Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We Commissioned a Painting of Our Dog

Yup. Let's just go ahead and let that sink in for a minute.

Now let's start at the beginning.

Last summer, I came across the website of Luke Jervis, an artist in the UK who does custom Victorian-style pet portraits. I immediately emailed the link to Eric with the subject line: "I know what I want for my birthday." I had been struggling to figure out what gift I would like for my 30th, but as soon as I saw those portraits, I knew. My Achilles needed to be painted.

So, Eric got into contact with Mr. Jervis, who asked us to send some inspiration pictures of Achilles. We emailed him several, including this one:

Christmas 2011

Eric went back and forth with Mr. Jervis for some time to get the portrait right. We received a couple of mock-ups, and were asked to select Achilles' attire. (We debated putting him in an ascot, but ultimately decided he seemed like more of a bow-tie dog.) We also received a couple of updates as the painting was underway, and then, at long last, we received word that our portrait was finished and in the mail!

We waited impatiently for it to arrive, and finally it showed up, beautifully wrapped with pretty paper and string, with my name on the tag in lovely calligraphy. The little envelope was even sealed with a wax seal (I'm a stationery junkie, so I love this kind of stuff).

Now this is exciting.

No matter how impressive the packaging was, it was nothing compared to the masterpiece inside:

Achilles! He looks so distinguished!

Is that not the finest work of art you have ever seen? A one-of-a-kind original hand-painted portrait of our dear Achilles, sent overseas to come live in our home. It's perfect.

The cost of the portrait not only includes Mr. Jervis's fine work, but also shipping and a beautiful gold frame to complete the painting. We decided that Achilles' formal portrait fit in nicely on my dad's family picture wall, featuring pictures of our family dating back to the 1800s. We replaced my picture with Achilles and I really think it makes the picture wall, personally. (Naturally, he won't stay there, because he's coming with us when we move, but for now, you couldn't ask for a better display.)

There he is, up amongst all those charming old photographs. He's right at home!

Left: Achilles on the picture wall; Right: Another close-up of this work of art

Isn't it fantastic? And not only do Eric and I love it, but Ellie loves it too, and always asks to be carried over to look at the doggy, and then she laughs and laughs. My own opinion of the portrait aside, anything that can bring my daughter that much joy is well worth the price.

Complete and utter delight when she spots Achilles' portrait

So, yeah. We commissioned a portrait of our dog, and I LOVE IT. It was a perfect 30th birthday gift!

And if you happen to be in the market for a portrait of your beloved pet, I highly recommend Luke Jervis. You can check out his website here for full information, and see more samples of his work on his Facebook page. He was a pleasure to work with and the finished product speaks for itself. He really captured the essence of Achilles, don't you think?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Three in One

First of all, thanks to everyone for bearing with me during Super Serious Week last week. It was very therapeutic to get my thoughts and feelings about motherhood and related topics written down. Thank you for letting me share! I promise we'll get back to fun recaps and pictures this week.

As for today, Ellie is now 13 months old. It feels strange to note the date but to skip the monthly pictures and letter-writing we've done every 29th for the past year, but alas, Ellie's first year is in the books. We may still do a commemorative picture at 18 months and, of course, yearly, but the monthly thing is finished. Probably for the best - let's just say she wasn't getting less wiggly as she got older.

We will soon have more one-year pictures to share with you, though. We had a birthday photo session with our favorite photographer, and when we get those back, I'll be sure to share. And, Eric and I took one more 12-month picture ourselves that I am currently in love with:

You may remember that photo that Ellie is holding as being from her six-month photos, when we happened to put her in the same bow that she wore for her newborn pictures. I handed her a framed newborn picture to hold, and she started gnawing on it (as is the way of the six-month-old), resulting in one of our favorite first-year pictures of our girl. Considering that bow still miraculously fits, we had to go for a recreation at 12 months.

So, I give you three Ellies in one picture: Newborn Ellie, Half-Year Ellie and One-Year-Old Ellie. I love them all like crazy.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

In Her Element

Yesterday we spent another gorgeous afternoon at the beach, and Ellie was completely in her element. She spent hours crawling all over the place, chasing the birds, feeling the wind on her face, climbing through sand piles, and fearlessly charging head-first into the waves. She wasn't even bothered by what must have been the constant crunch of sand in her mouth (a crawling thumb-sucker at the beach just can't avoid excessive sand consumption, unfortunately). This little girl was born for the beach, I think.

My beach baby

It's really nice to see her enjoying the perks of our move to Florida. I sometimes question whether it was the right thing, to leave behind all the unique experiences she could've enjoyed had we stayed in New York City, but she seems to love it here. I know she'll be just fine wherever we end up.

Oh, and not to worry - more pictures from Beach Day coming soon. Because you can never have too many pictures of a baby at the beach, am I right?

Friday, April 26, 2013

The First Year: The Emotional Toll of Motherhood

So far this week, I've talked about breastfeeding, adjusting to motherhood physically and emotionally, and my overall impressions of motherhood. Today I'll wrap up this reflective first-year series with a talk about the emotional toll of motherhood. Thank you for indulging all my thoughts and ramblings this week!

