23 September 2018

What I've Learned about Parenthood So Far

Recently, my little sister said to me, "You know, I think you've changed for the better since becoming a mom."

And, in typical human fashion, my instinct is to bluster, "What? I haven't changed at all! I was always amazing. What could possibly need changing about my pre-mom self?"

But we all know that's not representative of the truth. It's a good, good thing indeed if parenthood can be a means of sanctification. I've got a long, long way to go, and I'm glad I get to grow and change and learn right along with Cyrus.

Here's some of what I've learned in the first half a year:

1. Don't feel sorry for people who help out moms of newborns when they come home from the hospital.

I just recently found myself thinking, randomly, wow! Those family members and friends who come over to help with housework and bring food and help with the baby right after the baby's born are so selfless! That is such a challenging time of life, so painful and difficult, and it's so amazing that they will give their time and sacrifice in that way.

Then I caught myself. Wait a minute. What nonsense!! I was, momentarily, looking at life with the newborn from the point of view of the person who gave birth to said newborn. Who, in my case, ended up back at the hospital several times after that and probably ate more pills than actual food in the first two weeks because I was so sick.

It suddenly dawned on me (only about a week ago) that my sisters and my mom who helped clean my house and make food and wash dishes and hold a sleeping 7 lb newborn...actually, none of those tasks feel nearly so terrible and insurmountable when your body isn't trying to kill you.

At the time I felt so bad for needing so much help because, in some way, I sort of imagined that everyone felt like I did and I couldn't imagine how they were surviving.

Only now, with a brain and body that actually work, I have realized that their tasks were actually and easy. And I don't feel as bad about needing help anymore.

1a. Help out your friend or family member who has a baby.

Probably the smallest and easiest of tasks is still easier for you than it is for her. On another note, if she's getting sicker and sicker instead of better and better...send her back to the hospital right away. Just a PSA.

Honestly, I'm looking forward to when my sisters have babies and I can help them out. I think a newborn must be even more amusing and fun if you didn't give birth to him. Sort of like a wedding. Your own wedding is kind of high-pressure, so in comparison, every wedding where you aren't actually making a lifelong commitment is comparatively delightful.

2. Babies are more expensive than you think they are.

Or, more accurately, more expensive than I thought they were. You may begin laughing at me now, and I deserve every bit of it, but I honestly did not think having a baby would be expensive. I knew that later, kids cost all sorts of money in various ways. But as babies, I figured that the only reason babies were expensive was because parents bought clothes and toys and nursery furniture and cute crib sheets for their babies. Non-essentials.

We were not in a very good place financially when Cyrus was born, but I figured I knew the secret--just don't buy your baby any clothes or toys and you'll be fine! I thought I knew all about how to have a baby on the cheap!

I was a bit clueless. Do you know how many vaccinations babies get in the first six months? Or how much they cost? And medical care is comparatively inexpensive in our country. And the passport application and the visa application fees. Oh, must apply for an SSN, too! It's not the clothes and the toys and the luxury's basic medical care and basic legal paperwork that makes a baby cost so much. It's made me appreciate my childhood vaccinations...and dental work...and braces...and all that stuff so much more.

He's worth every bit and more, and I'm so excited to spend money on him for the rest of his life, it's just that I didn't realize that the up-front costs of a baby were quite so high. I figured the costs came later, when they were larger. Lesson learned!

3. Just about anything that's really important to you...can still remain important to you after parenthood.

It's almost frightening how often, before parenthood, you are warned that everything will change, that you'll be wearing sloppy, dirty clothes and won't have time to do all the things you once loved.

Time is at a greater premium. Especially because if Cyrus goes to bed at 7, so do I, because I need what sleep I can get...but if he throws up on me, I change my shirt. right away. Wearing clothes that are comfortable and look nice and are clean is important to me, and nothing about that preference has changed.

I still read. My house is still clean. I still do my Pilates. We're still early everywhere we go. I almost never watch a tv show...but that wasn't one of my favorite things ever pre-baby, either. Stuff does fall by the wayside, but it's mostly the stuff that wasn't all that important or beloved to begin with.

For the record, I did tell Angel he probably shouldn't sign up for three races that took place shortly after baby's due date, and he didn't listen. I think next time...he'll know that that's a bit unrealistic.

4. This particular baby loves "new" and "different" things so much.

Basically, figure out what your baby likes, and run with it. Cyrus loves new and different people. I swear, he's happiest in elevators because that's where he gets to meet strangers the most. He loves the grocery store and the mall because they are so exciting.

