Handing him the spoon

Oliver

We’re inching closer toward sippy cups, not bottles. At meal times (which are now breakfast, lunch, dinner — same as us), Oliver grabs the spoon to “feed” himself. He’s cruising along the furniture, scaling walls and gripping ledges. He said his first word: “baby.” Now he says it all the time.

These developments fill me with joy, of course. We’re making strides! He’s growing up! At 15 months old, Oliver is a toddler. He toddles. His face his slimmed — along with those rubber band wrists. His legs are long and strong. He is tall enough to reach door handles and drawers, to pull down objects I never imagined he could reach. He surprises me daily by what he absorbs and parrots. He misses nothing.

Oliver is growing. And it is wonderful. I just didn’t expect to feel so . . . sad.

There is one blank date left in his “milestones” book — the one I’ve used to mark all his firsts since birth. It’s for first steps. And though I’m happy thinking about slipping on his first pair of shoes, about leading him along sidewalks and down new paths, I also feel intensely nostalgic when I realize the “firsts” are nearly done.

Will I miss the 3 a.m. feedings, the temper tantrums, the many bites of sweet potato that wind up in my lap — not his mouth?

Well . . . no. But yes. But no.

It’s bittersweet. Everything.

Parenthood is a study in opposites. It feels laughable to say I’ll miss washing bottles every night when it’s been the bane of my existence, but here’s the thing: it became our new normal. It’s a ritual, even a soothing one — and the idea of everything changing, as it so often does, fills me with apprehension. I just got used to this.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve only just found my mama footing. This stage is now comfortable, knowable. I don’t have to remind myself I’m a parent anymore — it’s been absorbed into my bones. And with my son now reaching for me, patting my cheek, resting his head on my shoulder — the only shoulder he sometimes wants in the world — well . . . that’s it. That’s it. What could matter more than that?

It isn’t all sunshine, of course. It never is. After a great visit with our family in New York, Oliver came home with a fever that burned him up for five days. The doctors couldn’t figure out why. It would climb to 102, 103, 104 — and just when Spencer and I would start to panic, fumbling for our car keys in the dark, it would break. He would rest. And then it would start up again.

There were many 4 a.m. baths in lukewarm water, frantic phone calls to the after-hours number, lots of pacing as we debated whether to drive to the hospital or urgent care or wait until morning, waiting and waiting and watching his chest rise and fall.

The panicky dread of those moments isn’t unique to us, certainly. No parent wants to see their child sick. But every time Oliver gets ill, I sink back into unpleasant memories of our month in the hospital. Sometimes I have to physically force myself to sit, take deep breaths and remember this time isn’t that time. Our 3-pound baby is now a 27-pound tank. He can handle it. We can handle it.

But that is easier said than done. One of my guilty pleasures is “Little Women: LA,” a reality show chronicling the lives of a group of friends, and several ladies are pregnant this season. Elena is expecting twin boys — and toward the end of her pregnancy, which is being documented now, she develops preeclampsia. Noting that she’s only 34 weeks pregnant, everyone is panicking at the idea of an early delivery — how risky, how dangerous, how life-threatening. “She can’t deliver this early!” they cry.

And I delivered at 32 weeks.

Preeclampsia changed everything. The idea of becoming pregnant again — and possibly not having the same happy ending — is terrifying. Thinking about adding to our family, well . . . I could get preeclampsia again, or I could not. And there is no way to know. There is no way to prevent it, to predict it, to expect it. If anything, I have a higher chance because I’ve had it once. It was severe, and it set in early.

It’s a roll of the dice. And I’ve never been a gambler.

We’ve reached the stage where well-meaning folks ask if we’ll have a second child. I probably get asked this once a week: by friends, acquaintances, readers. To the outside world, the world in which I look like a “normal” woman with a healthy child, I understand the innocence of that question. But there is no easy answer.

“We’ll see,” I say. What else can we do?