The emotional toll of motherhood

I touched briefly on my emotions about motherhood already (love it, fulfilling, nothing better in the world), but one thing I hadn't really anticipated was the extent to which my general emotions about life and current events would be altered by having a child: the emotional toll of motherhood.

You know that quote: "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body" (credit Elizabeth Stone)? I always thought it was a little cheesy but I have to say, I get it now. I really, really get it. As we all know all too well, there has been a lot of sadness in the news lately. I suppose there always is, isn't there? But since becoming a mother, I am far more affected by these sorts of things than I ever was before. I wept over footage of the Boston Marathon bombings. Sandy Hook? I couldn't even think about it without breaking down. Recently there was a local story about a little girl who had her legs severed in a lawn mower accident. I couldn't even let myself read the newspaper articles for days and when I finally did skim one, I cried through the whole thing. Even stories that used to really grab my attention are almost too much for me now. For example, recently the State of Florida executed a man convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young girl over 30 years ago. The old me would have read that sort of story with a good deal of academic/professional interest regarding the death penalty (for any who may not know, I work in jury consulting and the majority of cases I work on are death penalty cases). Now, I can only read it and think of that innocent little girl and her poor parents. In short, motherhood has made me soft.

There's just so much evil in the world, so much tragedy, so much sadness, so much hurt and heartache. Those are extreme examples that I mentioned, and seeing those types of stories in the news day in and day out is enough to make me want to build an underground bunker to disappear in for the rest of Ellie's life so she never has to know the evil in the world. She is so sweet and kind and innocent and good, and deserves so much more than those tragic headlines.

And on a much smaller scale, it breaks my heart just to know that someday, Ellie's classmates are going to be mean to her. Someday, a friend is going to lie to her or betray her trust. Someday, she will experience romantic heartbreak. These are all very normal parts of life and growing up, and I know that ultimately they will shape her character and make her a stronger person. It is my job to teach her how to cope with those situations in order to rise above and emerge better, more loving, more compassionate, more resilient and more sure of herself. Yet even still, I can hardly stand the thought of my Ellie ever feeling any physical or emotional distress. I just want to scoop her up and protect her from anything that may ever cause her any pain.

I know that it drove my mom crazy with worry that Eric and I lived in Washington D.C. and then New York City for all those years, in a post-9/11 world. She mostly kept it to herself, but every now and then, it would slip out. I would always brush it off with an "oh, Mom" and talk about how I wasn't going to limit my life because of fear. I'd shake my head, because it was just so Mom-like of her to worry. But you know what? I get it now. I really do. I think that if Ellie ever puts me in my mother's shoes (or rather, when she does), I will feel the very same way that my mom did, biting my tongue about my fears while trying to communicate nothing but (cautious) encouragement and support. I think that's just what mothers do.

But at the end of the day, even with all the sadness and darkness in the world, it is still a beautiful, beautiful place. It is so easy to get caught up in those tragic headlines and live in fear, but I don't want Ellie to live in fear. I want her to take the stance that I took for myself, and go out and live her life. I never want my concerns or overprotective tendencies to hold her back from the adventures she is meant to have in her lifetime. I want her to be bold, to seek out new experiences, to find friends she can tell her secrets to, to give her heart away to a romantic love, to explore the world and try new things and appreciate all the wonder that is out there. She has a great life in store for her and I want her to live it to the very fullest, and enjoy every moment of it.

I hope that I will be able to suppress my fears and let Ellie go out into the world. Ultimately, I suppose, I won't have a choice. For a while, I will be with her to hold her hand and show her how amazing life can be, to take her to new places, introduce her to new things and set her on the right path. But eventually, I'll have to let go. She's already such an independent little girl so I'm sure that day will come far too quickly. Before we know it, she'll be brushing me off with an "oh, Mom" as she goes about her fabulous life and I go about my worrying. It's just the circle of life, isn't it? It's my destiny. I just hope I have the stomach for it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The First Year: Impressions of Motherhood

In my last two posts, I talked about breastfeeding and how I've been adjusting to motherhood physically and emotionally. Today, I want to talk a little more about my general impressions of motherhood: the most surprising and challenging aspects, and my favorite part of all.

The most surprising thing about motherhood

I touched on this a little in my final letter to Ellie. For me, the most surprising thing about motherhood has been the depth of emotions and instant fluctuation between them. Before the baby was born, I "knew" that it would be difficult when she cried, that sometimes I wouldn't know how to help, that it would be tough and frustrating. But how that really feels - how difficult and how frustrating - is something you simply cannot really understand until you sit there, at the end of a long day filled with baby screams and mama tears, not knowing what to do to soothe your little one and just wanting to make everything better. It is a frustration that shakes you to your core, that makes you question yourself as a mother, as a woman, as a sane human being. It is mentally, physically and emotionally draining.

