Friday, September 30, 2011

A Letter to My Daughter: 12 Months


You are now one year old (and, um, a couple's been hard to get away to type this up - probably most of it psychological as it seems pretty big to be writing your one-year-old letter).

Since last month, you now crawl everywhere, including up the stairs. The first time you did this, it was actually after a bag of yarn I'd set halfway up as a reminder to mail to a friend - I was amused (and frightened) that yarn could be an incentive for you.

You pull yourself up on everything and cruise along while holding onto the furniture. This means you sometimes lose your balance, and we're starting to spot some marks and bruises because of it. Mostly, while you cry, it appears to be more from surprise than pain since you quiet quickly with some cuddling. Today, there was a new incident; you were digging toys out of your toy box, piling them up behind you (your typical MO), when next thing we knew, your feet were in the air and you found yourself in the toy box. This was not a happy discovery on your part.

You are still a pretty quiet baby, no surprise when you have two introverts for parents, but there are times we'll catch you in a babbling mood, talking away to one of us, the cats, or your toys. In fact, while you do strings of mamamamama and dadadadada along with some other syllables, I'm not sure you've figured out what they mean. But if you have said a first word - and we're not confident of this yet - it may very well have been "kitty." It seems like you say something like this when one of the cats are around, but perhaps they're just in the proximity during one of your talkative moods. And sometimes you're tickled that you can squeal like a dolphin.

I love seeing you interact with your toys. Furthermore, as you continue to get older, it's fascinating to watch your preferences exhibited. Certain toys you're drawn to and will always go after as soon as you notice Mom has tried to tidy in your wake. For example, there is this giraffe and a lion that you will pull around in tandem, taking turns snuggling - and maybe even kissing - them. And certain books have won your favor, as well as a tea set (with a zillion pieces constantly strewn about the floor).

This month also saw the first overnights I took away from you. Previously, I'd only been gone long enough to work my short days, but after I had an opportunity to surprise my sisters, I begged off for a weekend, and you were well cared for in my absence by your daddy and grandparents.

You are still figuring out food - you'll only feed yourself certain foods (and the spoon is a rare occurrence) - but you're getting more and more interested in what we're eating. If we're trying to feed you something, it better be the only food in sight, or we better be sharing what we're having.

We're happy to see this development. I knew you wouldn't forever be eating pureed foods, but sometimes it felt like you just weren't curious about other foods and weren't in a hurry to figure out chewing. We could do without the food and cups getting deliberately dropped on the floor, but I understand, from accounts from other parents, that this just appears to be a stage.

You're getting better at drinking from sippy cups, and periodically we'll put a splash of water in a cup without a lid and you'll slosh it down.

You're fascinated by all animals. We never see any fear exhibited, no matter the size of the animal. The only thing that seems to hold you back from petting them is the euphoria that you finally got close enough to do so. Anytime we're in your nursery when the neighbor dog is yapping outside, you look up at the window, letting us know it's time to put you on the changing table so you can lean forward and put your hands and face against the glass as you giggle and smile and squeal. The neighbor has gotten used to seeing us there, laughing at your expressions.

I know a year has passed since we welcomed you into our lives, and I know you're no longer a baby (as much as I hate to acknowledge that I may, indeed, now have a toddler), but I look at you sometimes and I wonder where exactly that fragile little infant went and when did this excited, joyous toddler appear.

You are learning everyday. There is a funnel toy with balls; the aim is to drop them (through a funnel top) into the toy, activating the lights and music. I demonstrated this hundreds of times over the months, and while you knew where the balls rolled out from the bottom, you preferred to pick them up from there and shake them since they made a delightful rattling sound. Then one day, I saw you rip the funnel top off and drop the balls repeatedly through the small opening. Whenever I'd try to replace the top to make it easier, you'd give me a look and rip it right back off. Just like that, it was as if you'd been doing that task for weeks.

