Recently, I had a small stress spiral.
I started to say I had a meltdown or panic attack or something equally dramatic, but, for one, I don’t want to make light of actual panic attacks and two, it wasn’t nearly so overt or overblown.
What happened was, I came to the sudden and almost paralyzing realization that I have a lot on my plate.
This probably should not have been as shocking as it was. I’ve got a husband, an almost-seven-month-old, three secular jobs, an apartment to take care of, spiritual responsibilities, friendships to maintain…it’s a lot. But, listen, we’ve all got our ways of dealing with stress. And if mine includes a healthy dose of denial, that’s my business.
And it probably didn’t help that I was coming off a week of vacation and a 24-hour flu, both of which rendered me exhausted and had set me back in terms of what I was able to accomplish on my to-do list. The point is, it all hit me hard and I ended up staying up until 2 a.m. one night catching up.
Because that’s how your brain works when you’re stressed: You’re so worried about being exhausted that you stay up late and get five hours of sleep. Perfect plan.
You’ll be pleased to know (unless you’re, I don’t know, a sadist) that I ultimately got it together. Everything on the list got done. And while I’m still feeling the effects of sleep deprivation a bit (you never really catch up, do you?), I’m a little less panicked about everything I’ve got going on.
It’s just…well, it’s hard being a work-at-home mom. There are days when, even though everything is getting crossed off, you’re just not doing anything all that well. There are days when writing deadlines get pushed back because I had to reschedule source interviews because Vivi didn’t take a nap as planned. There are days I find myself responding to emails one-handed while I play blocks with Viv with the other.
I would love to tell you I spend every single breastfeeding session staring lovingly into my daughter’s eyes, but, honestly, sometimes I’m posting a new photo on a brand’s Instagram account.
And sometimes I feel guilty about that. And others, I feel totally okay with it because it’s these jobs that mean I am home breastfeeding my daughter instead of pumping in an office somewhere so I can leave milk with the daycare attendants. Because I’m sure I would feel a whole other kind of guilt if that were the case.
Because the fact is, motherhood almost invariably means guilt about something.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the guilt and the responsibilities ever since my semi-all-nighter, and here’s what I’ve come up with:
I’m probably always going to feel bad about something. Even if I wasn’t working at all, I would most likely not always be 100 percent on as a mom. I would have tired days where I would be a lazy mom. I would have irritable days where I would be an impatient mom. I would have drained days where I would be a boring mom. But I think as long as I’m still being Vivi’s mom, I can make my peace with my imperfections.
And I have to remind myself that these are not new or unique feelings — every mom feels this way at some point about something. So…maybe I can just let it go. I can just keep doing, rather than let myself get caught up in the thinking.
Because I’m doing this. I’m being Vivi’s mom, and I’m working and taking care of my home and maintaining my relationships. If I’m doing it perfectly or not, I don’t know. (Probably not because, ya know, I’m not perfect. I know, I’m really sorry to shatter that charade.) But I don’t think perfection matters in this case. I’m doing my best, and my daughter is happy and healthy.
And that sounds pretty perfect to me.
You know how some people like to go for therapy? Or paint? Or stare at the horizon as if searching for answers?
I like to work out.
That probably comes as no surprise to those of you who have spent any time on this blog or with me in person, but I have to say, I didn’t truly realize how important physical activity was to me until after Vivi was born.
I wasn’t always this way. I started exercising in high school when I went through that tumultuous phase many teen girls go through of thinking I was fat. (Vivi, I know I probably can’t keep you from having those feelings, but let’s hope I’m able to help you handle them better than I handled them on my own!) Going to the gym was a punishing experience that I didn’t really look forward to except in that it would help abate my own guilt and self-loathing.
As I got older and started to let go of some of the adolescent nonsense, I started running and even signed up for a few races. In running, I found a solace I had never experienced before. Yes, I was burning calories, but I also found that my mind was a littler calmer, a little quieter with every footfall and every quickened breath.
By the time I worked up the courage to sign up for my first half marathon, I knew I was on to something much more important than my jeans size.
