The twins turn two

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Our babies turned two yesterday and, in predictably trite fashion, I can hardly believe it. K and I stayed up late the night before to bake and frost cookies for them me to take to school to share with their class, and K painted them some sweet little happy birthday notes while I baked, but we didn’t have too much else planned for the big day. We didn’t even buy them birthday presents because a. they don’t really need much, especially with a birthday that follows Christmas so closely and b. we knew that they’d be receiving a few things from extended family already. This Saturday Kristin’s family is coming out to celebrate with us and to see the house for the first time, which I’m really looking forward to. It gives me a lot of pride to share our space with others, and while that might be a novelty I hope the feeling doesn’t wear off for awhile.

Kristin decided to pick up a few slices of pizza and some store-bought cupcakes and candles just to make the evening a bit more Jude and Vivi’s style. I swear Jude talks about pizza from the moment he wakes up.

Jude wolfed down his mini cupcake in about four seconds, and then attempted to steal crumbs off of Vivi’s plate while she slowly ate hers one tiny bite at a time.

In honor of their birthday, and in a public apology for the fact that I still haven’t even begun their baby book even though I diligently worked on Jonah’s month by month from the time he was born and had it printed by the time he was 18 months old, I figured I’d share their birth story here. At least I did write it, it’s just been living on my Mac for quite awhile. Someday I’ll get all of their baby pictures into a book, I promise!


On Thursday evening, February 26th, Kristin went to prenatal yoga. She usually went on Tuesdays, and two nights earlier Beth had mentioned to Kristin when she left that she didn’t think she’d see her again before the babies were born, so she was surprised to see her on Thursday. Looking back, I think that Beth did sense that Kristin would give birth before the following Tuesday class, she just didn’t know to expect her on Thursday. Her due date was March 2nd, so we were all pretty surprised that Kristin was still pregnant.

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I think that we’d planned to cook Indian food for dinner, but it had taken me longer than anticipated to get Jonah to bed. So by the time Kristin returned I suggested that we just order sushi instead. I’m glad that we did, since we would have had lots of uneaten leftovers going to waste over the next week. In a move that was completely out of character even when Kristin wasn’t pregnant, but especially at this stage, Kristin said that she wanted to walk downtown to pick up the take-out order. Mind you, she was 38 weeks pregnant with twins, and it was well after dark in February. In recent weeks she’d hardly wanted to move at all, so this sudden burst of energy raised my antennae a bit.

I’d done laundry earlier in the day, so that night before bed we put clean sheets on the bed. We joked about how it would be just our luck that her water would break overnight simply because we’d just washed the sheets. Sure enough, she woke up at about 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning because she felt her water break. We were excited, but also concerned because nothing else seemed to be happening: no contractions, and no movement from the babies. Kristin called the on-call number for the midwives and Robin suggested that she walk around and drink some fluids to see if they would start moving again. She said that the sensation of the water breaking can sometimes be shocking to the babies, and that might be the reason for the stillness. Although I don’t recall, they must have begun moving again because we didn’t call back for a number of hours.

We decided not to go back to bed, and instead got things ready to go. We let Jonah sleep while we showered, straightened up, made sure the bags were ready, and let the Frost and Rynders families know the plan since they would be caring for Jonah while we were at the hospital. When we spoke to Robin again, she told us that because labor hadn’t begun but Kristin’s water had broken, we had to go to the hospital for her to be induced. We knew that we would be stuck there once we arrived, and we were still hoping that Kristin’s labor would begin on its own, so I dragged my feet and encouraged Kristin to drag hers, despite Robin’s insistence that we come right in. We drove Jonah to Gladys’s house and dropped him off sometime after 9:00 a.m. It was a beautiful, sunny day, especially for February, and I remember us talking about what a good day it was to be born. Kristin called her mom from the car on the way to the hospital, and her mom booked her flight out for the following Monday.

We parked the car in the ramp and went to the non-emergency entrance of the hospital. Everything felt so different from our arrival there when I was in labor with Jonah (when we went to the emergency room, with me suffering through active labor all the way). We made our way upstairs in a rather leisurely way and were shown to our room. The room had a tub (which we wouldn’t be using) and was quite large, lots of natural light from windows running all along one wall with a view of trees outside. It was lovely. I was excited, and took a selfie of Mama K and I in the room before she changed into a hospital gown.

