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.


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Not immune to the gloom (but stepping it up)

Stairs

It’s been raining for weeks.

WEEKS. Not being dramatic. We had a rare respite yesterday with a 70-degree day and sunshine, but aside from that? RAIN. Rain every day. Every. single. day.

Though I spend almost the entire day indoors, I’m not immune to the gloom. Our office moved to a high-rise in March with a large expanse of windows (natural light, thank goodness), but my view now? Clouds. Gray clouds. Pouring rain.

As it is for many folks, I’m sure, the weather can definitely set the tone for the day.

Especially when I am, for the first time in ages, wanting to move.

In my Christmas stocking last year was a pedometer — a gift from my parents I embraced with gusto. As a competitive person obsessed with numbers and tracking, it was so interesting to see how much — or, in my case, how little — I walked each day.

For Mother’s Day, Oliver (er, Spencer) surprised me with my humble pedometer’s sleek older sibling: the FitBit One, which links to an app that gives me graphs and charts of my activity each day. Charts! For an English major, I get stupidly excited about graphs, man. And having a tangible way to map my progress as I try to move more each day has been really gratifying. And fun.

My step-count is nothing to get excited about. While the American Heart Association recommends walking 10,000 steps a day, I’ve crossed that finish line once since January. I make a concentrated effort to take the stairs at work, take breaks in the afternoons, even force myself to make an extra lap around the building before I head in the front door.

During our short-lived reunion with the sun yesterday, I actually took a 20-minute walk along the meandering sidewalks outside our building: an extra 1,400 steps.

But on an average day, I’m still doing about 4,000-5,000 steps — well shy of the 10,000 step goal.

Purely for selfish reasons, I recently researched how to add steps to your work day for a feature in our health magazine. SparkPeople had some great tips, and this one was my favorite:

“Be Inefficient. We are all so busy that it makes sense to multitask, combining several errands in a single trip, ordering takeout from the computer we’re already sitting in front of, or carrying that armload of clothes + toys + shoes + toilet paper upstairs in a single trip.

While technology has made a lot of things easier on us, what if you deliberately tried to be inefficient — any time it involved being on your feet. On days that I know I’ve been less active, I choose to be inefficient as a way to get more activity in while getting my daily chores or work done. For example, I’ll carry the laundry downstairs in three smaller trips instead of one oversized basket, or pick up and put away one item in the house at a time instead of filling my arms in an efficient way.

Although it can be difficult to justify taking more time to do basic things when you’re busy, I justify it to myself by thinking of it as multitasking: I’m getting activity in at the same time as my chores.”

I’m the person half-collapsed under a pile of grocery bags because I hate having to make two trips from the car, so this? This spoke to me. Spoke to my essence of very being. In the morning, I often come close to wrenching my back out because I carry my purse, laptop bag, lunch bag, Oliver’s bottles and the car seat out before I come back for the baby.

And you know what that is? Crazy.

I’m getting better. Thinking more. Being conscious of how little I normally move, how much better I feel with some activity and enjoying the ripple effect of wanting to eat better when I’m doing better with my movement.

Just wearing the FitBit is a huge motivator for me: knowing I’m earning a few extra steps (and credit for the stairs!) when I have to haul my rump back up for another diaper or my misplaced cell phone makes me . . . well, less irritable, actually.

And maybe that was Spencer’s plan all along. 😉


Any favorite tricks or tips for moving more during your day?
Spill your secrets. We’re all friends here!


Hands to help on a Monday night

Bread

As a writer, I’m used to asking the questions.

I inquire. Follow up. Probe, maybe — just a little! — to get to the core of a story in a way I hope will do the subject justice.

After seven years of writing a column, I’m still getting used to being “in the field” writing features — but am enjoying the heck out of it. I rarely get nervous these days because stories are stories, and that’s my job: to tell stories. Mine. Yours. His. Hers. Theirs.

