The art of tag-teaming

31 Oct

Daddy steals a snuggle before running off to a gig.

At the risk of boring y’all’s socks off, here’s what today looks like:

George makes us coffee and heads to work. I get Annabelle up and tend to her diaper and breakfast. I eat my breakfast while she plays. Play, play, play, she goes down for a nap. I cross my fingers, because not all of her “naps” are naps. Meanwhile, I caramelize some onion and sausage for a pizza for dinner. I’ve already taken the homemade dough, a la Mark Bittman, and sauce out of the freezer. Annabelle is still asleep, thank you Greek God of Napping (Snorello?).

Soon, I’ll make lunch. George will come home from his morning classes, and Annabelle will wake up. We’ll all eat, I’ll shower and change and head out to teach my own classes. I love teaching, and I couldn’t possibly be more thankful that Oklahoma State University hired me to teach college students how to make podcasts, online videos, blogs and slide shows. I’d be pretty bored here in the middle of Oklahoma without this gig! It’s the perfect arrangement, because I teach enough to keep up my chops and contribute to the community, and I stay home enough to be the very involved parent I always wanted to be.

George will take Annabelle for the afternoon, running errands and — he doesn’t know it yet, but he will soon — assembling and baking the pizza. I’ll get back at 5:30. We’ll scarf down dinner together and then at 6 my dear busy husband will head to Oklahoma City for a rehearsal with the OKC Philharmonic. I’ll put Annabelle to bed, do some grading, watch “Nashville,” and wind down. The hubs will return at 11 p.m. and we’ll go to sleep.

Mommy and her little munchkin!

It’s incredible that we are able to have this schedule, and I can’t say enough about tag-teaming everything, from making money to preparing meals to raising our child. To have both parents feel involved in every part of making the household run smoothly means both are invested in everything equally (except for the obvious exceptions of the cars, which George cares about 8,000 times more than I do, and Annabelle’s wardrobe, which I care about 8,000 times more than George does).

Of course everybody has a unique set of circumstances to consider when they’re carving out the way their own family will function, and there’s no one right answer for anybody. I’m really not judgmental about other people’s decisions, because no two families should be alike. Some parents work, some stay home, some do something in between. Whatever floats your boat — or rubber duckies — is fine by me. I’m sure we’ll all find a way to totally screw up our children no matter what choices we make!

But I just love that in the Speed family, we have achieved a balance that really defines who I am: traditional and progressive all at once. I love thinking out of the box and love that our arrangement is not one you would magically be offered without creating it yourself. And it’s a priority to me that we can be making most of our own meals and that Annabelle can always be at home with a parent. I LOVE, too, that that parent is not always the mom. This baby girl adores her daddy, and that they get to spend alone time together warms my heart. George also admits that he has bonded with his daughter in a new way since he began taking solo-parenting shifts.

This blog post doesn’t have a big point to make (other than, “I’m still here, even though I haven’t blogged in ages!”) I guess I’m just consistently grateful that we are making this work just the way I want it to. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think I have Oklahoma living to partially thank for that. A short commute for both of us plus a low cost of living and ease of everyday errand-running really help make our work-life balance possible. Yay, small towns in the middle of the country (sort of)! Now if only we could get a Whole Foods …

Goodbye, Chick-fil-A, Old Pal

1 Aug

Fried chicken: Tastier coming from an open-minded husband than a narrow-minded fast-food chain.

Oh, Chick-fil-A. Your seasonal shakes are so tasty. Your chicken sandwiches, perfection. Nice touch with the pickles, man! The breakfast biscuits are, I’m sure you’d agree, nothing short of divine. I’ve never loved your waffle fries, but I’ll forgive you that one transgression. The service is typically high quality (although your workers don’t need to say “my pleasure” quite as often – it starts to feel disingenuous after awhile. Give them some credit, would ya?)

I have developed a special relationship with Chick-fil-A since moving to Oklahoma two years ago. I even used to call it “Chick-fil-Yay!” There are few good lunch options in our town, and my husband and I like meeting there during the workday for a quick bite. During the first trimester of my pregnancy with Annabelle, when very little seemed appealing, I could actually stomach a chicken sandwich, which was great protein for my growing bean and me.

I have loved the chain even though it was tacky enough to wear its religious affiliation on its sleeve. Even though I couldn’t go there on Sunday because they are closed, even though they pump horrible Christian rock music through the speakers (surely the devout crowd can turn out better tunes), even though I couldn’t participate in free Monday meals because I didn’t have a church bulletin to present in exchange for food as proof of my godliness, I still gave them my support in the form of buying their delicious meals.

