Les Livres de 2013, round 2

Love me some library books.
I haven't had the energy to sit down to write something meaningful in a while and we're headed out tomorrow morning to the airport for the Bahamas. But I did want to just check in here before we left to say hi and how's it going and to share that we are doing really well!

I also wanted to share the books that have gotten me through this month... I don't have a ton of time to write as much as normal, but here's what the past few weeks have looked like:

6. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
This was the first NIFW book club selection and I'm so, so glad I read this along with other people. I didn't love this book, but it's worth a read (particularly because I love Rowling's Harry Potter world so much). There weren't many lovable characters, but there were lots of twisty storylines and if you're inclined to look for connections while you're reading, this is a decent book to get ahold of.

7. The Heights by Peter Hedges
ACV was the only book I read in February and I hit the ground running in March to make up for lost time. I'd seen The Heights in the local bookstore for a few years; it's about the neighborhood we live in. This was a fun little book about a marriage - the couple lives in Brooklyn Heights and it was cool to read about the streets and businesses that we know so well. I'd recommend purely for the local connection if you live nearby but I'm not sure anyone else would get much out of it.

8. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott
Ok. People, I'm about to admit to craziness.

I had seen this book in the parenting section of the bookstore a few times but it wasn't until early March when I decided to buy it. After flipping through the pages I knew that the author's voice was funny and smart, but it was the fact that this book is a journal of her son's first year that really sold me. I have a son! It is our first year together! Boom, connection.

AND THEN I READ IT AND FELL IN TOTAL LOVE WITH ANNE LAMOTT. How funny she is! How wise and yet irreverent! How good-hearted! I loved her voice and I loved reading about her first year with Sam. This is a total must-read for new parents.

9. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
So I mention to the Sarahs that I'm loving this book by someone named Anne Lamott and they both look at me, wide-eyed and say "Wait. You have never read Traveling Mercies?!?"

There are not many books that both Sarahs recommend wholeheartedly, so I immediately went on the library's website and reserved, oh, every book by Anne Lamott. Traveling Mercies is a book of essays about Lamott's journey towards (and in and out of) her faith. It was the equivalent of finding Eat, Pray, Love several years ago. It is so, so good. If you're going through a rough time, pick it up.

10. Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott
I gave myself a short break from the faith essays and breezed through this, the follow-up to Operating Instructions. This is Lamott's memoir of becoming a grandmother, when Sam becomes a dad at the ripe old age of 19. It is HILARIOUS. I would buy it for new parents, old parents, grandparents or people who have no children at all. I'm going to hear Lamott read from this one in a few weeks and I am so excited to meet her in person. (I mean, obviously, since she is basically my new Liz Gilbert).

11. Plan B by Anne Lamott
12. Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
Right. Back to the faith essays. I can't remember specifics about these two books, but they were filled with fantastic perspective on figuring life out. Lamott walks this wonderful line of being a liberal Christian who hates George Bush (and isn't afraid to bash him whenever she has a spare sentence). She is a delight.

13. This is Not the Story You Think It Is... by Laura Munson
And finally, a memoir of a woman whose husband tells her their marriage is over - and what she does to process the news and remain even-keeled through it all. I found the writing style REALLY irritating at times (her sentences are so. choppy. and. they just. could really use. commas. instead of. periods.), but I enjoyed the story. At the end there's a long list of books that she referenced during this difficult time in her life... it seems worth reading if only to get your hands on that awesome list.

And that's where I'm at. Obsessed with Anne Lamott, reading books about people's struggles and how they found faith and how they figure out their next steps. I've got my Kindle loaded up with a few books for next week and I'm really looking forward to a couple of lighter fiction pieces (though I honestly could keep reading Lamott for another month, I have enjoyed her voice so much!).

Feel free to share recommendations in the comments, per usual. And see you all post-Bahamas!


Learning to find relief.

We were invited to a first birthday party for a friends' son, scheduled to happen this afternoon. I've been looking forward to it for over a month. But last night during a 2am feeding, I logged into our Zipcar account and canceled our reservation. I was achy and congested, but on top of that I felt the weight of Sunday To-Dos. Noah and I spent yesterday up at my parents' house, which was awesome. But having visited them, we hadn't done laundry or vacuumed or grocery shopped or or or or or or...

It was worth it, don't get me wrong. But there I am at 2am in the rocking chair thinking about how we're possibly going to start the week off with milk for coffee and a clean sleep sac for the baby if we spend a good chunk of the day at the birthday party. Sometimes I feel like we're on a train that's going 100 miles an hour and we're totally handling it, not getting dizzy from the view whizzing past, until we go over a bump or need an emergency pit stop. And then, the pausing of the 100 mph, well that's what makes me carsick.

I knew canceling the car was the right thing to do. It sucked, though in a way it was also a relief. 


