November 26, 2013

Livvy, 1 Year Old.

five days old

Her eyes began gray. Over the past year the brown has crept in--as though tea leaves were steeping slowly but surely in the twin cups of her eyes. Now only the outer rim of her irises are gray. Those cocoa eyes are crowned by furrowed brows, and there's one deep dimple to punctuate her pouty lips, which remind me of an upside-down heart. Her mouth rests in a natural frown. It's a frown that cries out to be kissed, to be reversed. And I do, and it does.

Along with those gray eyes Livvy's birthmark has faded this past year. I haven't written about it here, but she was born with a large Mongolian spot on her bottom and on up her back. When we first saw it, Nekos and I were alarmed and pressed the buzzer on our hospital bed to ask for a nurse. It was blue-purple, and we worried she'd been bruised during birth. Some people told us she'd have her Mongolian spot forever; others said it would fade dramatically over her first year of life. And it has, along with most other reminders of her newbornness.

A year ago today, Livvy was placed into my arms for the first time. This was the most heavenly feeling I've ever had the pleasure of feeling. Matched only by having Tessa placed into my arms two years and eight months earlier. My long wait was over, and my littlest girl was healthy and stunning. She seemed as relieved to be in my arms as I was to have her there.

I've spent the past 365 days getting to know her, and she is fabulous. I work from home, and she's been here with me every day. I know her best, and maybe she knows me best, too. She's a little feisty, a lot sweet, sly and silly, and very loving. An easy, laid-back baby--not fussy, no problems with teething, no problems with separation anxiety. (Some notable problems, however, with sleeping through the night, but since this is her birthday entry we can talk about that another time.)

Livvy has completed this family. We don't deserve her, but we are so blessed to call this brown-eyed girl ours.

p.s. At the exact moment Livvy was born, this song was playing on the iPod dock Nekos had playing in the delivery room. Look at where we are / Remember where we started out / Never gonna be without each other's love again ...

November 24, 2013

Livvy's First Birthday Party.

Yesterday we had the honor of throwing Livvy her first birthday party. (She turns one this Tuesday.) Especially because she can tend to be an afterthought (being the little sister and all), I loved that she got to be the belle of the Barnes ball yesterday. Livvy doesn't have any friends of her own (yet) so Tessa, Nekos, and I shared our friends with her and invited them over for banana cake (made from this recipe, which turned out divine) and sliders. Beer and juice boxes. My sweet mama came--she is the person who makes Livvy smile the most, which she did so much of yesterday. Nekos played records and the kids played in the sandbox outside. It was crisp and cold but bright and sunny--the first sun we'd seen in a couple of days, and it was so welcomed. Livvy took more steps than I'd seen her take yet--about 10--at her party. I'll be back later this week to write more about our first year with Livvy and as a family of four. For now, it's taken me altogether too long to write this paragraph because I have two little girls vying for a spot on my lap. p.s. Here was Tessa's first birthday party

November 21, 2013

10 Thoughts on a Year of Breastfeeding.

I breastfed my first baby for five weeks. They were five of the worst weeks of my life. When it was over, I was inconsolable. I spent the next year or more feeling like a failure. More so than I have about anything else in my life. Even though I knew rationally that it was totally, completely fine that I couldn't make the whole booby-milky-mommy-nom-noms thing work, I couldn't feel that. All I felt was so sad, so defensive, so regretful. There were times when I looked at baby Tessa, with that satin pile of curls and those eyes that simply devoured me, and cried and said, "Oh, baby, I'm so, so sorry. Mommy is so, so sorry." It was so silly. I know that now. And I even knew that then. I knew that it was insane to beat myself up about it. But I beat myself to a pulp. And I made up my mind that I was gonna friggin' breastfeed my second baby come hell or high water. It has been said that I only had a second baby so I could breastfeed him or her. That's not entirely untrue. Before I had my second daughter, Livvy, I informed more than a few people that I wanted, and deserved, a "do over" with nursing. I got that chance a year ago this week. Here are some of my thoughts/notes on nursing my second daughter for a year:

1) The research. When I was pregnant with Livvy, I read far less about fetal development and childbirth and concentrated instead on studying up on mammary glands. I read Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Breastfeeding from cover to cover, poring over the textbook-style photos of naked boobs with babes attached to them in various positions. I read lots about my first baby's condition--tongue-tied-ness--and about my own postpartum condition--postpartum anxiety. I got prepared. If breastfeeding and postpartum anxiety are the perfect storm, I spent all nine months stocking my storm shelter. I also read and admired books that rhapsodized about breastfeeding in a relaxed, not fanatical way. Like Great With Child by Beth Ann Fennelly, who I recall writing about how a braid of her milk sluiced into her daughter's rosebud mouth. Something like that. Something that made breastfeeding sound just as poetic and possible as it could be. These books were so important for me.