Sleeping is going well. You had a cold and a couple new teeth that messed up your naps and bedtime for a week or two, but now, you sleep around 13 or so hours a day. When all is going well, after brushing your teeth and reading a few stories, we lay you in bed, turn on the sound machine, and you curl up and pass out. Sometimes you do this before we even finish walking down the stairs - you're still at two naps (around 75 minutes each) and go to bed around 7:45 PM or so.

Your mouth boasts six teeth now (four on top, two on bottom), and I can see evidence of a couple more on bottom wanting to come out before long.

Your birthday was a simple affair - we sang to you, you investigated a cupcake, and we opened presents.

You weigh 23.5 pounds and are off the charts with your height - 32 inches!

Your noggin is pretty large as well at 18.75 inches. You look like you're going to be long and lean.

And that's about where I'd normally end your monthly letters, but it seems that on the occasion of the birthday letter that I should also reflect on what the year has done in your parents. Aside from the amusing observations, like the fact that I was one week away from going a year between haircuts (June to June, baby!), there have been some notable changes.

But first a tangent or two to help set this up. I recently read the preface to Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It, and I think Buchanan accurately compares motherhood to the culture shock that can be experienced when living in a foreign country: the initial charm and quaintness of being there that later transforms to confusion and frustration when you can't understand the language and don't get the customs, only eventually morphing into a confidence as you settle in. I've hurriedly painted a broad picture of her premise, but it resonated with me as she connected it back to motherhood.

We weren't naive about what was in store for us when we brought you home - I recall vividly seeing a friend after the birth of her first child looking like a zombie, and I have long told Eric that he needed to be kind after you arrived and if the house was as untidy (or more so) when he returned home as when he'd left, he should not ask what I'd done all day but understand that a little grace might be in order. These tidbits we could pick up after observing friends, but it's hard to be prepared for what's in store. There's so much we don't know, and there's a desire to do things right, even while knowing you're going to mess up and make mistakes.

In our case, I remember on one of the first days home, you started wailing in the evening. We were so sure it was due to gas, so we were reading in all the books about ways to help relieve it: pumping your legs bicycle-style, making sure we did a more thorough job burping you during and after feedings, etc. This continued until the second or third day in a row of you crying at the same time. Then we realized it was just the oft-known "witching hour" for babies - a time of day (right around 9:23 PM) when you just need to cry to let it all out. Nothing was wrong, you were fed, clean, and being comforted, but you just needed to wail for 20 minutes, and then you'd abruptly stop. This only continued until you hit three weeks, and then it magically disappeared when that growth spurt hit.

I could list more instances of adjusting to figuring out what we were doing, but I'll focus on broader strokes. I went from working full time, very well knowing the expectations set out for me, to suddenly working only 12 hours a week and spending the rest of my time caring for you. Because you are around all the time, it was an adjustment trying to figure out how our lives embraced yours. When would I get time to be myself? How did Eric and I balance caring for you as well as caring for ourselves?

You have always been an easy child to care for, so most of the tension was figuring out how we adjusted our lives with you here. I absorbed many of the household tasks because I was home more, and that freed up your dad to focus on you and his own work while he was home. We have a better understanding of when one parent needs some free time - not that you have exhausted us, but just as a way to remember who we are outside of caring for you.

Now that you typically put yourself down for naps and bedtime, this has alleviated some of the pressure - there are suddenly pockets in the day to do housework and an evening free to fill as we choose. But I understand how the first child can cause a lot of change in a marriage as we try to find a routine, all while sleep deprived early on.

I remember watching friends and family enter parenthood. There's the type that has their lives revolve around the children, and the type that includes their children into their existing activities. I much preferred the latter; after all, one day you're going to up and leave us, but until then, it's our job to demonstrate to you what a healthy marriage should look like, model positive friendships, show you how to volunteer your time to serve others less fortunate, and so on. I'm glad that, while you are so important to us and loved beyond description, we've welcomed you into our routines - you were fawned over by the high-school students at the church youth group, you've tagged along to countless knitting outings. This is not to say that you haven't changed us, or our choices of activities, but we wanted you to come alongside us in some of these things instead of leaving them entirely. It meant some aspects changed: your dad changed your diaper on the floors of many venues, I'd put on the baby carrier and rock you to sleep during the message or worship at youth group, and sometimes I wouldn't get my knitting even pulled out of my bag, but it meant much for me to bring you to these places that held meaning for us and had an air of familiarity.

