Two girls to a room

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I get a kick out of the girls sharing a room. We moved Joan into Lux’s room when she was 8 months old, I wrote a little bit about that here. Even when they are keeping each other up at night, even when one of them wakes the other up pre-maturely in the morning. Sometimes the night ends with both of them grousing in their beds, egging each other on, louder and louder. I like it. Remember in grade school, what was the great uniting power ? A common enemy. Nothing to build sisterhood among two humans of disparate age and interest like grousing about the same thing.

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There’s power waiting to be taken in having a small space. Anyone can do it. You begin to take joy in every bag of things you decide to give away or throw away. The good stuff shines through. The girls have a small cabinet of additional toys, but their chief choice items, the ones they point at and ask for, are on this shelf. Having this stuff be out of their reach is as un-Montessori as you can get. Maria would shiver at the sight. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I also find that the act of requesting something causes them to value it a little bit more.

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Note above my system for the girls’ clothes, on the top shelves. It’s one tub to every six months, with an extra tub for shoes and winter gear. Be sure to label them, and give yourself a month or two after they grow out of things before you pack them away. The time helps you truly evaluate the stuff and what kind of shape it is in.

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Of the things on the wall, the maps get the most attention. Though when Lux was younger, she adored that Rifle Paper Co. alphabet poster (I just checked to see if it is still available, it’s not, but my goodness does Anna Bond have some good ones these days!). My older brother, who works in South Sudan, visited recently and pointed out that we need a map of Africa. He’s right! Both of our current maps came from Joe hounding etsy for vintage school room maps (they are not cheap. they are so worth it.) The New Yorker cover is a recent resurrection of a Saul Steinberg drawing combining several of Lux’s favorite things: skeletons, ballerinas, and mice. We are happy to change things out as the girls have new interests. Joe often places nice wrapping paper behind a print as an easy and cheap mat job, and we frequently use Ikea frames.

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I’m happy to have these photos to document this tiny phase in my family’s life! I’m sure the place will transform in the next year, perhaps even in the next six months. The room I shared with my sister as a kid is so etched into my visual memory, I treasure those images. I want to remember Lux looking out her window for the moon each night, I want to remember finding Joan with a pile of toys in her crib in the morning, donated by her benevolent sister, I want to remember Lux telling me that bunny lives in Mexico and her hunting for all the “x” letters on the map, I want to remember their matching cribs and orange-striped sheets and how content they were with them.

 

How it’s going with the help

An update on how it’s going, since I began hiring a babysitter for three hours a week. It sounds so minor as I type that. Seriously, three. hours. But as you might have read, it was a process to even get there. I found (using a one month subscription to sitter city), hired, and had a great girl for about six weeks, and then she had to quit for another job with more hours. As one often does. However she found a replacement for herself, one who is just as sweet natured and kind and they transitioned so smoothly that we barely hiccuped. Both of them are former music majors, devoted musicians, and they have the sweetest spirits.

After I remind Lux on Tuesday mornings about what’s coming up, she looks forward to the afternoon with the babysitter and is always pleased when she arrives. Joan is never pleased but supposedly she does not cry for longer than five minutes, though she absolutely screams when I leave. That would have ended the whole deal with the first child, but with the second there is a sense that all with be well. Plus there is that glow of reminisce and affection with which the three of us greet each other when I return.

Very quickly I realized it was just as some of you predicted to me: the babysitter formed her own relationship with the girls. Certainly she is polite to me, but it’s clear she is here to see the girls. I am the facilitator of the relationship, but part of it is about me not being there. And that’s nice.

It did take me a few times to learn that I should not do morning trips with the girls on the day that we have the sitter. A couple of times we arrived home at the same time the sitter arrived. You can imagine—frazzled mom dashes out the door to get her hours, goodbye to abruptly-abandoned children just taking off their shoes. Not good. Far better to have a relaxed morning at home, and then Joan still deep in her nap when Hannah arrives, and Lux coming out of quiet time to have one-on-one attention with this young lady.

The babysitters have proved to me that they can totally handle getting the girls outside for trips to the park (this, even when our elevator was broken for all of August and we live on the 5th floor). And this, even despite the fact that I didn’t thoroughly brief her on the stroller’s peculiar buttons and it collapsed on her when she was simply trying to extend the handlebar. Nice one, Rachael.

