexa: It’s a turd! It’s round. You can’t just cast it aside. It will fall right out of the diaper and roll away like a log!

Alex: Um…I did not know that.

Alex: *Long pause*

Alex: You know, the worst part of all this is knowing that it’s going to end up on the internet.

Alexa: Yup. I’m writing the post in my head right now.

Alex: You could always not post this one. Maybe just skip it.

Alexa: Not going to happen.

This is our life.

Lowering my expectations

Last weekend, Alex and I were really feeling the itch to do some spring cleaning. I have been mentally compiling lists of house projects all winter long while simultaneously trying to be (slightly) realistic in knowing that only a fraction of it will get done. Given our hectic life with an almost-one-year-old, the odds are stacked in favor of me spending this spring and summer chasing after a toddler rather than power washing my deck or painting my bedroom.

But, I’ve been feeling really frustrated lately. Held back. Mystified while wondering how I’m going to survive toddlerhood with a very high-energy child, let alone accomplish anything. I find that at all times while I am trying to get things done, I am either tripping over a two-foot-tall creature who is directly beneath my feet or I am leaping across the room like a gazelle in order to thwart her from climbing a bookcase or swallowing a tack. Honestly, I am exhausted and my house is a disaster zone.

And lately, the tidiness of my house has become a symbol for my struggle with motherhood. Quite often I feel my thoughts echoed in the dust bunnies (or lack thereof) collecting in my corners, my emotions strewn across the floors with the laundry, my mood altering between hopefulness and hopelessness with the piling up and emptying out of dirty dishes from the sink.

I want to somehow do what I know is impossible: catch up. Catch up with all the things that have gone undone this past year and then not allow them to go undone until I give birth to another child (at which point I will start this whole crazy thing over again).

I want to go ape shit on the kitchen—scour the sink with a toothbrush, scrub the floor by hand, disinfect the refrigerator shelves. Without a tiny mouth trying to eat the cleaning gloves off my hands. I want to clean the kitchen—not because it’s important, but because it would make me feel less like I am drowning.

Back to the weekend though….Given these recent feelings, I was determined to get something done this past weekend. I looked out our windows at the sad state of our property—our yard littered with leaves, sticks, and weeds, bordered on all sides by the pristine lawns of all our neighbors. I was going to do something about this (with the help of Alex, of course). So, I strapped Emerson onto my body, and headed outdoors to attack the mess. As I raked, I felt exhilarated and satisfied. I felt more like a human being than a mother.

I decided to capitalize on the momentum. So, when we were finished outside, I continued to spring clean the inside of my house. There were sponges and soap, vinegar-soaked q-tips and microfiber cloths. I cleaned inside cracks and crevices until I was sweaty. Yes, I could do this. I could be a mother and a human being and accomplish things. Heck, I was going to get all my house projects done this spring. Okay, most of them. Some of them. It was going to be grand.

Then, Emerson needed my attention. As I took the baby from Alex’s arms, I told him I felt amazing after all the cleaning I did, but I had no idea how other families—families with even more children—managed to get anything done…ever. He simply said, “you need to lower your expectations. Then it’ll be easier to feel accomplished.”

“Yes, lower my expectations. That will help,” I replied.

I began to carry Emerson upstairs to change her diaper while secretly thinking I cannot lower my expectations! I don’t know how to do that. I will just have to find a way to maintain the insane level of productivity I managed to pull out today. 

Little did I know, I was about to be schooled in the ways of lowering one’s expectations. As I plopped Emerson down on her changing table, I saw a soiled cloth diaper lying on the floor. As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed something. Poop. Sizable. On the floor. Old. A bit hardened. Flattened by someone’s shoe.

I was imagining it, right? It was something else. I had to be mistaken. My grown husband would not throw poop on the floor, step in it and then walk all over the house, and on our new carpets, with poop on his shoe (while I was hard at work spring cleaning!). No. Yes. Yes, he would.

I let out a wild “grrrrrrrrrr!” as I finished changing Emerson’s diaper. Then I yelled down to Alex, informing him of the foul infraction he had committed. He tried to deny it, he tried to tell me I was imagining it. But, one look at the bottom of his shoe shut him up. He came upstairs and quietly took the baby out of my arms while cautiously backing away, bracing himself for my fury. But, I said nothing. I just grabbed some wipes and got on my hands and knees. I was too frustrated by my inability to maintain an immaculate life.

As I tried to distinguish wood markings from poop streaks on the wood floor, I knew I had to let this go. I hated it, but I had to let it go. There was nothing I could do about the fact that Alex had tracked poop all over the house. I could not retrace all the steps he had taken with his dirty shoe in the past hour. I could not steam clean the carpet that he had danced on with Emerson or wash the billion toys that were lying on the dirty floor. I had to give it all a once over and then be done with it. I had to be okay with the fact that there are now trace amounts of poop in more locations than I am aware of in my house (and that’s probably the case all of the time). I had to lower my standards and my expectations.