Contrary to, well, this entire post, I actually try not to dwell on the past — or the future. We’re usually too tired for that, anyway. Things could have turned out poorly, but they didn’t. I look at my son and feel relief and love and joy.

Oliver has been working with professionals to get “up to speed” with developmental tasks — particularly physical ones, like crawling — for a while. One of his therapists recently pointed out that it was me who was uncomfortable with Oliver feeding himself, projecting my fears of choking and other harm onto his daily habits, well . . . that hit me like a slap.

But she was right. And now I think constantly about how I cannot let my anxiety hold him back. Even when that is hard — or feels impossible. Even when I want to bubblewrap him and never leave our house.

So we try new things at dinner, even when he gags on foods he cannot possibly choke on (pureed green beans, anyone?). Even when I know we’ll spend longer cleaning up the mess than he actually spent eating. I let him grasp the lip of the coffee table, ready to spring into action as he moves along. We stand by as he pushes a toy walker, looking so proud as he plants each foot. He’s always walking toward the door, seeking sunshine. He loves peeking out.

I barely breathe when he falls asleep in my lap — a rarity these days. I’m still even when my arm is asleep. Even when I can’t reach the TV remote. Even when I have to use the restroom, and I’m starving, and I don’t think I brushed my teeth that morning. Even when I need to rest myself.

Savor it, hold on to it: that’s all I can do. Nudge him forward knowing he’ll always have a safe place to land — as long as his father and I can help it, anyway.

We hand him the spoon.


Music of another decade

I don’t know when I stopped listening to music.

It’s not that I don’t catch a random tune on the radio or keep up with modern hits — peripherally, at least. I mean, I know “Blank Space” and such. I’m not hopelessly out of touch.

Just mostly.

When I was commuting to college, the two-hour drive daily on the Beltway was a medley of Hanson, John Mayer, Maroon 5, The Killers, Coldplay. Circa 2006, coed Meg was pretty hip. My first iPod came as a Christmas present in 2004, and that little pink Mini accompanied me everywhere. I can still remember the long walks across campus with Death Cab for Cutie for company. It was a little lonely back then, I’ll admit — but peaceful, too.


Pink iPod


After graduation, my two-hour commute became a 10-minute back-and-forth to the office. I’ve been fortunate to live and work close to home for the last eight years — a true triumph in the D.C. area — so, you know, car time is at a minimum. And once I discovered listening to audio books, I really gave up the musical ghost.

With the wintry mess outside, I’ve been working from home — and the quiet is weird. I don’t like to work in silence, but the prattle of a television is distracting. I’m used to the hustle and bustle of coworkers’ conversations, phones ringing, text messages dinging . . . even on the days I’m writing furiously, I like background noise.

So I blew the dust off iTunes.

My iTunes library, safely ensconced on my laptop, is a time capsule of my life from 2004-10. Around the time I met Spencer, apparently, I stopped caring so much about music. We don’t even have “a song,” a first for any of my relationships (though we eventually chose one for our first dance). I actually wrote about this in 2011 so, you know, it’s not like this is a new problem . . . but it still startles me sometimes.

Am I doomed to listen to my college-era classics forever?

Am I going to be that person ramming old-school John Mayer down Baby J’s throat when he’d much rather enjoy the dulcet tones of whoever is Taylor Swift in a decade?

Part of me realizes I’ll likely never care about music the way I once did. Not because it’s changed so much, exactly . . . but because I have. In our teens and twenties, when everything is fresh and intense and we fall in love and out of love and back in love, maybe with ourselves, music provides the soundtrack to our wanderings. It grounds us, inspires us.

I’m never going to care about something the way I care about Hanson’s “MMMBop.” I mean, it’s just a fact.

But that’s okay. We grow, change, experience new things. It’s natural for our interests to morph, too.

Regardless, I just opened Maroon 5’s “Songs About Jane” and found “Through With You,” a song iTunes tells me I haven’t listened to since 2009.

And I sang along with every word.

I think that means something, too.