A couple of years ago, a series of injuries pushed me to expand my workout horizons, and I started delving into fitness classes ranging from spin to pilates to boot camps. Where I had previously shied away from such public displays of fitness (one of the best parts of running is the quiet time you get with yourself), I found that the group environment had its own slew of benefits, from an accelerated atmosphere to extra motivation in the way of competition. Plus, classes offered variety, which is arguably the number one thing running tends to lack.
By the time I was ready to start trying for a baby, I was in the best shape of my life. I felt strong physically but also emotionally. I wasn’t the lightest I had ever been as an adult, but I didn’t even care about that anymore as long as I was able to crank out a dozen burpees and demonstrate a reasonable amount of flexibility.
As I’ve mentioned before, my then-doctor recommended I cut back on workouts when we started trying to get pregnant. I down-shifted to less strenuous options, but I knew I couldn’t stop completely. After all, exercise was sometimes the only thing I felt was keeping me sane. I was thrilled when I got pregnant fairly quickly and was able to return to more regular workouts.
And, as you know, I worked out my entire pregnancy. I feel very fortunate that I was able and felt up to working out right up until my 39th week (yeah, that last week? not happening), and I went into labor feeling strong and capable of handling whatever this little baby threw at me.
And then…I had a baby.
Suddenly, my life revolved around the needs of this tiny, desperate creature, and, honestly, I didn’t even think about workouts the first few weeks. I was exhausted, often starving (thanks a lot, breastfeeding), and, quite frankly, had some bigger things on my mind. I’m sure it helped that, because I hadn’t gained a lot of excess weight during pregnancy, I lost the baby weight in the first week or two. I know myself, and I know this whole experience would have been more mentally difficult if I was also dealing with my insecurity demons.
But as the weeks went on (and the flush of happy hormones started to level out), the insecurities did come creeping back. And while I was ironically lighter than I had ever been as an adult, I started to crave that feeling of strength and capability I had come to count on.
By the time I hit my 6-week mark and got the okay to exercise from my midwife, I was itching to do something active. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I had agreed to run a 10K with a girlfriend months prior. That experience was…difficult. (Running six miles after not running for almost a year? Sure…let’s do that…) But it also felt good to hit the road again.
After that, I was determined to keep up my momentum. The problem? It’s really hard to find time to exercise with a 7-week-old baby. I decided to start small, which, honestly, was probably a smarter move since my body was still in healing mode. Since I was mostly looking to tone up and regain strength, I started scouring YouTube for exercise videos. I had to keep the workouts short (between 20-30 minutes) to fit them into Viv’s nap time, but you would be surprised how many options are out there. (Jillian Michaels and GymRa are my two favorites.)
As Vivi got older and started being able to entertain herself, I was able to workout while she was still awake. I would even incorporate her into the workout as a weight if she started to fuss, which satisfied us both. Working out with the baby also freed up her nap times for my freelance work, cleaning house, cooking, etc.
And I’m happy to report that it has only gotten easier to fit in fitness as Vivi has gotten older. Not only am I now able to leave her with Joey for the occasional spin class, she’s also big enough to ride in my jogging stroller for jaunts around the park. (I call her my personal trainer because she starts to fuss if I slow down to walk. It’s very motivational.)
Now I’m even training for another 10K in June — and Vivi will be pounding out every training mile with me.
The biggest difference between now and then, though? Now, I’m not just keeping fit for me. I want to be healthy so I can keep up with my daughter as she grows. I want to set an example of health and fitness for her now, and maybe even have the opportunity to run with her when she’s older. I look forward to our runs as bonding time because we always take a break to sit in the sunshine in the park. And I love to think that by setting a pattern of health now, I’m maybe saving her from some of those negative adolescent feelings later.
Let’s hit the road, baby doll.
I think, like most people, I had an idea of what motherhood would be like before I became a mother. (I initially wrote “a very specific idea,” but, if I’m honest, I think I knew on most levels that I probably had no idea what I was getting myself into.)
And, before I get into the subject of this post, I want to confirm that I think I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love being a mother. We’re on clear on that, right? I feel obligated to reinforce that I do before I say what I’m about to say next.