I’ve started spending Monday evenings at a local soup kitchen. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly, other than I felt an extreme pull — a need, really — to go. I heard about the need for volunteers at work and, before I knew it, I’d signed up for the next shift. The spiritual part of me thinks that was God, and maybe it was. After sitting behind a desk most of the day, I guess I wanted to get my hands a little dirty.

I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back. In fact, it feels strange to write about it at all — but in a short time, these Monday dinners have become an important part of my life. They matter to me. These people, my neighbors, matter to me.

When I interviewed Angela Mitchell last month, she inspired me so much with her dedication to the Chesapeake Bay and its inhabitants. We talked about how some folks would love to get involved in volunteer work, but it seems daunting.

“Many people say, ‘I don’t know where to start, but I have these two hands and a Saturday morning,’” Mitchell said.

Two hands and a Saturday morning.

Two hands . . . and a Monday night.

And so I’ve started signing up to help at dinners, using an office restroom to change into faded jeans after work. The first time I came to serve anyone who needed a hot meal, at least 20 volunteers crowded the church hall. Everyone was bubbly, eager to help; so many people were there to cook and clean that I wasn’t really needed.

But I stayed. Tried to make myself useful. And at a dinner designed to unite the community and feed the hungry — older people; younger people; homeless people; people coming straight from work in faded uniforms — I looked into faces and listened to stories.

A young girl took a shine to me, lingering around the table of donated goods I was periodically manning. It was her sixth birthday, and she looked eagerly through stacks of school supplies. In her hands was a birthday card, and she asked me to read it aloud several times. “It had $10 in it,” she said.

“Are you going to save your money or spend it?” I asked.

“Spend it!” she said eagerly, as any child would.

I asked her if she had something in mind, and the look she gave me nearly burned.

“Food,” she said. “Duh.”


Eating in America


I have never wanted for food. Never had to fall asleep hungry or go to school hungry or watch others eat with nothing for lunch. My biggest food-related challenge has been to eat less of it — and the idea of a 6-year-old wanting (needing?) to spend birthday money not on toys or clothes, but lunch? Well.

I was not there to pity anyone, and they don’t want our pity. I wasn’t looking for a “thank you.” This was not for a story.

At least . . . not that kind of story.

In sharp contrast to my first time volunteering, when the hall was bursting with eager assistants, I walked in Monday to find two women struggling to pull down chairs and set up tables with just 30 minutes before guests would start arriving. Nothing was cooked, and the room was quiet. There were five of us to feed 40-plus people: serving, assisting, seating, helping, cleaning.

I panicked.

I assumed every night at the soup kitchen would be like my first: all hustle-and-bustle, laughter and ease, many people gathered to help many other people. Someone else in charge. Someone else with authority.

But this wasn’t the other volunteers’ first rodeo. As guests filtered in, I was amazed at the speed with which meatloaf, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rolls sprang from the kitchen. The women in charge were quick, kind and completely in control. After the room was set up for diners, I helped greet everyone and got them situated before we began serving. Many were lined up outside in the sun.

As we rushed to fill drink orders, bring out full plates and track down pats of butter, a young man reached out a hand. “Hi,” he said. “What’s your name?”

If I’m being honest, honest to the bone, well . . . I expected a leer. A come-on. A flirtation. Being asked my name has almost always preceded an unwelcome remark — though at 30, I rarely deal with that sort of thing anymore.

But I told him.

“Nice to meet you, Megan,” he said, and the two men with him also looked up with tired eyes. I smiled before grabbing plates and moving on.

A few minutes later, I passed by again — and the man put out a hand to catch my attention. “I’m sorry — what’s your name again?”

I told him, stifling a snap of impatience. A family was waiting on sweet tea.

“Megan,” he said, “can I ask you something?”

Here it comes, I thought. But I said, “Sure.”

“Megan . . . why do you . . .” He paused to take a slug of his water. Then he glanced at his friends, seemingly for help to pull the words he wanted from the meaty-scented air between us. Finally he asked, “Why do you do what you do?”

And I stood there, rooted to the sticky floor, used cups in my hands and sweaty hair in my face.

