Carry Me Back to Virginia

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It’s blog-official: we moved again.

I’m over at Latin Business Today, talking about strategies to survive moving with young children: Four Ways to Make Moving with Little Kids (Relatively) Stress-Free.

Even before kids, I needed strategies to survive moving because it’s truly one of my most hated activities. (See here and here, and of course the famous Beer on the Head Story.) But as you see, we’ve moved a lot and I think maybe I’ve gotten a little better at it. I basically used the Latin Business Today post to armchair-psychologist myself, and the advice boils down to, Get on board, you’re moving, deal with it.

It’s a little bit funny to read now, since I know how badly I handled things after packing, driving from Nashville to Alexandria with three kids, and arriving to a house I’d never seen in person. I was in a dark mood as we waited in an empty house for our furniture to arrive. But it all falls under tip #4: Anticipate bumps in the road.

So what are your moving tips (and/or tragedies)? I start way in advance with grand intentions of packing two boxes per day, and I very intentionally go through items as I pack, organizing, purging, and cleaning. At the beginning. In theory. But of course it doesn’t really happen, and by the end we’re piling everything haphazardly into boxes labeled Miscellaneous.

I didn’t include that in the LBT piece, nor did I recount my breakdown when, at the height of the chaos—the morning before movers were coming, boxes and kids’ toys everywhere—we spotted our moving truck driving down the street, a day early. I lost it, and pulled Israel out of the shower. He ran down the street in his pajamas, waving our contract to prove the agree-upon date.

It all worked out in the end.

P.S. Great song, linking Nash to VA:

Easy Kindergarten Prep. AKA, scissors!

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File this one under: scared, weak, hovering, helicopter modern parenting.

Here’s a practical early childhood idea, courtesy of my great aunt Jeaneine, who taught first grade for, well, longer than I’ve lived, probably.

She told me one of the best things to do to help Mary Tobin get ready for writing is to give her scissors.

[Aunt Jeaneine laughs at danger!]

Working with scissors strengthens those small hand muscles she’ll need to form the letters. At first just let her cut cut cut. Then the next thing will be following a line, previewing the eye-hand coordination needed to copy or trace letters.

I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t really let Mary Tobin play work with scissors yet, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with keeping them away from little sister. I’d seen Montessori materials lists and stuff about art for kids, etc. But lazy parenting is the name of my game.

In fact, though, the scissors have encouraged lazy parenting by keeping MT incredibly focused and entertained in the couple of weeks since we saw Aunt Jeaneine in Chattanooga. Mary Tobin has been happily cut, cutting away, shredding my old health insurance statements and creating her own little projects. (Usually this happens during their room time when Inez is not around to interfere. And on the two hour drive home from Chattanooga—forget about it. Best car ride we’ve ever had.) She’s following lines—proof that I waited way too long to let her do this.

Danger? So far, no. Cleanup? Yes. (I imagine that Maria Montessori and Aunt Jeaneine have plenty to say on that subject too.)

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P.S. Pics at the top from the girls’ first day of “school” earlier this week! They’re both going two days a week to a little Spanish immersion Mother’s Day Out!

P.P.S. Pics from Mary Tobin’s first day last year!

Mama Camp in Charlottesville (+ packing lists)

 photo 65B5C4AB-786B-4191-B502-3C45BC07FDC3_zpsz7cg0did.jpg photo 673D12FC-9C11-4730-9E96-00629D3357E1_zps6k4j92ca.jpg photo BAA43F63-1F8F-4533-A4D6-360947972A4D_zpsbgerduog.jpg  photo C838B2AB-C302-44C3-AAD6-00702C072B68_zpsajjg9xkb.jpgAt the start of the month, I joined three of my best friends from college in our college town, Charlottesville—AKA the best city in America—because we hadn’t seen one another in way too long. The most effective way that I explained it to Mary Tobin was that it would be camp for mamas.

