Friday, June 28, 2013

A year of parenting

HP at two days.  Photo by Jennifer Borget Photography
 My son turned one on Monday. One! People keep asking if I can believe that he's already a year old.  It's just flown by, hasn't it? In a word, no. It is more accurate to say that I am amazed that it has only been a year since HP came into our lives. The day he was born feels like a lifetime ago.

I enjoyed his infancy and tried my best to savor every stage. (Okay, I savored parts of every stage. I could do without the terrible napping and frequent night wakings that lasted for months and months and months.) Each month I would find myself thinking: He's so adorable, this has to be the cutest stage! But then time would pass and I would think: Nope, this is the best stage. But every time, I am wrong; it keeps getting better.

I have clear memories his tiny newborn days. I can still picture his little balled up fist curled against his cheek, his head cocked at a strange angle, and his mouth hanging slightly open as he napped on my chest for hours at a time.  Words cannot do the sweetness of those moments justice.  But I have no desire to go back.  I remember what struggle breastfeeding was the first months (yes, months).  I remember how I worried about silly things as a new parent navigating the scary world of motherhood.  I remember how isolating those first months were as we transitioned into our role as parents and I adjusted to being bus-bound. I look back fondly on those early days, but I refuse to romanticize them. 

HP is now an active, curious, sweet little boy. Each day we are learning more about his personality, what he likes, what he hates, what makes him sad, and what makes him laugh. Neil diplomatically says HP is "more interactive" now. I just say he's more fun.

Sitting here a year in I am not sad about time passing too quickly or lamenting the fleeting nature of childhood. I am thankful. Thankful for a happy and healthy one-year old, thankful we get to be HP's parents, thankful we all made it through the last twelve months in one piece. 

It's been a good year.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Napping, the saga continues

For a few months HP had fallen into a beautiful napping rhythm.  He went down at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. like clockwork.  It was lovely.  After months of sleeping struggles and no set schedule, I relished each and every one of those naps.

It is premature to say those days are gone, but they are becoming less frequent.  Maybe the more accurate description is to say that we are in the process of finding a new napping normal as HP bounces between taking one long nap and two shorter naps a day.  He's not quite ready to only have one, but he has trouble taking two good naps.  Or so I thought.

HP has been taking longer to fall asleep before each nap, especially if we have not gotten out of the house after his first one.  Sometimes the culprit is digestive as he seems to be in the habit of waiting to poop until I put him down.  Once he pooped three times before finally falling asleep.  Three times.

On Wednesday he was having an exceptionally difficult time napping in the afternoon.  He was in this room for two hours, happily playing and talking to himself, but not sleeping.  I usually let him play for about fifteen to twenty minutes before I go in, put away his toys, make sure his diaper is clean, and lay him back down in his sleeping spot.  By the end of "nap time" I was frustrated--with him for not sleeping and with myself for not knowing what my child needed.

I felt awful that I had kept him in his room for so long with no nap, even though he had been perfectly content the whole time.  I kept (erroneously) thinking, "I know he's tired, surely he is about to fall asleep."  Each day for the past two weeks it had been taking him longer and longer to give in to sleep.  Usually he did fall asleep after a playing for a bit and being changed if needed.  This time was different, and I recognized that I needed to do two things.  First, I had to stop berating myself about the failed nap.  HP was not scarred by the experience.  I am a flawed human being doing the best to navigate the murky waters of parenting and I need to show myself a little grace.  Second, I had to adjust my approach to nap time to better meet HP's ever-changing needs.

Thursday was a new day with a new plan.  Instead of putting HP down at his normal afternoon time of 1:30, I waited.  I figured if he was going to happily play instead of sleeping, he might as well be out of his room.   At two o'clock, I started cleaning the kitchen while HP was in the living room.  He played independently for more than half an hour, which reinforced the fact that I had been misreading his cues by putting him down at his "normal" time.  Around three o'clock I laid him down in his room and he fell right asleep.  Success!

I have no illusions that I have found the key to perfect napping and have every expectation that the "plan" will change on a weekly/daily basis.  But right now, I feel like giving myself a high-five.  Too often, I keep doing what worked in the past even though it is clearly no longer working in the present.  It may have been obvious to everyone reading this that HP needed his nap pushed back, but to me?  It wasn't.  And figuring it out feels like one of those all-to-rare parenting moments where I know I am doing something right.

HP playing independently yesterday before his afternoon nap.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Kitchen Remodel Part I

As I write this, I am sitting on the futon in our guest room with a pile of pots and pans next to me.  I would be writing from our desk, but it is covered with plates, muffin tins, glasses, and an assortment of cutlery and baking utensils.  This unusual placement of items is for a good cause--we are redoing our kitchen. 