Because sometimes being a mother makes me sad.
Whoa, whoa, WHOA, you say. Motherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to a woman, right? How can you possibly not love every second?
Well, I’m really sorry to be the one to tell you this, but, besides that statement being entirely untrue for some people, it’s also impossible for it to be true for every single woman every second of the time.
And I’m not even talking about postpartum depression, which, I’m told, is a whole other bear. I’ve been fortunate thus far that I haven’t really dealt with that, at least not in full force. My sadness is rather run-of-the-mill, I’m afraid. So sorry.
But whether or not it requires a diagnosis, my sadness is just as real. Because, even though I love being a mother, it is not always easy.
Being a mother means giving up a lot of yourself. It always makes me think of this line from The Bridges of Madison County:
“You don’t understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops.”
Because, you guys? That is IT. And even though it’s not always a bad thing, there is always a level of mourning when it comes to letting a part of yourself go.
And besides the existential struggle, there are parts of being a mom that just kind of suck. Your time is not your own. Your body does weird things. You can’t do everything you want to do. You often have to go into hiding to breastfeed. You can’t eat whatever you want to eat. You are almost always tired. You are more often than not covered in some kind of bodily fluid. You get screamed at (a lot) by a tiny, irrational dictator despite your every attempt to please them.
The good part is that your baby usually finds a way to make it up to you (those smiles and sweet coos are life-affirming at times), but the fact remains that often those sucky moments still just suck.
But wait, you say, isn’t this a blog post about joy?
YES. But more than that, it’s about the choice of happiness.
Remember almost four (!!) years ago when I decided to stop being unhappy? That sounds silly, I know. I even acknowledged the silliness when I said it. The Happiness Project was less about truly never feeling unhappiness and more about make a concerted effort whenever possible to choose joy. It probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found the more you practice mental discipline, the easier it can become over time.
I’ve found this practice helpful in a lot of areas of my life, from friendships to marriage, from running a marathon to having a baby. I’m not sure I would have been able to enjoy pregnancy as much as I did if not for my previous practice in seeking the good.
And now I find myself putting it into practice again as a new mother.
Before Vivi arrived, I would spend a lot of time thinking about when she was finally here. And I made a promise to myself: I promised to enjoy everything, from the lack of sleep to the discomfort to the frustration.
Because this was my parental rite of passage.
These were the things that bonded millions of parents across time and space. These were the moments that plenty of people who wish to have a baby would give anything to have. So who was I to take my baby’s 3 a.m. shrieks for granted? Who was I to bristle at irrational tantrums when she hasn’t mastered a new skill? Who was I to throw up my hands in frustration after the sixth spit-up and subsequent outfit change of the day?
And besides, who would I be helping if I did any of those things anyway?
So, instead, I shifted my focus. I learned to live in the moment when things were good and to look at the progress when things weren’t. I learned to appreciate the fact that even the worst moments will make for a good story some day and to tell my war stories with a laugh and an eye roll — my baby might be trying to kill me…but at least my tiny tyrant is adorable!
I also think it helped that I was mentally prepared for struggles. I expected frustration and exhaustion and tears (hers and mine). I expected to feel at some point that I had made a terrible mistake or, at the very least, to mourn my less-tethered childless life. What I’m saying is, I deliberately kept my expectations low. But I’m very grateful that I can honestly say I’ve loved every stage of getting to know Vivi. I expected to grit my teeth through her newborn-ness and to tolerate her fussy infant months, but the fact is that I daily find myself in awe of something about this wonderful little person I get to raise.
Maybe she really is just that wonderful (I mean, I know I think she is). But maybe I’ve just gotten better at focusing on what’s wonderful about her.
Because, most of the time, being a mother is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
I get to watch her tackle new challenges and develop an ever-sunnier personality. I get to revel in first smiles, giggles, babbles, and kisses. I get to celebrate her new milestones and soothe her pint-sized frustrations. I get to discover the world again through her big blue eyes. I get to wake up every day and be Vivi’s favorite person. I get to be Vivi’s mama.
And, for me, there are few greater joys than that.