And I highly recommend Mama Camp! Should you find yourself packing for something similar, here are some ideas for what you might need:

    • Your cutest shirts and dresses to show off for your fashionable friends (i.e. the only two cute tops you like right now, and in my case: muumuus).
    • A selection from the huge basket of beanie babies at your mom’s house, to send home with your friends for their kids. (Side note: the new beanie babies with huge eyes are terrifying.)
    • Comfy jammies for lounging and chatting.
    • The most outrageous rental car you can find, to embarrass your friends.
    • Some ideas about what you’d like to accomplish. Our to-do list included:
      • Coffee
      • Bodo’s (the bagel place)
      • The Lawn
      • Take It Away (the sandwich place)
      • Wine
      • Chatting
      • Basil gimlet from Mas Tapas

As you see, the three essential factors we considered were food, drink, and shady, lovely spots to sit and chat. The weather was glorious. We ate two delectable dinners at Zocalo (on Charlottesville’s downtown mall) and Tavola (in Belmont), and spent a beautiful afternoon at King Family Vineyards.

We discussed:

  • Marriage
  • Parenting
  • How disgusting our dorm rooms were and how we’ve grown in the area of cleanliness.
  • Using regular clothes as maternity clothes and maternity clothes as regular clothes.
  • Birkenstocks
  • Flare jeans
  • Shows on Netflix and Amazon. My pick is Catastrophe. So so funny.
  • Beauty products
  • Schools, work, career paths, health, and many items and details that will remain in the circle of trust.

We always find our friend Anna Kate, though she often doesn’t realize it, to be a source of great recommendations: cute clothes, pajamas, Madewell jeans, dry shampoo, chic diaper bags, something to put in the carseat or stroller to keep it cool in the deathly heat (AK or SB, give us the deets on that, please!).

Our friend Ansley gets the trooper award, since she had some kind of stomach bug and was not feeling 100% all weekend. You could hardly tell since she remained her bright cheerful self, but we gave her a hard time for drinking less wine than the pregnant lady (if you lost track: that’s me).

Our friend Elizabeth is the encouraging one who will always tell you how great and cute and smart you are, and that you should write a book. She’s the one who told me to share on the blog my quick tip for packing up the family, which is simply this: I typed up our master Packing List on Evernote (but it could just be in Word on your computer) that I print out for every trip and modify for the occasion.
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I think that’s all. I am a professional mama and this was an excellent professional development trip. Write it off!

Doctor’s Orders, or, Another Note for a New Mom

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Fresh out the kitchen. In her going home outfit. No post birth pics of me.

Talking about Christmas cards— last year I took one of our birth announcement Christmas cards to give the nurse practitioner who was conducting our follow up appointment, three weeks or so after Inez was born. She was delighted to receive it, but chastised me for having done birth announcements already, when I should’ve been resting.

The truth is that I was resting; I had plenty of family around helping, and I was excited about the cards! It’s out of character for me to be that organized and on top of things, but it’s not out of character to ditch housework in favor of a couple hours surfing the web and looking at card designs, then placing an order. Addressing is more work, but I passionately love mail.

Anyway, the result of all this was that Amy, the NP, wrote me a doctor’s note excusing me from household responsibilities for SIX MONTHS!

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Another aside: Amy actually witnessed Inez’ birth and was the one who kept encouraging Mama Rote to take pictures. Mom was kind of like, um, well, I don’t know if she wants pictures. The Pollyanna nurse persisted. (All this out of range of my hearing.) So finally Mom spoke up: “Jos, do you want pictures of this?”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” I barked.

(I’m not anti-birth pictures, but you know, it’s just not me. Also, at that point in labor—probably at its most intense—the pictures from Mom’s vantage point would have been my butt in the air, so. No thanks.

NONETHELESS, this nurse was the sweetest and the best, and made me feel the beauty and gravity of birth just by her enthusiastic presence and communicating that she was honored to be part of it. Come to think of it, that was a consistent phenomenon. Everybody around—the girls at the front desk, nurses, midwives, family—everybody was so pumped and excited, which one should be about a baby being born; while I felt like I would die. Oh dear. Back to the postpartum checkup.

Obviously I put that doctor’s note on the fridge, for Israel’s benefit. Amy’s point was that it’s plenty of work to keep two kids alive, particularly if one of them is depending entirely on me and my body for nourishment (i.e. breastfeeding, i.e. nursing). As with pregnancy, your body is doing hard work with or without your conscious consent.  It’s so easy to forget, so easy to feel guilty, and so difficult to ask for the support you need.

