Baby,  Cooking,  Essay

in the weeds


In which our young heroine finds she was given a real baby, a waker-baby. None of this magic sleeper-baby stuff, like always falling asleep while nursing (Lux) or sleeping 5+ hours by one month (Lux) or never ever spitting up (Lux). No, this time it’s a real baby who wakes up every three hours to the dot, and would like to be held all the time extra please, who hasn’t the faintest idea how to fall asleep and gets rather upset about it, who detects a whiff of caffeine in my breastmilk and can not abide it.

It will never be this overwhelming, I said to myself last Monday morning after Joe had left and Lux was begging to go to the playground and Joan was fussing. This is it. The pinnacle of overwhelmingness has been reached. The next time I have a baby, I’ll have a four year old and she will make lunch for all us. Right?

I see normal, I see the glimmer of it, though I think it might still be two months away.


I hate repetitive conversational pleasantries. I’ve probably heard some variation of “zero to one is the toughest” or “one to two is the hardest” one hundred thousand times. THE POINT IS PEOPLE, I would like to interrupt, IT’S A NEWBORN. I remember how I felt with Lux. I remember feeling overwhelmed. THIS is the pinnacle, I imagine I probably said.

There are times in the day I have to say to myself, quit it. She is a newborn. She doesn’t have to shape up. She doesn’t have to get with the program. She can do whatever she wants. I think I perhaps see her worst, through a glass darkly, at 6pm. I’m not seeing her, I’m just seeing all the stuff I haven’t gotten done. The absolute rumpus Lux has piled around me and throughout the entire apartment. The lack of dinner plans. The two emails (just two!) I was hoping to respond to.

But I see her best at 6am. She wakes up to the sunlight. She coos and stretches next to me and I wake up too. It’s quiet and everyone else is still asleep and we’ve made it through the darkness to this very second. I love that moment, a moment when I manage to open my eyes to the present instead of chasing something else in my mind, when I can watch her facial expressions and notice that her eyelashes flit out like a Disney chipmunk’s. When I wonder who she is right now and who she will be.

My mom once told me that she took up sewing when we were young so she could point to something and say “here’s what I accomplished today.” That’s probably why I find myself in the kitchen, baking something that doesn’t need to be baked by hand, dancing a very fine line where Lux is engaged and Joan is briefly asleep but perhaps soon to wake, but will it be after the dough is safely pressed into pans, or before? Last week I found an index card I had scrawled on years and years ago. “Finnish bread” it said at the top, which sounds absurd because it was always “homemade bread” when I was younger. I asked for it weekly from Mrs. B, a Dutch woman who started helping out my mom around the time when there was four of us kids. Before I left for college I finally asked her to walk me through the recipe, and I made scattered notes on this index card. And after I put it in the oven the kitchen smelled exactly as it used to when she made it.

Toast with butter and honey? Who could forget this delicacy? And what about cinnamon sugar toast? My college cafeteria used to keep shakers of cinnamon sugar casually on hand by the salad bar (like, you can have salad, or you can have…cinnamon sugar!). Throughout the semester, on not so good days, I would make a neat stack of white toasted bread with cinnamon sugar and sit down with a cup of coffee for lunch.

When people come visit our apartment, and a rather lot of them have been lately, which is lovely, when they make it up to the 5th floor after the two heavy doors that noisily buzz them access, after the tiny rickety elevator that lifts them four floors, after the small red carpeted flight of stairs from the kitchen they found themselves in after the elevator—they often look around and call it a treehouse. The ceiling is vaulted like an old attic, the windows are mostly enormous, and the tops of trees are visible everywhere. A treehouse that smells like fresh bread.

I think of this as a very easy bread, hard to mess up, leaving you with basic tomato sandwich makings or, of course, steady toast supply. I sometimes abandon the dough for more than two hours, if babies demand. And I particularly like the short baking time–fresh bread so quick!