“Don’t worry, baby, it’s just a lit bit of feces,” Alex called to me. As much as I wanted to resist that comment, he was right. There is poop on the floor and I have to find a way to accept that. Yes, this is my life. Forget spring cleaning. Forget the OCD state of houses past. A child lives here now—that is what my mess says. Nothing more.

12 items for the first 12 months

As Emerson’s first birthday approaches, I find myself taking stock of the past year. One way I’ve been doing that is by creating lists in my head…some of which I’ve decided I will share here. Up first: twelve items I couldn’t have survived the first twelve months without.

I remember the enormous list of “suggested items” I printed out when registering for baby gifts. I ignored half the suggestions, opting for a relatively minimalist approach, but now looking back it’s amazing to see that I could’ve gotten by with an even smaller list of items. This is surely not an all-inclusive list, but without giving it too much thought, these were the first items that came to mind…..

1) Baby carriers. Multiple.

Reasons: The reasons are unending, really. On the whole, though, wearing your baby just makes life easier. Most babies are happy in a carrier, which makes parenting them easier. You can comfort and engage your child while simultaneously going about the business of your life (i.e. get stuff done with the use of two hands!). It’s also a great way to breastfeed or allow your child to nap in public. What’s more, babies that are carried cry less, are smarter and learn more, and benefit from plenty of skin-to-skin time. Wearing your baby also reduces the risk of SIDS and helps comfort colic. I could go on and on about the reasons I could not live without, and highly recommend, baby carriers.

I will say, that it is beneficial to have a few different options. For instance, I heavily relied on the Moby Wrap during the newborn phase, then a combination of the Ergo and a standard Ring Sling (they don’t make the one I used anymore, so I’d recommend a Maya Wrap) for the next phase, and now I rely solely on the Ergo, which will work for a few more years.

2) Exercise ball.

Auntie bouncing 3-week-old Em

Reasons: I purchased an exercise ball while I was pregnant after using one in my birthing class (great to use during labor!). After I gave birth, the ball was tossed into the corner of a room as there was little time to clean or organize with a newborn in the house. I thought we’d eventually deflate and store it until we discovered the ultimate newborn soother: bouncing on the ball while holding the baby. Emerson rejected the rocking chair, bouncy seat, swing and sleep n’ play. But, holding her while bouncing on the ball was magic (it mimics the bouncing a baby experiences in utero when their mama walks). And, truth be told, at almost one-year-old, it is still our go-to sleep inducer. We deflate it and bring it with us on every overnight trip.

3) Wool Diaper Cover

Reasons: We do cloth diaper in our household, but this recommendation is not for cloth diapering families (though I do recommend it for that, as well). We use disposable diapers at night, because Emerson “sleeps” for twelve hours and is a very heavy wetter. But, we were so frustrated for months dealing with annoying diaper leaks. Emerson woke up soaking wet constantly. Pajamas and bedding destroyed. Sometimes daily. And all of my “genius” ideas to jimmy rig some kind of leak-stopping device eventually failed. Until I discovered wool diaper covers. They are totally old school. The one Emerson has makes her look like she’s wearing a man’s swimsuit from the 1920s, but it’s inpenetrable. Wool does need to be cured before it becomes waterproof, but after that point nothing gets through. We have not had a night time leak since we started putting the cover over Emerson’s disposable diaper! No more doing laundry and changing the bed EVERY DAY. Bonus: wool is self-cleaning and only needs to be (hand) washed about once a month. Really.

4) Nipple Cream + Nursing Pads.

Reasons: I could not have made it through the first four months without these items. My nipples took a beating. It was the worst. Cracked, raw, sore and sometimes bleeding nipples. Enter a gallon of nipple cream every hour. I used a combination of Mother Love and Lanolin (which is also great for healing cuts, scrapes, diaper rash and to cure your wool diaper cover). And nursing pads. Everyone is different, but personally I went through a truck load. I had them stashed everywhere—nightstand, diaper bag, coffee table, bathroom, car—so I’d never be stranded without them….leaking or sometimes literally spraying like a fire hydrant through my shirt.

5) Bambo Nature Diapers.

Reasons: If you use disposables and/or want to use a non-toxic, sensitive-skin-friendly diaper, Bambo Nature is where it’s at. I have only tried non-toxic diapers on Emerson (but I’ve tried them all) as I personally cannot stomach the scary health risks associated with most disposable diapers. But, I have tried a wide variety of “regular” (think Pampers and Huggies) diapers on babies during my time as a nanny and daycare teacher. And I have determined that Bambo Nature is amazing. So amazing. They remind me of Honest diapers, but work so much better. They are the most luxurious (yes, I think a diaper can be luxurious) I’ve ever seen or felt. They are thick, super soft (rare for a non-toxic), fit well, super absorbent, contain blowouts and leaks, never ever cause diaper rash, all while being a healthier option for my baby and the earth.

Nature Babycare diapers run a close second. They boast all of the above benefits, and fit great (love the elastic backing). The only difference is that they are not as thick and absorbent for night time use, which is why I stick with Bambo.

*For those of you who do cloth diaper—I cannot live without Thirsties Duo Wraps. They fit well, don’t leak, and are friendly on the wallet since they are adjustable.