But now we have a problem, don’t we? If even so much as $1 of mine has been pumped through Chick-fil-A and into an organization that ostracizes people on the basis of their sexuality – separates these people from those people, identifying these people as more deserving of God’s love than those people, who are “inviting judgment on our nation” – I am at fault for feeding a monster. A monster that is literally deadly.

This is a hard topic, because both sides feel attacked at their very core. On the one hand, you have pro-Chick-ers – Huckabee and the like – feeling like the traditional families they know and love and want for themselves and feel designed by a most powerful, giving, loving creator to have for themselves (and everybody else) are threatened. On the other hand, you have a segment of the population feeling singled out as sinful because of whom and how they choose to love, which may say more about your soul and than all your good and bad works combined.

But at the end of the day, I see this as a story about America trying to balance its many wonderful freedoms: The freedom to build a business from scratch. The freedom to find success in a winning recipe. The freedom to clog your arteries with fried chicken and milkshakes. The freedom to donate your money to causes you respect. The freedom to grow your business. The freedom to found that business on your personal religious beliefs. The freedom not to patronize a company you don’t like. And, my personal favorite, the freedom to pursue your own definition of love and family.

I will simply not go with my husband and daughter into a place that publicly claims that because I am heterosexual, my wonderful, amazing family is fulfilling a more godly arrangement than somebody else, just like me, who chooses to marry a woman in pursuit of the same dream. Remember, the Bible has been used to justify slavery, too. It’s a shame to have a bad taste in your mouth about such delicious food.

Traveling with Baby? Review This Contract

15 Jul
Tuckered

A summer on the road? I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

My daughter and I have spent the summer visiting far-flung friends and relatives all over the place, and by a narrow margin the rewards have outweighed the challenges. Annabelle, now six months old, has been showered with love and affection, and she has brightened all the faces of those who wanted to meet her. I, too, have loved watching her interact with all the special people in our lives and re-introducing myself to close friends and relatives as a newly minted mother.

But, it has not been easy.

I think anybody planning a similar journey — particularly with a difficult baby like my own — should first consider this five-point checklist:

1) I understand that no room will be dark enough, no house quiet enough.

If your baby is like mine, she needs silence and darkness to achieve anything remotely close to a restful nap. This is great in her carpeted, blackout-shade-adorned nursery, but when you’re on the road it means making room in your luggage for a white-noise machine and going to lengths to outfit a makeshift sleeping space wherever you go. You might have to get creative, using towels to cover cracks of light or attacking a bright window with a roll of tin foil and masking tape (I have done this one without shame). Or it may mean putting your kid to sleep in the bathroom.

Sometimes you will have to share a room with Little Miss Sensitive herself, which means perfecting your tiptoeing skills, changing into your PJs in the hallway and staying perfectly still in bed no matter how uncomfortable you are. As for quiet, you have to accept unaccounted-for sounds of other people’s homes: creaky floors, neighbors’ loud weed whackers, or my mother’s notorious habit of slamming doors and cupboards instead of closing them quietly.

2) I know our schedule will fall apart.

The problem with doting relatives is that they actually want to see the baby! They don’t go out of their way to come over and visit your new bundle of joy expecting you to have successfully put her down for her third nap of the day (which is, in fact, the ideal number of naps for a cranky baby like my own). And you know better than that, too. After all, how often is it that your own grandmother has a chance to cuddle with her first and only great-granddaughter? You would rather rob your baby of a nap than steal a single second of such rare cross-generational bonding. And so, no matter how resolved you are to adhere to the routine you fought so hard to establish at home, you gladly go with the flow and skip naps or stay up later than usual to encourage quality time between your child and her admirers. Your baby, in a fun and exciting place, enjoying lots of attention, will be full of smiles and wonder. But it won’t last, and you will pay for breaking the routine. No good visit goes unpunished.

3) I will be living without the usual baby “stations.”

At home, the changing table is at just the right height. The crib is right by the nursing couch. The swing is off in its own, quiet room. The little baby chair is right by the kitchen table. Everything has its perfect place. In other people’s homes, you will likely be breaking your back changing your baby on the floor or a bed. And if that doesn’t break your back, nursing without your trusty My Brest Friend will. Instead of its perfectly placed mounting on the wall at home, your video monitor will have to rest at the top of a makeshift pile of pillows and blankets precariously balanced on a chair next to the Pack and Play. And in your well-honed Fearful Mommy Mind, this pile will undoubtedly come crashing down in the middle of the night and bury your helpless child. So you keep the monitor on extra loud to make sure you hear when disaster strikes, which is the 77th Reason You Won’t Sleep Well Tonight or any night on the road.