I have hated the yellow countertops since before we moved into this house.  Despite my intense dislike of our kitchen, it has only recently garnered a spot at the top of our priority list.  After many discussions and negotiations, the time has finally come to tackle this project.

When we were in Arkansas last month, my in-laws generously offered to finance replacing our counters as an anniversary present to us.  While cost was not the reason we had not moved forward, their offer reignited the discussion about the relative necessity of updating our kitchen.  I was for updates; Henry was against them.  My case rested on two points: (1) I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and currently hate it and (2) it will help our house sell in the future.  Henry's argument was that (1) it was currently functional so there was no need to change it and (2) he inexplicably likes the yellow counters.

For most of the last year, I accepted the fact that making the kitchen aesthetically pleasing was unlikely.  I may not have liked the kitchen, but when I was honest with myself I knew that updating it was not going to change the quality of my life.  Would I enjoy and appreciate the improvements?  Of course!  But would I be happier?  Probably not.  But just when I had given up hope of a new kitchen, Henry came around.

Project Kitchen Remodel has officially begun.

First step: paint the cabinets.  Up until two weeks ago, I did not have a problem with the cabinets, but (luckily?) the internet helped me see the error of my ways.  I was obsessively browsing Houzz for inspiration and realized that dark wood with white appliances does not look good.  At all.  I thought it was just the counters that dated our kitchen, but it turns out that the cabinets/appliance combination was equally awful.  I had failed to focus on this aspect of the kitchen earlier because my attention was always immediately drawn to the ugly bright yellow laminate.

Henry loves wood and was skeptical that of my white cabinet plan.  Instead of painting the cabinets, he wanted to refinish them.  Normally I am also a wood advocate, but not in this case.  If we had stainless appliances I would have happily left the cabinets alone, but our appliances are white, not stainless.  White cabinets will make the kitchen lighter, brighter, and more cohesive.  Photos like these are what helped to convince me to advocate for white:

Nice wood cabinets + white appliances.  Not loving it.  (Picture found here.)
Contemporary Kitchen by Chicago Design-build Firms Design Build 4U Chicago
  White appliances + white cabinets.  Much better! (Picture found here.)
I also (irrationally?) worked the angle that he may hate them once they are painted, but I hate them now.  I figured that either way, one of us was hating the cabinets and he might be pleasantly surprised and actually like the white ones.  Additionally, I think future buyers will like the white better than the wood that is currently in place.

After we both slept on it, Henry agreed to give the white a try.  Saturday, we took a family trip to Home Depot and bought the supplies.  Now we are following Young House Love's directions and slowly transforming our kitchen.  Hopefully ours will look as nice as theirs when it's complete.  Cabinets first, counters next.

So you know just had necessary this project is, here is the before shot:

Ugly kitchen, I cannot wait for you to be a thing of the past!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Car-free living: The beginning

I have planned for awhile to write a series of posts about how and why I came to be living car-free. This is the first installment, chronicling my initial foray into biking and walking for transportation. 

Posing after walking home from the store in the rain, May 2004
Nine years ago this month I started regularly biking and walking for transportation. I did not take those first car-free trips out of concern for my carbon footprint, a desire to get fit, or the need to save money. I did it for a simpler reason: I had to. I would not have said so at the time, but I like to think that it was fate who intervened to get me out of my car so I could experience the joys of human-powered transportation.

I took my first steps toward a car-free lifestyle in April 2004 when I broke my right arm playing ultimate frisbee. My car was a manual, so a broken arm meant no driving for the month my arm was in a cast. Forced out of my car, I walked where I needed to go. Our campus was relatively self-contained and I rarely had to leave its bounds. When I did to make a trip, my usual destination was Wal-Mart--the primary shopping spot of students and locals alike.

The closest Wal-Mart was located just down the street from the college. When I say "just down the street" I mean that quite literally--the edge of campus practically touches the Wally World parking lot. Walking from the dorms to the front doors of Wal-Mart takes fifteen minutes, twenty if you are really slow or stop to chat with friends. If you take into account all of the time it takes to walk to a car in the campus parking lot, get in, drive down the street, park in the lot at Wal-Mart, and walk to the store's front doors, driving maybe saves five minutes.

Before I broke my arm, I always drove to the store. Always. I cringe typing that and find it embarrassing on many levels. It took me being physically unable to drive to realize how silly and wasteful it was to use a motor vehicle to travel half a mile. Unbeknownst to me, I had been a clown.