Even if I wasn’t nursing, birth is a heck of a thing for one’s body to recover from. Read this article about postpartum care and practices in other cultures and how the American version, or lack thereof, sucks. We no longer have the “lying in” period that many other countries maintain. What would help? I’m not sure if the policy prescriptions the author recommends at the end would be as helpful as a cultural shift—but how do you achieve that? Maybe policy changes, maybe business owners giving more generous parental leave to both parents, maybe a dramatic restructuring of our healthcare system (I find healthcare so confusing, blergh.). For a start, and something that feels more achievable, we can try to help each other out, try to build community even when it feels daunting.

If you know any new moms, you can tell them about this article, and feel free to pass along my doctor’s note from Amy. She did not succeed with the birthing photography, but her admonition to rest was right on.

A note for a new mom.

 photo 3D577B5C-1378-47FE-9537-19DC5B299857_zpspptzfghu.jpg You know it by now: the days are long, the years are short.

Sometimes I’ll write about parenting tips and things that I find helpful. I love reading about that stuff, and I figure a lot of you do, too. At the same time, probably nothing in my life has evoked feelings of insecurity as much as becoming a mother. (It’s also brought a new sense of empowerment and unparalleled joy—I guess they’re all mixed in.) So. It’s obvious, we’ll all make different decisions as parents and in life, but the truth is, that can make me nervous. I’m faced with the reality of how highly I value what other people think, when I realize that I’m doing things differently than other mothers.

I have enjoyed reading the baby books, the child development material, parenting articles, websites, blogs. (Again, following Uncle Steve’s advice: get a lot of advice, then do what you want!) It’s an important task—raising kids—so it’s important to make considered decisions about how to go about it. I want to do my best . . . but ultimately it becomes a big lesson in trust and giving up control.

This morning I wrote a quick note on a slip of paper to send my friend Ashley who’ll be bringing home a newborn in a couple days. (Eeeeps!!) Ash and I have discussed parenting styles and decisions (in theory), and as with other friends, I’ve said, hey, don’t worry if we do things differently. Before our family moved, I passed along to her a stack of baby books with the disclaimer that several of them contradict one another, so she’ll just have to decide what she wants to do.

But the note I wrote this morning contained my most practical, best advice. So I decided to copy it here:

“He . . . set my feet upon a rock making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
Psalm 40:2-3

Ash, I’d written this verse out for myself as a reminder that God makes my steps secure in motherhood—of course we won’t be perfect, but we know God’s taking care of us. I pray that you will feel utterly confident (in yourself, but more in God’s provision) as you get to know Towns!

And, my fave parenting strategy: ask God for wisdom every day. He promises to give it (James 1:5).

I love you!

If you want to know what I think, that’s it. Thanks for letting me keep it real, dear reader. Maybe next time I’ll be back with some snarky judgmental thoughts on kids’ television habits. [wink.] Love y’all.

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An idea for parents with two cuties in diapers . . .

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This is one of those systems that I’ve figured out right as Mary Tobin’s getting out of diapers . . . I wish I’d done it earlier, so I decided to throw it out here to benefit future generations. Don’t get your hopes up. This probably falls into the same category as using lapel pins for push pins, but I love this kind of stuff.

When selecting diapers, I decided to buy patterns with warm colors (pink, red, orange, yellow) for Mary Tobin and cool colors (purple, blue, green) for Inez. You’d think that the tiny versus large sizes would be enough to easily distinguish between them; but when it’s late at night or you’re frantically reaching into a diaper bag, or someone’s yelling, or you yourself are crying . . . it helps for things to be as clear as possible.

So that’s it! Read on if you care to learn more about what type of diapers we use . . .

The pattern/color selection was on my mind because we get diapers delivered by The Honest Company and they have cute seasonal patterns to choose from. Initially we ordered diapers from somewhere else since my only requirement was that they be delivered instead of me lugging a huge box of diapers as well as a baby up to our apartment, but I tried Honest Company when la princesa battled diaper rash for awhile. Honest Company’s diapers are a bit more expensive, but they’re free of all the questionable, stinky chemicals. So far Inez hasn’t had any diaper rash. If you’re on the market, I recommend them.

Plus, better patterns . . . Mama Rote and I agree that it’s bizarre and disconcerting when Elmo or Mickey’s face is gazing at you from a child’s bottom or crotch . . . maybe that’s just us. (But you could also apply my system there: Elmo for one kid, Mickey for another . . . ??)