A home office, a baby, a life

window

Who knew a room could launch you into adulthood?

I spend a strange amount of time not feeling “old enough.” Not old enough to have a house, a car, credit cards, a checkbook. Not being old enough to have a husband and a baby on the way; not old enough to argue with cable companies and insurance representatives, to be grocery shopping independently and gathering tax documents.

Though I don’t obsess about it, I often feel like I’m glancing over my shoulder — waiting for someone else to swoop in and take care of things. Fix the insurance snafus; adjust the thermostat. Be the adult in the room.

It’s scary to realize you’re the adult present. The one throwing the party, taking the phone calls, signing up for health care. It’s all you.

We have a home office. One with built-in cabinetry, outlets for computers, actual computers, a mug with pens and Sharpies. And pencils? I guess you need those sometimes.

It was the first thing we noticed in the real estate listing discovered around this time last year: a beautiful space with counters and drawers and ridiculous organizational possibilities. Coming from a relatively small apartment, all I could think about was cramming our stuff in those nooks and crannies. There were so many of them! Something out of a dream. As soon as we stepped inside and looked left, taking in this gorgeous room, we were sold. I mean, the rest of the house is great . . . but that office.

It’s been almost a year since we first toured the place that would become our family home. I had “that sense” as soon as we walked in, you know? That feeling of peace, tranquility, overwhelming rightness. We’d already visited half a dozen houses with my dad, a Realtor, and found positive qualities in each . . . but this one? This was it. It had everything. Never a doubt in our minds.

I freaked out a few times, of course — mostly about money. Houses require lots of it. We got into a bidding war right before the bank formally accepted our offer on the foreclosure, so there was a time when I thought we might have lost it. That thought brought on a potent mix of overwhelming disappointment . . . and relief. I was panicky thinking of another move so quickly after our wedding and my initial transition from my parents’ house. Putting our life back into boxes — ones I felt I’d just unpacked — was overwhelming.

But it was worth it, of course. We got the house; we moved all of our worldly possessions; we’ve made this place ours. We’re home now. I won’t pretend like there aren’t still piles of stuff in the basement waiting to be organized, placed and hung . . . but no one goes down there anyway, right? Spence has learned to ignore them. For now.

With a snowstorm blowing through the Washington area on Monday night, I was able to take a laptop home and work from our office on Tuesday — for the first time ever. And it was magical. “Working from home” is a mystical concept I’ve heard others experience, but I’ve never been able to attempt such a feat.

Given I’m six months pregnant and unsteady on my feet on a good day, my boss kindly suggested I hook up with our IT expert and figure out a way to make it happen. I was ridiculously grateful. By 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, I was hunkered down in said home office with two laptops fired up, listening to Coldplay and sipping a contraband Coke while typing away.

Outside, my husband — off for an actual snow day — set to work clearing our driveway of the 8 inches of fluffy stuff that came down overnight. Our neighbor drove his tractor up and down his property, making hasty U-turns at the street. Around lunchtime, a plow finally pushed its way through our neighborhood. Salt coated the street. The sun broke through the windows.

And I felt happy.

Like really, really happy. Suddenly, inexplicably, buoyantly happy. I’m emotional in a normal (non-pregnancy) state, but something about this scene — cozy but productive at home, our home — just felt . . . really good. Adult-like. Answering work emails, researching articles, laying out pages, being part of a team . . . well, I felt like a grown-up. Never mind that I’ve been in the working world — and at my job — for nearly eight years. This? This was it.

Do you ever have a “This is my life” moment? Tiny, sparkly shards of realization that you are, in fact, this or here or something in between?

For me, they’re usually sparks of recognition that I’m married, starting a family, turning 30 this summer . . . that somehow — by the grace of God, perhaps — we have a home to call our own and people we love who love us back. And more than anything, Spence and I have each other.