What I do?


Veggies


I was not the one who built this nonprofit from the ground up. I hadn’t cooked or organized this dinner. I had not donated meals, goodies or much-needed funds. I was just a worker bee: running plates, scrubbing gravy bowls, crafting Arnold Palmers from the iced tea and lemonade dispensers for delighted children.

I’m not doing much of anything, I thought. I’m just here. I showed up.

“I . . . don’t know,” I said. “I just heard about it and . . . felt like I needed to come.”

And that was the truth. The plain truth.

I don’t like to think about others being hungry — especially children. There are so many causes to care about, so much that can leave us inspired and heartbroken and eager to help. The more I volunteer to serve dinners, the more I feel the need to serve dinners.

I don’t want to talk about helping or plan to help. I just want to do it.

Maybe your cause, like Angela, is to work to preserve your home for future generations. Maybe it’s to encourage others to vote or help rebuild communities or encourage sustainable living or raise funds for cancer research.

Whatever it is, you can start small. Wade in. Commit to a few hours, then a few hours more. Get others involved. Give the gift of your attention.

Sometimes the simplest questions have the hardest answers. And even if we can’t do much, we can do something.

We can show up.


The sugary smell of springtime

Cherry blossom

Hello. It’s me.

I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet?

Just kidding! But also . . . hi. I really didn’t plan to vanish like that — and though I’m not generally one to blog about blogging, I didn’t want to swoop in here and pretend like it hasn’t been almost a month since you heard from me.

Hi!

So it’s spring now — a glorious, marvelous, fresh-from-the-dryer season with its new buds and warm breezes. My parents and I made a trip into Washington on Saturday to see the cherry blossoms, which were mostly dormant . . . but still beautiful. Mom and I try to get to the Tidal Basin every spring, and that was the only time we could go — so we soldiered through a rainy forecast and enjoyed our walk in the city with my dad — an actual D.C. tour guide — as tour guide.

IMG_5195

Oliver is just three weeks from being an honest-to-goodness 1-year-old. I’m sure I’ll try to pull my thoughts together about that before April 12, but am not sure I’ll be able to! This has been the hardest, craziest, most exciting, most terrifying and truly insane year of my life. When I think back on my entrance into motherhood, I’m filled with head-shaking disbelief at everything we’ve seen and done since last spring.

It wasn’t always snuggles and rainbows — but is it for anyone? More often than not, it was coughing fits and late-night talk-shows over bottles and laundry, omg so much laundry, and about 10,876 viewings of “The Muppets” — the only show that will hold Ollie’s interest for more than 45 seconds.

But, as they say, would I trade any of it?

Well, yes — I’d trade some of it. Absolutely. That week with hand, foot and mouth virus and 1 a.m. ER visits, to start.

But most? The rest? Never.

IMG_5141

We’re excited for Easter and his first birthday party, for longer days and warmer nights and walks around the neighborhood. I still have my “I’m someone’s mother” moments — and still wonder if I’m somehow screwing this all up already. But they’re stretching out longer, pulled like taffy. They don’t plague me like they did.

I’ve been reading in fits and starts, unable to gain traction with any book in particular. I haven’t finished a print/Kindle book in ages, but am loving — LOVING — Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, read by the author on audio. It is funny, uplifting, ripe with girl power . . . and though I didn’t know much about Rhimes beyond an early obsession with “Grey’s Anatomy,” she is quickly becoming a personal heroine.

On the weight loss front, I’ve stalled a bit. After dropping 10 pounds and thinking I was back into the swing of Weight Watchers, I abruptly derailed and went on a cookie binge. (Wish I were kidding.)

It started with the eager smiles of Girl Scouts and their deliciously evil samoas . . . and once I got a taste of that sugar again, I just started feeling tired. Tired of tracking, of worrying, of planning, of obsessing. Tired. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, eat what I wanted to eat.

So I did.