2) The chats. At last, I lightened up about the whole breastfeeding thing. I had lots of conversations with girlfriends--mothers or not--who confessed that they didn't, in fact, think that breastfeeding was the bee's knees. They variously thought it was weird, perplexing, overwhelming, and overly difficult, even impossible; these were perspectives and opinions I needed to hear after drowning myself in the misery of online forums, where everyone knows that breast is best and formula is arsenic and you couldn't possibly love your baby if you put her to sleep by tucking a plastic nipple between her lips.

3) The tenacity. I kept at it. In the beginning, when there were scabs on my nipples. And in the middle, when I was breastfeeding in a car, in a coffee shop, in a bathroom, in a bar, at a festival, at a funeral, on a plane, while I was peeing, while I was eating, in the middle of the night, before dawn, every hour on the hour. And when Livvy was nine months old and I went to San Francisco for four days without her, I pumped for four days. And it totally sucked. And it was humiliating. But I wasn't ready to be done. And I'm so glad I stuck it out. Even though I will never forget pumping in a handicap stall at the Phoenix airport, and I will never forget my best friend watching me pump--the slurp-slurp sound, the grotesque mechanics of it--and proclaiming it so weird. One of the things that struck me the hardest about "failing" at breastfeeding with my first child is that there was no second chance. Once the well had run dry, it was all over. I was so used to being able to have a second go at things, to go away for a bit, have a good night's sleep, return and make amends, and get started anew with something. The second time around I knew full well that when the milk was gone it was gone for good so I had better be sure I was ready to let it go when I did.

4) The veterans. I found it invaluable to have a few girlfriends, seasoned at breastfeeding, who I could call, email, or pull aside and ask assorted questions. Things like, "So.... should I still not be having my period?" "Should the baby really be this distracted during a feeding?" Every baby is different, as is every nursing relationship. But comparing and sympathizing with real women was important for me.

5) The being there. From around four or five months old, Livvy has been an incredibly distracted and squirmy eater, which is why I started supplementing with formula around then. The only time she is insanely into nursing is when she's deliriously tired. Which means that our best nursing sessions happen before nap times and bed times and in the middle of the night. These are the times--in the inky darkness, with just the tick-tock of the clock and the creak of the rocking chair, that I can really relax and drink up the fleeting pleasure that is nursing my beautiful baby girl.

6) The sensuality. I fear I will never feel as feminine as I have while nursing my daughter. My body right now is still a mess. It's wobbly and messy and luscious and voluptuous and squishy and there are three silvery vertical stretch marks on my lower tummy--and I wore exercise shorts and a tee-shirt on a canoeing trip this summer because I was too embarrassed to put on a swimsuit--but I have loved this body this year. It's been generous and benevolent, and I am grateful for it. (Maybe especially now that bikini season is over.)

7) The reactions. Thankfully, I haven't had any problems with strangers deriding me for nursing in public. Probably because I didn't do a whole lot of it and never uncovered. (I made an art out of knotting swaddling blankets around my neck and nursing Livvy discreetly in East Nashville coffee shops.) When anyone did notice, I took some small pleasure in their reactions--a little squirmy and shifty, a little starry-eyed and nostalgic. It seems the sight of one nursing woman makes every other mother recall her own experience, for better or worse. I've loved hearing their stories, and I've welcomed them, especially since I've known both sides of this coin.

8) The culture. Even though I had a great experience nursing this time and am thrilled to have been able to do it, I still say that the breast-is-best people need to shut their fat mouths immediately and go find something better to do with their lives than shame and bully other moms. The Nipple Nazis, especially those in anonymous online forums, are some of the cruelest pieces of shit I have ever come into contact with. To so much as infer that a new, formula-feeding mom is doing anything less than loving her baby as best as she possibly can is almost criminal. It's hard enough to learn how to be a mother without being told from the very beginning that you're doing things all wrong.