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Robin met us there (she’d actually beaten us there by quite a bit, since we’d dragged our feet). And told us that Kristin had to be started on Pitocin. Kristin was understandably disappointed; it wasn’t what she wanted. It seemed to take them a long time to arrive and get the Pitocin going, I think it finally happened around noon. To my surprise, the Pitocin didn’t seem to bother K for a number of hours; she was just hanging out, talking and being herself, but eventually the pain kicked in. She was frustrated that the nurses wouldn’t allow her to get out of bed and move or change positions because of the two fetal monitors wrapped around her belly. Every time she moved, they stopped picking up the heartbeats, so she wasn’t able to manage her pain at all. Somewhere between 6:00-8:00 p.m. she asked for an epidural because she’d realized that if she wasn’t going to be allowed to actively manage her pain, she didn’t really have any options. She was frustrated and disappointed, but knew that it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist who administered the epidural had a horrible bedside manner, and caused K incredible, unexpected pain. She struggled to hold still and couldn’t sit up the way he asked because the contractions were so debilitating. He eventually allowed her to lie on her side, but at some point in the procedure she shrieked with pain in such a startling, awful way, that I began to cry out of fear and anger. I said to Michelle (the midwife on call at that point) that someone should have warned us that the procedure would be so excruciating, and she seemed as shocked as I was. The anesthesiologist had the gall to brag about his skills and speed when I criticized him; he was entirely lacking in compassion, and I told him so.

Fortunately, once the epidural began to work, Kristin declared that it had been a good decision. She felt much better, and at some point soon after we were left alone to get some sleep. They gave me some sheets and I was able to get some sleep on a sofa-like piece of furniture in the room. K also tried to sleep, but struggled because she wasn’t able to turn or move and because her legs were numb and she was hooked up to so many wires, cords, and a catheter. We were both surprised that the twins hadn’t been born yet. Everyone we knew who had been induced had given birth very quickly. Our families had expected news by now, but I think that I’d gotten a bit lax with the text updates because not much had changed. By the time she had the epidural she was around 5 or 6 cm dilated, so she still had a ways to go.

In the morning, maybe around 7:45 a.m., Michelle came back to check on Kristin and said that she was at about 9.5 cm dilation and could start pushing soon. We were excited and thought that things would get moving any minute. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and everything felt full of promise and anticipation. Then all hell broke loose at the hospital. A number of women arrived to the small delivery ward ready to give birth. Two of those women were also Full Circle patients, which meant that Michelle, our midwife, found herself moving between three different rooms at once. Hours went by while the doctors and nurses clearly scrambled to keep up. Finally, around 11:00 a.m., Michelle returned and told Kristin that she could start pushing. We were surprised that they had her begin to push in our room, because we’d been told that she would be required to deliver in the operating room just in case of emergency, since it was a twin birth. I assumed that they expected her pushing to take awhile, and wanted to get her started where she was already comfortable.

While we were relieved to finally get some attention and to get the process moving, it was clear that the delivery ward was still understaffed given the rush of women that had arrived. At times, it was just a nurse and me in the room while Kristin pushed (in contrast to my birth experience when there were probably five or more people in the room at any given time). Michelle came and went periodically, and was helpful when she was there, but in other moments I think that both Kristin and I felt a little bit lost. Even so, we were able to see just a tiny circle of Jude’s fuzzy head moving when she pushed, so we knew that she was making progress. After about two hours of pushing, Kristin started to bleed. Michelle dabbed at the blood and wiped it up, saying that hopefully it was just from a small cut of some sort, but it kept coming. I began to worry, because it seemed like too much blood to be a simple tear or cut. Michelle worried too, and said that she thought we ought to have the attending OB take a look and decide what to do. I was already in scrubs because I knew that at some point we’d be moving to the OR, and everyone else prepared themselves and Kristin for the trip down the hallway.

As the nurses wheeled Kristin down the hallway and I walked beside her, she turned to me and said “do whatever you have to do.” In that moment, I knew that she was giving her consent to the cesarean birth that she didn’t want, because she was worried about the babies and was willing to sacrifice anything to make sure that they were OK. She seemed exhausted, but unafraid and fiercely determined to keep her little ones safe. She’d been fighting hard her entire pregnancy to give them the best possible start, but that moment was perhaps the one in which her maternal instincts stood out most prominently for the first time.

After taking a look at the bleeding, the doctor told us that he felt it was best to perform the cesarean and just get the babies out quickly. As they prepped her for surgery, they told me that I had to wait outside. A nurse found a chair for me and I sat in the hallway and cried, and texted family to ask them to pray, letting them know that she was bleeding and that I was scared. I wanted to be beside her, and was scared because I couldn’t hear her voice or see her. In those early moments, I truly feared that she might die. During that time, a wonderful nurse who had been called in due to the mad rush approached me. She introduced herself with a smile, told me that Kristin was going to be just fine, and told me to be sure to have my camera ready because we would be meeting our babies soon and we would want to have pictures. She told me that she would let me know when to stand up with the camera, as the doctor would lift the babies into the air for me to see as he pulled them each out. Finally, she brought my chair in beside Kristin’s head. She looked tired and pale and was complaining of thirst, but wasn’t allowed to have any water. It seemed like only a few moments before Jude was born, and I stood to take a photograph of him. He wailed and wailed and my fear turned into joy immediately. I was so excited to finally see what he looked like. One minute later, Vivienne was born. I remember telling Kristin that she was cute, and she screamed ferociously. After they cleaned them up and weighed them and wrapped them in blankets, they brought them around and held them down by Kristin’s face so that she could see them, and then handed them each to me. The nurses were wonderful and took photos for us. I was so relieved that everyone was OK.