I carried on like that for a week or two — but the impact was obvious. I was back to feeling lethargic, guilty, sluggish. It takes more time to plan and prepare healthy snacks, but it’s worth it. Instead of holding my feet to the fire, however, I’m easing my way back in. Going back to an all-in Weight Watchers mentality wasn’t working for me this go ’round, but I’m taking all my WW-acquired knowledge and making simple changes every day.

I’ll get there. And honestly? After all my body has gone through lately, I just can’t be really tough on her. I give her the benefit of the doubt. Cut her some slack. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to binge-eat Oreos at 10 p.m., but I’m less inclined to sacrifice small pleasures all the time.

The key is, of course, to keep them small. Not, like, half-a-package worth.

But that’s another post.

So! There you have it. I’ve missed y’all and hope my radio silence doesn’t become a regular thing. I’d like to get back into reading and writing and blogging often in the months to come, but my creative energy is dedicated to my full-time writing gig — and speaking of which . . .

My columns are now available through a digital subscription to our newspapers! I haven’t discussed it much here because work/life boundaries and all, but “Right, Meg?” publishes twice a week on life, motherhood, growing up, etc. Kind of like my blog posts — but on steroids. And in AP style.

I’m also writing features for our regional magazine, Chesapeake 360. They’re fun pieces pretty specific to Southern Marylanders, but the stories are free online with profiles on many cool places. This vintage store blew me away.

So if you need me, I’ll be blowing all my cash on a distressed bedroom bench.

I really feel it’s what Chip and Joanna would want.


Snowy mama mettle

Ollie and me

Well, the Great Blizzard has become the Great Melt.

After five days snowed in at home, I finally got back to the office on Tuesday. “Civilization!” I cried, planting smooches on any human face I encountered. “People! Sunlight!”

Just kidding.

Well, kind of.

Though we made the best of it and I enjoyed being cozy with my boys, I was pretty claustrophobic by Monday. It snowed most of Friday and all of Saturday, finally stopping with 23 inches down by the early hours Sunday morning.

Spencer did a great job keeping our driveway clear, but neighborhood roads were still impassable until Tuesday. With temperatures climbing into the 50s (Maryland weather is nothing if not ridiculous), the roads began to flood. On the one hand, I was quite relieved not to worry about ice. But now, of course, there’s the issue of refreezing . . .

Anyway. Enough boring science stuff.

We never lost power, so there was no need for The Bunker. I knew we had rations to get through the long weekend (and then some), but having no heat was another animal entirely — so I’m very thankful we lucked out there. We never ran out of diapers or formula or water or any of the other essential items I gathered like a rabid Gollum, afraid of someone swooping in to steal my preciouses.

After the storm settled (literally), we went outside with Ollie for a grand total of, oh, ten minutes . . . long enough to snap a few photos. My sister and brother-in-law braved slick roads to come see the Ollie man and his first big snow.

He wasn’t too interested. But that was mostly because of the dreaded jacket/hood combination.


blizzard


Back when Ollie was tipping the scales at 5 pounds and we stared at him all day, convinced he would stop breathing without our vigilance, going outside at all was a process. The day after he came home, we went his first pediatric appointment just a few miles away.

The first night was horrible, of course. The month after Oliver was born but before he was released was the strangest of my life. I’d given birth, but our child wasn’t there with us. We made near-daily treks to his hospital in Baltimore, but . . . we had gone back to sleeping.

Sleep. Sleeeeeeeep.

I slept horribly throughout my pregnancy, especially toward the end. I could never get comfortable, especially since I’m a back sleeper (a no-no while expecting). After he was born, of course, I still wasn’t resting well . . . too many churning thoughts with insomnia. But when I could sleep, I did. For hours. Unbroken. For as long as I wanted, or could.

As soon as our son came home, of course, that rest became an exotic memory. When we arrived at Dr. M’s office that first morning, I was practically frothing at the mouth. We had barely slept, Spencer and me, and I’d spent most of the night staring at this impossibly small child wondering where he had come from.

No love lost for last May, that’s for sure.

