Bottled-up emotions

Bottles

After four years of faithful service, we have said goodbye to Dr. Brown.

The bottle rack that took up real estate next to our sink has been scrubbed clean, along with the dozens of bottle parts and vents and unused scrub brushes and … well, all the accoutrements. And I do mean all of them.

The kitchen counter looks naked now. We hadn’t even lived in our house a year when Oliver was born. The sudden appearance of baby bottles — bottles on tables; bottles in bags; bottles always, always, always in the sink — was a reminder of how different our lives had become overnight.

When Ollie had been home a month or so, I remember standing bleary-eyed in front of the sink. We have a bank of windows in that sunny corner of the kitchen, and the day looked beautiful. Everything was green. Lush. Early summer. And I could barely absorb any of it, as trapped as I felt indoors.

Is this my life now? I thought.

I was still hand-washing baby bottles then. That seemed like what I “should” be doing. I was so screwed up, so weighed down with exhaustion and anxiety … but for some reason, I was adamant — obsessive, even — about cleaning these bottles by hand, as if that time-consuming process was penance for not feeling all the sparkly-glowy feelings of new motherhood.

It got better, of course. Mostly because I got better. It’s hard to talk about postpartum anxiety, even though I feel like I’ve told a million women before and since that they should never be afraid to ask for help. I was afraid to ask for help. I couldn’t find the words, even with my own husband. Our story had the added complication of preeclampsia and prematurity, and I felt so guilty for feeling anything but grateful that we were both frickin’ alive that it really … just complicated things. Everything.

A stigma remains around mental health — around the raw vulnerability of saying you are struggling, especially as a new parent. It’s supposed to be *~the HaPPieSt time of your LiFe*~ and to admit that taking care of a baby 24/7 can really suck isn’t a popular opinion.

Still, it’s true. I love my children dearly, it goes without saying, but I have struggled. The newborn years have been hard. But in time, sunshine began to filter through the fog … and here we are, almost four years later, and there’s nothing I look forward to more than coming home each day to the pounding of toddler feet running to meet me at the door. (Except maybe a piece of chocolate cake after they go to bed, but that’s another story.)

Hadley is sassy and wild and hilarious, learning so much every day. Oliver is opinionated and observant and incredibly smart, and I love our morning chats and bedtime stories and the way he tucks his head onto my shoulder at the end of a busy day.

With Hadley now fully transitioned to a cup, the “babas” had to go. Spencer was the one to make that executive decision. I was very wistful as I packed up the last of her 24-month bodysuits, neatly sorting our daughter’s new 2T shirts into piles in the top drawer of her dresser, but I could do it.

The bottles were another story, though. They have literally been with us from day one. I felt very tender toward Dr. Brown and his special bottles as we prepped everything to pass along. For as much as my husband and I have dreaded washing all the individual parts, they have served us well. Seen us through hard times. Been entrenched in the very origin story of the Johnson family of three, then four.

It’s the end of an era. But that “naked” corner of the kitchen is already filling with hair ties used to wrangle Hadley’s wild curls, boxes of cookies, Ollie’s PJ Masks toothbrush. New treasures seem to filter in every day.

Hadley’s Minnie Mouse cup is the new mainstay, and I have zero qualms about putting that baby in the dishwasher.

The relentless march of time does have its advantages.

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The hush of a snowy Sunday

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Winter is my least favorite season, but even I will admit there is something magical about watching children as they watch snow.

We got about eight inches last week — unusual for Maryland. Generally the weather is mild here, and we’ve gotten spoiled by some exceptionally warm winters. It’s almost like we get to skip that season entirely.

Every now and then, though, Mother Nature rears up and reminds us who is really in charge here. Our snowfall came last Saturday into Sunday and, though we had lingering closures and commuting chaos into Monday, it wasn’t too stressful.

I welcomed the reminder to slow down. The holidays were so stressful this year. Much of that was self-imposed, I know, but I have struggled terribly with the sickness that is trying to make holidays “perfect” since my first child was born.

I have a hard time just letting things . . . be what they are. To accept that I don’t have to do All the Things, and my children would be just as happy with cardboard boxes as toys. We’re trying to raise them to be kind, empathetic, generous people, and mountains of presents aren’t in keeping with that goal. They’re not in keeping with anything I want to be about these days, actually.

Still: the pressure. Commercial. Societal. I work in marketing; it’s not like I’m unaware of advertising and messaging. I know how important it is to surround ourselves with positive energy that keeps us feeling strong and confident in our choices.

But when I looked at the small-ish pile of gifts under the tree — gifts my husband and I had carefully chosen for our son and daughter; ones we thought they would really enjoy, not just “stuff” to check the box of “Lots of Stuff for Christmas” — I had this pang of . . . not-doing-enough-ness. A sense that somehow I hadn’t delivered.