6) NoseFrida

Reasons: Just do yourself a favor and pick one up before you have a baby. This is something you want to have on hand right away when you need it. We were very fortunate in that Emerson never got sick until she was almost a year old. But, most babies get sick. A lot. And even in the absence of colds or flus, Emerson still had plenty of occasions that required booger suctioning. And a bulb syringe is completely useless and ineffective. The Nose Frida really gets all the boogers out and allows your little one to breathe, nurse, and sleep! I was up all night with my sick baby until I purchased the Nose Frida. And trust me, you will NOT get boogers in your mouth. Not even close.

7) Mustela Stelatopia Line.

Reasons: This line is made for babies with eczema, very dry or sensitive skin. So, it might not be a “must” for everyone. For us, it is. Emerson developed eczema pretty early on and it’s only gotten worse with time. We have tried so many products that are fragrance-free and made for sensitive or dry skin. Nothing helped. Most products instead exasperated her condition. This line is very pricey, but a god-send. I would rather pay for the moisturizer, cleansing cream, and milky bath than have to put the icky steroid cream Emerson’s doctor prescribed on my baby’s vulnerable body. Once in a while E does still have a flare-up, but Stelatopia has greatly, greatly reduced the frequency. Bonus: the line is made from primarily natural ingredients and is paraben-free (which is a must for me).

8) Regular, grown-up sized nail clippers.

Reasons: Babies nails grow at an insane rate, and they are razor sharp. This is the reason we put mittens on newborns. They don’t just cut themselves either—I had cuts all over my breasts when Emerson was brand new. Ouch. But, the problem far outlasts the newborn phase. Emerson still cuts us all up if we don’t keep her nails in check. The problem is, I was never able to effectively cut my baby’s nails with protective baby clippers. I would instead peel her nails off, as suggested to me in the hospital. But, this took FOREVER, was difficult to accomplish and was not very safe (easily draws blood). I was seriously crazy about the nail situation—everyone being sliced by them, but not able to find a way to cut them—until Emerson was 7-weeks-old when I took a chance and trimmed her nails with regular, adult clippers. It took me under a minute and for the first time, all of our faces were safe from the claws of Em. I continue to use adult clippers (which now requires a bit more distracting to accomplish). Of course, you need to do this in good light so you can see, and very carefully.

9) Beaba Babycook.

Reasons: It’s easy to make your own baby food using this baby food maker. I feel so much better about what I am putting in my baby’s body when it’s freshly prepared—no hidden ingredients, more nutritious, and much tastier than jarred food. This machine steams, blends, and reheats food. So simple. We even take it with us on road trips. Also BPA- and PVC-free.

10) Mustela Foam Shampoo for Newborns.


Reasons: First of all, it smells amazing! There is nothing like the smell of Emerson’s head after using this shampoo. But, the real reason I recommend it is because it treats cradle cap, or if used preemptively can prevent your baby from ever experiencing cradle cap, which can be tough to treat and not so pretty to look at. Emerson may not have a lot of hair, but she’s had a beautiful, cradle cap-free head from day one (let the ‘poo sit on baby’s head for a minute after rubbing in). The shampoo can be used through toddlerhood though it’s labeled “for newborns.” Also, it’s paraben-free and made from primarily natural ingredients.

11) Weleda Calendula Diaper Cream + Earth’s Best Wipes.

Reasons: Diaper rash is pretty inevitable in babyland. And it can get so bad that your baby’s skin bleeds or is open and raw. It’s terrible to watch your baby go through. There are a million and one products made to keep this condition at bay, and I have personally seen and used a great majority of what’s out there during my days working at a daycare and as a nanny. In my experience, one of the best ways to prevent diaper rash from happening in the first place is to use reusable cloth wipes and plain water the majority of the time (and non-toxic diapers or cloth diapers). Still, sometimes you need a disposable wipe when on-the-go, or as a final clean-up when there is poop involved. Wipes can do a number on a baby’s bum, though. Enter the thickest, softest, gentlest wipes I’ve found: Earth’s Best. They also have just the right amount of moisture and are chlorine- and paraben-free. Second, Weleda Calendula Diaper Cream. Because, rashes are inevitable sometimes (teething, for instance). This stuff usually clears Emerson’s rash up after only one application. Completely natural and paraben-free.

12) A Mama Group.

Reasons: Last is certainly not least here. I think it might be virtually impossible to survive motherhood with your sanity intact without a group of (hopefully like-minded) mamas to talk to. There are so many resources out there. Use them! It’s a great way to meet other mamas in your area (which, believe me, you will need!) and a great way to vent, regroup, and pick up tips. Mind you, leaving the house and finding the energy and motivation to seek out a group can be difficult with a baby at home. But, it’s so worth it. I started going to a group for new moms almost immediately after Emerson was born. And have subsequently joined an amazing mothering group that meets throughout my area. I’ve also been lucky enough to form play groups, walking groups, etc. with the women I’ve met through these groups. VITAL. to. my. sanity. P.S. Joining online mothering forums is also very helpful (there are so many to choose from).

There you have it. The twelve things that have proven critical to our survival this past year. Happy parenting!