I am thankful for life's intervention (even in the form of a broken arm), because through it I discovered one of life's truths: walking (and later biking) is more fun than driving. No navigating parking lots looking for the best spot! No contending with angry drivers speeding to their destination! No wasting money on ever-more-expensive gasoline! Instead, I peacefully strolled where I needed to go. Bliss.

My cast came off a week before heading home for the summer. Inspired by my time out of my car, I went to the local sports shop and bought a bicycle. That summer I biked to work, summer league, the library, and friends' houses. There was no turning back; I was hooked.

It would be more than five years before I would sell Rocketstar* and officially become car-free, but m journey started when I made that first trip to Wal-Mart on foot. I would like to think that I would have gravitated toward biking and walking for transportation even if I had not broken my arm, but it is hard to say. All I know is that I am glad I was forced out of my comfort zone and reevaluated my driving habit. My life is richer** for it, broken bones and all. 

*Special thanks to Abby for so aptly naming my beloved 1992 Honda Accord
**Both literally and figuratively

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Things to-do before baby #2

Disclaimer: Henry would want me to acknowledge upfront that the discussion of "when" we have a second child makes the assumption that we will have one, which has not been decided.


As we wrap up our first year with HP, I have started contemplating and planning when we will add another child to our family in earnest.  Maybe it is because the exhausting first few months of HP's life are behind us so thought of adding another child to the mix does not terrify me (quite as much) anymore.  Maybe it is because with less than three weeks until HP's first birthday I am getting sentimental looking through photos of his newborn days like the one above.  Maybe I just really want another kid.  It's hard to say.

Henry and I have had discussions in the past about limiting our family size, and in many ways I think I would be happy to stop where we are as a family of three.  But there is a part of me that believes I will regret not having a second child.  So while nothing is decided yet, me being me, I have started planning the best time to get pregnant and focusing my energy on what I would like to accomplish/establish before(/if) we embark of that journey.  Here's the list so far:
  • Become involved in the Unitarian Church.  I miss being a part of a church community and want to make it a regular part of our lives again.  We started attending this church before we had HP, but when we moved to the other side of town we stopped making it a priority  It will be a lot easier to be active again now that HP is dropping his morning nap.
  • Finish major house projects.  Ultimately, I am glad that we bought our house when we did, but buying a "fixer-upper" right before having our first child has been challenging.  We still have a lot of projects to get done and I would like for the biggest ones to be completed before we add another child to the mix.  It is hard enough making progress with HP; I can only begin to imagine how difficult it would be with two kids instead of just one. 
    • Kitchen--We are going to start updates this weekend.  New countertops, backsplash, and freshly painted cabinets will make a huge difference.  I cannot wait for the yellow countertops to be gone!
    • Main bathroom--We need to take down the last wall of wallpaper and repaint, redo the tile and drywall, re-caulk around the tub, and replace the splintering cabinet.
    • Paint trim and install quarter-round in main room--I started this project last fall and have made no progress since Thanksgiving.
    • Building compost bins--Right now we just have two piles--one active and one aging.  I would like two or three bins to contain the compost instead of heaping it in mounds behind the shed.
    • Framing art and photos--Our walls are embarrassingly bare.  I have the photos and prints to hang, I just need to get them framed and up on the wall.
  • Run a half marathon--This has been on my "to-do" list for awhile and I have had it in my head that I would like to complete one before trying to get pregnant again.  Running is a great way for me to stay in shape now that HP's on the scene.  It does not require going to the gym, is something I can do before Henry goes to work, after he gets home, or with HP in the stroller during day.  I loved running when I was on the cross country team my senior year of high school and would like to get back into it.  I ordered new shoes yesterday and am planning to sign up for the Austin half in February.  (Any friends who are reading this want to join me?  Austin is lovely that time of year...)
Right now I think the "ideal time" (as if there is such a thing) for me to get pregnant again would be in the first few months of 2014.  My reasons include:
  • We would have plenty of time to complete the list above.
  • Henry would be able to study for his licensing exam (Oct 2014) without the lack of sleep and constant demands of a newborn on the scene.  
  • HP and I would have more than a year to enjoy the freedom of biking before being bus-bound again with a little one.  
  • I would get a break from having my body housing or sustaining a little person.  I do not want to go straight from nursing HP to being pregnant again.
  • Our kids would be more than two but less than three years apart, which feels right to me.  Close enough in age that in a few years they would be able to play together, but far enough apart that HP will be relatively independent when his sibling arrives.
I know that I do not have complete control over if/when I will get pregnant again, but that does not mean I can't start setting up our lives in a way that would make the transition to a second child as smooth as possible.  If nothing else, I'll be in great shape and we'll have a nicer house.  Win-win.