As it turned out, the placenta had begun to detach from Kristin’s uterus, causing the bleeding. Without the surgery the babies could have died; it was the only way for them to come into the world. In the days to come, the challenge of recovering from a cesarean birth and the blood loss of the placental abruption (which required two units of blood for K) while learning to nurse and care for Jude and Vivienne would require everything that Kristin had left to give, but she gave it with love and generosity and slowly began to heal. Kristin’s mom arrived to meet her new grandbabies, we brought big brother Jonah to the hospital to meet his brother and sister, and we were surrounded by love from the Rynders, Frost, and Thompson families. We spent four days and nights in the hospital, but eventually we made it home and began our new life as a family of five. It certainly does take a village.

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All summer in a weekend

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A few weeks ago, a story came out on our neighborhood Facebook group about a black family a number of blocks up experiencing some pretty intense race-based harassment by a neighbor on their block. Another neighbor on the street called it out and a number of people expressed their support for the family that was being targeted (and also noted that this woman is apparently notorious throughout the area for calling the police on all sorts of perceived violations and instances of “blight”). At any rate, it was decided that there ought to be some sort of show of support for the family, so a block party was planned…in February…in Michigan. I have to admit that while I offered to bring chili (it was a chili cook-off and BBQ) I had some real concerns about the temperatures and how this would all shake out. By some miracle (or more likely as a result of climate change) it was 60 degrees and sunny all weekend, and the block party went off without a hitch.

This entire weekend felt like a preview of what spring and summer are going to feel like in this neighborhood, and I have to say that it was spectacular.

The block party was a number of blocks from our actual block, so we didn’t expect to know much of anyone, but we ended up running into two families from preschool and being introduced to a few others, and having a really wonderful time chatting with people. The kids ran around in the sun with a bunch of other kids, and I just felt good about where we live. We’d already invited one family over for an after-party, and we ended up inviting another family we’d only just met (another preschool family). As K and I put out cheese and veggies and wine glasses in anticipation of everyone’s arrival, we talked about how fortunate we feel to be here, how proud we are of our home, and how good it feels to share it with friends. In New York I hated hosting, but I’m realizing now that those feelings were very closely tied to our space. Sure, I still get stressed out about cleaning and prep, but even that feels easier now that we have places to put things. We had a really lovely evening and I’m excited to do it a lot more often.

Since I’m still an introvert no matter how much I’m learning to enjoy hosting, after six plus hours of socializing I need a day to decompress, so today we planned to get out into nature on our own. K proposed the farm at the Nature Center, and the kids were really excited about it. Unfortunately we drove out there only to find that it didn’t open for an hour and a half, and that the farm portion was actually closed for the season (oh right, it is still February after all). We headed to a playground instead, and then came home for lunch and decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon just playing in the yard. Over the past couple of days everyone has been outdoors, so we’ve spent some time talking to three neighbors we’re very familiar with, as well as meeting another family we’d never met before, a couple who struck us right away as fun and down-to-earth and who apparently have five girls between the ages of 6-19.

This probably sounds like over-the-top gratitude, but I’m so thankful to have a driveway and a big front yard, and to know that we’ll spend time out there and we’ll run into our neighbors and that they’re wonderful. I experienced so many “I love our life here” moments this weekend. And I now feel much more confident that yes, we’re going to make friends and build a community, even if it’s going to take us a little while to do it.

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I’m going to New York solo on Tuesday night for four nights and about three and a half days, and while it was partly my choice (a good friend and colleague is moving on professionally, she lives in Los Angeles and will be working out there now so this is my last chance to cross paths with her in NYC) my feelings about the trip are all over the place. I’ve missed my work friends tremendously and I’m looking forward to seeing them, not to mention my good friend-friends up in Westchester (I’m spending Friday night up there) but this weekend I’ve really begun to panic about how it’s going to feel to be away from these guys. I’ve never left the kids for this long. We left Jonah for two nights when K was pregnant, but that’s it. I was in the grocery store this evening and I was already thinking about how excited I’ll be to come home. I’m really afraid of how lonely it’s going to feel when I get off the plane by myself late at night, tired and hungry and missing my family, standing in a taxi line and just wanting to cry. I know that I shouldn’t put that expectation out into the universe, but I’m really feeling sad about it.

Some good family friends of ours have agreed to come over at the crack of dawn Wednesday through Friday to get the kids fed and dressed and driven to school because K can’t do it with her work schedule and our preschool’s hours. I feel guilty about having them do it and worried that Jonah will have a meltdown over missing me or something in his morning routine not being quite right. K has been so supportive and really wants me to have a great time, so I’m really trying to look forward to it. We’ll see.

