So I love making goals for the new year, and I definitely have some for 2018, but for this moment I prefer to suck in a deep breath, slow down for a few minutes, and reflect on the passing of 2017.
That's the only piece of clothing that I have bought so far in 2017. There have been a few other close calls...some pajamas had to be returned, some trendy printed weirdly flattering leggings caught my attention briefly, and a beautiful Mexican embroidered blouse also had to go back...that was the hardest one. It was so pretty, but ultimately I had to admit that I already had a shirt very similar to it in my closet.
The average American buys sixty-four items of clothing per year, and most years I'm sure I am somewhere in that neighborhood. I didn't start 2017 with a big plan to buy no clothes, but budget and life constraints conspired, and suddenly five months had gone by without me noticing what had happened. Now it's a thing, and I'm tempted to see if I can go the whole year. Leave it to the curve balls of life to force me back onto a healthier, more mindful path.
According to a 2014 Forbes article cited in a Fashion Revolution white paper, we purchase 400% more clothing than we did just twenty years ago. And that was just twenty years ago, My house was built almost sixty years ago, and my tiny closets remind me every day how different our shopping habits are today.
I have been digging around a little bit to find out more about this idea...did people just buy fewer clothing items in 1960? Why or why not? I asked my mom about the closets and clothing of her youth. What she remembers is that her mom was willing to buy her as much fabric as she wanted in order to make her own clothes, but that if she wanted store-bought clothing, her choices were more limited. I asked her if making her own clothes saved her family money, and her memory was that her mother was encouraging self-sufficiency, rather than trying to save money, which was not what I expected her to say.
So the question is, how many items of clothing do we really need? Do I need bigger closets or more discipline? (Probably both.) If there is an item which is an unusual shape, or made of a special fabric, or is something suitable for a special occasion, generally the result is that it's not worn as often. So we have a closet imbalance, with large volumes of special items that get worn once and a while, and then a much smaller volume of items that are worn in regular rotation. Is that normal? Is that inappropriate? I still ask...why do we need, or think we need, so much clothing? It feels like I still have more questions than answers on this topic, and I am wondering what others are doing...are you changing your closets? Buying less? Moving to a newer and bigger house with glorious, well-lit walk-in closets?
Are you wondering what was so special about that one skirt? It is brick-red suede, and simply beautiful. I spotted it while still pregnant and unable to buy or even wear it. But it became a birthday present when, no longer pregnant, I saw it again at a super sale price. I could think of nothing else for days. How is it that clothing holds such power over us?
Changes in the day-to-day operation of our family have turned me into a true stay-at-home mom. The kind where I was the big pregnant mama dragging my toddler around everywhere this summer, and the kind where now the new baby is by my side for every hour of the day. I find the intensity of non-stop kid quite challenging, as I'm sure most caregivers do. I also learn a lot, which may sound odd, but since our family has grown, and the amount of day care that I use has shrunk, I am, more often than I was in the past, struck by the minutiae of the young lives for which I am responsible.
It never occurred to me that you can do other things while holding a baby until my mom came to help me after the birth of our first son. I watched her shushing him while she baked cookies and sewed nursery curtains, and even tried to paint my dining room table with her remaining free hand. I put my foot down about the table, but I admired her spirit and have never forgotten the example she set.
I have been trying, and failing, to write this post for an entire month.
We are selling our house and I'm pretty sad. It's a house that we moved into with our older baby, and where I have been nursing our new baby. It was the first place I have lived in my almost forty years that I thought I could stay in forever.
I approach parenting the same way that I approach most topics: with thorough, research-y methodology, and much reading of non-fiction. The nerd in me leads the way, always. So when this book appeared, I was happy to see it, and eager to read it. It is meant to be read as a survey of how parents are doing in modern times; it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It was a great read; I finished it in less than a week. It tugged on my heartstrings, while also satisfying my need for data. I was especially tickled that much of it was located in two parts of the country with which I am intimately familiar: Houston and Minneapolis.