That is ridiculous, of course. I do know that. I spent hours planning for, decorating, baking and organizing for Christmas, because everyone knows mothers make the magic happen. And I have very acutely felt the sense of needing to measure up. And that, somehow, I’m not.

I’ve been sitting with these feelings lately, wondering where they come from. What I can do about them. Basically I’m a giant stress ball, and that doesn’t make me a good . . . anything. Partner, parent, employee. So many roles and responsibilities.

My anxiety is usually the root cause, but I actually feel like I have a decent handle on that lately. This is less the panicky fight-or-flight feeling I’m used to, and more just a general unease that I’m not keeping all the plates spinning. That a few are about to fall.

I’ve been reading Breathe, Mama, Breathe by Shonda Moralis — one of approximately 2,000 parenting self-help books I own, but have never made the time to crack open. It’s quick and helpful. I actually meditated for the first time this morning, sitting in our bedroom closet — the only place I can guarantee I will have five minutes to myself — and sat on the floor, emptying my mind until I was just a breathing person. A real living, breathing person.

What a miraculous thing that is.

It felt a little silly at first, but it wasn’t as hard to clear my thoughts as I expected. I’ve been needing a way to take a broom to the ol’ cobwebs in my mind, clearing away much of the useless clutter and trying to focus more on living in the moment.

Oliver will be four this spring, and Hadley almost two. They change so much every day and seem to grow overnight.

I need to be present. Present so I can enjoy it.

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Spence and I took them out into the snow last Sunday, tying on boots and knotting scarves and stuffing hats over curls. It was cold and wet and I hate both of those things, but I pulled on my long coat and joined them.

Hadley was delighted, sticking out her little paws to feel the cold flakes on her fingers and blinking as they dusted her face. Oliver tromped around in his Columbia boots, looking for all the world like an explorer who had recently discovered a new land.

And it occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, that I have spent so much time standing behind them — arms outstretched in case they fall. But both my son and daughter walk more confidently now. I was amazed at how quickly they took off on uneven ground.

I was grateful for that simple, quiet moment: one that involved nothing but happy kids and heavy coats, a hushed afternoon and warm home to reenter when we were ready.

I haven’t felt sad that a soft January has followed sparkly, edgy, frenetic December.

I know how to appreciate quiet these days.

Five things on Friday

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1. As a belated Mother’s Day gift, my sister, Mom and I recently enjoyed tea and a tour at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Despite living just 40-ish minutes outside the city, I don’t get downtown much these days — let alone on a Tuesday. It was such a cool, fun experience, and the food was delicious! We all I know was likely British in a past life, so the tea tradition speaks to my scone-loving soul. Highly recommend to anyone looking for a unique opportunity in the city.

2. I can’t help but feel like August is the only thing standing between me and fall. Glorious, beautiful, crisp and cozy fall. Last year I totally lost my marbles and started decorating before Labor Day, which I realize was . . . a little premature. This year? I’m trying to reign in my enthusiasm, but it’s pointless. Oliver was only 6 months old last Halloween, but this year I feel like he’ll be closer to “getting it” — and I’ll be able to better position him for pumpkin photo shoots! This is the No. 1 reason to have a child, by the way: photo shoots. (Just kidding. Er, sort of.)

3. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve earned a trophy for adulting for finally resolving a medical bill for testing during my pregnancy (!!) that has been haunting us since January 2015. It’s a long and boring story involving many phone calls, emails, stapled statements and blah blah blah, but as of yesterday, I fought the good fight and won. Just so happy to have that resolved. Insurance issues are the worst. Also, now I don’t have to worry about bankruptcy, so. Sweet relief!

4. Oliver has been saying “Mama” like crazy lately, along with “Dada” and “Baby” (bayyy-beee). He’s also beginning to wave, smoosh up his lips for a “kiss” and is definitely grasping the concept of “no” (whether he follows it is, of course, another story). So excited to be hitting these milestones!

5. I may or may not have started my Christmas shopping spreadsheet — along with said holiday shopping. As a list-loving American, this is the only way I can keep myself organized. Despite my good intentions, I was one of those people scrambling last-minute to finish shopping last year . . . and I wound up bulk-ordering on Amazon to just officially say I was done. Let me shout it loud and proud: I AM NOT doing that this year! Like, seriously. I want to enjoy the heck out of the holidays and not feel the rampant anxiety that consumed me last year, ’cause we all know that is not what it’s about. So I’ve already purchased a few things and scribbled down ideas for others. I feel better already.