9) The golden ticket myth. My first baby got sick a lot. During her first year of life, she had several ear infections and frighteningly high fevers and an incidence of projectile vomiting, and she became quite familiar with the pink goo known as amoxicillin. Each time she got sick, I blamed myself. My second baby has gotten sick, too. Not quite as frequently or as severely--though that may be unrelated to breastfeeding--but enough so that I feel reassured that breastfeeding isn't the magic get-out-of-all-ailments free card that I imagined it to be. Most importantly, and what's come as the biggest relief of all to me: Baby Livvy is no more bonded to me than baby Tessa was. Breast or no breast, a mother loves her baby wildly, recklessly, endlessly.

10) The awesome-or-nothing factor. The first go-round, I thought that if I couldn't do breastfeeding "right," I just shouldn't do it at all. If I couldn't exclusively breastfeed. If I couldn't completely abstain from drinking or taking Benadryl or antidepressants or whatever the case was. This time, I've been way more relaxed and forgiving, less regimented and even more imperfect. I've supplemented with formula plenty. I've given Livvy bottles brimming with non-organic cow's milk, and I've heated those mo-fos up in the microwave. I've done the best I can. And, this time at least, it feels good enough. I thank God for the sweet mercy of a second chance.

Here I am nursing Livvy on the beach in Cape Charles, Virginia last May.

November 17, 2013

Tessa Talk, 3-and-a-Half.

It's been almost a year since we made a video interview with Tessa. Here she was a couple days ago, being interviewed mostly by her dad, with a cameo by Livvy. Thanks so much to Nekos for putting together this video for us.

November 15, 2013

The Final Chapter of the Flooring Saga.

A few weeks ago I had a really big, really boring writing deadline that I needed to meet. To procrastinate from really digging in on this deadline, I decided ("decided" may not be the correct word, as what I actually did was to just "do" and not "think") to finish ripping up the rest of the upstairs carpet. Note to self, for future notice: The worst possible way to procrastinate from doing something awful and stressful is to create more awful, stressful things to do--especially things that make your home look like it's been tossed around by a tornado.

I had removed the carpet from our stairs, the hallway, and the nursery, and painted those floors. The master bedroom was the final chapter in this, the single biggest project I've taken on at our little bungalow. And it was hard work doing all the rooms I'd already done--not only the pulling out the carpet and padding and tack strips and disposing of it part but, much more tediously, being on my hands and knees for hours coaxing up nails and staples and then the sanding and the vacuuming and the scrubbing and the sanding and the vacuuming and the vacuuming. And the sanding. All this before I had the pleasure of covering up these heinous floors with creamy white paint (the painting part was just one big ahhhhh for my soul; all the rest of it was just what I had to do to get to the ahhhhh part).

Because I'd already done the rest of our upstairs floors, I knew what I was up against. Until I found linoleum on much of the floor I uncovered in the bedroom. That's when I remembered that the guy who renovated our house seven years ago had mentioned to us that our bedroom was once a kitchen, and our house once a duplex. That linoleum was a vestige of this home's past, which is baffling to us.

It turns out that linoleum is a real asshole to get off a floor. I spent an evening reading solutions online and found mention of using a hot iron and wet towel to get it off. That definitely ended up working and was how I was able to get all the linoleum up. But it took a long time, and it wasn't fun. And it didn't smell good. Think old, hot, melty, linoleum smell.

Here's a little video I made, when I first realized this iron/wet towel trick would work; repeat times a bazillion and I was finally done getting up the linoleum.

And I have kids, you guys. A baby who wants to get into everything and put everything into her mouth--staples! hot iron! screwdriver! carpet padding! possibly lead-based old paint! stinky, wet, hot linoleum! And another little girl who is really curious and wants to help and finds it really hard to resist the very strong urge to touch wet paint to see if, in fact, it is still wet.

This wasn't a project that could wait though. This is where we sleep every night. It's our little sanctuary after our big, busy, noisy days. So after I got the linoleum up, I paused for about a week to get that writing deadline knocked out, then got back to this project last week and worked over several days to finish up.