Joey, Vivi, and I just got back from a long weekend in Lake Placid for a hockey tournament, and I’m looking around my apartment thinking, “MAN, do I have a lot to do!”
So what do I do first? Write a blog post, of course. #priorities
For a while now (let’s call it three months), I’ve been meaning to do a blog round-up of my favorite must-have new baby items. It’s a rite of passage for all mommy bloggers, and I actually found them useful when I was creating my own registry for the Vivster. Because, as we’ve discussed, there’s a lot o’ baby crap out there. A mom’s gotta be choosy.
While there are plenty of baby products I could list that I actually did use, here are the five that made the biggest difference in Vivi’s first three months of life.
1. Beluga Baby Wrap, belugababy.ca
I’ve already gushed to the moon and back about how much I love this bamboo cotton wrap from Beluga Baby, but it was especially helpful during Vivi’s “fourth trimester.” During the first three months, babies are still adjusting to life outside the womb, so anything you can do to mimic the uterus (white noise, movement, swaddling, etc.) helps to ease this transition. Now, the wrap is especially helpful when Vivi isn’t feeling well or just needs a bit of help calming down from a tantrum. (Plus, you can still get 15% off of your own wrap with code STOPME — the code is good until February 15th. And due to the exchange rate — Beluga Baby is a Canadian company — U.S. shopper can get an additional 25% off right now. So get on it!)
2. Mommy’s Bliss Grip Water, drugstore.com (also available at most drugstores)
Honestly, if I could make this products 2 through 5, I probably would. Our little girl had a tough time with gas and reflux, especially in the first three months, and this stuff made a world of difference. I like that it’s made from food-based products (fennel and ginger extract, primarily) because I’m as cautious about over-medicating my kid as I am over-medicating myself. Vivi actually really liked the taste, which made the process even easier. I can’t tell you how many times we were able to cure her hiccups or get an especially difficult burp out. (Oh, the tiny successes of parenting!)
3. Keekaroo Peanut Changing Pad, giggle.com
I purchased this changing pad after hearing my friend Madison say repeatedly that it was the best thing they had ever purchased for her daughter. And let me just say, it lives up to the hype. Not only does the rubbery surface make it super easy to clean if (and WHEN) your baby blows out a diaper or doesn’t wait for a new diaper to go to the bathroom, it’s also super comfortable and doesn’t slide around on the dresser we decided to use as a changing table. And now that Vivi is a bit more mobile, the raised sides keep her in place during changes.
4. Puj Flyte Compact Infant Bath, target.com
I debated quite a few baby baths before ultimately deciding on the Puj, and I’m so glad I did. Not only does it quickly turn any sink into a tub for Viv, it’s also incredibly lightweight and folds or hangs up for easy drying and storage (ideal for those of us in tiny apartments). Now that we’re traveling with the baby more often, it also makes it easier to pack so Vivi can get her bedtime bath anywhere.
5. Deluxe Sit-Me-Up Floor Seat, burlingtoncoatfactory.com
Vivi has always been the kind of baby that wants to know what is going on around her. The only problem was, she was too little to sit up herself, meaning we either had to hold her all the time (including during meals) or let her cry while she would lie on a blanket on the floor. Even her swing seat was too reclined for her to be able to see what we were doing around the apartment. Then my mother-in-law got us this soft chair. And, can I just say, we use this reclined seat at least four times a day. Vivi loves that she is sitting up like a big girl and can watch me move around the room and kitchen, and I love that she is comfortable and can keep herself occupied for a few minutes with the toys on the tray. Seriously, this one was life-changing.
I feel like as soon as I hit publish, I’m going to remember at least three other must-have items that I forgot to include on this list (oh, mom brain!) but I can definitely stand behind these five products.
So tell me, what did I miss? What were your must-have items with a new baby?
At the close of each year, I typically do the same thing on my blog. I’ll write two posts; one is a recap of the top ten most-read posts of the year, and the other is a recap of myself.
Thanks to SEO, though, the top ten posts have stayed fairly stagnant over the last couple of years. In general, my how-tos dominate every time. (Lookin’ at you, How to Paint a Metal File Cabinet.) So I think it might be time to retire that one.