4) I know I will be a burden.

Everybody worries about their baby crying on the plane and bothering strangers, but that’s only one way you’ll piss off other travelers. My little girl started solids the night before a flight, and she had the smelly diaper to prove it. Only problem was she hit that special milestone (First Toxic Diaper) while landing in Boston, so no baby-changing allowed. “Fasten your seat belts, folks. This landing is going to be extra stinky!”

Then, when you get off the plane and have to assemble your Snap N Go while holding your carry-on, your purse and your baby, all while standing at the base of the jet bridge, getting in the way of stressed-out passengers with 15-minute layovers, you will definitely feel like the world’s biggest jerk. The businessman talking on his Bluetooth can’t hold a candle to the obnoxiousness you’ve got up your Mommy sleeve. You’ll wonder how you went from savvy traveler to that lady, virtually overnight. Then, when you get to your destination, you’ll still feel like a little too much guest for even the kindest host. Using their trash for diapers. Making them listen to crying through a monitor during dinner. Letting them scrub down their sink so you can bathe your baby. Handing them a damp towel when your tyke spits up all over their new blouse. There’s simply no way, with a baby in tow, not to impose.

5) You will get advice you don’t need.

Staying in other people’s homes means they get a close-up look at your everyday parenting choices. If your baby fusses, people have opinions about what you should do. My dad thought I should “go cuddle” Annabelle when she cried during sleep training. My mom suggested I was “conditioning” Annabelle to only be able to sleep in dark, quiet places by trying to carve one out for her while traveling. I told my mom I’m not conditioning Annabelle to be like that, she IS like that. You have to stick to your guns about your own convictions, which is hard when your baby is fussing and others see that you aren’t immediately able to calm her. It’s kind of like when somebody is trying to open a jar with a tight lid. It’s almost impossible to watch them struggle without offering a hand. Then you take the jar — “here, let me try,” — certain that you can get just the right angle and exert that extra dose of strength to open the jar, only to find that you, too, are unable. That’s how it is with a fussy baby. It’s easy to look at one and suggest solutions, much harder to actually find the magic bullet.

Congratulations! By reviewing these five central truths of traveling with an infant, you’re more prepared than ever to load up the Boppy, the Bumbo, the Bjorn and the baby, and hit the road. I promise that it’s worth it … barely.

Fun with Birthday Videos!

19 Apr

My mom, sister and dad all have birthdays within a week of each other. This year, I featured Annabelle in three short birthday videos for them. Pretty cute, I’d say!

Happy Birthday to my sister, Erica:

___

Happy Birthday to my dad, who always called us, “A couple of cool cats:”

___

And a Happy Birthday to my mom:

Baby Got Bach: Adventures in (Not) Curing Colic

31 Mar



I have run into many pieces of advice for what to do about my very fussy baby. Don’t eat onions. Don’t drink coffee. Treat her for reflux. Treat her for gas. Treat her for irritable bowel syndrome. Try probiotics. Chamomile tea. Ginger. And the latest, from my mom: “Play her some Bach.”

In the end, the only thing I’ve found that is truly getting us through these first difficult months is retaining a sense of humor. I’ve come to the conclusion that fussiness — even extreme fussiness — is not a disease. It’s normal, if unfortunate, and will likely end soon.

The other day at the grocery store my little darling was screaming so loudly that a young guy in front of me turned around to see what was going on, and I BURST into laughter because it really is truly absurd! My husband and I are such calm, laid-back people, and now we’re carting around a cute little bundle of terror.

It will end, though. We’re already having more quiet, happy moments, and the supposedly magical three-month mark is just days away. The supposedly even more magical four-month mark is just weeks away. And if we get to that point and we’re still going deaf, maybe I’ll consider a bread-and-water diet.

In the meantime, I’m trying to laugh through the hard times and enjoy documenting the first few weeks with my sweet, if temporarily tortured baby girl.

Always Expect Cold Soup and Other Parenting Revelations at Six Weeks

26 Feb

Annabelle has been kicking around this joint for six weeks now, and boy has it been a steep learning curve for her parents. Here are just a few of the lightbulb moments I’ve had during the last month and a half.

She's trying to figure out her new world, and so are we.