And in the beginning, at least for me, there were many, many days where that was just my life - where Ellie was just generally pissed off, and I was doing the best I could, but sometimes, my best just wasn't enough. She might settle if I bounced her on the exercise ball, and I would bounce her until my arms ached and my back was nearly spasming and I simply couldn't bounce anymore...and then she'd cry again as soon as I stopped. Sometimes she would settle just if I held her and walked around, and I would pace until my feet hurt, singing to her and trying to soothe her to sleep. But then I would sit, and it would start all over again. Sometimes, if I wanted to eat lunch, I had to just put her in her swing and listen to her cry or not eat at all. When Eric was home for dinner, he and I would take turns eating while the other bounced her on the ball so we didn't have a screaming baby soundtrack for our meal. These were the days when I just tried to make it through the days in increments - just get through this hour on the ball. Just get through this feeding. Just get through this nap. I divided my life into tiny chunks and at the end of each one, I was triumphant that we had made it through. By the time Ellie was in bed at night, I felt equally exhausted and victorious. It was a challenge to say the least.

Poor Ellie having a rough time

But that wasn't all there was to it. Not every day was like that. The ones that were shook me, made me feel isolated, frustrated and out of my element. But then, she would smile. Or laugh. Or cuddle in close to me. Or make that turtle face I loved. Or coo oh-so-sweetly. And then, no matter how frustrated I had been just seconds before, all that would melt away and all I would feel was deeper love than I ever imagined, love that seeped into my soul and made me feel, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was meant to be right where I was. This baby was meant to be my baby, and I was meant to be her mama. We could get through anything, I loved her more than anything in the world, and I would do anything for her. That feeling is the greatest high.

That face cures all ills.

So, simply put, the most surprising thing to me was how deeply I felt every emotion related to parenting, and how quickly I could go from one to the next and back again. At the end of the day, the feelings of happiness, pride and motherly love trump all (and eventually, Ellie got a little happier about being in the world!), and now my most overwhelming feelings are easily fulfillment and love. I can't say I've forgotten those difficult early days, but I feel okay about them now. I know I did my best for Ellie and now that I know her better, I feel like I understand her more and I'm just so insanely proud to be her mama.

Admiring my baby girl

The biggest challenge of motherhood so far

Given my last answer about those difficult early days, you might think those were my biggest challenge, but I'm not sure I would classify them as such. Sure, Early Angry Ellie was definitely a challenge sometimes, but doing what I needed to do to take the best care possible of my baby was not a challenge. And frankly, I just didn't know any better. For all I knew, all babies needed constant motion to be soothed. Maybe all babies required their mother's presence to nap. All I knew is that this was what Ellie needed at the moment, so that's what we were doing. It may have been difficult but it was also simple - just do it.

What I am finding most challenging, at least at this point, is getting over my own insecurities to make sure Ellie is spoken for. For example, if I have concerns about her health, I have to make myself call the doctor as many times as it takes until I am satisfied. This can be tough for me because I am a very shy person, and I particularly hate talking on the phone. I worry a lot about what people think of me. The old me would be more inclined to just "wait it out," lest the doctor's office people think I'm crazy or annoying or dumb for calling with so many questions. But that's stupid. Logically, I know that's stupid. But the old me could generally get away with it, because it was only my well-being at stake. (As a related side note, I never realized how little I really care about my own well-being/health/safety until I had a kid. Things that once would have gotten the "wait and see" treatment now demand immediate action. The car is making a weird noise? Better get it checked out immediately, because Ellie is in the car. Got the sniffles? Medicate yourself because you don't want Ellie to get sick. And so on. It's kind of funny.)

But now that it's Ellie's well-being in question, I'm having to force myself to suck it up and speak on her behalf. I just have to. She can't do it herself and it is my job to make sure she is taken care of. So if I have a concern, I call the doctor. If I feel somebody said something inappropriate about her, or is treating her poorly, I have to get over my avoid-at-all-costs approach to confrontation and speak up for her. She deserves a mom who isn't shy or timid when it comes to her needs, so I am forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone and speak up. Ellie deserves nothing less. And hopefully, I'll come out of it a more self-assured person, too.

This little girl is counting on me!

My favorite thing about motherhood

I'm going to go with a cop-out here and say it's a tie. Lame! I know. But really, I can't choose between two: watching Eric as a father and watching Ellie become her own little person.

I always knew I wanted to have kids. It was just something that I knew would be a part of my life, since I was a little girl. I felt the same way about going to college...it wasn't a choice, it was just what I was going to do. But after marrying my high school sweetheart, the love of my life, that desire for children became a little more complex. I didn't just want to have children for my own sake, I wanted them for Eric, too. I wanted to watch him as a father and to build a family with him. And let me tell you, the realization of that vision does not disappoint.

Eric is a phenomenal father. He is so involved in every decision. He loves to play with Ellie. He misses her while he's away and I know all the pictures I text him throughout the day always put a smile on his face. He lights up when he sees her and he is so kind and gentle with her. I've said before that I love the tone of his voice when he speaks to her - it's so sweet and loving, and different than anything I've ever heard from him before. Each time I hear it, it makes me fall in love with him all over again.