Happy weekend, friends! And thanks for staying with me during the long write meg! drought. I find my creative juices stymied by exhaustion so much lately that it’s hard to put fingers to keyboard. But I’m not going anywhere. ❤


Five things on Friday

24 weeks

1. I’m officially in maternity wear 24/7, which probably should have happened a while ago . . . but I was milking the last little bit out of stretchy cardigans and generously-cut tops. But NO MORE. At 25 weeks along (today!), this baby is majorly gaining on me. I have an anterior placenta (eek, sorry to talk about placentas . . .), basically a “mattress” cushioning me from his blows, so movements have been subtle. But in the last week or so, Baby J has apparently gotten big enough for me to feel his frequent cartwheels — and my husband has even felt a jab or two. Very exciting!

2. The cold here in Maryland has gotten ridiculous. I know it’s so cliche to complain about the weather, but seriously. It was 5 degrees this morning, and I think I felt every sting of that. My 11-year-old car has been hating every second of it, and I’ve had frequent, panicky PLEASESTARTPLEASESTART moments with my engine. Also, our driveway still has long icy patches, and ice and clumsy pregnancies don’t mix.

3. I’m back to doing the random-book-shuffle. I start a book; I put it down. I reach for another one; I put it down. I get about 30 pages in before I snuffle and abandon it for something else, hoping the new read will better capture my attention. And . . . then it doesn’t. In the past few days, I’ve started What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; and Opposites Attack by Jo Maeder. There’s nothing wrong with any of them; my mood is just weird, apparently? I don’t know. I am, however, still enjoying the audio of The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It’s intriguing, but definitely makes me glad I’m not a farmer (or a farmer’s wife).

4. Early plans for my baby shower are underway, and I’m getting quite excited about it! We’re actually having it at my house because, logistically, it makes the most sense — but my mom and sister are spearheading the effort. Because I’m obsessed with all things paper, I just designed and ordered the invitations. My new fixation revolves around finding the “right” thank-you cards, so I’ve been stalking Etsy and Amazon for options. I love these, these and these.


pink room

Shelf from Zulily5. And speaking of plans, we’re slowly getting the house decorated. The advice to “finish everything now!” before the baby comes has gotten into our heads, so we’re working on polishing up the office, downstairs bathroom and guest room before Baby J’s arrival. And that’s to say nothing of everything we need to do in the nursery, which is . . . yeah. Pepto Bismol pink. I stalk Zulily (affiliate link) for inspiration daily and finally made a purchase: this cool shelf! I don’t know; it spoke to me. Spencer painted the bathroom a beautiful green, so I’m going with a woodland theme? I’m whacky. And buying weird tchotchkes to put on it is part of the fun.

Happy weekend, friends!


Five things on Friday

Spencer - Niagara


1. Today is my husband’s birthday! He’s not generally the make-a-fuss type, but I totally am — and this is his first “married” birthday. So on this, the auspicious day of Spencer’s birth, I’d like to acknowledge how kind, thoughtful and hardworking my guy is — for me, for the family, at work, for friends. He’s always ready to lend a hand or critical eye, and he’s taught me so much about rolling with life’s punches and smiling anyway. I love him for that — and so many other reasons. Happy birthday, Spence! ❤ And thanks for always letting me have the last of the salsa. I love you!


2. If I hear “All of Me” one more time, I’m going to scream. I didn’t really have an opinion of John Legend one way or another until we started listening to a local radio station at work, and said station apparently has a penchant for torture. The song played six times — six! — in the span of my eight-hour work day on Wednesday, and I was ready to jump through a window. My hatred has become a running gag with coworkers . . . only I’m not kidding.


Outlander


3. I started Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and y’all applauded my decision. I’m 3% finished and the book is, apparently, 800-ish pages? So great progress, I’d say. The great thing about reading on my Kindle, as Trish has pointed out in the past, is I don’t have to feel that sagging weight of a too-long book pressing on my shoulders. I pay less attention to how much I have left to go (a guilty habit) and more just getting into the story. I’m enjoying it so far, though I probably have a bit until I meet the infamous Jamie!


4. Thanks to your suggestions, I’ve spent far too much time looking at comfy chairs on Wayfair (affiliate link). I’m pretty much in love with this one and this one, but we have a month until we’re in the house — and I don’t want to move that sucker twice. Plus, um, we have no space for a chair right now . . . like, at all. So I’ll have to settle for daydreaming.


Yosemite


5. Speaking of daydreaming . . . in a few weeks, we’ll be in San Francisco! I’m so excited to return to California and relax. After the stress of winter and spring, I’m ready to just hang out. We’re driving to Yosemite, too, and will actually spend three days there . . . versus the four-ish hours we had in the valley back in 2012. I plan to buy a backpack, recharge all my camera batteries, grab some water and sunscreen and just go. I bought new sneakers, too! Real, non-sandal shoes! It’s going to be marvelous.


