May 27, 2014

Livvy, 18 Months.

This brown-eyed angel is a year-and-a-half old now. She is spinning like a top on the line between babyhood and toddlerhood so that I am doing my best to bear witness to the last of her baby-ness, as her milk-and-honey breath evaporates, and those nonsense babbles start to make sense. She continues to be in no particular hurry about anything, which is charming. Earlier today it took her damn near an hour to eat half of a red velvet cupcake, one lick and one crumb at a time.

Special, endearing things about Livvy Lara: She loves to be held and will fold her arms across her chest and burrow into you like she's cold, even when she's not. As has been noted here before, she is a dancer and a primo booty-shaker. In recent months Livvy has also learned how to run, but she flails while she runs and with such reckless abandon that she looks always like she's about to topple over. She can point to lots of her body parts now when we ask her where they are. Like every other kid in the world, she loves to sing along to "Let It Go" and "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" She loves to give kisses and be kissed. She loves flipping through books on her own (more often than not they're upside down), and she loves to curl up in a lap and have a pile of books read to her. 

This is one sturdy little girl--she is in the 96th percentile for height, weight, and head circumference. Looks she will be tall like me. She says new words every day now. Some of her first words include: Dada, Mama, Tessa (pronounced "Tetta"), Yaya (for my mom), Hattie (for our dog), hi, hey, bye-bye, yeah, no, cheese, cracker, ba-ba (bottle), all done, Elmo, shoe, flower, yay, dog, thank you, ball, yellow, monkey, and quack-quack. There's also the word "mine," which Livvy actually says way more often than Tessa. Mostly, when she wants something she just grunts over and over, which we are trying to discourage because it's a real drag to have to serve a tiny, croaky tyrant. She understands so much of what we're saying that it's startling sometimes when we give her a command--like, "Bring Tessa this cup" or "Go show Daddy how cute your outfit is" or "Shake your bottom"--and she actually does it. 

She is an awesome sleeper! Takes a two to three hour nap around lunchtime every day and then sleeps 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night, usually without waking. If she does wake up, it's just because she wants to be rocked for a couple of minutes and then back into her crib she goes. Livvy is a picky eater, who loves certain foods one week and completely eschews them the next. Last night all we could get her to eat was hamburger bun and cheese for dinner. I'm far less worried and annoyed about this than I was with Tessa because now I know that tastes change and that pretty soon Livvy will be old enough to be sent to bed without dinner if she refuses what we're serving.  

Livvy and Tessa are best friends. Livvy follows Tessa everywhere, but she is no pushover. If Livvy doesn't want Tessa all up in her grill, she screams "No!" and shoves her away. Livvy is not as loud as Tessa, but she has just as much personality. This personality shows up in some of the tantrums that she's starting to throw. Y'all, I can't believe I am having to deal with tantrums again. I just (mostly) got over that excruciating hurtle with Tessa. 

Next month we're taking Livvy to the beach for the first time with some great friends of ours who also have two young kiddos. The prospect of the drive down to Florida in our little car makes us nervous, but we otherwise can't wait for this family vacation. 

Happy half-birthday, baby girl! You are very, very loved. 

p.s. Here's Tessa at 18 months. They are looking more and more alike to me every month. 

May 20, 2014

Postcards from Ocracoke and The Outer Banks

I had only vaguely heard of the Outer Banks when Nekos's longtime best friend, Chad, pulled up a Google map last fall and ran his finger down a long and skinny line of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. "Here," said Chad, who is an insatiable adventurer, "is where I want to take you guys." His finger stopped at Ocracoke Island, which I had definitely never heard of: "And here is where we'll get a place and stay a few nights." Thanks to Chad, who lives in Raleigh, this trip has been on our books since last year, but we hadn't had much time to get excited about it because, you know, life. And bills. And diapers. We left last Thursday and flew into Raleigh to meet Chad and his wife Lauren, who is eight months pregnant with their baby girl, and they took us the rest of the way across the state to the northern end of the Outer Banks, so that we got to see Nag's Head and Kitty Hawk, Rodanthe, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (the tallest in the country--we climbed to the top of it!), and all the blink-or-you'll-miss-'em beach towns in between. Finally we took a ferry ride to Ocracoke, which proved to be worth the wait--and worth all of the rain, which had beat down on us and our spirits for three days prior. We never saw a drop of rain once we got on Ocracoke. 