This probably warrants its own post, but I WENT TO WORK! I did two days last week and I'll do another two this week. 

Can I admit something, Internet? 


Well, not forever. I did want to go home and squish my baby and eat takeout with my husband. But I was so, so happy to be back. You know that feeling when you're staying at home and you feel like you spend all day doing things but don't have anything tangible to show for it? Well, work is the opposite of that. Work is busy and there are 40 people who want to talk to me and there are HR issues to deal with and I have to pump 3 times a day, but it is all PREDICTABLE. And as such, I am able to get a rhythm going, to enjoy the 100 mph ride, to do cartwheels while the train is moving at top speeds.

A huge (huge!) reason I'm able to focus on a million things at work is because I do not worry about Noah back at home. Our friend Sarah (YES I KNOW, EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN MY LIFE IS NAMED SARAH.) has agreed to be our nanny and she is a pro and we trust her. Sometimes she sends me a text that says Noah is taking a nap and I am so damn happy he is sleeping without me that I go into my next meeting with 1000 extra pounds of energy.

He's alright. Though his mom left him with a nanny so she could go to work, he's more than alright. And this? This is such a relief.

Jumparoo. Sans jumping so far.
Now it's nearly Sunday evening and I have to admit that it was the right choice to cancel the car and bail on the party. I slept in, Chris napped, we did laundry and errands in the neighborhood and we even had some time to experiment with Noah in his latest gadget. We're in good shape for this next week.

I know that we can still be spontaneous sometimes, but things run easier when we have food in the fridge and clean sheets when the baby pees through his pjs at 4am.

I interpret this responsibility as true adulthood. And so it was particularly sweet to experience the opposite during my commute on Friday morning. A homeless man was sleeping on one of the benches and most of the people in the train had moved away from him. (He was pretty stinky.)

I looked at him and thought about the banana in my bag. I approached him.

"Hi sir," I said. "I'm going to leave you this banana." I placed it on the bench next to him.

It was a very pure moment for me because there were no stakes. I didn't have to take on the reasons why this man was homeless or wonder where he'd get his next meal or get riled up about the government and handouts and setting precedents by giving bananas (what a nation of sloths! what if everyone starts expecting free bananas?!).

It was a simple gesture - one banana for one hungry person - and that was it. He was no longer my responsibility.

And that feeling? Well, it was such a freaking relief.


Love the struggle.

During a long walk the other night, I started thinking about going back to work and what I'd bring with me on that first day. A picture frame with a Noah pic sounded like a good idea and I idly daydreamed about where I might buy a frame and what kind of frame it might be.

My favorite picture frame in the house (though there are not many to choose from) is a simple blue one, woven from some kind of reed, that my sister brought home from Africa for me several years back. I'm sure she would be surprised to hear that, but it's true. It does the job of being a frame without bringing much attention to itself - in it, I have a blurry photo of my sister and me laughing on a trip to France - and the photo is highlighted because the frame is so simple.

There are lots of frame choices for new parents. Tiny feet and hands dot the landscape; words like "my sweet angel" and "our little blessing" frequently appear. All of that makes me feel uncomfortable. It's like, in those frames, a photo of my baby could be replaced by a photo of any other baby in the world... and despite the face inside the frame, it seems to be whispering one thing:

All babies are the same. And, by extension, all mothers are the same.


Let me back up here.

Although I didn't realize it was an anxiety before I gave birth, I now recognize that it was there, the onslaught of pressure about how becoming a mother will change you. There is a lot of verbiage flying around out there about how it will become the defining aspect of your identity, how it will become your primary purpose in life, how you will sacrifice everything for those ten tiny toes, those ten fingers.

After I gave birth to Noah (which was CLEARLY a defining moment in my life! hoo boy.), I waited. I waited to be hit with the rush of chemicals that would send me online shopping at the Hallmark store. I waited and I waited and they never came. I never became someone who wanted a "world's greatest mother" mug (except maybe in cheeky irreverence).

And about three months in, I realized that I was waiting for something that was not coming.

Because I was already sensitive about mothering (Noah's early weight issues and a tough time breast feeding and the like), I let the lack of attraction to these Mom objects convince me that, hey, I shouldn't even BE a mom! If I couldn't get my baby to sleep easily, if I didn't want to drink from the Mother Dearest mug, then I had clearly misstepped. I cried all day for several weeks, astonished that I had ruined my life (and my husband's!) by having a baby, a baby whose fussiness seemed to confirm my lack of talent in the baby arena.

How easy it is today, with slightly more sleep in my system, to see that my decline into Post Partum Depression could have also swung the other way. Instead of believing I was the world's worst mother, I am now so reassured to know that I am still, quite simply, me.