And for me! It’s been really, really nice. I have a ban on doing errands during that time. I go straight to a little private library up the street from us (the athenaeum for you locals, the best annual membership you’ll ever do) which has one floor of dead silence and big sunny windows. Actually, I first go directly to a coffee shop and order something, anything really, to boot up my writing spirits, and then I go to the library. I tip-tap furiously in the silent room for two hours (given walking time back and forth, it’s about that) and then head home. I arrive at 5pm, having hopefully prepped dinner in some way earlier in the day, and settle on the floor with the girls, relaxed and reminded how cuddly and curious they are. The day is almost over and we can enjoy the fact that Joe is to arrive in just an hour and half or so.

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I also experimented with early morning care this summer. I signed Lux up for two weeks of “summer camp” which began at 8:30am and let out around noon. It was not that relaxing. Getting her dressed and out the door was such a stress on my morning. Joan still took a morning nap at that point, so I did get two uninterrupted hours, in addition to quiet time later that day. But, as those of you who do this regularly know, they are still on your mind that entire time (I mean, obviously right? Should have seen that coming). Did I put enough sunscreen on? Did she get enough sleep last night? Were those shoes comfortable? Did that girl next to her have a hacking cough? And on and on. One time I called in to say Lux wasn’t up to coming in that day and was asked “Oh does she have hand foot and mouth?” Um no, is that going around? “Yes.” Oh great.

Then I would get her home, and she’s worn out from all the socialization, the going-with-the-flowing that one does when traveling in groups, and she was totally tuckered. Again, another obvious thing, but not something I had factored into the rest of our day. It was like she just got home from work and didn’t know how to decompress. Out of nowhere she would say stuff like “I don’t like her” about Joan, something she had never said in her life. Or like, start kicking her. I felt out of control with the forces that were influencing her. I was also surprised to find that the things she was doing at school were the same as at home: play with toys and books, have a snack, play outside, have lunch, make a craft, get glitter glue everywhere. It’s not rocket science after all. I guess I was caught off guard by that realization but I was also buoyed by it: we do those things too! This is a regular preschool right here, albeit a disorganized and unreliable one that is fresh out of unbroken crayons.

MY GOODNESS I am not typing all this out to make those of you who have something that is working for you begin to doubt it. Please NO. Just a follow up to that drama and a reflection for myself, the grass is greener over at that preschool, they are still the loves of your life and worm their way into every spare tunnel in your head no matter where they are physically, and so on.

To sum: working with a limited budget, I learned that having a sitter who could come to my house and play with both girls and develop a relationship with them together, and come over even when they were sick, is the best fit for my situation. And I learned that three hours a week, though tiny, has a quite an effect.

to commenters: I apologize that comments were broken for a couple weeks! I did SEE your comments, but they did not appear here. All is well again and we are back up and running with Disqus. Thanks for your patience.

notes on weaning, eating young

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What to say about feeding your young before they can masticate for themselves with chomp and gusto? What’s on the line for you, after all? The grace with which you approach meal times. The economy you manage in your pantry. The pleasure you might once have taken in a tidy kitchen. The belief you like to hold that your children are growing well, taking part, and developing a food fervor that will someday match your own.

Joan is not buying the whole milk theory. I always forget this is what hovers behind weaning–first wean, then find out they want you to serve what feels like gallons of whole milk to supplement the calories. Sniff sniff what’s this? says the baby. Cow’s milk? No thank you.

Lux is digging the baby oatmeal even more than Joan. So I find myself offering vitamin-enriched-gruel at all hours of the day, some kind of grey-hued comfort food. She’s even started asking that I not “mix it up.” So she can see “all the parts.” Thus I give her a bowl of the parts, parts being: powder, gruel, watery gruel. It’s like–would you like oatmeal with bananas, heavy cream and a dash of maple syrup, or watery gruel? Watery gruel please! Thank you.

In moments of desperation with a grouchy baby I pull out thick plastic bags of frozen blueberries or peas. I put these frozen pebbles in front of her and she grasps at them eagerly, munching through them and smearing bright blue on the table, the chair, her pants, my hair, and under our nails.

We go out for texmex. Joan sucks salt off the chips and then drops them to the floor, observing their fall from on high, like a benevolent god watching the progress of Spring across the earth. I dip into the bowl of guacamole and scoop spoonful after spoonful into her mouth. Joe taps his finger on a straw and traps droplets of Lux’s lemonade, then releases them in her mouth to buy us leisure time. This second child gets whatever she wants really.