Many babies may love staying home in familiar surroundings with routines and their moms and families. But I think the most important thing I have learned so far is that don't worry so much about what "babies love" and figure out what your particular baby appreciates. Cyrus loves new things to the point where we put away various toys and give him a different one each day...or give him empty pop bottles, shoe boxes, spatulas, etc.

5. The time/space continuum is different after baby.

It's amazing what you can get done before seven a.m. when your baby thinks that 5 a.m. is the time that the day begins. It's fascinating how sometimes the whole family falls asleep on the living room floor at 7:30 p.m. Waking up 4 or 5 times a night with a hungry baby sometimes leaves you somewhat disoriented as to what time you should actually eat breakfast.

One day you absolutely cannot leave the house without his pacifier, but by the next day, he thinks the pacifier is just for little babies and how dare you think he's a small baby who needs a pacifier.

Some days are slow and some days pass at lightning speed. Time is just different, now.

6. You get braver over time.

At first, even taking care of the baby by myself in my own home was scary. Then it was normal. Then taking him on outings was scary. Then that was normal. Then taking him on a roadtrip was scary. It was fine. Now I've got plans in place for his first international trip.

Everything is scary at the beginning but it doesn't stay that way.

7. You can no longer delete even the blurry and silly looking photos.

If it were a blurry photo of yourself or if it were someone else in the family making a weird, unphotogenic face, you would delete the photo, no problem, saving your digital storage for better photos. But even the worst photos of baby are still for some reason...amazing.


So much more to learn!!
19 September 2018

A Day in the Life {with a 6-month-old)

I think it's fun to take a glimpse at everyday life right now. This was Wednesday:

6:30 a.m. Wake up! Shockingly late, for baby is still sleeping. He woke up at 5 and Angel took him to the living room to nap on the floor, and when I woke up, Cyrus was still sleeping on the floor. Hey, whatever works!

Eat breakfast and take a shower.

7 a.m. Baby wakes up! Angel gives him a bath and then scurries around to grab all of his stuff for work. I get the laundry started and baby dressed.

7:30 a.m. I see Angel to the door, goodbye, have a great day!

Feed the baby, then play with the baby.

I got out his blocks, a gift from his uncle, and he had fun chewing on them. While he was playing, I washed and chopped potatoes for tonight's dinner.

8 a.m. Exercise. I got out my Pilates mat and did a 15 minutes video next to Cyrus. He totally thinks I'm doing the 100 or whatever sorts of leg lifts and funny movements purely for his amusement. He stares at me, but it's not the judgmental sort of staring, at least I don't think so. I angle the computer screen with the Pilates video so that I can take glimpses at it but Cyrus can't see it, because we all know I'm uptight about screen time for this boy. :P

9 a.m. Cyrus falls asleep after eating, and I put him in his bouncer for nap.

Then run to get a glass of water and hang up the laundry to dry, then grab my computer to do a bit of writing and upload and edit photos from my camera, respond to emails, read a couple blogs.

The weedwhacker going on outside woke Cyrus up temporarily but he fell asleep again.

10:30 a.m. Cyrus is awake!! Whoa, that was a crazy long nap!!

I get him out of his bouncer so he can play for a bit while I put on a bit of makeup and put in some earrings and clips in my hair, then pack up our stuff, and take a selfie before heading out with baby, purse, and diaper bag.

Oh, at the last minute, I take the chicken out of the freezer to defrost--I'm planning on making fried chicken for dinner tonight.

11:00 a.m. Leave my house, intending to take the elevator down to my parents' apartment on the ground floor. Walk all the way to the back of the building, the elevator isn't working, so I walk down five flights of stairs...while carrying 20 lb. infant and diaper bag and purse. Definitely writing that down as a second work-out of the day! Stairs!

My sister has made a fabulous cabbage soup for lunch so I put Cyrus down in their living room with some toys and grab a bowl of soup and a glass of green tea for lunch!

11:30 a.m. Text from Angel. He forgot that he had a meeting and a dinner at school today, after school, so, I don't need to cook dinner. Actually, Cyrus and I are invited to the dinner because staff members' families are allowed to come, too.

I run back to my house to put my nicely chopped potatoes in a bowl of water in the fridge and pop the chicken back in the freezer.

My dad is fond of saying that procrastination ends up saving him so much work when plans change, and I'm reminded of this philosophy of his right now. I had dutifully prepped for dinner and as it turns out, didn't even need to! Oh well!

Run back downstairs, feed Cyrus.