And the feeling is mutual for those two. Ever since the beginning, Ellie has adored her daddy. There were many times when he would be the one who could most easily soothe her on the ball. If we were out at an event and she was cranky, she would only fall asleep in his arms, nestled against his chest. When he gets home from work, she nearly sets the floor on fire as her little legs go scoot-crawling across the house at the speed of light to get to him as fast as she can.

Watching Eric as a father and the love that those two share has so intensely altered our relationship. I love Eric so much more and in such different ways now than I ever have before. I never would have thought it possible to be more in love with him, but it happened. Seeing him in this role has been so incredible and I'm so thankful to have him as my partner on this journey. Ellie is so lucky to have a father like him.

Ellie and her daddy!

As for my other favorite thing about motherhood, it has been watching Ellie growing into the person she will be. So far she is independent, outspoken, silly, active, smart, inquisitive, loving, and happy. My most favorite part is looking back on her early days and thinking about her behavior then and realizing, "yup, that was so Ellie." For instance, remember Angry Ellie described above? I strongly feel that she was so unhappy because she wanted to constantly be exploring her world but lacked the means to do so yet. When we carried her, she wanted to be carried facing out so she could see everything in front of her. She loved the constant bouncing motion of the exercise ball. She loved the fresh air when we went for walks in her stroller. And when she was finally able to use her hands to really manipulate and explore her world, she became exponentially happier. Now, she is still in a seemingly constant state of motion, always off to explore the next thing on her radar. She's stubborn, and is insistent on what she wants to do. If she is thwarted, she let's you know she is not pleased. Going even further back, when she was still in utero she loved to rest her feet up in my ribs a lot. I would push her down only to be rewarded with a swift kick before she settled back in. In retrospect, that was just so Ellie - already feisty, opinionated and stubborn from the get-go!

In just one year I feel like I'm already getting a pretty good impression of the person Ellie will ultimately be, and I love to watch that personality fully developing in real time. She is one incredible little girl. I can hardly wait to watch the rest of her life unfold and to know the person she becomes. I love her to pieces.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The First Year: Physical and Emotional Progress

In my last post, I talked about breastfeeding through Ellie's first year. Today, I'd like to talk about the overall adjustment to motherhood. I talked a bit about this early on in my Struggles post back in June, when Ellie was just two months old. Essentially, we can consider this the update to that post. I hope it doesn't come across as too much as a downer, but rest assured I am being entirely frank about my experience and my feelings now, one year later.

Where I am one year after Ellie's birth: physically, mentally, emotionally.

The answer to all of the above is probably "not quite where I'd like to be."

Physically, I still kind of feel like I don't recognize myself. I'm still not happy with how my postpartum body looks. I gained somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-45 pounds during pregnancy. (Remember how all I could stomach was carbs in the first trimester? Yeah, things got a little out of hand.) Since Ellie was born, I have lost all but five of those pounds with little to no effort whatsoever, but those last five are lingering. Although it's not even the number that makes me feel so uncomfortable as much as my overall shape. It's just different. It's...round. I'm just still not really sure how to dress this postpartum body, which leaves me feeling frumpy and awkward a lot of the time. And I'm not really eager to buy a bunch of new, better fitting clothes because I still have grand plans to do some hardcore exercising to shape up first...plans that continuously get thwarted by screwy nap schedules, or unexpected work, or whatever other excuse is convenient at the time. Basically, I need to quit whining and get it in gear.

On a somewhat related note, a friend of mine shared this article on Facebook just yesterday about appreciating the postpartum female form and the history it carries. Women are in such a rush to go to great lengths to erase all signs of childbearing after the baby is born, but maybe we don't need to be. The whole article really resonated with me, especially excerpts like this one:
"Pregnancy is an intense transformation, childbirth an even more intense act. The recovery time is complicated and multi-layered. And what we are left with is a body that has created a child and often nourished it for a period of time afterward too. It's easy to be proud of the act, but we follow that nod with an intense effort toward eradicating all signs of it." (source)
I found much of that article reassuring and empowering, and after reading it I went to take a shower and took a moment to really look at my postpartum belly, Ellie's first home, and remind myself of the amazing things my body has done. Yet, inspiring articles aside, I do still want to get myself in better shape - not so much to kick those last five pounds necessarily, or to flatten out that roundness (although nobody would be complaining about that if it happened, that's for sure), but just to feel better about myself and more confident in my new mother skin. It really is such a shock to your body image, all that change, and I am still searching for a way to feel comfortable with my physical self again.

As for mentally/emotionally, I feel great about being a mother in general. There's no complaints there whatsoever. This is by far the greatest thing I have done with my life and not only am I so in love with my life as a mother in the present, I can hardly wait to see what the future brings. It's awesome.