Living in the great room

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A few evenings ago, when I was driving home and saw five or six deer cross the road and turn down our street, I went inside and quickly scooped up the kids to show them the spectacle. Two of them were still standing in the neighbor’s driveway and the others were further back behind the house. I love the deer in Kalamazoo, maybe just because it’s something I never saw in New York and I see them all the time here. While we were standing out in the street we noticed some family friends who live a few houses down standing in their driveway also watching. We chatted briefly and she told us that on Sundays when their daughter and her family come over for dinner they often talk about stopping by to say hello, but it always looks as if no one is home. That’s partly because I never turn the porch light on. (Is that unneighborly? I have no idea, it just seems like a waste of energy if we aren’t expecting anyone, but maybe I’m totally unaccustomed to neighborhood customs). But it’s also partly because we kind of live in the back of the house.

When we bought this house we were especially impressed by the way the great room extended the kitchen and added a whole new living space to what would otherwise be a pretty small 1950s ranch. The couple we bought it from added that room almost as soon as they bought it, a big 14 x 24 room that connects to the kitchen, with six skylights, six windows looking out into the backyard, and sliding glass doors on two sides. What’s interesting is that when we first set foot in the house, I actually thought that the great room felt much smaller than I’d expected it to feel, given the photos we’d seen and the dimensions. I now think that was because of the colors and the odd furniture placement.

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We hated the floors, and the salmon pink was not our style, but we knew that this room really made the house. Everyone who comes in, starting with all of the folks who did work before we moved in, comments on how unexpected it is (the front elevation is nothing to write home about) and how it’s by far the best room in the house. We were so excited to put wood floors in here and to paint and decorate it the way we wanted it. It feels huge now, and in the evenings we’re pretty much always here and/or in the kitchen, so the house always looks dark from the street.

We went a couple of months without a sofa in here because we ordered something from a custom shop (Joybird, which we’ve been really happy with). We love it now that it’s here and the room feels so much more complete. The kids love it too, clearly; we do a lot of reading here.

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Originally I really wanted a sectional because I wanted to be able to spread out, but after way too much deliberation we decided that it might not fit the room properly and wouldn’t give us any flexibility to rearrange. We ultimately went with a sofa and ottoman, and I’m really glad that we did.

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Before we moved in, Kristin couldn’t stand that green countertop / bar that extends out from the kitchen. It matches the one under the far bank of cabinets that you can see in the photo above. Both were added during the addition (the rest of the countertops in the kitchen are cream colored). She was dying to rip out all of the countertops and replace them so that they matched, but that wasn’t in the budget. Once we got this room painted and put together my mom pointed out that with all of the blues and greens, the green counter isn’t quite as ugly as it once seemed. It sort of blends in, which is a happy accident.

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The teak furniture came from my parents’ house (we love having a space big enough to leave the leaf in all the time), the rug came from West Elm, and the bar stools came from Wayfair (we love that they’re wipeable, because kids).

We cannot wait for summer when we know that we’ll be doing a lot of indoor/outdoor living from this room. We have some inherited patio furniture that needs welding and probably a coat of paint (my parents had it as far back as I can remember), and we have a swing set promise to fulfill. Until it’s warm enough for all of that we’ll just enjoy the days growing a tiny bit longer each evening, and the way this room brings the winter sunlight indoors.

Valentine craftiness

 

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I have to admit, a couple of weeks ago when I began to wonder whether the kids’ preschool would suggest that they bring and exchange valentine cards, I was feeling a little bit grinchy about it. I pictured the entire classroom buying boxes of character cards and handing them out completely at random (since none of the kids can really read or write anyway). It felt completely devoid of any sentiment, and for some reason I tend to be really character-averse when it comes to things like…well, almost anything really, but mostly things like clothing, backpacks or other items that aren’t specifically a toy that allows some imaginary play; it feels like free advertising. We have a billion Octonauts toys (see our most recent Halloween for evidence of my own hypocrisy), so it’s not as if we don’t do characters at all, but I’ve never loved those valentines. I was sort of hoping to skip it, but then a blogger I enjoy posted something on Instagram about her plans to do all sorts of fun, over-the-top things throughout the month of February, and I realized that there was joy to be found if I made some effort. Not everything has to be so utilitarian, and sometimes I need a reminder. So what if exchanging Valentines doesn’t do anything; it’s a reason to do crafts and bake cookies.

I spent Thursday night, all day Friday, and all day Saturday at a super intense anti-racism workshop (which was powerful and necessary and gave me a lot of hope for Kalamazoo because of all of the wonderful people representing local organizations who were there making commitments to real change) and knowing that I was losing a lot of precious weekend time with the kids made me want to pack even more special moments into Sunday. Now before you start down the “I’m not a Pinterest mom…” or “I wish I could do things like this with my kids…” path, know that at one point early in the day, Kristin stopped me and gently asked “Is this the most relaxing way for you to spend the day?” which was a poorly disguised way of saying “This seems to be causing you a great deal of stress, do we need to do this?” But it was important to me, and by then I was committed and nothing was going to get me to back down. She later apologized for calling me out and pointed out that she did observe many moments of real joy. I’m still glad that we did it.

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We didn’t attempt one of those adorable, candy/valentine combos that usually involves some sort of clever play on words. I just bought a crapload (it was actually a “party platter” if you must know) of foam hearts and a bunch of additional stickers, along with some markers and glue sticks. It was WAY more than we needed, but the kids were honestly really into it! So I’m glad we had extras.