There are times I wake up and feel like I’m 10 or 12 or 25 again. Sometimes I expect to open my eyes and be back in my childhood canopy bed, Dad downstairs popping Eggo Waffles into the toaster while my sister and I scramble to get ready for school. Sometimes these scenes feel so familiar, so real, that I forget. Forget I’m here. Forget it’s now.

Feeling a baby kick and tumble in my belly produces some of these existential wanderings, sure, but I’ve always been a philosophical mess. Questioning everything, adding weight to every moment. I was a weird kid. Once, at Disney World, I remember crying because my mom gave me a piece of gum — and I threw away its paper wrapper. Someday, I thought, I’ll remember her handing me this wrapper — something she held. Someday, I’ll want it back.

See? Weird.

I’m not worried about becoming a mother. I don’t worry about being bad at it — though I’m sure I’ll screw up and ask forgiveness and wish I’d done things differently. I’m not a perfect person, and I won’t be a perfect parent. But I already love our son with a fierce fire I didn’t think was possible, and I know I’ll do my best. I’ll do more than that.

Sometimes I think about what it means to bring a child into this world. Like everyone, I think of the scary things — illness, violence, heartbreak — and worry about how I’ll make myself a human shield, absorbing his blows and soothing his cries. Knowing I won’t be able to fix everything — or, someday, anything — is already a gnawing ache.

But I can’t go there. I know I can’t. So I focus on how we want to raise him — how we want to encourage him, laugh with him, inspire him. I keep thinking of my own happy childhood, wanting Spence and I to give him everything we had: love, support, attention.

I keep picturing him in this home office in a Pack ‘n Play, baby-babbling while I tap out emails and field phone calls — how different our life will look four, six and twelve months from now. So foreign from how it looked when we first cleared snow from our shoes and walked through the front door last March.

But also right, too. Very right. Good.


Happily 29

Meg

Almost-29, shorter-hair selfie

So, my 28th year was a pretty wild one.

July and August were spent with nonstop planning and prep for two weddings.

In September, I stood at my sister’s side as she tied the knot.

I moved out of my parents’ house for the first time in October, and made all those last-minute preparations for our own nuptials — then married my sweetheart on an absolutely gorgeous, unforgettable day in November. I officially became a Johnson.

December found us celebrating our first married Christmas, and the long winter months from January to March were eventually broken by fun trips to Canada in April and California in May.

Speaking of . . . we bought our house two months ago! Then moved in June, welcoming Spencer’s parents for a week as we transplanted everything we own and tried to maintain our sanity. We’re still recovering.

Now it’s July again . . . and today is my 29th birthday! It’s crazy to think I’m entering the final year of my twenties, that infamous decade filled with indecision, heartbreak, healing, growth and near-constant change . . . an era that transformed me from a young woman to a full-fledged, allegedly adult adult. One complete with a marriage license and mortgage.

Astounding, actually.

Especially since the house purchase, you know, I’m feeling settled. In a good way. Just four weeks ago, we were staring down a huge financial undertaking, preparing to change residences and generally all over the place. I was emotional and freaked out and crazy-feeling, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get myself together.

And then I kind of did.

It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? We may not even notice the shift. Everything starts to come together, bit by bit, and the rooms that were stacked high with boxes are emptying. All the nervousness and worry I’d been carting around for months has started to dissipate . . . maybe reassemble on shelves, where I can see it but find it less daunting. The fear I’ve worn like a backpack has begun to lighten.

As I enter the final year of a life-changing decade, I don’t find myself gripped by any of the sadness I thought I might. It’ll be weird to cross the threshold to 30 next year, no doubt — and I’m sure the next decade will bring more shake-ups. And a growing family, I hope.

But I’m not there quite yet.

And right here? It’s definitely where I want to be.


We’re never gonna stop this train

Road

Back when I was commuting to College Park for school, the only thing getting me through long, terrible, traffic-riddled drives was the soothing sound of John Mayer.