We've grown a lot as parents, just as you have grown; for the first few weeks, we kept a small lamp on in the bedroom, both to aid us in waking during the frequent nighttime feeding sessions, as well as to allow us a peek at you when we needed that affirmation that all was well. I used to know when the DVR did its cycle in the middle of the night, and I streamed several movies in 30-minute stretches in order to keep me awake when you were nursing. You started out taking 25-30 minutes to nurse every three hours, then you increased efficiency and brought that down to 10 minutes a feeding.

Brennan by month

So here we are, you a year old and every day learning new things and continually bringing us joy. It's been a blessed year. There was the stretch where every time I washed you after feeding you at the table, you would dissolve into giggles whenever I washed your left hand; that meant the left hand got washed beyond the point of being clean just because I was so enamored with your laughing. Or when you mimic our actions, dance to music, or laugh as you try to keep us in your eyesight while we try to hide around the couch or into the next room, you continually on our trail. The way you have to peek at yourself in a mirror once we put a hat on your head. How a bump can be forgotten if Mommy will hold you close. The fascination you have with the simplest of objects, like ROTC brochures. How you pause your play to lean down and lick the floors in our house as I look on in confusion (and a little disgust) and you grin widely in response.

Someone asked me recently, after I mentioned your great sleeping habits, if I missed the times of rocking you to sleep, and, without hesitation, I said no. My favorite time with you is whatever stage you're currently at. True, when you were young you were often being carried around in my arms or a baby wrap, and those were enjoyable moments as I watched you alternate between sleeping and watching everything around you. But now, you will sidle up to me and rest your head on my leg, or give me a hug or a sloppy kiss. Why would I trade that? Now, instead of me giving one-sided kisses to a sleeping babe, you demonstrate your love by affectionate kisses and big smiles. Now you reward my silly antics with laughs, and I'm continually entertained with discovering what warrants a big guffaw from you. Certain words during normal conversation will elicit hysterical laughter - yesterday, okey-dokey was the winner. You loved controlling our singing as you kept opening and closing your musical birthday card at arbitrary points. Why would I want to miss out on these discoveries to settle for what was known and comfortable?

While I will miss aspects of each age as you grow older, I embrace learning more about your personality and the person you're becoming. I don't wish to turn back time, and I'm in no hurry to rush things along.

You are beautiful and bring us so much joy, and I am so honored to be your mother.


Monday, September 12, 2011

A Weekend to Remember

I have three spectacular sisters, beautiful both inside and out. And they all reside pretty near each other in Iowa (one has bounced between Iowa and Minnesota, but she's still closer to them than I am). I'm grateful for things like email and cell phones and the periodic Skype date that allows me to keep in touch. But I admit I get a little bummed when I notice they have a sister date, and given my distance, I can't participate. Going home only twice a year makes it difficult to live daily life together, grab a coffee, enjoy the mundane as well as the festivities.

The youngest, Charity, recently went abroad for a year on a Fulbright Fellowship. Before she left, my older sister and her husband were throwing her a going-away party. Unfortunately, it was being held at a time this Indiana contingent couldn't attend - we'd already made our summer trip back home, classes were getting ready to start, and there just wasn't any way I could justify driving my daughter all that way on my own for an evening party. I was trying to console myself in the fact that Charity had spent a week at my place this summer, and it's not like I'd never get to see her pretty face via Skype once she was gone. But there was a little bit of me that was disappointed. After all, we're all four of us close friends, and I was envious of the others all being able to get together when I was over seven hours away. Nevertheless, I put it from my mind. It's not like Charity would think I loved her any less because of my absence. In fact, she wouldn't expect me to be there because of the above points. So that's the way things stood.

Until the Saturday a week before her party.