Since my time is largely spent either alone or with a couple of sweet creatures who can't understand a word I'm saying, I have a lot of time to think. As a result, I have wavered occasionally about our plan...too soon? Too much? Not the right time? At other points, I have started to consider even more drastic options, like keeping the house and renting it out instead of selling it, or just getting an apartment in Minnesota but not really making a final decision about the house in Houston until next year. We made the hard decision and now I just want to get started on the next phase.
In the meantime, I have stolen a few hours here and there for making things. I can't get involved in anything too messy or complicated, in case of a sudden house-showing evacuation, so that eliminates a lot of what I was hoping to work on this year. But on the other hand, there are other projects; patterns and projects which can still provide both opportunities for learning and also just the pleasure of making. I recently made this bag from a pattern in a cool book called Linen Wool Cotton. It turned out that the pattern had some mistakes, but the book remains beautiful and inspiring.
That was seven-ish years ago. The surprise we have felt at not hating life in Houston, and even rather enjoying it, has been noted on many occasions in this blog; and has been accompanied by multiple other surprises since moving here.
Either way, I thought that the decision to leave, when it came, would be a clear and simple one; that it would be easy and obvious. I was wrong. We have found a way around the location-versus-job roadblock, but it is not without emotional and logistical risk. I am able to make a clear list of reasons why it is time to go home to Minnesota. My instincts say that it is finally the right time and for the right reasons, and possibly even under sustainable circumstances, but I do not feel the sense of elation that I expected. I feel good and positive about it, but I also feel a little sad and a smidge nervous to move away from the one version so far of life with oil that has felt largely pleasant and seamless.
Creating a family has always seemed a slightly curious endeavor to me. My husband and I both have parents who raised kids that grew up and promptly moved far away in early adulthood, so a little part of me thinks, 'Really? That's it? Raise kids who then take off and that's it?'. It could definitely happen to us. So if you're not sure whether or not you love kids before you take the plunge, and you know there is a good chance that you will spend outrageous amounts of time and resources for many years raising children who you will then rarely see, then why do it?
The answer to that question came from my gut. I can report that the reasons to do it are complex and intangible, but real. Ultimately, our baby, besides just being a tiny human that I love, has also given us the drive and the clear picture of why and how to go home. The baby and I spend too much time alone while my husband is at work in Angola. My husband likes his job, and I have come to appreciate the quality time we have with him when he comes home, but the long weeks and weekends alone while he is gone are too hard. We have great friends in Houston, but they are busy, too, and anyway it is not fair to them or to the baby that they are the only safety net we have here for weeks at a time. We could hire help to resolve this, but we could also go home.
In short, in caring for our family, I want the village. I want the baby to know his grandparents. I want him to know my other family members. I want to raise him alongside my other friends at home who are having babies and not moving every couple of years. I want him to play outside in air that I know from experience is fresh, and learn to ride his bicycle on streets that are (mostly) unbroken. I want him to swim in the lake that I know to be clean, the one that I swam in growing up. I want to launch his education in a quality system in which I already feel safe and confident. I want to be able to drop him off with my parents for the weekend so that my husband and I can have time to ourselves once and a while, as grown-ups are meant to have. We have put the pieces in place and if we don't do it now, I believe that we will always wonder if we should have gone for it. We could get a nanny, but we can also have the village, so at least for now, we choose that.
There is a chance, and indeed strong likelihood, that we will not want to, or will not be able to, stay in Minnesota for the long term. If it doesn't work out, we will face another move. If that happens, it's a hassle, but on the other hand, what's one extra move at this point? A small price to pay in order to test out a long-held dream, and to improve the quality of both our baby's young childhood and my nascent motherhood.
I'm ready to stop thinking about this old nagging problem so that I can save my energy for the fresh new ones.