When we saw Dr. M and introduced our preemie, it was a relief to learn she had welcomed a premature child herself. Our biggest questions were, of course, How do we do this? Are we ever going to sleep again?

(Yes. I wish I’d known that for sure nine months ago.)

In the beginning, Oliver could not get comfortable at home. He’d spent his entire life in a cozy, temperature-regulated isolette with nurses tending to his needs around the clock. Ollie was suddenly in a dark, quiet room with two strangers — us, his parents — and I cried to my husband, “He wants to go back!”

We worried he was cold. Or uncomfortable in his snap-up outfit. I thought we were supposed to put pajamas on babies, not realizing that it makes no difference at all. So I’d forced a footed thing on him, thinking that was what we were “supposed” to do, only for him to spend the whole night miserably trying to kick it off.

He is, and has always been, a kicker.

I remember asking Dr. M what to do about the kicking. Terrified of SIDS, like all parents, I knew we could not have any loose bedding in his bassinet — but he just seemed cold and out of sorts. He kicked off anything we tried to put on him. She confirmed we could swaddle him . . . but he didn’t love that, either. Ollie hates being confined, so the wearable blankets we received are, um, ready to be passed along in pristine condition, shall we say.

Dr. M was comforting. She reminded us, in her gentle way, that we are his parents. The nurses are gone; the NICU is gone. We are responsible for his care, and we make the decisions.

“Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Little baby, I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do,’” she said.


Family


It seemed a little hokey at the time — especially given we feared Oliver was actually a vampire child, sleeping soundly during the day but alert (and shrieking) all night.

But I get it now. Ollie definitely has his own personality, with likes and dislikes and temper tantrums for the latter. He despises anything being on his feet or head, so hats and socks and hoods are immediately shucked off. Don’t even try shoes.

Jackets really irritate him — which is fun because, you know, it’s winter. And about 25 degrees. But as Ollie goes stiff-armed to avoid the sleeves, having a meltdown when I lift the hood to shield him from the cold, I summon my motherly courage — the mettle I guess I had in me all along — to give him the hair eyeball.

“I know,” I say. “Mama hears you. But my baby, I know what’s best for you, and this is what we’re going to do.”

And we do.

Er, most of the time.

Have to pick our battles, right?


Hello, 2016

New Years

So, you know. I ended 2015 how I wanted to spend most of it, the most life-changing year of my life: asleep. Despite a valiant effort to stay up with Spencer to welcome 2016 at my in-laws’ home, I passed out on the couch . . . at 8:30 p.m.

I mean, I am 30 now.

In my defense, I’d been up since 4:30 a.m. with the little guy — and I did wake up 15 minutes before the official ball drop, so I was technically awake at midnight. I just . . . can’t remember much before or after that.

New Year’s always tastes bittersweet to me. I always find it a little . . . melancholy. Saying goodbye to another year; heading into an unknown future. Trading the sparkle and glitz of Christmas and an action-packed December for the cold, empty calendar of January.

But 2015? It was the year I became a mother: the year I found out we would welcome a son, grappled with his premature birth and settled in as a family of three. Becoming a parent pushed me to my absolute edge — physically, mentally, emotionally — and there were times when, yes, I worried that this much-longed-for child would have me packing a passport, dying my hair blonde and changing my name.

But that was the exhaustion talking.

(Mostly.)

It was a tough year, a great year, a joyous year, a terrifying year. I experienced moments of pure happiness and bouts of fear and guilt so intense they threatened to carry me away. In 2015, I was the happiest I’ve ever been: the moment Oliver first offered his first real smile; coming down to find my amazing husband cradling our child in his arms, both asleep on the couch; watching Ollie’s face light up with pride when he rolled over on his own.

But I was the saddest I’ve ever been, too: sitting desolate in the hospital before he was born, a tight blood pressure cuff’s readings sealing my fate; the agony of childbirth; being discharged without Oliver. I have never cried as I did the first night spent without his kicks as he lay in an isolette in Baltimore, hours away. I have never felt that broken. The weight of that fear and despair? Not something I can articulate, really. It was . . . heartbreak.