I review my standbys almost daily, mulling in front of the refrigerator: lumps of sticky rice, spoonfuls of greek yogurt, shreds of steak, nubby piles of scrambled eggs, whole avocados, brocolli roasted till soft, thick peach slices, pink flecked strawberry puffs, mushy sweet potato bits, ground up meaty spaghetti sauce. I think I’ve got the options nailed this time around, but it’s the elemental stuff that’s much harder for me now: sit down with them. wait for them to open their mouths. if they don’t like something, don’t offer it again for awhile. respect your fellow diner. look at them as you feed them.

Joe invented a handy trick that always makes me think of a mama bird: take an apple, bite off a big chunk. Pluck the piece from your mouth and hand to any interested child in the vicinity, which is always both of them. Repeat at three minute intervals.

We break a raspberry popsicle into a bowl and let Joan pluck out the pieces. Lux and I made them, but I don’t remember how much sugar we put in. I briefly pretend to divide the tablespoon per ounce amount, like the back of a cereal box. Joan eats the whole thing with a shocked look on her face. Not from the sugar, I’m certain, but from the sensation of plinking tart, hot pink ice onto her tongue.

Brave are we warriors who strive forward into the smears, splats, whacks, and oacks (that last one is for all you Make Way for Ducklings readers).

Just for reference, I wrote the rather carefree Pintos with Lux when Lux was fourteen months old. She didn’t seem interested in food for a long time, so I didn’t bother with it until she was twelve months, much to the consternation of her pediatrician. Turned out fine and was much easier than early-introduction, in hindsight. 

Making Friends

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Making friends with other new moms is very important to a life well lived with children. It gets easier to meet fellow soldiers as your kids age, which is unfair because you need new mom friends the most in the first year. The months before the baby can interact and respond to you can be isolating, thus you need backup. 

It’s also REALLY nice to have friends with babies at the exact same age, as everything changes in three week increments with infants. If you are very fortunate, you might meet people before you have the baby, and then you can exchange kind, commiserate emails at the hospital and desperate texts re: diaper cream brand and pesky doctor appointments.
However, I think it is hard to meet people ahead of time because you’re distracted in that certain pregnancy-distracted way. Or at least I was.

Here are my steps to building your new tribe of friends, follow them to the letter:

1/ Identify baby-hangout spots in the area a sidewalk everyone walks with strollers in the morning, parks with baby swings, libraries with song circles, a pool with infant swimming lessons, churches with nurseries during the service, coffee shops….It’s not well publicized but all “baby activity classes” actually just exist for parents to meet each other. But just attending the event isn’t enough, you also have to…..

2/ Be more outgoing than you’ve ever been before Size up anyone with babies around the same age, and sit down next to them. Stop by their blanket in the park and laugh that you both seem to be on the same schedule, geez  I wonder why… Turn around in line and begin to chat up the fatigued caffeine-seeking compadre. Pick from any number of the million current similarities in your life and strike up a conversation. Don’t be afraid to act interested and eager because you are. People like interested and eager friends, so this is a handy attribute you can already claim.

3/ PROCURE CELL PHONE NUMBER FROM THE CONTACT 
The most important step! Never walk away from a pleasant exchange with a new mom without a way to contact her. You could easily not run into them again for several weeks and you’ve already established that they are: 1/ breathing 2/have a baby 3/speak the same language as you. Text them on the spot with your name and your baby’s name.
Do it like so:
 “Hey, let me grab your number so I can text you next time I’m headed this way.”
“Let’s trade numbers just in case we want to walk and get coffee sometime?”
“Hey, what’s your email, I’ll just email you right now so we have it.”

In some ways email is better than a cell phone number because it’s a little easier to stay organized on email, and write each other notes. If you ask for an email, you usually end up getting your new friend’s full name too, which is convenient.
If you want to casually mention I’m @______ on Instagram, well, all the better in my opinion. But I’m a big fan of social media, and I totally get it if you want to keep your child off the internet, as they say.

Last tip, then go get ‘em!
If you meet a mom from your area who is a little bit ahead of you, baby’s age-wise, ask her what her favorite class or activity is in the area, and ask her if there is a local mom’s email or listserv group to join.

drawing of me and the girls by Joe

No Sleep till Sundown

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A plea for suggestions! Lux hasn’t napped during “naptime” for months. This was fine for me, she often reset during the time anyway through her imaginative play and talking to herself. But now she’s really begging to get out of “quiet time” and I think it’s because we don’t have any real routine for her to do in there. (She’s napping/hanging out in our bedroom because Joan naps in the crib in the girls’ room.) I’m thinking an mp3 of a book on tape that I could play, or a mix of songs and a book? Like a quiet time playlist? Some special quiet toys that only come out during that time, or…..?? What’s worked for you all?