That evening, I got a string of text messages from my brother-in-law. He wondered if, perchance, I would allow him to purchase an airline ticket for me to come home for the weekend as a surprise. He understood that we are all close and that this was the last opportunity to spend quality time together before Charity left, and was there any chance I could fly back? He'd even looked into potential flights and was tossing out times. If I would allow it, he really wanted to do this for us.

I was super excited. Eric, sitting next to me, was oblivious, so I started filling him in. I tried not to let my mind run away without first weighing whether or not this could happen. Since I'm still nursing, I needed to consider my options. It seemed like I ought to bring her along so that Eric could focus on his studies without distractions. I could certainly have Brennan fly on my lap, but would Chad be able to come into possession of a pack-and-play and convertible carseat? Those items would be too large for me to bring along solo. Plus, there were all the accoutrements that go along with traveling with a baby - toys, clothing backups, diapers, possibly the baby monitor. Add schlepping suitcases and a stroller, going through security and the like: was it crazy to even consider this trip? Then there are the logistics: could I be so lucky to have her nap in the baby carrier again, or had she outgrown that? Would she stand to be confined during the flights? She's pretty mellow, but she does have a will that she sees fit to exercise now and again.

Then Eric reminded me his parents were coming in town that same weekend for a baby fix. After Eric gave his blessing for me to go on a solo trip while leaving him and his parents with care of Brennan for the weekend, I booked my ticket before my brother-in-law could rescind his offer. I sent him the itinerary, which had me flying in Friday about when he would get off work.

Then Sunday morning, I get an email from my brother-in-law. In addition to flying me in, he was offering me a stipend to plan some sister activities for Saturday morning. As he suggested, manis/pedis, or whatever girls like to do; it was up to me to plan. He was offering a budget, and it was up to me to create some memories.

This was an attractive proposition. What should we do together? Sure, manicures and pedicures are decadent and relaxing, but we technically could pamper ourselves in our respective towns; we didn't all have to be together to indulge in nail care. I remembered some friends of mine who had gotten a sister photoshoot as a gift for their parents, and I dared to hope I could arrange something similar.

I wrote my favorite photographer, a friend from college who does it professionally on the side. She is based out of Iowa City (a couple hours from where I'd be staying), but she happened to be in the area for a wedding in the fall when we had her take Brennan's pictures for her birth announcement, so I thought it was worth a shot.

I was anxious as I waited for her response. What were the odds she was free? And if she was, would she even want to travel all that way for a photoshoot? If she was busy, I knew my chances were pretty slim that I could find: 1) a photographer that wasn't already booked at such late notice on a Saturday in August, and 2) someone that would fit in our budget.

Fortunately, she had plans to attend the Iowa State Fair that Saturday, and she was free that morning and more than happy to play a role in this weekend. I was ecstatic.

Chad and I were sending rapid-fire texts and emails as plans fell into place over the coming days (we tallied nearly 50 texts and maybe a dozen emails in under a week). He worked with Hope's fiance to make sure Hope would show up Saturday morning with the clothes she'd need (she works overnights and wouldn't have a chance to head home before our shoot). There was a chance of rain Saturday, so he let me know he had a key to his friend's photography studio. We were trying to manage every contingency.

I was anticipating my departure on Friday afternoon, and my co-workers and friends were anticipating the surprise with me. I even had trouble sleeping a couple nights as I was thinking about the surprise and how much I was looking forward to this time. I was like a little kid, getting impatient and hardly able to wait until the day came. Chad shared that he even made a secretary at work cry after he told her what he was planning. He, also, was getting excited for Heather's reaction.

Finally Friday came: I worked a partial day, and then Eric whisked me to the airport. I was getting a little emotional as I said goodbye to Brennan. This would be the longest I'd ever been away from her. I'd never been gone even six hours, and suddenly I was planning to be absent two nights.

If we ever form a band, this is part of the cover art

Flights were uneventful, Chad picked me up, and we were just waiting for Heather and Charity to return home (Charity stays with them when she is in town). Heather had an art opening at work that would keep her away until around 7 PM, and Chad had hinted to Charity that it had been a long week and he might like the house to himself when he got home from work so he could decompress (clever cover to get me inside unnoticed, no?).