Life pushed forward, however. Ollie got stronger (and cuter! sweeter!), and our Ollie came home. I don’t take that for granted — not for a second. We got through it and, with time, I’m learning to get past it. But I don’t punish myself on the tough days when I can’t, either.

In all, 2015 was the year I learned I’m made of some pretty tough stuff. When I became a mother, my heart grew ten sizes — and so did my backbone.

Honestly, the year was a blur — a hazy, lazy, dreamy and overwhelming mix of 2 a.m. feedings, diaper blow-outs, baby giggles, lots of snuggles and days spent in my pajamas. I barely read, tried to clean, didn’t vacation . . . but the little corner of our living room where I first held my baby boy at home became our haven, and it’s where we sit together every day.

And through it all, I continued to work full-time. Becoming a working mom has added an entirely new dimension to my stress, but it’s a challenge I’ve accepted — and can manage. Our newspaper was sold over the summer, followed swiftly by many changes in just a few months. After many friends were laid off in October, I’ve had to tackle entirely new challenges — and have adapted. Pressed forward.

I have grown.

In an attempt to not set myself up for failure, I’m not making “resolutions” for 2016 — but I want to continue to grow. And cut myself some slack. As a lifelong perfectionist, it’s hard to admit when I need help . . . but I don’t scold myself when I get behind on emails, let the dirty bottles wait until morning or choose to knock out some shows on the DVR rather than vacuum. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter.

Making “time for myself” is something of a misnomer, but I am finding ways to slowly return to the hobbies I’ve shelved since Oliver was born. Now that we’re all sleeping more, I have renewed energy to read — and plan to knock out some books that have been languishing in the library for years in 2016.

Ollie will turn 1 in April. We’re going to have a hell of a party. Spencer turns 30 in May, and I’ll be 31 this summer. Though our plans lately have, for the most part, centered on just getting through each day, I want to return to healthier habits and start meal planning again. I haven’t decided if I’m ready to recommit to Weight Watchers but, after experiencing much success in 2013, it’s definitely an option. We’ll see how it goes.

Regardless, I do want to get healthy again. In my post-preeclampsia life, I know how important it is for me to lose weight and get my blood pressure under control — and that will be a focus as I move forward. I want to choose my health. I’m just afraid of putting any hard-and-fast rules on myself, as with Weight Watchers, because I don’t want to ride the accompanying waves of guilt if I “fail.”

Progress, not perfection.

We have so many milestones to come with Ollie: talking, crawling, walking, running. He’s already changed so much in the last nine months — I can’t wait to see more of his little personality develop. He’s already so funny, quirky and sweet. Even on the dark, tough days, I adore being a mom. His mom.

But I’m also a wife, daughter, sister, employee, friend. A writer, reader, photographer and serious coffee drinker. These roles have changed dramatically in the last 12 months . . . and I’m still discovering new facets and challenges for each. But it’s okay to learn as we go.

Isn’t that what we all must do?

As I plod back into work tomorrow morning to sift through emails, clear out the residual holiday decorations and hang up a shiny new calendar, I’m ready — and eager — to push forward.

The best, as they say, is yet to come.


Ready with the twinkle

With Santa

Not even the merriest of Santa’s elves could feel jolly when it’s 70 degrees, humid and raining.

But we press on here in Maryland. Because Christmas is Friday!

Honestly, I’ve struggled to get into the spirit this year. Despite it being Oliver’s much-anticipated first holiday, I’ve felt overwhelmed and stressed since Thanksgiving — just perpetually behind. Trying to accomplish many things, and doing none of them well.

It’s the pressure, I think. THE PRESSURE. Self-imposed pressure to create the “perfect” season — but still. Knowing we’re winding down on my son’s first year has made me reflective . . . more than usual, I mean. The idea that this time — his first Christmas — is an important one, a time that will live in our memories forever, has made me tough on myself. If I haven’t been enjoying every moment, I feel doubly awful for not enjoying it. You know?