And, then, just because I am sort of crazy and because I thought the time was as good as any, I painted our bedroom walls, too. The color is "Sea Salt" by Sherwin Williams. It was two years ago that I painted our bedroom stark white, and it hadn't been sitting well with me. It was such a harsh white. When I saw "Sea Salt" on an acquaintance's walls recently, I realized it was the exact color I wanted in my bedroom. I'd seen the color bouncing around on Pinterest for a while, but seeing it in person--this dreamy, washed-out gray/green/blue--all multi-dimensional and soothing but not boring--clinched it for me.

Other than the paint, the only thing I bought new was this big jute rug (got it for $80, as was having a 65% off sale) and these new Lenda curtains from Ikea. We don't have an Ikea in Nashville, but I was able to order them online--$10 a panel, and the quality is awesome!

I finished everything up yesterday. Finally. Worked in a fever until every last thing was back in its place and every last piece of art hung up. Lit a Glade Apple Cinnamon candle and felt complete. As I was passing the bedroom on my way downstairs, I caught a glimpse of the finished space and felt all ahhhhh insideThis was hard work. No one could pay me to do this kind of thing again, but I'm so glad I did it. I'm so glad that yucky carpet is a thing of the past and these old floors get to live a new life under my family's feet. This place is looking more "me" every year. Does it look like "Nekos"? I wouldn't know. He says he doesn't care and has no input, except to say, "Good job, babe."

Nekos says I need to take the winter off from working on the house. He's right. I've been a little cray and could stand to be less busy, to invite less stress into my life with big, open, wildly flailing arms. I hope to use my beautiful new bedroom to do more relaxing this winter.

November 14, 2013

A Shared Space?

Source: Apartment Therapy
Livvy has not been sleeping through the night. This has been going on for more than a month now. Sometimes the reason is clear--her diaper has failed her, and she's cold and wet and very, very mad about it. Other times, I have not a clue why she is up and wailing her guts out. I bring that up because when this time is over, when my baby is a good, sound sleeper again, and perhaps at the same time that we move her to a big girl bed, we also want to move her into a room with her older sister. Tessa loves this idea. I'm sure they won't always love it, and when they're pre-teens (!!?!) we'll be happy to separate them again, but in the meantime we'd like to get everyone on one floor of the house, and we'd like to reclaim our guest bedroom. (And--obviously--I am always looking for new rooms/spaces to decorate.)

Source: LayBabyLay

I write this little post not just as an icebreaker--as I've been away from my blog for quite a while now--and not just for an excuse to put up some of my favorite shared space inspiration photos, but because I want to ask your advice about shared rooms. Are they better on paper? Will my little girls wake each other up every time one has to potty or upset one another when one shouts "mommy!" frantically in the middle of the night? Of course, I have visions of them whispering and giggling together, of shared bedtime stories and, sometimes, shared beds. But: Would we be crazy to put them in the same room?

October 31, 2013

Livvy, 11 months.

Fall in Nashville started off slowly, grudgingly, but now the leaves can't seem to fall off the trees fast enough. And now my baby is 11 months old. Last Halloween, we took Tessa trick-or-treating bundled up as a bear and I was so pregnant. Livvy was bearing down on me, an anchor resting at the very bottom of my belly. I was still almost a month away from having her, but by then it felt like she might come any day. It's incredible to think how much has happened in a year's time, how my life has changed and how our family's changed since Livvy entered it. The footage flickers so quickly in my mind; it feels frantic. There has to have been so much I missed, so much I'll forget.

Here are some things to remember:

This past month in Livvyland was most notable in terms of her communication skills. She's not saying any words, not really, but she's getting so much better at communicating to me what she wants or doesn't want, and she's so pleased when I get it. Sometimes she emphatically shakes her head yes or no, and she more often seems to comprehend what I'm saying--whether I'm telling her, "No, don't touch that!" Or "I seriously love you so much I can't even stand it, you little piece of angelpie you." She took her first step this week, although I still think it'll be awhile before she's walking, as she doesn't seem to have the confidence to really go for it just yet. She is more "into everything" than ever before. I just ordered cabinet locks, since her favorite thing to do is open up the kitchen cabinets and take every last thing out. Everything still goes straight into her mouth, disgusting or not, and about 85 percent of the food I put in front of her she either drops off the side of her highchair, where the dog waits, or she chews and spits/drools it down the front of whatever outfit she's wearing. She is still nursing some. We are down to three times a day, which means she gets about four bottles of milk a day (usually a mix of cow, almond, and coconut milk). She loves her milk--all kinds--and in the bathtub she is the most darling, with her potbelly covered in suds.