The girls knew something was up (Chad was having trouble hiding his enthusiasm), but he tried to throw them off the track. He kept saying that he couldn't wait until Saturday, and that Heather's birthday gift was ordered and it looked like it would arrive in time for the weekend. As it was something he thought she would enjoy while Charity was still around, he was going to give it to her early.

Our plan was to have them open a card. Inside would be a picture of the gift - me!  I would hide out in the loft until the appropriate time. My Kindle kept me company until Charity arrived home. I eavesdropped on her conversation with Chad (kind of a surreal experience), and then Heather arrived home.  I took a video of the exchange - it's nothing special since I was trying to keep my cover, but I think it should get to play a part telling this story.

They were happily (and completely) surprised, and later Hope joined us for dinner.  I announced our Saturday plans: a photoshoot followed by pedicures.

Saturday was amazing. It has been a long time since we four have been together with no other family around. We're talking years. As in I don't even remember when. Usually we can only swing three sisters together, and if all four are present, so are many other bodies.

There were so many stories and laughs and hilarious revelations. As you can see from all these pictures, we were smiling and laughing pretty much nonstop. I just got these proofs a couple days ago, and I've picked a number of my favorites from the 78 (!) images. I tend to be drawn to black and white shots, but I noticed I'm especially favoring the candid shots Mandy caught of us. It captures how we act when we get together and how much love we have for each other. I love that this goofiness and hilarity is memorialized in film.

The weekend passed in a whirlwind. Three weeks later, and I'm still so thankful I got to have such an experience. It was so much more than the price of a plane ticket and a photoshoot, and I trust that was apparent to anyone who saw us together. It was beyond special, and I'm still so amazed that Chad stumbled upon the idea at the last minute and decided to act on it. I'm also humbled that my visit was Heather's birthday present (and that she didn't find that wanting). I hope their souls were fed as much as mine was.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Lucky Charm

Since I was all overcome with the Iowa - Iowa State game earlier today, it seemed only fitting to come back and give some closure.

Iowa State is my alma mater. When our daughter was born, my sister and her husband (also alumni of Iowa State), gave her an ISU onesie and sleeper.  Last season, we were trying to have her enjoy both her Notre Dame and her ISU outfits, so any given Saturday she'd be wearing something from one of the schools.

We introduced our family to her last October, and the day we left, Iowa State was playing Texas. Brennan was wearing her sleeper. As we drove home, we listened to coverage on the radio. And wouldn't you know it, but they were winning. Winning a game they were not supposed to. We were euphoric (and may have pulled into a gas station towards the end of the game as our signal was weakening).

Chad, her uncle and giver of the sleeper, saw this as an omen. Each Saturday, he would text to see if she was ready for the game. Unfortunately, I could not always answer in the affirmative (recall that we were trying to also extend some luck to the Irish, altough that was never successful). However, each time she wore an ISU outfit for the duration of the game, they won. She happened to be napping at the start of the Nebraska game and suited up late. We learned in that instance that while they tied, her luck didn't go into overtime.

The outfits from last year were both 0-3 month sized. The onesie was outgrown, but the sleeper - given its magical properties, I'm sure - has been the one outfit in her wardrobe that she hadn't outgrown. We're phasing her out of her 12-month outfits and into 18- and 24-month ones, but still the sleeper remained in circulation.

Last week, we pulled it out for the Cyclone season opener against UNI. Sure, the sleeper's sleeves only reached her elbows, and she probably wouldn't want to stretch her legs out all the way, but we kept her in it, and the Cyclones came out with a victory.

I was going to retire the sleeper, but then I was informed that today was the day they faced their rivals, the long-storied matchup against Iowa, typically with ISU as the underdog and Iowa as the favored team expected to come out on top. Be that as it may, I vowed to shove her in that sleeper to bring any luck possible their way.

Fortunately, Heather and Chad thought it was fitting to send Brennan her birthday gift early - she is now the proud owner of both short- and long-sleeved onesies with matching pants. No matter the weather this football season, she will be prepared.