Totally seems like it, but this is not a sponsored post. I will give you my referral link though—if you use this link and order from Honest, you can get a few diapers to try for free, and I’ll get some credit and be forever grateful (I believe it’s one of those deals where you need to cancel if you don’t want to continue receiving diaper deliveries).

Might I add for those not currently in the diaper game: a gift card makes a great gift for expecting parents, especially those expecting #2 (or more). For Inez, we had a “Books and Bloomers” shower (bloomers meaning diapers) since we already had the requisite baby gear.

Happy diaper shopping, I guess!

Musical Beds (+ Girls’ Room Inspiration!)

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When my oldest brother Will was yet an only child and Dad was traveling a lot, Mom and Will met Dad at the airport, in the days when you could go all the way to the gate to greet incoming passengers. When Will saw Dad walk out of the jetway, he ran up happily and shouted, “Dad, nobody slept in Mom’s bed last night!”

Mama Rote is not a floozy. They’d been working on getting Will to sleep in his own bed all night. Good job, Brother!

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We’ve just gotten through a similar stage with Mary Tobin. She’s always been a champion sleeper and truly is doing great overall. (Please understand, my mom once told someone that I’m a “sleep nazi”—in other words, my standards are very high. I like to get a ton of sleep, so sue me.) Still, Mary Tobin hit a few bumps as several transitions converged . . . moving, new big girl bed, new baby in the family, a bit of potty training, new understanding of the dark and fear . . . who knows. But—knock on wood—getting into our new house with her new room, shared with sister, has helped a lot. I think things have been quieter partly because she’s scared of waking Inez up. Hallelujah.

Tell me, did you share a room with a sibling growing up? I never did because I was the only girl (read: the princess). But I love the idea and think it will be fantastic for them. At least, looking back I think it will be great, and they’ll have to learn to deal with each other in the mean time.

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Unsure about sharing.

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Getting the girls’ room all ready was also a lesson to me that I actually can be a good mover if I can motivate myself. We focused with laser-like precision on unpacking their room first to give these chickadees as smooth a transition as possible. Thanks to pre-painting and curtain hanging by the grandparents, the room was basically good to go the first night.

As we battle the disarray in every other part of the house, I’ve found myself sitting in the girls’ room whenever possible; it’s so peaceful by comparison.

Regarding decorating choices for their room: I’m doing my best to keep it simple, but it’s a struggle. We’ve got some lovely art in there, including the señorita mexicana and some prints from vintage style Mexican calendars. My new favorite is a piece of beautiful Otomi fabric that I’ve been saving for the right spot since I bought it in Mexico, thanks to mi suegra’s bargaining. I had my prices and my Spanish prepared, but after haltingly exchanging a couple of sentences with the vendor my courage failed, so I sent in the big guns: Mama Ortega.

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Let’s call the diaper pail a modern sculptural piece.

As we left the market in Cholula, she told me that the guy was so excited to sell that piece of fabric, and that his mother and sister had worked on it for five months. ¿¿QUE?? I felt immensely guilty for haggling them down (well, Mama Ortega was my bargaining agent) to such a great price for that amount of work. She quickly assured me that the guy was thrilled to sell it, that he’d go home that night and celebrate with his family, that it was quite a big sum of money for them. Phew. I could’ve dealt with colonial angst for a long time.

I love this wall hanging because it’s so charming and Mexican, but instead of the animal Otomi pattern that’s so hot right now, the flowers look like something that my grandmother could’ve had too. (The flowers are poinsettias, which are from Mexico. Did you know that?)

It doubles as a fantastic backdrop for a Father’s Day photo shoot:

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More on kids’ rooms/nurseries:

  • Examples of how to un-obnoxiously use pink in a little girl’s room. (I should be a headline writer! Clickbait!)
  • Lay Baby Lay is still one of my faves for nursery and general design inspiration. Here’s the post where I went a little nuts going through all her inspiration boards.
  • Finally, I’m [somewhat, half-heartedly] trying to follow Nashville designer Rachel Halvorson’s advice to keep it simple in kids’ rooms. This room she designed for twin girls is so lovely, and as she points out, “If you took out the artwork, and a few accessories, you’d still have a neutral palette to work with. And when they come in with their hot pink superman capes and polka dot beach balls?? There’s your pop of color.”

Hold the phone.