She is the last baby I'll have. This family of ours is pretty maxed out. So while I was always tucking away Tessa's outgrown baby clothes and things for Baby No. 2, this time I'm dropping them off at Goodwill or stashing them for expectant friends. Of course, the very most sentimental things--mainly, the outfits that both girls have worn--I'm saving so I can pull them out decades from now and cry buckets over. In any case, knowing that Livvy is my last is bittersweet. I'm cherishing her milestones and her quiet, stunning moments that much more--having seen how fast time flew (and continues to fly) with Tessa.

Still, I fail at being Livvy's mom more often than I'd like. I think it was last week that I threw an ink pen against the wall when she wouldn't stop crying and marched upstairs like a child and threw her door open and said, "Please! Please, God.Why won't you nap?! You really, really need to nap. I need you to nap." Tessa "babysits" Livvy more often than I probably should let her, while I'm working or am elbows-deep in one of my compulsive, impulsive, and deeply involved home projects.

There are things that I do right as a mother, too. I kiss and hold and beam at her whenever she catches my eye. I rub lavender lotion on her knees--tough from so much crawling--and I rock her and nurse her until her eyes flutter closed, and I lay her in bed and cover her and tiptoe out of her room. I marvel over her. She is exquisite. Each of her smiles feels like a triumph to me. I love her, not perfectly, but truly. Next month she will be a year old.

October 10, 2013

Tessa at Three and a Half.

A couple of weeks ago, Tessa hit the half-birthday mark. We didn't put a party hat on her or hand her a slice of cake, but I have been celebrating her in my heart in so many ways. In fact, when I think about Tessa, I get that fluttery, half-dizzy feeling I used to get when I'd have a crush on boys in high school. Back then, I wrote poetry in my diaries; now I write entries on my blog. Back then, I pined quietly; now I get to love my family out loud. I've affixed so much hope and awe and unconditional love to this little girl, with her wild hair and her loud voice and her insistent kisses.

A lot of cool things have been going on in Tessa Land recently. I guess we planted the learning-to-read seeds long ago, with all those story times and alphabets recited. But watching her love of the written word begin to bloom bonds me to her even more. In just the past two months, she's decided that she wants to know what every word starts with and what are other words that start with that letter, too? She goes around saying, "Buh-buh-buh" or "Fa-Fa-Fa" a lot, sounding out words to figure out what letter they begin with. She can spell her own name and Livvy's name. And she has started to write out her name, although it's still a jumble, and she usually writes it backwards on the page, like A-S-S-E-T.

Last week, she got her first haircut. I had been putting this off because her hair is normally a rat's nest (it starts to 'dread about 24 hours after I last washed it and detangled it), and I couldn't imagine any hairstylist taking the time that I do to patiently (or impatiently, depending on my mood or hers) yank a comb through her curls. But since she wants to be Ariel for Halloween, I thought I would practice blow drying her hair and straightening it. (On Halloween, I'll spray it red.) While it was all combed out and semi-straightened, it seemed a great time to go get her dead ends cut off. These pictures show her pre-haircut and post-flat iron. How hilarious is it that this is what her hair looks like after a flat iron? Mine would be stick straight. In other words, her hair doesn't usually look anything like this, but we had to document it with pictures. It's normally either in a puff of a ponytail on top of her head or it's in tight curls that don't go much past the nape of her neck. She was really apprehensive about the prospect of a haircut, as she thought it would mean that she would return home without any of her hair. But she relaxed once she saw minimal curls land on the floor around the stylist's chair.

It kind of bothers me how much Tessa is into her appearance in general. I never tried to stress that with her, as she'll have enough time to worry about her looks later in life. I certainly have made plenty of fuss about how beautiful she is, however, so I'm trying extra hard now to gush about how smart, strong, and thoughtful she is, too. She wants every day to pick out her own outfit and is generally against pants or shorts, always picking skirts or dresses. She loves to accessorize with bracelets, barrettes, headbands, rings, necklaces, and everything has to be princess or ballerina or Minnie Mouse.