I’m a mess.

But I want to feel relaxed. Calm. Bright. With the best of intentions to get my shopping done early, I’ve been scrambling for last-minute items for days — and even made one fretful trip to Walmart on Saturday, the busiest shopping day of the year, to brave the chaos and meandering check-out lines. My version of purgatory, basically.

But I can’t be too hard on myself. Work has been insanely busy for both Spencer and me, leaving us with little energy in the evenings. Plus, in early December, Ollie got sick — again — and this time, instead of a run-of-the-mill cold or the dreaded hand, foot and mouth virus, it was with croup. An illness straight out of 1942, apparently.

That was almost three weeks ago.

After many trips to the doctor and urgent care, we got him feeling marginally better . . . only for Spencer to get sick. Then me. With no ability to be off work and so much to do.

You know what’s exciting? Interviewing a chef for a restaurant feature with no voice. Literally: none. Trying to contain your cough around people just trying to enjoy their seafood. Stifling your sneezing in a library as you meet with the sweetest children’s librarian ever — a woman with whom you can barely chat, given you can’t even be heard in a silent library.

But did I get those articles written? Did I meet deadline? I DID. Beast mode.


Sleeping


Having three ill people in one house with no one to be primary nurse did test our limits, though. Poor Ollie was so congested and uncomfortable, though he did sleep — thank God. I couldn’t take another scream-fest that was hand, foot, mouth in November. These back-to-back illnesses have made me want to quarantine ourselves forever — and I can see why many families, especially those with preemies, tend to exist in a bubble until spring.

And yet. I won’t dwell on the negatives, the hard times. We are all well now! And we’re well for Christmas! And we have wonderful family and friends we’ll be making memories with over the next few weeks. After the tumultuous year we’ve had, our dear son is thriving — and becoming such a little man. A true delight.

Despite our exhaustion, I have tried to soak up the atmosphere. We made it to see Santa Claus — twice! — and walked around holiday markets in town. We’ve made hot chocolate with delightfully defrosted whipped cream. Though I tend to fall asleep on the couch by 9 p.m., I’ve watched a few so-cheesy-they’re-awesome Hallmark movies on the DVR . . . and have more saved up for the weekend.

There have been quiet moments with my husband and son: reading Bear Stays Up For Christmas and watching “Charlie Brown,” looking through our holiday cards and pointing out each soon-to-be-familiar face to Oliver. Hanging our stockings, scrawling “Mommy” on gift tags. Buying the cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.

But the most delightful part of December has been watching Ollie each morning as we descend into the living room. His face splits into the biggest grin at the sight of the glittering tree and fireplace, made magical again overnight.


Rolling


And he’s rolling now! Independently. Totally independently — and much to his own delight. It happened for the first time last weekend, and now he cannot. stop. He’s addicted to the roll, I’m telling you. And he looks so proud of himself with each flip, lifting his head to smile at Spencer and me. It makes me teary.

At 8 months old (6 months adjusted), we’re hitting milestones at our own pace — and for the most part, I’ve been OK with that. I don’t read baby books, generally speaking, and resist the urge to compare him to friends’ children. The “Your Baby Now!”-type app has been uninstalled on my phone.

Though I’m still working on my acceptance of preeclampsia and his prematurity, I have learned that sweet Oliver is Oliver. He moves at his own pace, but he does move. Our journey might look a little different, but that just means we fight harder.

Still: that roll? That tangible progress? The perfect early gift for his mama.

Now that we’re days away from Christmas, 95 percent of the “work” has been completed. We’ll soon gather at my parents’ and grandparents’ houses for our traditional Christmas Eve and holiday festivities, and head up to see our New York family next week.

This season may not have been the cookie-cutter “perfect” time  I imagined for Oliver’s first year, but . . . what in life truly goes as planned?

And it’s not about how or when you turned on the twinkle lights, anyway.

The point is: they’re twinkling now.

And we’re ready.