Though his antics in recent years may have colored him in the public’s eye, perhaps, John will always be my main man. I can’t remember my young adult years without thinking of “Clarity,” “Bigger Than My Body,” “Something’s Missing,” “No Such Thing.” As John grew and released more sophisticated, blues-inspired tunes, so did I. My early years at Borders were marked by the release of “Continuum,” the 2006 album that served as a definitive change in his sound, and it became the soundtrack to my college days.

Sometimes I have these moments — crystal, perfect — that fill up the soul. Soothe me. Comfort me. Remind me that, no matter how disjointed and afraid I may feel some days, I’m on the right path . . . and everything is going to be just fine.

I often have John to thank.

Some of my best thinking gets done in the car. Despite all the chaos in the D.C. area, I usually find cruising around to be pretty relaxing. I don’t mind being alone — especially with music or books along for the ride. When the weather is nice? Windows down, hand in the wind. Just going.

Last night I’d just finished an audiobook and was digging around for something to listen to when I rediscovered “Where The Light Is,” John’s two-disc live album from 2008. “Stop This Train” began to play. The simple guitar intro took me immediately back to the spring of my senior year of college — the time when I realized, in a few short months, I’d be done with school forever and officially “an adult.”

I didn’t have a job lined up. Didn’t have a post-graduation plan. Was still living at home and already pondering ways to end another relationship, which pained and scared me — because at the time, he was my absolute best friend. Though far from being my great love, it’s always hard saying goodbye.

I remember driving on the Beltway on a warm spring day, the sun filtering through my cracked windows with “Continuum” on repeat. Graduation was probably weeks away, based on the knot in my stomach, and I was taking the exit that would lead me back home. Happiness and freedom should have been sitting right in my passenger seat, soothing me, but I’m nothing if not a worrier. I just remember feeling scared.



Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in
I know I can’t
But honestly, won’t someone stop this train?

The words — the words. They hit me like a brick wall.

Oh once in a while, when it’s good
It’ll feel like it should
And they’re all still around
And you’re still safe and sound
And you won’t miss a thing
Until you cry . . . when you’re driving away
In the dark

How did John slip inside the darkest corner of my heart and pluck out every scared thing I was feeling? I can’t listen to that song without thinking of that day . . . which is exactly what happened last night.

And then I realized: I got through it.

My fears about getting a job, leaving home, making new friends, finding someone to love who would love me just as much . . . entering “adulthood.” All of that. It hasn’t been easy and it’s certainly not over, but I did many of the things I was once so afraid to do. They came to pass, and I’m still standing.

Moved.
Married.
Working.
Indebted. But that’s okay, too.

I drove slowly to the new house, the one stacked sky-high with boxes. Breathed in the muggy air. Watched the fireflies twinkling in the trees.

It’s the most unshackled I’ve felt in months.


There are places I remember

For someone who likes to keep a tight fist around her emotions, I can be pretty mushy.

Like, really mushy.

Too-embarrassing-to-put-on-the-Internet mushy.

But I guess that’s not a bad thing, right? I mean, I really love my husband. Which is a good thing, considering we’ve only been hitched for two months . . . and if the sheen had already worn off, that might be a little scary.

Last weekend I started going through old photo albums hunting for favorite photos of Spencer and me through the years — pictures that will be included in a montage for our wedding video. I’ve totally slacked on this task; though I vowed to get our videographer the needed materials soon after the wedding, I crashed hard in November and basically abandoned any remaining bridal tasks . . . save the all-important thank-you notes.


Megan

Spencer


But. It’s late January now and, well, I seriously had no excuses left. Plus we would like to get our video back eventually, and I’d already stalled things enough with my procrastination.

And I’m getting déjà vu for some reason. Perhaps because I’ve procrastinated on many tasks before?

Eh, maybe.

So yes, Sunday afternoon was the culmination of all my putting-things-off-post-wedding — and the process of finding pictures of us was actually really fun! My parents-in-law were kind enough to bring many pictures of Spence when they visited at Christmas, and I had so much fun finding shots of us from similar ages.