My mom offered to keep Livvy (thank you, Mom!) because she knew that taking a baby along on a road/boat/plane trip would be the opposite of restful. Mom was right; I wouldn't have gotten to enjoy that carefree feeling that a good trip to the beach affords if I'd had a baby on my hip and had to worry about bottles and nap time and tantrums. Of course, I missed her and cried when I laid eyes on her beautiful, slightly bewildered face again, but I enjoyed my four-day break from baby duty, and Tessa proved to be one hell of a travel partner. She's been to the ocean before but doesn't remember it and has never gotten to play in it. Because it rained so much before we arrived on Ocracoke, the waves were great big and frothy, perfect to play in. Unfortunately, Tessa got hurt on the ferry boat over to the island; she was dancing around, flapping her wings like the gulls crossing overhead, and she clanked her head hard on a big iron thing jutting out of the side of the boat. For a minute, we thought she might need stitches, but it started to look and feel better pretty quickly, and she went about the rest of the weekend oblivious to the big boo-boo between her eyebrows. 

Outside of the Caribbean, Ocracoke is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to. Heaping sand dunes line the road, there are gazillions of shells, soft sand, breezes, lots of wildlife (we saw dolphins!), and very few fellow humans. Within the little town of Ocracoke, there are just enough amenities--a few bars and restaurants, a heavenly coffee shop, some places to rent bicycles, a market, and a couple of gift shops--interspersed among outrageously charming old beach cottages and a lighthouse built in 1823, to have kept us happily occupied. We stayed in a white house built in 1888 with a swing in the yard and a screen door that slammed. 

Our trip also included: many mojitos, many history lessons (we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, where in 1903 the first powered aircraft left the ground, and the pirate Blackbeard took his last breath in 1718 off the waters of Ocracoke, so there's plenty of pirate folklore). There's also the matter of the very painful and very dumb sunburn I got my first day on the beach, which led Chad to suggest that I call this post "Black and White and Red All Over." I think my family's beautiful brown skin sometimes fools me into thinking that I, too, can do without sunscreen. It's a fact that I can't do without sunscreen on the beach--not even for a half-hour. It had just been a minute since I'd spent time on a beach, and I had forgotten about that. I remember so well now. 

Thanks to Chad and Lauren for showing us this beautiful place. We can't wait to go back!

May 9, 2014

Next Project on the Docket: Wall Stenciling

For Mother's Day, I asked for a stencil. A few years ago I would have been all about clothes, but I'm clearly on to home stuff now, which brings me more (lasting) pleasure, probably especially because I spend so much time at home.

Anyway, what I really wanted was this wallpaper. It's the wallpaper I've wanted for yeeeeears. The glamour quotient is high, and I think glamour is what my house is missing.

It's a busy pattern, to be sure, so I'd only want to do one wall somewhere. And I'm not even into accent walls. But for this gilded masterpiece I'd make an exception. 

The wallpaper is called "Petal Pusher," and it's by Hygge & West, and it's major expensive (in my opinion) at $125 per roll. I got really, really excited last week when I found this website called Design Public that had it on sale for $62.50 per roll. But then I realized the "roll" covers a swath of wall about the size of a toilet paper square. In other words, even half off this wallpaper is super duper expensive. I envisioned just doing this patch of half-wall at the top of my stairs, but even that would require, I think, four rolls of this wallpaper--so about $300 worth of this half-off stuff. Not gonna happen.

Here's a picture of the place above my stairs that I wanted to wallpaper. FYI - the carpet is gone now, and the ancient wood floors are painted white.

Wallpaper is just one of those things I can't ever imagine being able to afford, or at least to afford without giving myself a stomach ache. Like, I could buy these nine rolls of wallpaper and maybe wallpaper a single wall, OR I could go on a beach vacation with my family?

BUT I found a great alternative on Pinterest. This stencil called "Rockin' Roses," which looks a lot like the Petal Pusher wallpaper to me, is sold by a company called Royal Design Studio. This is the stencil I asked Nekos for, and I'm so pumped that it's winging its way to me via the United States Post Office.

It's $60, which with the cost of paint will probably ratchet the project cost up to somewhere close to $100. Still much better. And I'm pretty excited to learn how to stencil. You can even use these stencils on furniture:

There are so many gorgeous stencils on the Royal Designs site. For example, here's a stencil called Skylar's Lace Floral that is awesome on floors and that has been featured in Elle Decor.

You know I'm going to come back here and show you how my wall looks when I'm done, right? I suppose if I really want to mimic the look of the Petal Pusher wallpaper I need to first paint that whole wall gold and then stencil white on top of it. This is gonna be scary, but the good kind of scary.

Any of you have experience with stenciling? How did it turn out?

Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there. May you get exactly the oddball present you wish for, in addition to the most important things of all--appreciation for all of your hard work--and a long, deliciously lazy morning to sleep in.

May 6, 2014

What No One Told Me About Having 2 Kids

I couldn't tell you how many times Tessa cried herself to sleep as a baby. Nap time and bed time were equally excruciating affairs. She never did go down easy. Most nights, Livvy, on the other hand, gratefully accepts her bedtime stories, a minute or two of rocking, and a microwaved bottle before I settle her into her crib, where she goes soundlessly off to sleep.