Apparently, backing into parking spaces increases the rates of safe driving (or should I say 'decreases the rate of accidents while driving'?). The logic is that we are paying more attention to the matter at hand when we arrive at a location than we do when are when we are departing. When we depart, we are already thinking about what will be next after leaving the parking lot. In other words, while we are driving in reverse, our minds are on other things. Thus, accidents.
I have a habit of preparing for my next day as much as I can the night before. Mostly it is a leftover habit from when I had to wake up outrageously early in the mornings for work; I tried to pack items I would need for the day and leave them by the door, or place items that I was likely to forget with items that I couldn't possibly leave without (i.e. put the book that I was likely to forget next the keys that I was physically unable to leave without). Planning outfits the night before, or packing lunches the night before, produces this same effect. We try to dummy-proof our morning in order to maximize precious minutes.
I find that I am happiest when I do the same thing as a mom; it turns out that it is the best way to steal time in which to work on non-mom projects. While I do not often have to leave the house early, I do still need to maximize hands-free and baby-free minutes. So I do things like putting out my breakfast cereal bowl, pre-filled, and preparing the baby's morning bottle and diaper bag, before I go to bed. It's not rocket science, nor is it a new technique. The only innovation is that I now refer to it as backing into my day, which also has helped my husband understand these habits not as something neurotic and silly, but something that makes all of us have a smoother, more pleasant morning.
Backing into my day is one life strategy which allowed me to finish knitting a vest this week for my son, luckily while it still fits him.
I discovered, and later visited, a museum of print history. It is on a side street and in an unassuming building that I almost didn't notice when I initially passed by. Eventually it turned out to be a pleasant and stroller-friendly activity while my mom was visiting for the weekend. It was especially excellent that there was a food truck out front and we were pleased with said truck's offerings.
I have also located two parks previously unnoticed. One is a young family magnet and has amazing wide flat sidewalks, a big grassy area, and a playground which is quite nice. The other one is a little tiny pocket park with two benches and lots of trees located randomly in-between two homes on a quiet block near my favorite coffee shop.
I have grown even more fond than I previously was of my grocery store. In the past I avoided the store in the evenings during the very busy post-work-dinner-hour rush, but lately it has served as a nice window into neighborhood socializing. Aside from it being a pleasant time of year to be out walking and good for both the baby and I to get some fresh air, stroller walks have become my main tool for powering through the witching hour. As a result, I have stopped trying to cook dinner in the early evening and instead pick up something fresh to eat from the grocery deli. Seeing all of the people out on the patio, splitting bottles of wine purchased in the store and enjoying their deli dinners in the fresh fall air, makes me happy. Even though it is a chain grocery store, it has a friendly, neighborly vibe that I appreciate. Plus who can argue with a grocery store that boasts a wine and beer bar and a gourmet macaroni and cheese station?
Walking with the baby in these evenings has also given me a more personal link to my neighbors. I've also been able to meet the owner of the magic yard near our house: the yard in which a family was dining outside last Thanksgiving and it looked so inviting and cozy that I wished for us to be invited to join them even though we had never met that family. It turns out that he is a very sweet guy with three grown children, and he is also the photographer who makes greeting cards with photos of Houston that I have actually purchased before at the aforementioned grocery store.
Regardless of all of that, one major topic in Bringing Up Bébé is how French parents successfully create balance in their lives. In a French household, if a baby has taken over the whole routine, particularly after the third month of the baby's life, things are not in balance, or not en équilibre. When things are in balance, parents are back to work, the baby is sleeping through the nights, the baby is entering day care (the crèche), the family is enjoying home-cooked meals together, and parents are even enjoying some private time as a couple. Of course, in France, day care is affordable and high-quality, right down to the four-course, cooked-from-scratch meals shared by toddlers and the credentialed staff. Parents don't spend dinner parties chasing around their kids; their kids are either not present, or eating calmly at the table. Most women apparently choose to work full-time, as a result of the aforementioned glorious affordable (or free and universal, when it comes time for pre-school) and prevalent early childhood structures. Also, it sounds like most French women don't breastfeed, which I am sure contributes to their ability to find balance. Anyway, it all sounds wonderful and of course I want to move our little family to France, immediately.