I admit I was nervous - Iowa State has suffered at the hands of Iowa the last few years. But bright and early this morning, she was dressed in her new duds.

We weren't able to watch it on TV, but we followed online play trackers. At halftime, the score was tied at 10. I'd laid Brennan down for a nap with under two minutes left in the game when the score was 24-17 Iowa. I was rocking her, trying to follow on Facebook via status updates whether we were able to tie it up. Once I'd learned we were going into OT, after I set a sleeping daughter in her crib, I even pulled out the outgrown sleeper and draped it at the head of the crib. (You know, in case that was the final push ISU needed to get that victory.)

I won't exhaust you with details, since you know from my last post that they were in triple overtime.  Brennan woke up then, so I hurriedly grabbed her and she sat with me (naturally, with the old sleeper on her lap) as I followed online. ISU and Iowa matched each other for touchdowns in the first two overtimes. Then Iowa got a field goal, and ISU got the touchdown that gave them the win.

I realize Brennan's luck can't hold out forever (it's a lot to expect a baby to carry a whole football team's fate), but she will be wearing her ISU outfits every Saturday this season!

Etsy Giveaway Winner

I'm freaking out as I'm following the Iowa-Iowa State game online - they're now in triple overtime! - so I thought I'd try to calm down by posting the winner to the giveaway in my last post. drew a number for me and selected number one. So Amanda, you are now the proud owner of a list taker!  I'll message you for your address.

I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Etsy Giveaway

I've been meaning to share that I've opened an Etsy shop. I feel a little weird drawing attention to myself (I am truly an introvert), but just pretend you don't notice my embarrassment. I figure if I give something away while mentioning it, it's not as bad, right?

So, the back story. I love to create things, whatever the medium. Both of my parents and all of my siblings have a creative bent as well, so I come by this honestly. I get my feet wet in some new hobby, and then it just consumes me for a while until I come up for air.

I suspect my shop will evolve, showing whatever my passion is at that given moment. I've really been enjoying my sewing machine, mainly because I can see a finished project a little faster than with my knitting needles. After all, there appears to be something -- or, rather, someone -- keeping me occupied as of late.

I've had friends of friends send requests for handknit items, specifically for little boys, as they say cute boy clothing is hard to come by. I'm still working on designing a cute little boy's vest, but perhaps some will appear before too long.

Right now I am focusing on items for children - no big surprise, since I have the cutest model on hand. This ranges from baby pants ideal for children who are cloth-diapered to wool diaper covers and diaper wipes.

And I love to make handmade cards, so I've listed a variety of those.  Some are suitable for a baby shower or to welcome the arrival of a new baby.

And some are blank and are for any occasion.

I also have a few list takers for sale; these are quilted pieces that hold a small legal pad, pen, and an extra pocket for any other receipts/papers/cards/lists you need to keep.

In honor of the new shop, I wanted to do a giveaway here for one of my list takers.  (In the interest of full disclosure, there's a minor imperfection on this one; I was worried the elastic closure was going to pull free, so I reinforced it with thread on the outside, but I still love the thing -- it's my favorite -- so I trust one of you will as well.)  If you prefer one in my shop to the one below and I pick your name, you'll have the option to substitute.

All you need to do to enter is take a look at my shop and either tell me your favorite item or an item you think I should carry. In addition to the boy vest mentioned above, I've toyed with offering stitch markers, knitting bags, zippered pouches, leggings, bibs and the like. Any of these tempt you? What am I overlooking?

I'll draw the winner from the comments on September 10th and then contact them for their address. Also, when you comment, make sure there's a way for me to reach you (via your blog, Ravelry, Etsy shop, email address, etc.). If you don't leave a way for me to get in touch with you, I'll post the winner's name here and wait 48 hours for them to contact me. If they don't, I'll pick a new winner.

And should you be so inclined to want to make a purchase from my shop, through September 30th I am offering a 10-percent-off discount code in honor of my and my daughter's September birthdays. Just enter the code birthday10 at checkout and the discounted price will be calculated.