I'm sure at least some of this focus on looks comes from her loving to watch movies, which are mostly about Prince Charming coming to a beautiful girl's rescue. Cinderella, Tangled, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast are favorites, although she also loves The Princess and the Frog. I have kind of given up worrying about how much TV she watches. It's a great way for me to reward her or to get her to stay quiet while the baby's napping, and it means I can get things done around the house or for work. There's no time to beat myself up about stuff like this. There's only time enough to do the best I can. And I make sure that her TV time is counterbalanced with lots of playdates, one-on-one time with me, and outdoor playtime. Her go-to activity is to play with her Barbies. This is kind of a new thing--a love of hers that we stumbled upon when my mom found a basket of my old Barbies in storage. There was no turning back after that. We've already sent a dispatch to the North Pole asking Santa to squeeze this through our chimney come Christmas Eve.

Tessa's tantrums have been better in recent months--more subdued and therefore less infuriating. For instance, yesterday she wanted headbands at the grocery store, and I said, "Nope, can't have 'em." And her face got all red and splotchy and she cried for a few minutes, but softly, and she kept walking with me, instead of flopping on the floor. Maybe she is growing up? This is the only thing I like about her growing up. Oh, and potty training. I guess that was a cool thing about her growing up, too. It was awesome when I didn't have to bear witness to her bodily functions all the time.

In other news, Tessa has a cavity. It appears to be a genetic one because it's in a unique spot on the outside of one of her molars. (But I'm sure it didn't help that we gave her a spoonful of honey right before bedtime for months at some point when she had a cough that wouldn't quit.) In any case, we've visited the dentist several times so far, and we have another visit coming up at the end of the month, during which she'll be sedated so they can fill the cavity. I'm nervous about it.

She is a living doll, and she is growing up too fast. I'm going to blink my eyes and find myself sending her off on the school bus and then ... dropping her off at college. Just thinking about that last milestone, I feel an incredible emptiness. For now, I try to hold her tightly as much as I can, and I come here to write down all of these little details so I can remember what she was like when she was three-and-a-half and giggly and I got the privilege of standing in her doorway, eavesdropping on her playing with her Barbies while wearing a princess costume and kindly letting her baby sister gnaw on a Ken doll.

p.s. Here's Tessa at two-and-a-half.

October 7, 2013

Painted White Floors: Livvy's Room.

I have nothing against natural hardwood floors. Love 'em to death. But, for me, refinishing the hardwoods I found beneath our upstairs carpet was not an option. These floors were royally effed. Like someone took an anvil and held it realllll high in the air and then dropped it just for fun. There were 80 years of paint splatters and staples and nail holes, and in a couple of places, I could lift a split floorboard up to see the joists. (I told Tessa they were "secret hiding places.")

Painting these floors was the only option. And because they were upstairs, where most of the dirt is contained to Hattie [dog] hair and hairballs from a flokati rug, I decided off white was the way to go. I started a few weeks ago and ripped up the carpet in the small hallway. After some light sanding and some intense vacuuming and staple and nail plucking, I coated the floors with the rest of a can of Sherwin Williams Porch and Floor paint that I had from painting my porch. It turned out so damn fine, and I knew I had to do the rest of the upstairs. The color is "Antique White," which looks almost beige on the card, but is in real life a super versatile, lovely shade of cream. I love that paint could camouflage the hot mess underneath but still show these floors' character.

Last week I tackled Livvy's room, also upstairs. Here's what it looked like with carpet. I'm such a nerd because I had so much fun doing it. My friends/family think I'm crazy, but this DIY remodeling thing is just my bag. It makes me happy. It's what I do when no one else is at home (that doesn't happen often); I pour most of my "me" time into my house. My kids are used to me covered in paint, and Tessa will often walk into a room and say tentatively, "Is there wet paint in here?"

Anyway, I a-friggin'-dore Livvy's room now. I need to say that it normally doesn't look like this. I moved the diaper pail out of the room, so as to pretend that babies don't poop, because wouldn't that be so awesome? And before I picked up all the books and toys and put them into and onto their respective shelves and baskets, the floor was so thick with toys that I could hardly see it.

The floors in our master bedroom will be next. That's the biggest room in our house, so it'll be an undertaking, but worth it. Happy October!