I can't. We live in Houston, and that's how it is. We have to find équilibre right here. Sometimes I have to find it while my husband is here with me (the easier, yet still elusive version) and sometimes I will have to find it while he is in another country for four weeks at a time. That sounds impossible ("em-POSS-eeeb!").
How will I do it? I'm flailing around for some structure right now, some method for this madness. I'm not yet sure how it will happen, but I know that I am pas en équilbre, and that will have to change.
As I mentioned in a previous post, our son does not eat quickly. He nurses in a stop-and-go fashion, and so far any attempts on my part to alter his speed result in retribution when it is time to go down for the post-meal nap. In short, it is best to not separate him from the food source before he is ready, even if he is playing with his food. This is probably common baby sense, but since I had no baby sense prior to this year, it was news to me.
- Most parents do at least one thing while home alone with their infant that goes against pediatrician recommendations (which is one very good reason to try not to judge other people's parenting). Usually the illicit things parents are doing while home with their baby are related to the procurement of sleep.
- Digestion is everything. Also, digestion is profoundly linked to sleep. Giving up too early on the burping, or skipping it if the baby looks sleepy, in order to get to the nap sooner, can have serious repercussions involving spit-up and sleep loss.
- An entire industry of products and services has grown up around trying to get your baby to sleep in the crib. Your baby will sleep happily anywhere but the crib.
- Sucking boogers out of your baby's nose using a glorified overpriced filtered straw is more fun than it sounds.
- Amazon Prime is worth it.
- You can order Jelly Bellys on Amazon, along with any other items which may or may not help you survive the first months of caring for a baby.
It's hard to let go but also nice sometimes to sit still with a snuggly, sleepy baby.
For my husband and I, the unexpected early termination of a work contract which we understood to be much longer-term was a time like that earlier this year. What I sometimes thought about in the weeks after it happened were the hours and days before he came home with that news. One minute I was having a normal day, and the next minute we were discussing a new contract which would likely take him overseas for four weeks at a time. Certainly a new work contract was not a tragedy, and in fact an overseas rotation lifestyle was something about which we had already been curious, but coming hot on the heels of the slightly surprising pregnancy and the purchase of a new house, it was a monumental moment. And still, my mind goes back to those moments before he came home...those moments when the biggest challenge I was facing that week was a little bit of morning sickness.
Also recently I was thinking of Calgary; a place where we lived for a year and a half and a place where those who know me well know that I was not happy. However, I am aware that my unhappiness was (mostly) not the fault of Calgary, and regardless of how I felt when I was there, I would never wish on a place what they must be going through now in light of the recent floods. Our old neighborhood, along with the entire downtown, was evacuated. We even saw the home that we rented on one of the photos of the local newspaper website. The street was underwater up to our front step, which means our parking garage was most certainly underwater and it is likely that all of the items in our storage unit would have been ruined, not to mention possibly our car.
Most recently another curve ball had me reflecting on the day before everything changed. Thirteen days ago, our son was born. Four weeks early, and with no warning. One day I was having lunch with my girlfriend, very uncomfortable physically, but not understanding that I was sick, and the next day I was going straight from a routine doctor appointment to the hospital to have labor induced and deliver our baby. My blood pressure had skyrocketed, a condition known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, or preeclampsia. My body was treating the baby as a foreign invader to be attacked and the only way to treat that condition is to deliver the baby. We were lucky in more than one way: my husband was home from Indonesia; he had arrived two days prior after a six-week absence. Also lucky was the hearty condition of our little preemie; while only thirty-five and half weeks, at six and a half pounds, he was large and developed enough to pass all of the tests and avoid the need for any medical support for his new life outside the womb. As it turned out, I was the one in need of support. The first week of his life, the three of us lived in the hospital, learning from doctors and nurses how to care for our baby and becoming intimately familiar with what happens if your blood pressure is not behaving as it should.