Any ideas, I’m taking them.

My daily tote

I bring you: my daily diaper bag! It has been this, with very little variation, for forever. I don’t carry a purse in addition to this…I guess I am a minimalist. I don’t plan for contingencies or emergencies. If they happen, I rely on the goodness of God and strangers or MacGyvering things.

For better or worse, I don’t carry lipgloss or perfume…though I sometimes aspire to be that kind of woman. Before Joan, this would have included reading material; I think it will again once she can walk on her own…pretty please.

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Diapers & wipes: two dipes for Joan, one for Lux.

Changing pad: I zipped this off of the Skip Hop pronto (best gift for new moms, by the way) back when Lux was young. Haven’t looked back.

Chocolate Date Coconut larabar: both Lux and I will accept and be satiated by this delicious creation in any circumstance.

Apple: now accepted by all three of us as a nice snack. Easily shared.

Bubbles, silly putty, crayons, rings: Entertainment for constrictive spaces like restaurant tables, or stalling at the park for awhile.

Lunchskin: dishwasher safe and reusable! Usually packed with nuts, dried fruit, and crackers.

Hats: late winter-spring weather fluctuates so much! Hats can fix almost any Mom-miscalculation. These will soon be replaced by sunscreen and sun hats.

Baby Baggu: such a great brand. Love them.

Two So Far

Simply on a street-and-bystander level, I like the respect that comes from having two kids. The unsolicited advice seems to have vaporized. No more “oh just wait until you have two/she’s older/she’s starts walking” etc etc. The sight of me coming down the street with the girls seems to garner some awe. Perhaps a fleeting moment of pity. A few “My, you really have your hands full.” Not exactly compliments, but there is a little music to them.

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Almost every month we drop a bag of stuff at Goodwill, but for the first time recently, a couple of the things that went were things I really liked. That’s a good sign. It’s bad if you’re purging junk–how did it get into your home the first place? But if you getting rid of things you like because they’ve come to the end of a good life, been rendered irrelevant or replaced with a better fit (like our kitchen table), then things are really getting shipshape.

But I did cringe to see go the table we found as newlyweds at the Cambridge Antique Market. We bought it from a dealer who meticulously wrote full paragraphs on the tags he attached to each item. Before we purchased the table we spent twenty minutes just reading the mini histories he had recorded. Each side of the table folded down completely. That was great for our old apartment where dinner parties began with drinks on “the sideboard” and then we sat down to dinner at the now-table.

But the flip side is that we have a new table that fits our small kitchen and the four of us just right.

This brings me to another perk of two: cleaning my house. I’ve realized I cannot not clean my apartment just because I have a child under foot. Because they’re never not under foot. I’m allowed to say, “I can’t read Curious George right now, I’m cleaning.” I’m allowed to expect Lux to entertain herself that long. I’m allowed to shrug my shoulders at her bored-face and let her find her own fun.

After a few real miscalculations, I’ve banned errands that implicitly value my time below minimum wage. A 40-minute trip to a consignment shop for a chance at $8 in store credit? No thank you. When I get a gift for the girls in the mail, I send a text message or email to say thank you right away, and leave it at that. The gracious days of a written note have slipped away, at least for a while.

I’ve started answering the phone again. If I don’t pick up now, my wary thinking goes, I might have to listen to a voicemail later. So I pick up.

I see that I’m becoming manically efficient. With Lux, I was always doing these small trips to the grocery store, lugging one overpacked bag back with me on the stroller. I go to the store once a week. I spend enough to initiate free delivery. I’ve finally started planning more than one dinner in advance. Finally started my dinner journal that I’ve been meaning to do for a year or two. Finally typed up a list of my typical grocery list, with space for additions and printed it off.

I don’t say this to boast. Just puttering over the things here and there that seem to have gotten easier, and almost in awe of the things that are falling into place.

 

morning off

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Frequently on Saturdays I have to take two or three hours to pause and jump free, as a swimmer would into a pool, for a clean kicky dive with the bubbles rushing past. There have been book cuddles and hugs and kisses and infant fingers grasping my hair and trailing across my chest. Every time I do a downward dog, Lux clambers below my arched abdomen and shouts “tent tent!” Every time I stretch out my arms in child’s pose, she climbs onto my back and joyfully shouts, “I’m riding you like a horsey!”