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Even after we took a break to bake cookies Vivi said that she wanted to do more art, and went back for more.

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The wardrobe change is because it was post-cookie-mess, and they were completely covered in flour.

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It’s so funny and wonderful, Jonah is at this age now where he takes on crafts and activities with so much more independence than ever before. He was just cranking through the valentines totally on his own, and the same was true for the cookies. While Jude just wanted to roll everything flat and poke a variety of toy kitchen implements into the dough, Jonah was busy cutting out hearts and dutifully carrying them over to the cookie sheets. Vivi actually tends to be the same way which is somewhat surprising given the age difference, but her over-the-top independent streak is probably the explanation.

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It was so cute watching them watch the cookies bake. They could hardly wait.

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Unfortunately the afternoon got away from us and K and I ended up doing all of the decorating solo after the kids were asleep, but I did decorate one for Jonah before he went off to bed and we saved a few more for tomorrow. The rest are going to the kids’ teachers because I cannot have this many butter-frosted sugar cookies in the house or I’ll eat myself sick.

Fun on a freezing beach

Despite Jonah insisting that we all get up and keep him company while he ate banana bread at 6:30 this morning (that’s what I get for baking banana bread before going to bed last night) which started the day off with a bit of a power struggle (I was determined to stay in bed and ignore him, which didn’t go over well), it actually turned out to be a lovely lazy Saturday morning. By 8:15 I noticed actual sunshine streaming in through the mud room windows, and that glow stuck around to make the living room magical for awhile. Sunshine in Michigan in February feels like a tremendous blessing, so I’ll take every sparkle and make the most of it. Kristin was the one pointing out that I ought to grab the camera while Vivi rocked in the rocker, and I’m glad that I did.

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We laid low till around noon when we bundled everyone up in snow pants, made some grilled cheese for the road, and drove out to South Haven for a winter fest. We saw lots of interesting ice sculptures (no photos, sorry – the crowds were bananas) made some s’mores, and stopped by North Beach to see what it’s like in February. Jonah had been freezing and begging to go home, but by the time he’d been in the car for 10 minutes and saw the playground equipment on the beach he begged to get out again. Why not?

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I have no idea what Jude’s pointing at there, since he obviously can’t see out from under that hat. It was SO COLD, but the kids did not want to stop swinging. Oh Michigan.

Master Bedroom Makeover

Continuing with the theme of sharing “after” pictures of the house even if they’re not perfect, this photo shoot involved tossing a bunch of clothes from the “worn at least once, semi-clean and re-wearable” pile on the bed to the floor on the other side of the room and out of the photo frame.

I really love our bedroom, even if I rarely sleep in it (#musicalbeds). I’m actually surprised by how much I love the color, because I let Kristin choose it and wasn’t jazzed about it at the time. It’s honestly one of my favorites, and maybe my absolute favorite paint color in the house; it’s Benjamin Moore Mozart Blue. We put the same neutral carpeting in every bedroom.

In case you need a refresher, here’s the room when we closed on the house:

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It’s hard to tell in that photo, honestly, but it was mauve. We kept the curtains since they were relatively neutral and it saved us from having to buy new ones. We also haven’t changed out any light fixtures in the house so far. The couple we bought it from was really into ceiling fans, so nearly every room has one. This room has a particularly tiny one for some reason. One evening, Jonah was laying on the bed with me and said “Mama D, aren’t you sad that your fan is SO tiny?”

Here’s the room now, photographed in a rare moment of sunshine:

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Our duvet cover came from West Elm, the photo on the wall is from Urban Outfitters, and everything else came with us from NY (IKEA nightstands and a matching dresser that’s out of the frame, and a bed frame that I’ve had since college but amazingly still like a lot). The chest at the foot of the bed was my maternal grandparents’, it’s made of camphor and there’s a story about my grandfather having local porters help him sneak it onto a military ship overseas where he was working at the time, and stow it where no one would find it. I love the way it smells when I open it.

Vivienne’s Room in Pictures

I’ve had high hopes of taking and sharing a whole lot more “after” photos of the house, but every time I set out to do it (in a photos-of-the-room sort of way, not photos of kids who happen to be in a room) I realize that something still feels incomplete and decide that I ought to wait. But you know what? We will always be making changes and there will always be time for more pictures, so I’m just going to start sharing rooms as they are even if they could be improved upon.

We really didn’t buy much of anything for Vivi’s room with the exception of paint, bedding, and art. We inherited a bed from the previous owners and decided that we would paint the headboard to make it more fun (which was a nice early project when we weren’t doing much work on the house ourselves – it felt like we were actually making something beautiful with our own hands). Her dresser went with Jonah’s crib (which has since been given to a Syrian refugee family in town). Someday I’m sure we’ll have fun picking out furniture for a new version of her room (given her personality I suspect she’ll care about this sooner than most) but for now we’re actually really happy with it.

This was her room before we made any changes at all. It had laminate floors that didn’t match any other rooms in the house (they were using it as an office) and sort of a moss-green wall color (which honestly wasn’t objectionable, but in such a small room we wanted to go a bit lighter).