Watching Spence through the years — and seeing physical evidence of my own rise to eventual adulthood — was actually really emotional. I remember being 16, 17, 18 . . . and friends, it doesn’t feel so very long ago. It’s crazy yet somehow reassuring for me to think that as I nursed my first break-up, my first heartbreak, my whacky twenties . . . well, Spencer had been out there somewhere. Waiting to meet me.


Childhood

Middle school

HS graduation


I used to lament that we didn’t have “a story.” Meeting online means you never have that our-eyes-met-from-across-the-room moment, you know? There’s no crowded bar, no college psych class, no high school sweetheart mythology. We met because Spencer stumbled upon my online dating profile and sent me a message, and I responded.

But I never would have joined the dating site if Jess hadn’t encouraged me to. If my parents hadn’t weighed in with an enthusiastic “do it!” If I hadn’t recently seen my first love again — live and in the flesh — only to realize that what I needed, more than anything, was to move forward. If I hadn’t felt hopeful enough to try.

Spence and I probably wouldn’t have met if he hadn’t gone into a physics program in college, eventually meeting the man who would encourage him to apply for an internship in Maryland. If he hadn’t felt comfortable coming to Maryland. If he hadn’t gotten the job, or been able to leave New York, or wanted to join a dating site himself. If he’d had a girlfriend at home or been too broken up by a past that wouldn’t let him move forward, either.

So, well, we do have a story.

And in some ways, it was 24 years in the making.


Us

Engaged


We went to court . . .

Town hall


. . . for our marriage license.

Our marriage license. It’s all official now.

Well, almost. We have to, you know, actually get married — which will occur in just a few weeks! And then it will be all official.

Hard to believe.

Time went by slowly, then quickly — and now faster still. I moved over the weekend. It was intensely emotional. By Sunday evening I felt wrung out, depleted; organizing everything I own in a new space has been challenging and scary and a little fun at times, yes — but also intimidating. And painful. And odd.

Spencer has been wonderful. Patient and kind and helpful. Understanding when I felt too wiped out to do much but stare into space; comforting when I most definitely needed a hug and chai tea.

Growing up is hard. I’m 28 but can easily close my eyes and be 10 or 12 or 22 again. I feel like my world is topsy-turvy — like everything is out of order, rearranged. I’m guessing many people feel that way after leaving home? After 25 years, I’m having a hard time thinking of “home” as anywhere other than the house in which I grew up. With my parents. And my dog.

But it’s only been two days. Two strange days. And I keep thinking of my future husband and the life we’re building and the positive changes that will accompany stepping into real adult world, though they’re hard to sort out sometimes.

Look forward, my mind hollers. Keep looking up.

I’ve always found change so difficult. Every major life transition has been met with uncertainty and fear. Graduating from middle school and high school, starting and leaving college. Break-ups. Reconnections. Heck, even falling love. So why would leaving home and getting married by met with anything but uncertainty? I know myself well enough to anticipate this would be an interesting time for me, and I was so very right.

But I’m hanging in. And I’m adjusting. I’m working on adjusting.

Bittersweet has become my refrain, my own broken record. That one word has come to embody everything I know and think and feel about 2013. I’m always so hesitant to talk about my sadness regarding leaving home because I fear judgment — like others think my anxiety is a reflection on my relationship. It’s a general assumption that wedding planning should be The Happiest Time of Your Life!!!, which makes it even harder to express the mixed bag of emotions I’m actually feeling. It makes me feel guilty and pathetic and bad. (Which is why I’ve been so grateful for places like A Practical Wedding. Nervous brides-to-be, get thee to that website.)

I remember reading Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s Life After Yes in 2010 — how it spoke to me on a deeper level than any other novel had at the time. The thought that moving forward isn’t something that just happens to you — that growing up and being happy are a choice — is a theme that struck every little chord in my soul, and it’s something I return to now.

“Growing up doesn’t just happen. It’s not a fact; it’s a decision.”

So I have decided. I am deciding. We are deciding.

Starting with that license.