I DIDN'T GO ANYWHERE! I'm still here! Underneath the story of labor, underneath the transformation of boobs to a feeding factory, Jen exists. What kind of mom am I? I'm a Jen mom. Put THAT on a mug.

The massive transformation that I expected (and feared) never happened. Oh, I'm not going to pretend that life isn't different. Life is different. But my identity is still very much in tact.

What an effing blessing THAT is.


Yesterday was our last day at breastfeeding support group for a while. Since Wednesdays will be one of my work days, we won't be able to attend any longer, but that's ok. That group was the pillar of my calendar for nearly 5 months. I left blood, sweat, and tears in that circle (and probably a bunch of baby puke too). By the end, I felt very much at home with those women, many of whom have become friends.

Last night as I lay in bed, I thought about what people had shared yesterday. I thought about how lucky I was to find women who are able to and are interested in discussing the complexities of becoming a mom, the ups and the downs.

I also realized that, if breastfeeding hadn't been an issue for us, I never would have met them.

You know what? I'm HAPPY that it was hard. I'm HAPPY that it hurt, that breastfeeding and mothering has been a difficult transition for me. It made me grittier, it made me less concerned with perfection and more willing to drink a beer over my kid's head. Ultimately I believe that will make me a better mom - and a better Jen.

How effing boring is perfection? It's the struggle and the stains that draw me to people. My favorite stories are those of triumph, of overcoming conflict and of making something meaningful out of the dirt.

Love the struggle. Scrape your knees. Hang up the blurry photo because it expresses a true moment in your relationship with your sister. Let the baby cry in his crib for a few minutes while you compose yourself in the other room.

He is going to be fine. You are going to be fine. More than fine. You are a fighter.

Put THAT on an effing mug.


Anticipating spring.

This afternoon after baby class I had a couple phone calls to make and so I bought a chai latte and sat on the benches outside the book store in the sun. It's supposed to snow for the rest of the week (or, if not snow, at least be cold and grouchy and awful out), a fact that made the bench in the sun SO much sweeter. Even after I was off the phone, I sat and let the sun warm me. I sat and sniffed the warm air that you can just tell is coming one of these days and I was so damn warm and happy. Noah woke up and I held him on my lap and the two of us just sat there watching the passerbys, smelling for spring.

Dude, where's my yogurt?
Afterwards we came home and shared a blueberry yogurt. So far in his life, Noah has tasted banana, lentil soup, vanilla pudding and yogurt. Yogurt wins. I practically have to put him in a straight jacket because of all the arm-flailing once he sees me get the container. He's like "HEYHEYHEY THAT YOGURT! I WANT SOME!" and I'm like "Dude, MOVE YOUR ARMS, what do you think I'm trying to do with this airplane noise?!"

Then he gets some on his tongue and he smiles this huge grin and gums it for a while and makes all kind of squealing noises. It is ridiculous.


A few weeks ago we realized that we haven't gone on vacation since our honeymoon. (This, by the way, was incredible to me -- I am SUCH a traveler! No wonder I have been feeling bummed!) We've traveled to see family and for work stuff, but nothing is the same as going on a bonafide vacation where you eat new foods and relax. Sometimes I think we should have gone to Japan last year like we planned, but too little too late. Instead, we are taking Noah to the Bahamas in early April for five nights and we cannot wait.

Our new travel mode is pretty much the opposite of what I used to do. Instead of off-the-beaten-path hotels and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, we chose a large chain hotel that has room service in case we cannot be bothered to leave. I'm excited to swim in the pool (and the ocean!) and to see the multi-colored buildings, but honestly I am mostly looking forward to not bundling the baby up in four hundred layers. I can't wait to sit outside in a tee-shirt and drink a smoothie in 85 degree weather.

In many ways, I could not have imagined even researching this trip a month ago. Noah is an entirely different person - more routine, a slightly better sleeper, a vastly happier boy. Giving him new experiences sounds like fun instead of like hell, which is what it would have felt like a month ago.

And then, after vacation, it will be spring and I am going back to work. Three days a week, I will put on work clothes and ride the subway and be in an office for eight hours working with people who can feed themselves. Noah will stay at home with his nanny and Chris will go to work and we'll all reunite in the evening.

This, too, feels like a new season. I know that it will be messy and complicated and I'll be annoyed with pumping, but I also know that I am dying to be back at work. Just as the decision to go back felt premature in January, it feels just right in April.

Babies, man. It's never-ending change.


Sometimes I make him give me smooches and he doesn't know what to do so he licks my cheek. Sometimes he is so happy to see his dad at the end of the day that he screeches and screams, incoherent to everyone but himself. Sometimes I look at him and think "were you reincarnated? WERE YOU ABRAHAM LINCOLN???" because he just seems like he's been around the block a few times and like he's just waiting for us to get in line with our parenting so that we can all be a mighty family together.

What a joy this boy is.