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And here’s where we ended up:

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The pictures on her walls are Elly MacKay, whose work is lovely on the surface but even more interesting when you read about it. She basically creates scenes out of layers of paper in a tiny theatre and photographs them.

Her walls are Benjamin Moore Peach Cooler, and we put the same carpeting in all of the bedrooms, so that wasn’t chosen specifically for her. Her quilt is from Land of Nod, and I love it. And we painted her headboard (which was wood before with some dark green accents…I can’t find the before picture right now) Benjamin Moore Pinot Grigio Grape.

The baby cradle at the end of her bed was a gift from my parents before I was even pregnant with Jonah. We’d been struggling to get pregnant and my dad bought it from this wonderful antique store that had a sad ending here in Kzoo. Despite there being no baby yet, he declared “to become, act as if” and that was that; we had a cradle well before we had a baby. Ultimately Jonah never spent a night in it since we ended up co-sleeping, but it’s become a wonderful place for dolls.

I feel like her room could use a few more personal touches, but we’re pleased with how it’s come together so far.

January Fever & Mental Leaps

Apparently there hasn’t been much news from us in the last couple of weeks. We’ve had so much illness over the past six weeks or so that we really haven’t had a lot of activity that would be of interest to anyone but us. We’ve spent most of our weekends cooped up at home, with the exception of a couple of dinner invitations to the homes of friends which have been a welcome change of pace.

It goes without saying that America is quickly becoming something out of a dystopian nightmare and that the last week and a half have been pretty rough on the psyche. We learned at the tail end of last week that Jonah been somewhat depressed all week long at school. His teacher told me that he’d been sitting in his cubby feeling sad, refusing to talk to or play with anyone despite multiple invitations from good friends. This isn’t all that uncommon on Mondays, when I think he’s struggling a bit with the transition from a weekend with us, but it went on all week last week. Obviously Jonah isn’t really aware of what’s going on politically, but he’s highly perceptive and susceptible to taking on our emotions. K has been particularly apocalyptic recently, and hasn’t been terribly careful about keeping it from the kids. And let’s be honest: there’s a lot to feel apocalyptic about. There’s a poem that I saw shared on Instagram just after the election that I think about often, “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. We’ve been trying to bring Jonah into issues that we think it’s important for him to know about: being kind to everyone, embracing difference etc. but I don’t want to scare him either.

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While we weren’t about to make the trip to DC with the kids, we were thrilled when a local women’s march emerged in Kalamazoo just five days before the event. We took both strollers and did the 3.5 miles as a family. The weather was amazing (mid 50s and sunny for most of the walk!) which was a welcome change from the constant gloom we’ve been having lately. The kids were amazing (then again the bar was low – they were in strollers with snacks) and it was incredibly empowering to see over 1,000 local people come together in support of progressive causes. It renewed my faith in Kalamazoo, and it was heartening to run into a number of people we knew.

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When Jonah was a baby, I had an app on my phone that helped parents to track these “mental leaps” that babies supposedly go through during different phases of their development. I can’t recall the name of the app, but I remember it introducing a variety of concepts that babies would supposedly begin to grasp during these big periods of transition. This past weekend, Kristin and I were talking about how Jonah seems to be making a leap of his own lately (all depression of last week aside). Suddenly, rather than throwing a tantrum at the slightest disappointment, he’s saying things to me like “That’s OK, I don’t mind it when I can’t have something that I want” or beginning his requests with “When you’re done with what you’re doing, could I please have…”

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All of a sudden he seems more patient, more tolerant, more able to cope with disappointment. Kristin remarked that it’s amazing what a few months of stability can do for a child, but I also wonder if it’s because we’ve been making more of an effort to ignore the bad and praise the good. Back in November we took him to a counselor a couple of times because of some behavioral concerns, and while we did a terrible job of following through on much of our homework and reading, we did get the gist of her philosophy which was just that: ignore bad behavior whenever possible (unless someone is being hurt or something is being destroyed) and praise positive choices and behaviors at every opportunity. We haven’t been super consistent, but we’ve been making an effort and I feel like there’s been a dramatic change.

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Jude is definitely doing more talking, lots of singing, and continues to be pretty happy-go-lucky. We have noticed a bit of a tilt towards two-year-old behavior lately, however. He rarely digs in his heels when reprimanded or intercepted, but lately he’ll respond by tossing something he’s holding just to register his displeasure with our command. We hear the words “no way!” more often than we used to. His bravery and spunk are showing up in their own unique ways. While he may find sledding to be terrifying, he was the only one of the three who wanted to pet the leopard gecko and the chickens at our friends’ house on Friday night.

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Vivienne continues to be a source of endless amusement. She dances and sings all the time, she has strong clothing preferences already (the boys really don’t care much at all, with the exception of Jonah preferring leggings to jeans) and will pick things out to wear and even tell me no if I pick out an item she doesn’t care for. She loves to play pretend and seems to think it’s both wonderful and hilarious when we play along. Her newest phrase is “be right back” which sounds more like “be back!” and is usually accompanied by an index finger shake. She’ll say this when she’s asking us if we want coffee, before she runs off to the toy kitchen to get it.