Makes Two Loaves of Mrs. B’s Homemade Bread
1 package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 t from a bulk container)
2 cups whole milk (or skim)
1 cup whole wheat flour
4-5 cups white flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
Dissolve the yeast into 1/4 cup lukewarm water with your finger and let it sit for a bit. Mix together one cup of the white flour and all other dry ingredients. Microwave the milk for 1.5 minutes and then drop in the butter to melt.
Mix the bubbly yeast into the dry ingredients. Mix in the melted butter and milk. Add 4 or 5 cups white flour and mix it with a wooden spoon. Dump the dough out on to the counter and knead it for a bit, adding flour if it’s too sticky.
Leave the dough to rise for 20 minutes under a damp towel or a bowl.
Split the dough into two sections and drop them into bread pans. Let rise for two hours.
Bake at 425 for 30 minutes.


  • Erin

    Well, your writing hasn’t suffered for the overwhelmingness. This is awesome—there are almost too many good things all in one post, it has created a kind of Easter-basket frenzy for me. I can’t decide if I’m more thankful for the recipe, the chance to know who Mrs. B is, or the fact that I can hear you saying all of this, clearly, as if it skipped being written.

  • Christy Milford

    Thanks for the bread recipe! I loved reading the descriptions of your youth- there’s just some great, comforting quality to childhood recipes, isn’t there? Especially when toast is involved 😉
    I’m sure you are doing an incredible job in your new mother-of-two role. Thank you for the two paragraphs above the third picture in particular- lovely, honest contrast!

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      In photos of Drew Ellyn I feel like I could sense that. You keep things so positive. But she looks like an adorable baby, rascal at heart.
      I keep experimenting with caffeine on long days, thinking, maybe this week… It’s a tough treat to give up.

  • jolie

    I take comfort and feel alarmed at this – having just one finicky baby is enough for my (in)sanity right now, so sometimes the thought of a second finicky baby makes my brain melt. I am hoping that God has a little mercy on me and maybe my next baby can just lie peacefully on the floor for 20 minutes to play?

    All in all, you are right. You are at the pinnacle. Keep on keepin’ on. In my six months of motherhood I have gained an unspeakable amount of respect for this mom business. UN. Speakable.

    • Rachael Ringenberg

      I do believe the fates of the world give women with a tough first baby a great second baby. OR you just survived so much so anything seems easier? By most accounts, this appears to be the case.
      I too have gained SO much respect for every single mom out there, no matter what her decisions. Feels good to be free of the judgying.

  • noelle

    oh man, if it had been coffee that caused West’s spit up problem, I might have cried worse than the baby. I never did figure it out, but I can also tell you it gets not so bad to better. Baking bread does wonders. It’s so nice to have that little flourish of the day for yourself. Also, toast! I can’t wait to try this one.

  • Jessica Clare

    Beautiful writing, as always. And, might I say, if you can already think down the line to your third, you might be almost out of the fog!….but then, I don’t have kids so you can tell me to jump out the window 🙂

  • Emily

    Oh how this post resonated with me. It seemed so familiar – the being in the weeds part. I only have one kiddo to date, but we are talking about a second and I know, as wonderful as it all is, it will be incredibly hard at the beginning. I felt the same sense of calm and happiness when early morning would arrive when my little guy was a new born. It was such a feeling relief – we made it through the night. Now maybe we can all get some sleep. Motherhood, at least by my estimation, sanctifies you like nothing else can.

    Also, I’m incredibly impressed that despite the toddler and the babe, you are STILL blogging AND making bread AND taking pictures of the bread! Bravo!

  • kelsey

    Oh my goodness, this brought back a flood of memories. My (one) child woke every 2-3 hours as well, constantly spit up, and I’m realizing I was drinking caffeine…..really hoping it wasn’t causing the spitting, but, you know, it probably was (mother of the year award goes to me!). It took me a week to finish one garland for his nursery and I was completely guilty of dreaming about how quickly I would have finished it before having him. Anyways, you baked bread, wrote a beautiful post, and took pictures to boot….with TWO! Superb.

  • Blaze

    Love this post. I usually refer to myself as a chicken with her head cut off on rough days as my second child is “harder” than my first as well, but in the weeds sounds much more graceful. We do a lot of baking around here too, definitely feels good to have a concrete thing to show for our hard work at the end of the day ( besides keeping two babies alive & fed & clothed!)

  • EmmaCameronSummer

    thank you thank you for all of your amazing posts on new-motherdom (first time and second time alike). it is so encouraging for this scared-to-have-another mama that you are able to see and articulate your level of perspective – that things will get easier, that the difficulty is impermanent, even when you’re right in the middle of it! That’s some serious graduate therapy level stuff!

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