12 p.m. Head out the door to go volunteer at our learning center for the afternoon. When we first arrive, it's a rush of turning on air-cons and lights, opening up the room, choosing craft materials and read alouds for the day, unpacking new materials that I picked up last weekend.

A few new books for our collection that I'm really excited about!

Today's read-alouds. "Right Choices" is one of the students' all-time favorites. Mostly, I think they like assessing loudly whether the kids in the stories are making right choices or wrong choices. "Sideways Stories from Wayside School" is one of my favorite children's books. Yesterday, I read to the kids the story of Sammy, a new student at school who turns out to be a dead rat wearing about 40 raincoats. It's the best ever.

12:30 - 4:15 p.m.

Students arrive, and the afternoon passes in a whirlwind of reading, writing, arithmetic, glasses of water, crafts, snacks, games. etc. Funniest comment of the day was from one girl who was talking about plans for the future and what life will be like when she's grown up. She's currently 7, and she said, "When I'm 20, your mom will probably be 'up there' [gesturing toward the ceiling], you know, in heaven." She was shocked to find out that my mom is not all that old and could plausibly still be alive in 13 years.

4:15 p.m. Classes are done for the day, and we walk home, up a hill that seems steeper the sunnier it is. Definitely counting this one as a workout for the day!

4:30 p.m. Arrive home, feed Cyrus, get ready to head out again for dinner at Angel's work.

5:00 p.m. My dad drives me over to Angel's work and Cyrus and I head in to meet with him. Cyrus is a big hit with Angel's coworkers, and spends most of the time in other peoples' arms, although they keep asking if he's sad or scared and I'm like, no...that's just his face. He has a very serious resting face. It seems normal to us at this point, but I think other people are more accustomed to smiley babies He smiles, but not all the time. He was perfectly content hanging out in the arms of strangers. The pizza was delicious.

Pizza is one of my favorite foods, and Angel will never quite understand this.

6:15 p.m. The three of us return home, and in a strange way, it feels like an early time to be home for the night with nothing else going on and no more big to-dos! Angel and I chat about the day for a while as Cyrus plays on the floor, wrestling with a teething toy, and then Angel responds to a couple of emails from students and heads out for a run around seven.

Cyrus eats and falls asleep--just a 15 minute cat-nap on the couch.

After his nap he has a snack, and then a bath, and then I read him a book and play for a bit, and put the sheet back on his bed (I forgot I took the sheet off his bed for laundry this morning!)

8 p.m. Angel returns from his run, showers, gets together what he needs for work the next day (including his lunch, which is a kiwi with oatmeal, a combo he swears by), and then plays with Cyrus for a bit so I can write this post.

Then, jotting down notes in my planner for what I want to get done tomorrow--sweeping and mopping are first up on the list, and actually cooking the fried chicken and mashed potatoes I'd planned on for today, and prepping Sunday's youth group lesson. I sleep better when I'm not thinking "Oh, I need to remember to do such-and-such in the morning."

9 ish p.m. Baby is getting sleepy, and so am I! Time for bed!


A simple, non-extraordinary day with some surprises and deviations from plans...and altogether a wonderful day. How's your day going?
17 September 2018

35 Questions {Get to Know Me}

1. What are your nicknames? What you do like to be called? No nicknames. You can call me Rachel. Surprisingly, my least favorite thing to be called is "Rachel (maiden name)". It's been almost eight years, guys.

2. What books are on your shelf begging to be read? I always read all my books. Then I take books off of other peoples' shelves and read them. Then those people wonder where their books are, because I probably put them on my own shelves after reading them.

3. How often do you doodle? What do your doodles look like? No, then the notebook pages would look messy. I do like handlettering and journaling but it's more like words than scribbles.

4. What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep? Toss and turn? Try to get up and do something productive? I can always sleep. I'm good at sleeping. I am not, however, always allowed to sleep.

5. How many days could you last in solitary confinement? How would you do it? I would not do this, because it would be boring. I assume there's no books in solitary confinement. I'd have to write one on the wall or something. If it were solitary confinement on Gilligan's Island, I would be okay with that. Especially if Angel and Cyrus were there, too. So, basically, not solitary confinement, just living on an island.

6. Do you save old greeting cards and letters? Throw them away? I don't really save them. Unless it's really, really, super special. 

7. What is your dream career? Actress. Fun fact: Angel's dream career was/is pro soccer player. We totally seem like the celebrity couple type with such high-profile jobs, right? :P

8. When making an entrance into a party, do you make your presence known? Do you slip in and look for someone you know? Do you sneak in quietly and find a safe spot to roost? Uh...I'm always hosting the party. I don't really seem to go to other parties.