Happy weekend, friends!


Five thoughts on a Friday

Though we cannot change the wind


1. I just found this Photoshop foiling tutorial and it has rocked. my. world. I’m a total typography/graphic design geek and wanted to start expanding my skills this year, and finding an easy-to-understand way to make my own cool art is fab. I made the graphic above with one of my favorite quotes in, oh, five minutes. Obsessed with all the gorgeous possibilities. New, cheap home decor — coming to a Johnson home near you!

2. So, it’s early March. Shall I pause to be accountable for some of my simplifying goals in 2014? I’ve been incredibly good about using up what I have (tea, lip products) instead of mindlessly shelling out cash for more at Target, and guess what? I’m still not out of all that stuff. Not even close. What I’m not doing so well on? Dealing with the clothes piles I accumulate rather than just hanging everything up promptly. Our bedroom is still Pile City, detour through Laundry Alley. It’s a work in progress.

3. The National Park Service announced April 8-12 as the expected peak date for Washington’s cherry blossoms this year, and we’re planning accordingly. The walking photo tours I host with my dad kick off in just a few weeks, and I am pumped. Treating myself to new sneakers so my feet are ready for our jaunts around D.C.!

4. I’m on a graham cracker kick. All the graham crackers, all the time. The low-fat ones are okay, but I’ve been saving my Weight Watchers Points for the real stuff. It’s all about deciding what’s worth it to you, right?

5. How in love am I with these ideas for home libraries? It’s all a part of that Belle/Beast book fantasy from childhood. This one is my favorite. My dreams are spun of window seats, cotton candy and novels for days.


Happy weekend, friends!


Linking up late with Five on Friday today because it’s been a long week
— and my brain is soft and sleepy. I was fairly convinced today was actually Saturday and . . . yeah.


Just some things on my mind lately

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Work holiday dinner on Wednesday


We’re in full-blown Christmas mode! And I’m loving it. Spence and I attended my work holiday dinner last night, ate delicious food and revealed ourselves to our respective office Secret Santas. I’m going out with my girl friends tonight, cleaning and tidying up tomorrow night, then looking forward to our annual family party on Saturday with our family cookie exchange on Sunday! And a bunch of other fun stuff along the way.

• Speaking of cookies, I’m making Linzer cookies for our exchange this year . . . and I’m a little scared, given they’re my mother-in-law’s specialty! But she’ll actually be here this weekend when my parents-in-law and extended family start arriving for the holidays, so I can beg for her help. If all else fails, I’ll go back to making these delicious Hershey kiss cookies.

My yearly reading total is abysmal. Like, really bad. I just now cracked 50 books read in 2013, and I’m usually around 80 by now! I don’t feel like myself when I’m not immersed in great books. Reading makes my life so much richer, fuller, happier. I’m going to make it a priority to read more of the books I’ve had languishing on my shelves forever next year — no excuses.

We’re mostly wrapped for Christmas! Several hours-long sessions have resulted in most gifts being nestled beneath the tree, a feat unto itself, and I’m looking forward to relaxing more in the days to come. As this feels like my first real-deal “adult” Christmas, and is certainly my first married one, I felt the pressure to take over where my mom would normally handle so many of the details for extended family. My sister and I tag-teamed to choose presents for everyone without going overboard, and I’m really happy with what we’ll be sharing.

I’ll be rocking some major home updates in 2014. As we edge closer to the end of another year, I’m already musing over how I want to change and improve our living situation. And my “living situation,” I mean our very full condo. Though we’ll eventually buy a single-family home, we have to make due with what we have for now — and what we have are walls that feel closer to me every day! I want to reorganize and refresh our space and really make it something to be proud of. Once the Christmas tree comes down, I’m going full-force “Love It or List It” up in there.

I need new clothes. Really bad. What still fits isn’t something I want to wear, and most of what I want to wear doesn’t fit. I’m fascinated by the idea of Stitch Fix (referral link) . . . has anyone tried it? I actually splurged a bit and signed up for my first Fix, which is exciting. I’m having a hard time finding clothes I like these days, and my wardrobe post-weight loss is pretty pitiful. Though I’m a little worried the price of individual pieces is going to be too high for my limited budget, I’m willing to pay $20 to experiment!

There has not been enough coffee in the world. Between all the last-minute running around for the holidays and all the activities going on after work this week, I’ve been running on little sleep and in need of a serious boost to my immunity. My weeks-long cold, which started on my honeymoon, has finally broken . . . but I still feel pretty eh.

But I will push onward! And keep baking.

‘Tis the season.