But, Eric posed this question to me a couple of weeks ago and we discussed it more in reference to coping with Ellie's birth story than with motherhood in general. And frankly, I don't have the closure and acceptance I hoped I'd have by a year out. In fact, I feel like I've gotten to be less okay with everything as time has gone on. In the immediate aftermath, it was easy to say how even though literally nothing went according to plan, and I ended up with an epidural, the doctor breaking my water and a c-section (all things I desperately wanted to avoid), it was okay because everything happened exactly as it needed to happen to get Ellie here safely, with both of us as healthy as we could be. And that still remains true. But with a little distance comes a little more anger. Not at my doctors, not at myself, but just at the situation. My labor and delivery sucked, and I still feel betrayed by my body. I approached labor and giving birth like a physical challenge, one that I was excited to face and overcome. I wanted to experience what so many generations of women had experienced before me. I wanted to fully experience labor, I wanted to feel the urge to push, I wanted to push my baby out, I wanted to feel her on my chest and watch her take her first breaths. My body, on the other hand, had a different plan and I feel cheated out of that experience. I feel a little embarrassed to admit it, but I still cry sometimes when I think about how badly I wanted to feel all that and how that is not at all the experience I got.

To be honest, it also makes me a little nervous for future pregnancies. I desperately want to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with my next pregnancy. I know I can commit myself to that and I plan to do everything I can to make that happen. But I worry that I'm already putting too much pressure on myself and putting too much hope into that plan. Because what if it doesn't happen? What if I end up with another c-section? I want to experience a natural, vaginal birth so badly and I'm afraid it will be that much harder to cope with if I can't do it again.

On the flip side, despite not getting the experience I wanted, sometimes I am able to frame the experience that I did get in positive ways. Not always, but sometimes. Because at the end of the day, I was strong. I endured a lot. I battled through, doing everything I thought was best for Ellie at all times. I worked hard and I was committed. My c-section scar is a battle wound, a badge of honor for what I went through to bring my baby into this world. And on days when I can think like that, I know I'll be okay.

She was totally worth it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The First Year: Breastfeeding

So here we are. Officially over one year into this motherhood journey. I had a lot of grand plans for all these reflective blog posts in the weeks leading up to Ellie's birthday, but work and life got in the way and there just wasn't enough time to be thoughtful. But, better late than never, right? I set out to do one hodge-podge post about all sorts of things, but hey, it ran long. I'm not known for my brevity, you know. So I decided to split it up into several different posts, to include: Breastfeeding, Impressions of Motherhood, and Physical and Emotional Changes. Many of these topics are questions that have been posed to me in the last month or so, by Eric, friends or family. Some are just things that have been on my mind. So, here we go, part one:


Quiet moments for the whole family while nursing Ellie in her first days at home

I always enjoy reading bloggers' accounts of their breastfeeding experiences, because it is so different for everyone. So I thought I should share a little bit about my experience.

But first, my breastfeeding advice: if you're going to do it, don't say you'll try. Do it. Decide if it's really important to you and do everything you can to make it work. Beforehand, read everything you can get your hands on about it. Go to the classes. Go to La Leche League meetings. Talk to your friends and relatives who have done it. Get your husband on board - have him do the reading and go to the classes too. I was unsure if Eric really needed to do all that, because isn't breastfeeding really just my thing? What could he really do? The answer is tons. A supportive partner is incredibly helpful. In our case, right off the bat we had a very negative encounter with a lactation consultant at the hospital. She wasn't listening to our questions and was creating problems that weren't there. If we had been uninformed - or rather, if Eric had been uninformed - less than 24 hours after Ellie's birth I would have been using a nipple shield and supplementing with formula. Needlessly. And at that point, I was too tired/out of it/worn down to fight this consultant's strong suggestions. But Eric wasn't. He knew his stuff and he was able to speak up for both Ellie and me, saving us unnecessary interventions and getting us off to a great start on our breastfeeding journey. When I think of how successful we've been, I know that I owe so much of it to Eric's advocacy that first day in the hospital.

And aside from situations like that, having a partner who supports you is so helpful in general. In the early days, Eric would bring Ellie to me and help me get her latched properly while I was still too sore from my recovery to do it myself. He would bring me food or water as needed as I nursed. He made sure I was comfortable and kept on me to stay hydrated. He sympathized when it hurt and helped me figure out what I could do to alleviate the discomfort. He regularly expressed his appreciation for what I was doing, and that made me feel so great.

Now, I know of course that some people do all they can to prepare and give breastfeeding their best shot and it just doesn't work, for any number of reasons. I get that. Heck, I understand that fully if you translate that to my birth story. "The best laid plans," and all that. My point is simply to do the best you can to ensure your success - commit yourself, be informed, get a support network behind you, know what to expect and what is/isn't true when making decisions about how to proceed. With all that in place, you give yourself the best possible odds at making it work.

After my crazy labor and delivery ordeal, breastfeeding was the first thing that went right for us. Our amazing doula helped me get Ellie latched in the recovery room, and from that moment on she nursed like a champ. That's not to say there weren't tough times. I consider myself as having had a really easy time with breastfeeding but still, there were days that it hurt. I was engorged. The leakage...oh, the leakage. I dealt with a blocked duct or two. I went through about a week where my nipples hurt so badly every time Ellie latched, Eric could see the pain on my face. For a long time, even the feeling of my milk letting down hurt somewhat - sort of a burning, tingly sensation. We never had latch issues, I never had thrush or mastitis or things like that (knock on wood). But still, there were plenty of days that it wasn't easy.