 9. What is your strongest sense? My brain. Analyzing, remembering, photographing, creating strategies--that's where I'm good.

10. How many times a day do you look at yourself in the mirror? Probably whenever I'm in the bathroom since the only mirror is in the bathroom.

11. What’s the strangest thing you believed as a child? That the tooth fairy was real. I never ever believed in Santa but for some reason I did believe that there was a real tooth fairy. What?!

12. What is one guilty pleasure you enjoy too much to give up? Lay's Original Potato Chips with french onion dip. I rarely buy it...but when I do...I enjoy it. :)

13. Who performs the most random acts of kindness out of everyone you know? I'm related to a lot of really, really kind people. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings have all done a lot of really awesomely cool and kind things and I love these people so much.

14. How often do you read the newspaper? Which paper? Which sections? None. Angel reads enough news for the both of us. If I read a would be the crossword and the comics.

15. Which animals scare you the most? Why? ...all. I don't like animals. But horses are okay and dolphins are okay and kittens are okay. And I like jellyfish but I also wouldn't go near them.

16. Are you more likely to avoid conflict or engage it head-on? I'm not a very tumultuous person, fighting/conflict is not really part of my nature, but I'm also very straightforward--if there is any conflict, I'll face it head-on and work to get it resolved so that relationships can be healed. I don't like conflict festering in the background and everyone being too shy to talk about it. 

17. What was the most recent compliment you’ve received and savored? "I am so amazed at your bravery.  You have always chosen to look at your life as an amazing, exciting thing.  My admiration for you is so much greater seeing that even in the midst of heartbreak you stand by your conviction that God is good and you have a reason to chose joy." -- from a really, really cool lady. Her words mean a lot to me.

18. What is something about yourself that you hope will change? Mostly I want to be more like I used to be--more spunky, carefree, excitable.

19. Are you a creature of habit? Not really. I have habits, but I'm totally comfortable with plans being changed at the last minute.

20. Are you high maintenance? Explain. No. Angel always says he loves how easy it is to get me all excited. An ice cream will do it.

21. When was the last time you really pushed yourself to your physical limits? When I survived the really bad recovery after Cyrus. Labor was okay, recovery almost killed me, not even exaggerating. So that was really scary but I'm alive, now, so that's great!

26. What’s something that amazes you? Babies.

27. What's your favorite piece of clothing that you've owned? Don't even get me started. My Doc Martens are certainly my favorite-ever pair of shoes, that have meant the most to me. I'll always remember how I got them--it was my birthday, Angel took me to the mall, brought me to the shoe store, and said, "Pick out whatever Doc Martens you want!" Ahhh, love!
I have a pair of Old Navy jeans that fit perfectly, my Calvin College t-shirt is probably my all-time favorite t-shirt, and I really love this bell-sleeved blue and white dress which laces up the front and makes me feel vaguely pirate-esque. Also, I have a denim vest that I love dearly.

I have a lot of feelings about my clothes, all right?

28. Where’s your favorite place to take an out of town guest? To the beach. I don't go to the beach all that often, but I love just being on the beach and looking out in awe at the Indian Ocean. When I was a little kid spinning the globe, I certainly never expected that by the time I was in high school I'd live within walking distance of the Indian Ocean. I'm still in awe of it.

29. What’s one thing you’d rather pay someone to do than do yourself? I generally prefer to do things myself rather than paying someone else to do them...but if it's a skill I really don't have, then it's worth it. Like plumbing. Although if it's a simple plumbing job I'll ask Angel, and then I'll ask Mom to help him since she's better at plumbing than he is.

30. Do you have a catchphrase? I probably use "random" and "boring" far too often.

31. What is one of your most cherished memories? Staying up way too late as a newlywed, while Angel was working overnight shifts, eating pizza rolls by myself (hahaha!) and reading Agatha Christie novels while wrapped up in blankets on the couch. I'm not sure why I cherish those memories so much, and I much appreciated it when Angel was able to start working day shift, but I have fond memories of those cold nights alone with my books and my snacks. 

32. How and where do you prefer to study? In college I studied at the same table for 4 years. That's where Angel found me.

33. What position do you sleep in? All.

34. What’s your all-time favorite town or city? Bois Blanc Island. Which in not exactly a town or a city, but people do live there, so it must be something. A township?

35. What three fictional characters best represent you? Sherlock, Shawn Spencer from Psych, and Anne of Green Gables...with a bit of Monk thrown in because life is better when everything is neat and tidy.