In a severe case of bad parenting, I’m going to share this with you. Just now I was going through emails and noticed the pictures I sent my mom of Inez at about one month old. This one, with the sweet inquisitive expression, I knew reminded me of someone when I took it. I thought it was an actor from an old movie. photo 1

When I saw the picture again today it hit me. After all, I’d spent a bit of time searching through Pinterest for stills from the movies in yesterday’s post, so it was fresh in my mind. Osgood!

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Osgood Fielding III. He’s got the movie’s best line: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Some Like It Hot (1959)

It’s OK! All newborns look like old men! She’s getting cuter and cuter every day. We love you, baby Nessie.

To Love At All

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To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

-CS Lewis, The Four Loves

This week I burst into tears after a frantic google search reminded me that Inez was born with a Mongolian spot on her back, that she did not actually have a mysterious, massive bruise on her behind and need platelet levels checked. (The midwife had talked to me about the spot after she was born, I realized once I found the wikipedia page. She told me it is common with Hispanic babies and might appear to be bruising, and I had nodded and said ok, and promptly moved it to an inaccessible part of my brain.)

One thing I noticed—I didn’t cry when I thought something was wrong, when I was internally panicking a bit, but I only cried once the relief came flooding in and I could breathe, once I realized how tense my shoulders had been as I typed and tried to talk myself down from the worst case scenario.

It reminded me of a quote that I’d heard about having children: “It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” That resonates big time with me. I know I’ll only continue to learn that loving my babies is all about letting them go.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems that loving my spouse is the opposite—not letting go but leaning in. Cheryl Sandberg, write a book about that! Loving him is not so natural as loving the babies who were literally part of me and who carry my traits. The girls could never be rid of me. The thing is, they also carry traits of the one I chose. He’s the one who is not bound by blood but by decision. Israel, let’s decide to love each other each day. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Pre-marital counseling and all the baby books exhorted us to keep our relationship as the priority for a healthy family, rather than focusing only on the kids. I’d love to hear your experience and wisdom on this! Please share, and please know I’m grateful for you, very dear readers, this Valentine’s Day. Mil besos.

Mommy Blogging: In or Out?

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I posted several times last week, as you can tell. Don’t take any bets on how long I can keep it up! I always have “write more” on a mental to-do list, but it’s normally the first thing that gets nixed. I believe it gives me energy (here’s a helpful post on that topic, and on balancing your own versus your family’s needs, specifically for moms). So I’m conducting an experiment in self-care by trying to write and post more frequently, to see if it actually is as “life-giving”/energy-giving/zen buddha-inducing as my wishful thinking suggests.

But what to write about? Israel just sent me this piece, “Why I’ll Never Be A Mommy Blogger,” by one of his coworkers. Bethany loves writing and just had a baby, but doesn’t want to record the whole thing for the world. I expected that she’d list the common privacy and security concerns for her kids, but it was more about a child’s right to his or her own version of childhood.

Bethany lost her mom as a teenager and later found one of her mother’s journals. Get this: she didn’t read it.

When I found my mother’s diary, and immediately closed it, I did so because I wanted my mother to stay just the way she was in my memory: my mother. I didn’t want to see her as a woman struggling with life and death, depression, dating, and divorce. My mother was never a woman to me, she was a superhero, even though I was always aware of her flaws and shortcomings. While I conceptually realize that my mother was a human being, I don’t want to alter my memories of my childhood to include her personal struggle. Perhaps that’s selfish, but I know that my mother wanted my memories to be built in such a way, and I plan to give my daughter and G-d willing, future children, that same gift. If I had read my mother’s innermost thoughts, either in her diary or if she had maintained a “mommy blog,” that gift would have vanished.

What do you think? Would you have read the diary?

I’m a little more sympathetic than Bethany to the mommy blogging genre. Some “mommy blogs” I enjoy a lot; some are way guilty of the over-share, which brings into the discussion the difference between a diary (for my eyes only) and a public forum like the Internet (sometimes still for my eyes only, but available to all).

Also, since I’m not overly organized about photos, baby books, etc., I admire and am jealous of those moms who are successfully making a scrapbook for their family through their blogs. And I’m thankful Mama Rote is still around, so I have the benefit of her advice and memories. (Truth be told, though, she doesn’t remember what happened to which baby a lot of times. Another mark in favor of record keeping.)

My general feeling is the more stories we can pass along the better—but often privately is better than publicly! What’s your take?

P.S. My advice on how to record memories and be a good mom (tongue in cheek).