In addition to the physical discomforts, I have had a few friends describe feeling "trapped" by breastfeeding and I definitely get that. You're at your baby's constant beck and call. You can never just up and leave for any real length of time - at least not without careful planning and lots of pumping. If baby is hungry in the middle of the night, you're the one who gets up (in fairness to Eric, in Ellie's  younger days he was great about getting up, changing her and delivering her to me in bed, so it was a good division of labor and each of us was just as tired as the other. Now that she's older, however, I'm the one to take care of night wakings, because it's just faster that way). In the beginning, there are growth spurts where it seems as though the baby is attached to you CONSTANTLY. I remember having days where I would feel like I had just finished feeding Ellie, and I would look down at her and she'd be rooting around again, turning her head side to side with her mouth open, and I would think, omg, SERIOUSLY? It was exhausting.

So needless to say, if you're not well-prepared and/or fully committed to breastfeeding (and frankly, even if you are), there are lots of ways to be overcome. I feel like I was blessed with the perfect situation: I was a stay-at-home mom (so little need to pump), with a super supportive husband, thoroughly committed to this plan, with little to no complications, no latch issues, etc. And still, there were days that I wondered how I would ever make it to my goal of nursing for a year. Someone gave me the advice to never quit on your worst day, and I think that's very wise advice. Because some days I would think it was all perfect and others I would feel overwhelmed by the whole thing. But everything I had done to prepare - getting informed, getting Eric informed and on board, finding support groups and resources to turn to for help and advice - it all kept me encouraged and plodding along. So I just focused on taking it day by day for the first few weeks (maybe even the first month or two).

Then somehow, at some point, it just got better. All of a sudden, nothing hurt. I didn't need to wear breastpads constantly anymore. I even stopped noticing the letdowns. Ellie stopped needing to eat constantly and I felt like I got a little of my freedom back. It just got easy. And that has how it has been for the vast majority of our year plus of nursing. Now more than ever, it is something Ellie and I both enjoy. Selfishly, I love those quiet moments with my otherwise incredibly active baby-turned-toddler. For just a few minutes a few times a day, she is still, laying in my arms like she did when she was brand new. I still love to look down and see her blue eyes looking up at me, and I feel such tenderness and love for her. It is such an unbelievable bond. And if she's feeling a bit playful, sometimes we play games together while she nurses - peek-a-boo or tickling, or she'll reach up and touch my face and I'll make silly noises to make her giggle. It's such treasured quiet time together.

Aside from that, it's just easy. I always have nourisment for her, whenever and wherever we are. I know she is getting the nutrition she needs, even when she's in the throes of a "Throw All Food On the Floor Phase" as she is now. It gives her just the right balance of nutrients to sustain her increasingly active self. It soothes her if she's upset, it heals her if she's sick, it lulls her to sleep at night. It is exactly what she needs, always. And it is such an incredible feeling to know that I am able to do that for her.

Not only have I just enjoyed the experience of nursing, but I am left in awe of the human body. Ladies, our bodies can do some amazing things. For instance, did you know that breastmilk changes in makeup as the baby ages, to constantly be meeting their exact needs? Did you know that breastmilk can cure eye infections, or be used in place of saline solution when the little one is congested? Did you know that if you have recently weaned, and then are faced with an excessively stressful situation, you can actually relactate to make sure your baby is fed (this information was being passed around Hoboken moms in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when the power was out and food and heat were at a premium)? The body is so incredible. I have to admit, I have been so fascinated by it I have tossed around the idea of becoming a lactation consultant myself, both to learn more about it and to share that knowledge with other women, and to do my best to help them have the positive breastfeeding experience I have had. We'll see if anything comes of it, but for now, we'll just say that I think the whole thing is very, very cool.

My goal was to make it to a year of nursing. We've reached and surpassed that goal now, and I'm not sure how long we'll go. Ellie certainly doesn't show any signs of eagerness to self-wean, and I'm not in any rush either. So, we continue on, cherishing every minute of it.

Sleepy, milk-drunk 3-month-old Ellie

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ellie Lou Who

Ellie's hair is finally getting long/thick enough on top to pull some of it up and put a clip in it. Mind you, this clip serves entirely no purpose in terms of hair management - it's not keeping anything out of her face or what have you. Rather, it is entirely for my own amusement. Because OMG LOOK HOW CUTE.

She looks downright Dr. Seussical!

Friday, April 19, 2013


Hey, guess what? Today is my fifth blogiversary! I've been recording our lives here for half a decade now. Say what? I know. It's crazy.

I say it every year, but I really never thought it would last this long. When I started, we were in our first year of marriage, wrapping up our time in D.C. This blog has borne witness to Eric's law school graduation, our big move to the Big Apple, my grad school disappointment, lots of fun vacations (including our first trip to Europe!), all the unforgettable things we did in NYC (including all 465 celebrity sightings), two presidential elections, Toni's stroke, our move to Hoboken, the accomplishment of numerous bucket list items for both Eric and me, the birth (and first year) of our first baby, our plans for a major career/life change, our move back to Florida, and everything else in between. That, my friends, is one heck of a half-decade.