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Both she and Jude sing parts of the ABC song, and it usually goes something like “A, B, C, D….LMNOP!” with a few other letters scattered in at random intervals. Today Jude wore a shirt with writing on it and when Vivi saw it, she pointed to the letters and began singing the song. I love that they’re learning so much and becoming so interested in new things. Both Vivi and Jude are really into books lately, and they’re especially fond of the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. They both love to interact with the books by pretending to pluck things from the pages and eat them, or knocking on a picture of a door and saying “knock knock” and then they laugh at their own silliness. They are also beginning to memorize words and phrases from their favorites and will recite things as we read. Another big favorite of Vivi’s is this Pip and Posy book that was given to us by good friends in the UK, and I think that Vivi pretty much has it memorized.

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The view at thirty eight

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I turned 38 yesterday, and I have to say that I’m feeling pretty good about it. While a part of me is aware that I’m quickly approaching forty and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety we’re socialized to feel about that number, an even bigger part me of went to bed the night before my birthday and reflected on my life right now: the view at 38, and quickly realized that I have everything I ever could have hoped to have at this point in my life. I think that a lot of the anxiety we feel at milestone birthdays is related to the question of whether we’ve done “enough” by this point. By no means do I feel like I am everything that I want to be, nor have I done everything I might like to do, but I truly feel like this life that I’m so fortunate to have is everything to me, and I’m so happy with that.

Some days it still feels unimaginably lucky that these three wonderful tiny people are ours and we’re theirs, that we have a house and a yard, that we’re near my parents and our kids will get to spend so much more time with them than ever before, that the kids love their school, and that K and I have good jobs that allow us to provide what our family needs.

I also feel so much more comfortable and familiar with myself in this phase of my life. I’ve talked with friends before about identifying an age that just feels like the age you’re sort of meant to be. I was kind of a strange little kid and was never comfortable around teenagers, not even when I was one, I was happy to say goodbye to my 20s when I turned 30, and I kind of feel like my 30s are just where I make sense. I might even go so far as to say my upper 30s (and who knows, maybe the 40s will feel just right too). This phase of life makes sense to me, and I feel at home in my skin. I also feel a lot more inspired to be creative (within reason) and have pushed past a lot of “I have to be perfect or I’m not trying it” in recent years.

I’m not big on new year’s resolutions, but since I have a January birthday it often feels like the right time to take some time to think about what I want in my life in the next year. A few things come to mind. I want to:

  1. Continue to do things that allow me to engage my creative side, even when that means doing things imperfectly and pushing through a fear of failure. That includes keeping up this blog, making things with the kids, continuing the Halloween costume tradition, putting the time and energy into learning more about my camera and improving my photography, and maybe even finishing that scarf I began knitting for Jonah roughly three years ago.
  2. Push us (K included) to invite more people over, make social plans more often, talk to people more, spend time building and deepening friendships locally.
  3. Start getting some exercise again, in the name of self-care and better health and wellbeing. I haven’t figured out the “how” of this one yet.
  4. Yell less, model calm and patience for the kids, and play with them more often.

Having kids has dramatically altered the way that I make wishes. They’re so rarely for myself anymore, but here’s to a year of health and happiness.

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On being “new to town” forever, or How long can introverts go without making new friends?

 

The other day I made an appointment for a haircut at a salon I’ve never been to. I’ve had my hair cut twice since moving to Kalamazoo, both times at the same place but by two different stylists. K and I are still trying to find a place that feels like “the one” after years of really good NYC haircuts on the Lower East Side. I started thinking about the kind of smalltalk that I make with stylists while I’m getting my hair cut, and started reflecting on how things like that have gone since we moved back. My brief “about me” is always centered around the fact that we just moved back to town: what neighborhood we’re in, why we moved, the time we spent in NY. Follow up questions are usually related: what we did about jobs when we moved back, how we feel about being back etc. I suddenly realized that at some point (probably before too terribly long) I won’t be able to lean on “we’re new here” as my go-to introduction. We won’t be new anymore, we’ll be established, or at least that’s how I would imagine it’s supposed to go. That doesn’t mean that we won’t still have a few things to sort out (that list is long: nobody has a dentist, we just found the kids a pediatrician…) but it won’t make sense at some point to talk about how we just moved here.

If there’s one element of feeling fully settled that I think we may find ourselves falling behind on for awhile it’s making friends and building a new community here. I’m firmly in camp introvert, even though people who don’t know me well sometimes find that surprising. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need people or care about deep relationships, but it does mean (in my case, anyway) that I’m terrible about taking advantage of (or creating, for that matter) opportunities to meet new people and potentially build new relationships. One of the things that I miss most from our life in New York, besides our good friends there (which I’ll get to in a bit) is my open-concept office. When I sat in a closed cubicle I rarely got up to wander over and chat with someone, because that required some sort of awkward conversation starter. Once we remodeled and went to an open office, all of these opportunities to overhear and jump into a conversation that intrigued me suddenly appeared and I found myself socializing way more than I ever had before. I love organic opportunities to get into a conversation that might be wonderful, but I’m terrible at finding them and downright averse to setting up a scheduled opportunity to talk with a new person. Now that I work from home full-time, I almost never talk to anyone about non-work-related topics besides my family. I have zero opportunities to meet and talk to people. An extrovert would do something about that, but I seem to be digging in my heels.