I’m not a runner anymore but I will be someday soon. I spent a number of years pounding the pavement at all hours of the day, running miles upon miles in the hot and cold weather, in the dark on cold mornings or in the late afternoons as the bugs gathered near the trees. I imagine I’ll take it up again. Perhaps in my thirties, as I like to say. I’m not sure how much I’ll manage to do in my thirties but the list is rapidly lengthening. I’m a better long distance runner, meaning I pass more people if you give me more time. I’m good at the long game and good at coming up from behind.

But back to the children. A run would do it, but for me in the city, it’s very nice to drift away for a few hours and flip quickly down the sidewalk with both arms swinging freely at my sides and the sun in my eyes and a place to go in mind. It’s nice to slip narrowly through an opened shop door and weld your way delicately between display tables, no stroller wheels to mind, no chattering to acquiesce your mental space to.

Here’s a dreamy itinerary: take the train to Central Square. Stop by Piccante for a horchata. Walk down Inman Street, get a chill at the overgrown homes and the old fashioned Cambridge living happening before your eyes, and take a left to go to Dwelltime. Order a cappuccino that must take at least ten minutes to make by their standards, and a few of the delectable macaroons. If they are pink, it’s from the rosewater, or the strawberries. Stop in at the fabric store Gather Here, and think about women owning small businesses and how wonderful they make them. Continue on your walk to the Cambridge Public Library. Take a right inside and pick out every magazine you’ve wanted to read for the past month to page through. Find a seat in front of the enormous glass windows that frame the even larger sprawling lawn. Leaf through beauty tips to your heart’s content. Walk to Harvard Square. Stop for a tranquil moment at Oona’s and debate becoming a lady who only wears jackets from the ’20s, with heels. Stop at Follow the Honey and taste, in succession, several of the best honeys you’ve ever had. Get a text that the girls are up, and hop on the T, homeward bound. The funny amazing thing is that it takes me so little time to reset. I think that’s why parents talk about looking at photos of their kids when they are asleep. They already miss them, though it’s been just an hour or two.

This one is for the narrowest time slot: nestle into the open corner table at a coffee shop. I have four shops within walking distance so I can leave the apartment while the girls nap and still come back refreshed in time for the family to do something together. The coffee shops downtown have a speedy jive to them—so many people are passing through in a rush. When I take a table, with a book to read and mug in hand, I feel the envious eyes narrowing. Such simple thing, but you would think I’d set up a hammock with a side of strawberry daiquiri for the looks people rushing through give me. Get with the program and hurry on, they urge. No no, not me, I say. I’m doing something else here.

 

advice

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Its a funny thing to feel like an old lady, grabbing young women by their ears and whispering: wear crop tops. But really, the unstretched belly is a remarkable thing (as is the stretched belly—tattooed, if you will, with your baby’s first genetic traces on this good earth). Though my Christian high school never would have allowed it, I think such urban outfitters fashions should be relished when you have the chance.

Now, the truth is, I probably would not have worn a crop top. And therein lies the trap: giving advice to other people that you mightn’t have taken yourself. For example, I’ve been pestering my sister to portion off a good chunk of her wedding funds for a honeymoon, when the time comes. Did I do this? No, I did not. In fact, Joe and I drove a couple hours north from my hometown and stayed at a friend’s cottage for a few days, for free. We went to breakfast at an old victorian inn, got pizza delivery, watched movies and went for bike rides around the lake.  But now, six years later, I’m planning trips with two young kids—and I really do love traveling with them, believe me—and I see starkly the things we simply can’t do with their little fingers dug into our hair and entwined around our necks. So, yes, I would like to see my sister go to Thailand for a month (I think of Thailand because my friend Natalie has been posting photos on instagram and they have been stunning). I would like to see her walk a tight rope across a jungle and live on a canoe for a few days. And then I could clap my hands as a satisfied older sister, having plucked just one fly from the honey before I passed the jar to her.

Giving advice is on my mind because my (internet) friend Ashley asked me to update my Eleven Thoughts for New Moms post from a year ago. She posted my updated edition this week on her blog Hither and Thither. It’s a serious honor to be on her blog, no one does content quite like Ashley, and I’m really happy that people like the post. But I did most of those things wrong the first time around and my advice should be taken with a fingerful of salt and slice of lime.

I once attended a dinner party where we were all asked what was best bit of advice that we’d ever been given. Many of the guests had great anecdotes to share. I did not. I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized that I usually don’t take other people’s advice. ha! What about you? Best advice you’ve received, on any topic?