As for my yearly recap, I generally follow the same theme, answering the same questions so I can look back over the years and think ahhh remember when? (Here is last year’s.)
But before I get to that, let’s do a quick year-in-review.
Obviously, the biggest thing that happened to my little family this year was that we got a bit bigger. From the moment we announced our pregnancy, I think virtually everything I posted on here in 2015 was about the baby. Since I got pregnant in January, 2015 will forever be the year I remember as The Year of the Baby.
2015 was also the year of work trips for me. It started with a week-long jaunt to San Francisco for some training. It was extra fun because I got to see my first friend ever, Jackie, who I hadn’t seen in a few years.
Then, in early spring, I also started a new job (I know, I know, great timing, uterus!) that launched with a trip to Belgium for even more training. (And frites…lots of frites. I was pregnant, after all!)
Shortly after the Belgium trip, we moved into our current apartment. It was a relief to finally be able to explain to people why, exactly, we needed two bedrooms in our new place.
And then it was summer! The most notable thing that happened to us? Finding out that the little bean in my belly was a girl.
That was such a blissful day. I still watch our reveal video sometimes!
Next, Joey and I jetted off to Florida for a babymoon. I truly can’t remember every feeling so relaxed and at peace with my life as I was on that trip — or so excited for Vivian to join us!
Shortly after that, Joey checked off a bucket list item: He ran his first half marathon! Even though I was super bummed not to be able to run with him, it was a fun change of pace to be the one proudly waiting at the finish line.
Then our lives entered the “party phase,” with a slew of baby showers and two weddings (a welcome change from last year’s FIVE weddings).
After that, it felt like all there was left to do was wait — and get rounder. And then, one magic day in September, we finally got to meet our little girl.
Have you ever seen anything so perfect? I haven’t.
Since then, my blogging regularity has been shot to heck, but my life has never felt fuller. It’s not always wonderful (as I’m sure any new parent would agree…or any parent ever), but there are a lot more wonderful moments.
2015, you were a hoot.
And now, the moment you’ve all (hahahahaha) been waiting for…my yearly sum-uppance.
Age: 28. And I’ve officially stopped getting carded. (Though the fact that a baby is often strapped to me is probably helping.)
Location: New York City
Occupation: Freelance editor/writer/social strategist. (The other biggest change in my life.)
New favorite food: A few years ago, I changed this question to be a shout-out to a food I realized I loved in the last year. I didn’t really eat a lot of new things this year because I spent a majority of the year mildly queasy, but in the last month or so, I was finally convinced to branch out from my usual Thai order and tried Beef Pad See Ew. And it was awesome.
TV shows I’m watching: I finished rewatching Gilmore Girls, but I haven’t really found another show to take its place yet. I’m a big fan of cooking competition shows like Chopped. Sorry my TV watching is so lame.
What’s my hair doing right now: This question started out as a joke, but my answer is literally different every year, and I find it genuinely interesting to look back. (That sounds shallow, but y’all know I have a lot of theories on the link between hair and happiness.) Right now, I’m honestly not in love with my hair. Probably because it is practical right now. It’s a lob (which I like) with no bangs (which I fluctuate on like every woman in the Western Hemisphere). And it’s dark blonde/ombre-ish…which I am not loving. I will probably be blonder in the next month or so. I CAN’T QUIT YOU, HIGHLIGHTS.
How I did on my goals from last year: Just to remind you, these were last year’s goals, along with how I did:
1. Completely pay off our debts: I actually did pay off my credit card debt! And Joey is very close to paying off his! I still have a car payment (though it is also much diminished), but we got very, very close to this goal in 2015. I think early 2016 is going to be our time.
2. Build up a savings account: I actually did this too! Of course, it is in serious jeopardy now that I’m not working full-time, but it was fun while it lasted.
3. Pioneer at least five times: This one was a bust. I hate making excuses, but I have to go ahead and blame pregnancy on this one — it took a lot more out of me than I expected.