I'm not really sure what direction the blog will take from here. I certainly can't say I have any intention of shutting things down anytime soon, but our lives our changing and it's hard to predict how things will play out. I originally started this blog to document our move to New York City, something I had dreamed of doing for years. And what a time we had! I will forever treasure this written record of our life in the city.

Now, we've gone from newlyweds to a family, one that will hopefully continue to grow in the years to come. We're embarking on this new endeavor, completely changing our way of life and trying to figure out exactly what our new life will look like. My blog posts are less about red carpet events and big city adventures, and more about things like my baby's milestones and adjusting to Floridian life. I have a sneaking suspicion that those sorts of things are less intriguing to the outside world, and I realistically recognize this blog may taper off at some point, unless I'm willing to make the total jump to "mommy blogger" category. Or, have I already done that and just haven't accepted it yet? It's hard to say.

To be honest, I have always been shocked that anyone reads this stuff. Even you, family - I just think, "man, they must really love me." I mean, I talk a lot and I post far too many pictures. Everything is too wordy and nearly every time I hit "publish," I doubt that people will actually read what I have written. But you do. Even some people who don't actually know me in real life. That boggles my mind and is so humbling and so flattering. I have loved having the opportunity to share our life with you and to get to know so many of you through this medium. It has been a wonderful journey.

Aside from that, it has been such a great outlet for me. I have always liked the idea of keeping a diary or journal, and at times in my childhood, I was successful in doing so. Other times, not so much. I think the public nature of this type of journal is what keeps me accountable and has kept me writing for five years now, and I love that. Much of what I post is light-hearted life recaps, but I certainly try to mix in some reflective and personal things as well. In fact, I'm getting ready to post some of that next week, as I have been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on my first year of motherhood and I want to get my impressions down "on paper" (on screen?). It is so therapeutic and really just plain enjoyable for me to share what is happening my life here, and I thank you all for indulging me as I do so.

So for now, onward. I'll continue to blog as long as I still find it enjoyable, and if that's my criteria, as of now there is no end in sight.

Sincerest thanks to all of you for being a part of our lives these past five years, and for your comments and your support. I hope you'll continue to stick around!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Biking With Baby

One of my biggest complaints about being back in Florida has been the lack of accessibility to fun daytime activities for Ellie and me while Eric has the car at work all day. After living in NYC/Hoboken for four years (and D.C. for three years before that), I was just used to having anything and everything I wanted/needed to do right at my fingertips, with no car needed. The grocery store was right downstairs, the post office was two blocks away, La Leche League meetings and play groups were held right in my apartment building. So, being in a far less walkable town was a major adjustment for my automobile-challenged self and frankly, I've been stir-crazy. And, I have been especially dreading this summer, when Eric will take the car with him to Teach for America Institute (training) in Jacksonville for six weeks while Ellie and I stay put in St. Peterburg. The idea of being stuck at home day in and day out was making me twitchy already.

But then, I had an idea, a solution to my problem: a bike. Now, I have not ridden a bike since our 42-mile ride for the Five Boro Bike Tour back in 2011. That event was both a highly empowering and highly traumatic experience for me. (Yes, I'm being a little dramatic, but seriously, it was awful. They still email me yearly, all "sign up for the Five Boro Bike Tour this year!" and I literally laugh out loud every time, because OMG NO NEVER AGAIN YOU MUST BE OUT OF YOUR MIND.) But desperate times call for desperate measures, my friends, and  I decided that nearly two years was probably enough recovery time and I should get back on the bike. The only trouble was, we opted to leave our old bikes in Hoboken when we moved because we didn't feel they were worth what it would have cost to have them moved here. So we needed to start from scratch.

And, thanks to the outstanding generosity of family and friends for Ellie's birthday, we have been able to do just that. Eric's sister Kelley gifted Ellie a bike seat for her birthday (the WeeRide Kangaroo center-mounted bike seat, for any who may be curious), and our friend Jeff's gift cards took care of everything else we needed to get outfitted for some biking adventures. And, I got this awesome new cruiser to serve as our new mode of transportation:

My adorable bike!

Is that not the cutest? It's a pretty shade of blue, and it has these happy flowers on it:

How delightful!

And you know what else it has on it? A bottle opener. A bottle opener built in on the front wheel! This bike is begging to be ridden along the beach with a few bottles of beer in tow. Now, now, don't worry, I will not booze and bike with baby (alliteration!). I am a responsible mother, no drunk biking here. I'm just saying that if I wanted to, I could. This bike gets me.

Oh, excuse me, bike, would you mind opening up this delicious cold beer for me?

Thanks, bike! Cheers!

After getting the bike and bike seat all set up, and stocking the front carry-bag with the essentials (a spare diaper, sunblock and a tire repair kit [see? no beer]), I was itching to get this bad boy out on the open road and see what Ellie thought of the our new endeavor. So, a couple of weeks ago, we did just that. Her first impression? Not great.

Baby bike torture! She had no idea how she was shattering my dreams of sweet, sweet freedom in this moment.