What about you? Any shared opinions? Any opposite ones?
07 September 2018

When Encouragement Looks More Like a Challenge

Some people are natural encouragers. They have a gift for saying kind words at just the right time, for being the cheerleaders behind everyone's successes, be they big or small.

Not everyone is born with that gift, but it's one that we should probably all try to cultivate, at least a little bit, within ourselves, for there is great value in encouraging each other on the road of life.

But the side of encouragement that I find myself most drawn to is the side that looks a little bit more like a challenge.

I'm not so great at saying, "You did an awesome job!" and leaving it at that.

My natural bent leads me more towards saying, "You did an awesome job! Now...what's next? Where do you go from here?" and leads my mind to ponder ways to challenge those around me to stretch themselves and not rest on their laurels, but keep moving, growing into something better and greater.

Angel is the most frequent target of my "challenging" mode of encouragement.

There is a time to say "That was awesome!" and leave it at that. Balance is needed. It is not always the right season for challenge. Contentment and rest and meeting people where they are at is needed, and that requires discernment. I want to grow in recognizing when it's time to encourage someone without challenging them.

But. There are many times when encouragement should come with a challenge. There are times when it's right to go beyond "Well done." to "Well done, now what would you like to do with that?"

Many of us need a challenger once in a while. Our little comfort zone is so very, very comfortable! Without that person to challenge us, we may simply write stories to amuse ourselves without ever taking the tedious and scary steps of editing or sending queries to agents. We might devote a great deal of resources to learning and becoming skilled at a craft or form of art that we love...but never make the leap to teaching it to others or giving away what we make or deciding to open a business. We may run those races but we may never get faster or stronger without someone who says--hey, I know you can be faster than this.

Encouraging challengers are needed to come alongside and remind us that we don't always have to be content with good...we can be great. We don't have to be content with small...we can be big. Our talents and time and efforts can have a greater impact.

There is a time to be content with small and good...but when we're alone, we run the risk of assuming that those times are more frequent than they truly are. There is also a time to stretch yourself a little bit thinner, to push yourself a little harder, to try something that scares you...and my hope is that as we seek to encourage our communities, that we will have eyes open to help others see when those times arrive.

I happen to know of a few examples of ladies who, either by challenging themselves or being challenged by others, are stepping out and trying something that's a little bit bigger:

There's Jennifer Park, who's now published three ebooks on Smashwords, instead of stashing manuscript files away somewhere in the depths of her computer's hard drive:

There's Angi, who opened up an Etsy shop to sell her art, and recently even hosted her own booth at a craft show!

There's MaryGrace, who has taught herself how to draw and paint over the last year or so and was challenged by another sister of ours to publish more of her art, and to create a cartoon character and develop some sort of fictional series, and responded with @babydialogues on instagram

Dialogue between baby and swaddle: Baby: Oh yes, this is nice. Very nice. I feel good. Swaddle: I'm glad! It's a well-known fact that newborns feel most comfortable and able to sleep when securely swaddled. Baby: But do you know what would feel better? Swaddle: What? Baby: *begins to squirm, wiggling with all the strength his newborn body possesses* Just wait, this'll only take a minute. Swaddle: Um, sir, are you sure you really want to do this? Baby: *continues squirming until first one fist, and finally both arms, are free* Yes, yes, that's so much better. Now I can scratch my face whenever I want to! Swaddle: sometimes I wonder...why do I even bother? . . . #illustratorsofinstagram #babylife #babydialogues #babydiaries #calledtobecreative #honestmotherhood #makersgonnamake #watercolorillustration #watercoloring #seekinspirecreate #showyourwork #abmcrafty #modernmaker #livecreatively #waketomake #createdaily #paintbrush #risingtidesociety
A post shared by Baby Dialogues (@babydialogues) on

And there's me. Who decided to publish a children's picture book: The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger ...not a bestseller by any means, but has sold somewhere around 113 copies. And just this week I was sent a photo of a 4th grader reading it who wants to know when the sequel is coming out--if that's not a challenge, I don't know what is? This book only happened because of challengers who came alongside and said: this is actually a funny story. I like these characters. You should do something awesome with them.

And the language education center that I officially opened last month--would have never happened if others had never agreed with me that there was a real need, and then went further and challenged me to do something about it. To not be content with where I was at, but to expand and invest and widen the possible impact.


Keep your eyes open in the days ahead, for moments when you should encourage others and suggest a challenge...or when you should do the same for yourself!