Other ways that my daughters are different:

There's a splash of amber around each pupil, but Tessa's eyes are mostly the color of the ocean, where it's shallow enough that you can look down and see your feet, all shifty and mottled on the sand beneath you. Livvy's irises, meanwhile, are deep and brown, through and through. Tessa is the sea, and Livvy is the land.

Livvy's hair is only now beginning to really come in. At 17 months old, she has a wild, if patchy, little afro that I can't imagine will be long enough to pin into a ponytail any time soon. Tessa Jean, now age four, had hair to spare very early on: outrageous, tangled tufts.

Tessa was passionate about her pacifier, Livvy never would take one. Livvy nursed happily until she was a little over a year old, but I couldn't make it work with Tessa.
They have similarities that I've noticed, too--both are opinionated, both have sturdy, long bodies, both are preposterously picky eaters. Their skin looks to be the same tawny color. If their skin had a taste, I think it would taste like an iced caramel macchiato on a hot day. 

For all the ways that my girls are alike, it's the differences that make me uncomfortable. It's the way I am forever comparing them--physically, developmentally, intellectually, emotionally. They are not meant to be compared. They are two little human beings who, it just so happens, will go through this life as sisters. And with me as their mother.


"The problem is not of having a favorite. We all experience feelings of partiality towards one child or another, at one time or another. The problem is how to make sure we don't show favoritism ... How do we protect the other children in the family from our enthusiasm for that one child who speaks to our heart? ... If we want to stop showing favoritism, we first have to be aware that we feel it."  -- from Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish


A week or so before Livvy was born I asked Facebook how I would ever love another baby as much as I loved Tessa. I asked parents of two or more kids for reassurance that I could. The responses came immediately. There were a lot of them. They were thoughtful, sure, but also full of platitudes about how my heart would double in size instantly.

It didn't. Not really. 

I did love Livvy right away. And I felt a wild-animal kind of protectiveness. And welcoming a second child, though hard, was much less anxiety-provoking for me. But for my heart to grow into the big, pulpy, pulsating mess that it is for Livvy today--for it to be anywhere near as intense as the love I'd developed for Tessa (who had a two-year-and-eight-month head start), that has taken some time.

For me, real love--even for a child of my own--is hard-fought and hard-earned. I have to really know you to love you, and if you ask me, you can't really know a baby. You can know that they go down for their naps at 10 and 2, that they smile when you blow raspberries on their bellybutton, that they have your husband's lips and a birthmark on their bottom. You can know that just looking at them makes you so proud that your heart cartwheels into your throat. But who can pretend to know much more about their infant than that?

My feelings about motherhood were somehow simpler when I had one child, boiled down as they were to my experience with just Tessa. And of course the first child is the first everything. And you know what they say about first loves. 

I've discussed this with a few friends who have more than one child. Most don't quite seem to understand why it's taken me longer to become enamored of my second child; if anything, they say they felt more tenderness more quickly toward their younger children. Some moms I've talked to have a boy and a girl and say it's probably easier not to compare children when they're different genders.

Maybe it's that my love isn't prolific enough. I'm an only child, I'm only close to one of my parents, and I have only ever had one real boyfriend, now my husband. Maybe it's just that I'm not a baby person. The younger my kids are the more stifled I feel, the more overwhelmed I am by how little I know this person who I have signed up to love and care for for the rest of their lives. I am more exhilarated by my children's autonomy than by their vulnerability.

Or maybe the way I felt is the way that a lot of people feel and have felt since the beginning of time. Maybe people say that your heart doubles in size when you add another child because they don't know how to say that what actually doubles are the number of feelings you have. Feelings that are frightening because they are so beautiful and so ugly. They are so human. 


"Would it help ... to tell yourself that it isn't necessary to respond to each child with equal passion, and that it's perfectly normal and natural to have different feelings toward different children? The only thing that is necessary is that we take another look at the less favored child, seek out her specialness, then reflect the wonder of it back to her. That's all we can ask of ourselves and that children need of us. By valuing and being partial to each child's individuality, we make sure that each of our children feels like a number one child." -- Siblings Without Rivalry


I work hard not to compare Livvy to Tessa, but sometimes, especially at night when I am in her room rocking her and she gazes up at me through the filtered darkness, heavy with trust, I feel clenched with anxiety and so I put her quickly into her crib and leave her there in the quiet. What is this about? I think it's that my love doesn't feel good enough for someone who is as good as Livvy. My heart didn't double in size when she was born, it divided, and parceling it out is painful sometimes.

It is not a perfect love--not the love I feel for either of my children--but is some of the best I have known. I want to get better at it. I want my heart to do what they say it should--to grow. I want a heart as big as my daughters'. I want the heart I had when I was a little girl, when love was simple.


"To be loved equally is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely--for one's own special self--is to be loved as much as we need to be loved." -- Siblings Without Rivalry