At this stage in my life, with young kids as both a time suck and a convenient excuse to decline things I don’t care about, I’m just not sure what my community and friendship needs even are. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have them, I’m certain that I do, I’m just confused about it lately. In New York we had really wonderful friends. Some of our friendships shifted over the 13 years that we were there, some people came and went, but we met lots of people we truly enjoyed and by the time we left we were especially close with a small handful of other families with young children. Spending time with those friends was so effortless because we knew each other so well, we could be fully ourselves, they knew about our flaws and loved us anyway. And as Kristin pointed out the other day, those bonds were built up in part through the sharing of some pretty significant life milestones.

This transition is going to seem unrelated, but stay with me.

The other day I told Kristin about a blog post that had resonated with me by a blogger I really enjoy. When I shared it we weren’t talking about community or friendships at all, we were actually talking about the end of the holidays and what a downer that can be for me (which was more or less the focus of the post). The TLDR, if you don’t feel like clicking away right now, is that the end of really special things are generally a total downer for the writer, but she’s trying to focus more on the mantra “there is more” to remind herself that yes, there is more joy to be experienced, there’s more beauty to be found, there’s more magic with her family and her friends and that it isn’t limited to Christmas and vacations. I really enjoyed her post and felt it was a good reminder.

On that same car trip (K and I were headed out of town for a wedding, so we had some uninterrupted conversation time) I asked K her thoughts about a conversation that popped up on our FB mom group the other day. The conversation was about the concept of Friday night meatballs, a trend I’ve been hearing about for awhile now where someone decides to host a group of people for a casual, inexpensive dinner party on a very regular basis with a rotating cast of guests, with the purpose of seeing more people and making those connections a priority. A good friend back in New York mentioned that she and her best friend’s family have been doing crappy dinner parties for awhile now and are really enjoying it, which is another spin on the theme. Here’s another good piece on why making dinner with good friends a priority is important to your sanity and wellbeing. This topic came up in our mom group and so many people jumped in to say what a wonderful idea it was and that they wanted to start hosting these gatherings immediately. I read the thread with interest but never commented because, honestly? I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy it. I’d probably enjoy attending something like that occasionally, if I knew the people super well and liked their other friends, but hosting? Historically I’ve hated hosting; it stresses me out and I often end up in tears from the pressure I put on myself to make it work, and I have such social anxiety that I annex myself in the kitchen with tasks to avoid having to mingle. Kristin and I both agreed that we also hate the obligation of a recurring commitment. We could both imagine having a few friends over for casual meals from time to time when we’re in the mood (and in fact Kristin just said the other day that we ought to buy more bar stools so that we can have parties, which surprised me), but the basis for a lot of these meatball/crappy dinners is that you do it on a recurring basis no matter what because it matters. We don’t even meal plan on a weekly basis because we want to have the ability to change our minds depending on how we feel.

So if Friday night meatballs aren’t our thing, how to make friends? How to build any sort of real community here when we don’t have the “new to town” excuse any longer? Kristin brought our conversation back to the blog post I shared earlier about the mantra “there is more.” She suggested that because our friendships in New York were forged through the sharing of some significant life milestones (prenatal yoga and breastfeeding classes together as we prepared to become parents, experiencing the accidental home birth of a friend’s second child, leaving our two-year-old in the care of two wonderful families while our twins were born, visiting each other at the hospital and sharing tears over unwanted c-sections), that maybe there isn’t more. That sounds bleak, and maybe K was just playing devil’s advocate or maybe she was feeling particularly anti-social in that moment, but she raised the question “what if we can’t expect to make friends like that ever again if we are done having babies and those milestones that forged such strong bonds are over?” I think that there will be plenty of other firsts in our lives, but I agree that bringing children into the world is pretty incomparable to most other things two families can experience together; sharing some big life changes probably does expedite the relationship building process. We’ve actually met a family or two via the kids’ school and have enjoyed them thoroughly, but we’re getting in our own way of deepening those relationships or continuing to find new ones because we aren’t making much of an effort.

I love having deep relationships with old friends, I love the way you can just pick up wherever no matter how much time has passed and no one is offended by the passing of that time or the lack of phone calls. I love having a history with someone that erases all need for explanations, but at this stage of my life I kind of can’t be bothered to create new relationships like that. I need them to happen naturally and our lives are not terribly conducive to that. Without having given it much thought (up till now) I may have been hoping that after being here awhile it would just happen organically, but I’m realizing now that might not be the case. We may need to push ourselves a bit.