The day before he came, I knew that I did not feel well, but I had no idea what it was going to feel like to be a mom. I'm still learning about that feeling, but the funny thing about the way you feel the day before is that it becomes foggy and hard to remember. The new reality of your next day: scary, wonderful, dangerous, exhilarating; will remain a part of your story forever. You won't go back to before and you will only understand your life in its new and more vivid context. I can't imagine not yet knowing our son even though we were not supposed to have met him for another two weeks. I can barely remember the fears and concerns that I used to have about parenting; we have already been so lucky so many times that it seems the only thing to do is to notice each day as it unfolds and to be grateful for the simple day-before moments.
It can be hard to get excited about making dinner. But it never fails, as soon as I get my lazy tush into the kitchen and get the chopped onion into the pan (because don't all recipes start with that?) the awesome smell of caramelizing onion cooking causes me to forget my resistance, and to relax in general.
People ask me often if I cook while my husband is overseas and they are surprised to learn that I do. For me it is not strange for cooking to sometimes be private and solo; I starting learning to cook while living alone in my first apartment, and lived alone for much of my twenties. While eating at restaurants a pastime that I have enjoyed as much as most in my age group, cooking still strikes me as a critical life skill, not mention a good pillar of long-term health. My skills have been slow but steady enough in their evolution. Interestingly, and perhaps leading to my willingness to cook even when no one is looking, I experience cooking as nice creative outlet of the hands-on variety. For now anyway; I'm sure motherhood could change that, although I hope it doesn't.
Just as the onion lights my cooking fire even when I'm just not feeling it, books and fabric and yarn ignite my sewing and design excitement, especially if I'm not sure where to start. I recently splurged on a book like that; it has some beautiful images that remind me why textiles and sewing make me excited. I am particularly enamored because I have been harboring a big crush on blue colors for a couple of years now. Here are a few images from the book:
I was also having a hard time getting inspired with ideas for our nursery (nursery-slash-guest-bedroom, more accurately). Babies do not come naturally to me, nor does the soft and sweet vibe that I see in so many photos of suggested nurseries. I kept coming back to some hand-dyed cotton knitting yarn that I had picked up at a craft fair in NYC years ago while visiting a friend. I was working on knitting a baby blanket with it, so when her mom offered to make us a quilt in our choice of colors, I suggested those same colors: red and orange, turquoise and indigo, in a variety of shades.
Still, in spite of that, I had no vision for the rest of it. Especially with the room already full of home office and guest bed furniture and my husband on the other side of the planet with only a fuzzy timeline for return.
Not to worry; I found my inspiration when I went home in June, right where if I'd been thinking, I would have expected to find it: the flea market that I've been going to with mom since I was a kid (see photo above) and a place where in high school I even found a prom dress, a vintage flapper dress that mom altered and that I've been known to still wear once in a blue moon.
The market occurs every Sunday, as it has for 45 years; since long before Anthropologie figured out that people would pay hundreds for shabby-chic objects that their buyers found in France for a few Euros. I'm not as devoted a flea market attendee as my mom; I'm willing to skip vendors that I don't find promising and I do get distracted by some of the old-looking new goods that have crept in over the years, while she easily finds beauty in objects you couldn't pay me to bring home.
Regardless, that's where it came together. A wall shelf made from metal and wire fashioned into a canoe-style boat washed in an aqua color (old-looking but new), and a metal minnow bucket with orange print (actually old but clean and free of minnows), to be transported home in my carry-on back to Texas. Our little guy will surrounded by reds, oranges, and blues and more importantly by some evidence of his Northern roots while he gets comfy in his Southern home.
I will keep working on them until I can produce a frosted one that makes me stop feeling ornery with the lack of Houstonian baked goods, but in the short-term, we had no trouble eating these.