But I think her hatred was really geared more towards the helmet (which is the cutest thing I've ever seen, by the way) rather than the biking itself, because as we got going, she warmed up to the idea. Eric hasn't replaced his bike yet, so he roller-bladed along with us and took pictures. Ellie settled in and had a great time pointing things out along our route. The girl loves to point.

Out for a ride!

Super fun.

On our inaugural bike ride, we rode up to Checkers to have lunch and then back. It was a delightful afternoon.

Lunch break!

A baby in a bike helmet. Honestly. It kills me.

On our way home, Ellie even settled in so much that she relaxed and put her feet up, as is her way.

Totally relaxed.

So, now we have a fun, easy, time-efficient way to get out of the house! I plan to get a little basket for the back rack to carry picnic supplies, or bring bags home if we want to go shopping, etc. We haven't actually gone anywhere meaningful yet, because although we have found our bike lock in the piles of boxes stored in the garage, the key is...somewhere. And I can't really ride to, say, Target and just leave the bike chilling outside unlocked while we shop. But chances are slim we find that key before unpacking in Jacksonville, if ever, so needless to say, we may just be buying a new lock.

In the meantime, Ellie and I have just been cruising around the neighborhood, which has been plenty enjoyable for both of us. I love to get out and get the exercise, and she spends the majority of the ride waving at everything she sees, like a little Miss America in a parade. What a cutie.

So, a huge thanks to our very generous friends and family who gave Ellie such great gifts for her birthday - really, they were gifts for both of us, and my stir-crazy, transportation-deprived self is incredibly grateful. Ellie and I have lots of fun in store for us on the bike this summer, and I can't wait!

The first of many biking adventures!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day 2013

Hey, would you look at that? I'm exactly one month late in talking about St. Patrick's Day. Happy April 17, everyone! Luck o' the Irish to you!

My Irish self always enjoys St. Patrick's Day, and I was especially excited this year as it was Ellie's last first holiday. I'm a sap and I get sentimental about stuff like that.

As you saw in my actually-on-time St. Patrick's Day post, Ellie was gifted a very festive outfit courtesy of my best Irish friend, Megan. She looked adorable.

Rocking the shamrocks

The Irish kids

I had some work to do that morning, so Eric entertained the wee lass and got our traditional crockpot Guinness beef stew going while I finished things up. I wrapped it up just as Ellie was waking up from her morning nap, which was perfect timing as we had places to go.

My dad was playing in a band concert with the Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band at MacDinton's Pub in downtown St. Pete, so we made our way down there to watch him perform. We kicked things off with a green beer (and our first time taking the baby to a bar, so that's exciting) and then watched the performance. Yay, Dad!

Eric looking handsomely festive

At least all the drunks liked Ellie's dress?

The Second Time Arounders Marching Band

Go, Dad!

Left: Ellie and me watching the performance; Right: Ellie needed a better view, and that's what daddies are for, right?

After the performance we met up with my dad and he spent some time playing Proud Papa and showing Ellie off to his band friends.

Ellie and her Papa

Don't look now, but this is as close as Eric has ever been to being in a band, I think.

Ellie still needs a little more time to grow into the uniform before she can join.

By that time we were getting pretty hungry, so we said good-bye to my dad (who had a little time to kill before heading off to another concert) and went to Ale House for some fish and chips. Hey, maybe Ale House isn't quite authentic Irish fare, but it wasn't crowded so, win. I also had the sliver-iest sliver of cheesecake ever.

The skinniest piece of cheesecake there ever was

We then went home and spent the rest of our St. Patrick's Day relaxing and eating beef stew. No drunken debauchery over here - just good old-fashioned family fun while wearing lots of green. It was quite nice!

Happy belated St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Girls' Day Out

As we continue our trip down March Memory Lane, I wanted to share a great Girls' Day Out that Ellie and I enjoyed back at the beginning of March. Eric had plans to go to some sort of Golf Fest with his brother, so Ellie and I stole the car and went out for some fun of our own.

Out on a Mama & Baby Adventure!

My friend Stephanie was in town from Ohio with her new baby, so Ellie and I went downtown to meet them at the St. Pete Farmers Market. We spent some time visiting with them (although I forgot to get a picture, for shame) before parting ways. Great to see you ladies!

Ellie and I decided it was too nice of a day to pack it in after our visit with friends, so we spent some more time exploring the Farmers Market. We ended up at the "all natural" popsicle stand, where we purchased a strawberry-lemon popsicle and then found a lovely tree to sit under and enjoy. Ellie's first popsicle! If memory serves, she was teething at the time so I'm sure it felt great on her gums. Either way, she loved it. Mmmm, sweet frozen fruity goodness!

Looking sly!

Oh, yeah. That's the stuff.

More, mama.

Popsicle face!

After popsicle time, we left downtown and went out to do some shopping for teacups for Ellie's party at the Salvation Army and garage sales. We had some nice success!

Our Girls' Day Out teacup/teapot haul

It was such a nice morning out with my baby girl. We are certainly not at a loss for quality time together, she and I, considering that we spend all day nearly every day together, but it was nice to have this time out to do something fun together, just the two of us. I look forward to many more of those days in the future!

Love this little girl!