4. Find a new apartment in April (still in Queens): Done!
And, just in the name of total honesty, you should also know that one of my secret goals last year was to have a baby. I just didn’t want to put it here because I didn’t want to add any extra pressure on the process. So I’m going to go ahead and check that one off too.
And now…goals for next year:
I would like to travel a bit (mostly to see family and hopefully to visit the area where we got engaged), especially while Vivian still flies free. I also want to simplify a lot of our lives, from cleaning out clutter to cutting back on unnecessary expenses. Other than that, I mostly want to keep raising Vivi and make this whole freelancing thing work. You know, no big deal. (LIFE, YOU GUYS.)
So as we bid adieu to The Year of the Baby, I have to say it’s one I will never forget. Can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.
Insecurities are a funny thing. Over the years, I feel like I’ve been pretty open on this blog about mine. In general, I don’t consider myself an insecure person, but that hasn’t always been the case.
For the most part, I’m a person of very cyclical moods. About once a year, I experience what I consider to be some kind of depression or low point. (I say “consider” because I’ve never been officially diagnosed with anything.) It typically lasts anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. It’s usually marked by an increase in mood swings, sensitivity, and a marked uptick in my insecurities. (And, you may have noticed, a lack of blog posts. The blog starts to feel incredibly insignificant during these lows, and I can’t imagine anyone caring what I have to say about anything.)
It’s not fun, but I at least feel more in control of these times than I used to because I’m now able to recognize them for what they are. Anyone familiar with depression can tell you what a liar it is — it tells you you’re not good enough, you’re unlovable, you’re just not enough. So, for me, there is power in being able to feel those things but still step back in my mind and remind myself I won’t always feel that way and that they probably aren’t true.
The insecurities I deal with have evolved over the years, but they’re usually a mix of doubts about something superficial (in high school, the size of my thighs; now, my teeth and nose) and something social (in high school, that my friends and family didn’t really like me; now, that my friends and family don’t really like me).
It’s at this point that I feel obligated to remind you that, in my rational mind, I know my friends and family love me. I do. You don’t need to tell me you do; I know it. Depression just makes me not believe it for a while, or wonder when the day will come that they will stop loving me.
I think everyone handles these feelings differently, for better or worse. For me, I workout (the best therapy for me) and I think about it — a lot. I reason on my feelings, what brings them on and what I can do about it. Often the answer to the latter is simply to ride out the storm and keep reminding myself that depression is a liar. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever really discussed these feelings publicly — I’d venture a guess that most of the people in my life don’t even know I deal with them.
I’m kind of a hermit when it comes to my own struggles. But I’m trying to be better about that because bottling it up (surprise!) doesn’t really seem to help anything.
I’m happy to tell you that, while this post was inspired by my latest bout of low-ness, I can already tell I’m coming out of it. Good talks with some close friends and a weekend with my family were huge helps to reaching the other side of this valley. But even though it’s (hopefully) almost over, the most lingering part of my lows are always the insecurities. Kind of like a bad cough.
I think about my insecurities a lot now as a mother of a daughter. Girls seem to be especially plagued by insecurity, almost to the point where it is weird if you’re confident. I don’t know if I can keep Vivian from having her own self doubts, but I never want her to feel crippled by them.
I want her to laugh loudly even if she thinks her laugh is obnoxious. I want her to wear the sleeveless dress she loves even if she doesn’t like her upper arms. I want her to get down on the dance floor even if she worries someone will think she looks ridiculous.
I want her to live her life bravely, even when she doesn’t feel brave.
And the fact is, I’m going to be her best example of how to do that. So I had better start being a good example.
Which brings me to my new project: Eradicating my superficial insecurities. I’ve decided I’m going to stop only taking photos from what I consider to be my “good side” — just because my nose and teeth are straighter from the left. I’m going to grin broadly — even though in the back of my mind I think my teeth are big and slightly bucky. And I’m going to do whatever I can to stop letting myself slip into the old habit of being who I think people want me to be — and just trust that anyone who does stop liking me was never all that great to have to begin with.
Because I want Vivi to do all those things too. Because, to me, she is perfect. And who else could she possibly be to be better?