1. They “grow so fast” because of YOU.

Parents frequently talk about how “before you know it,” your kid is smiling, laughing, crawling, walking, talking, dressing for prom and leaving for college. But I never connected the dots that all that growth is not just something that happens outside your control, as if by magic. YOU, the mother, are in charge of providing the sustenance that turns your 7-lb baby into a full-fledged, independent person.

And feeding her is a pain, sometimes literally! It takes over your LIFE! There is no way anybody can prepare you for the constant newborn noshing, morning, noon and night, but it’s pretty much all I think about (and apparently all Annabelle thinks about, too).

2. You have no time because you’re busy doing nothing.

I’ve heard other new parents complain that they don’t even have time to take a shower, but I didn’t quite believe it. I thought maybe that only applied to women whose husbands went right back to work. But I imagined that with two parents at home, we could both attend to the baby’s needs and keep our house in order. Well, we do, but barely, and I still don’t have time for a shower, and I have put off going to the bathroom for hours at a time, waiting endlessly for the right moment. I still cannot tell you why this is. If you asked me what I did on any given day, it would include very little. It would be something like: I fed her and then walked around with her and then fed her. Yet I count myself lucky if I do anything else.

3. You and your husband will spend entire days at home without exchanging a word.

Hours upon hours have gone by in our house without us getting to talk to each other. One of us is doing laps with an inconsolable baby and the other is folding laundry for the 80th time that day. When we find those rare chances to exchange a bit of adult conversation, it feels like a foreign concept: “Oh, you! I think I’ve seen you around here before. Come here often?”

We’re typically that inseparable couple that does everything together, from running errands to cooking dinner to cleaning up afterward, chatting and joking the whole way. But now it’s more like a relay race, where we pick up where the other left off. George cooks while I feed the baby. He eats his meal while I change a diaper. I eat my meal while he puts her to sleep. Or something like that. But doing things together at the same time? Suddenly that seems rare.

4. You shouldn’t count on anything.

Oh, how I crave routine like I’ve never craved it before. Just when I think Annabelle is establishing a pattern, she will break it. For three nights in a row, she’ll go to sleep at 6 p.m. The fourth night I’ll put her down, sit down to my dinner, a glass of wine and some trashy television show, and just as I’m about to take that first sip of hot soup, she calls my bluff with a fit of crying. And it doesn’t stop for four hours. Four hours of routine-breaking madness that drives me crazy not just because that much crying would drive anybody crazy, but also because it tosses out the one little bit of reliability I thought I had. In truth, the only consistency is that your soup will always be cold, because the baby always cries when the food is fresh.

5. Parenting is all about logistics

It was pretty messy the first (and only) time I tried to feed Annabelle in a public place. We were in a restaurant, and I tried to feed her surreptitiously under a “hooter-hider,” my back to the other customers. It was anything but subtle. I didn’t know how to put the contraption over my head with one hand and adjust the strap while holding her in the other hand, so it never fully covered me. The pad in my bra fell out onto the floor, and I was so flustered that when I reached down to pick it up, I almost hit my daughter’s head on the table and definitely flashed the other diners. I ended up just storming out of the restaurant and feeding her in the back of the car, which led to an equally awkward diaper change in the back of the car.

To be a good parent, it turns out, you don’t just have to be good at kissing boo-boos and doing funny voices when you read Roald Dahl books. Long before those are remotely relevant skills, you have to know how to unfold a stroller with just one hand.

First Sucker Punch for Mama

28 Jan

Two weeks into parenting, and I have already learned how to increase your sense of protectiveness toward your daughter a million-fold: Have a doctor tell you that something isn’t perfect about your perfect baby.

Annabelle has hip dysplasia – a totally treatable condition, but a condition nonetheless. It means she has a loose hip joint that could dislocate if not addressed, so to avoid catastrophe down the road (surgery, arthritis, legs growing at different rates, etc.), she has to wear a Medieval-looking device called a Pavlik harness for the next few months.

Hip dysplasia runs in my family. I had it and my Dad’s sister had it. If you have a family history and you’re a first-born girl, your chances of having it are quite high.

If treated, the whole thing can be fixed within months and your baby can lead a healthy, happy life with no impediments. There is no reason to believe Annabelle’s recovery won’t be complete, as was mine.

On the spectrum of bad news parents can hear about their kids, hip dysplasia ranks pretty low in severity, so I’m trying to keep it in perspective.

Still, no amount of reasoning or gratefulness that we caught it early could have prepared me for receiving the diagnosis at Annabelle’s pediatric orthopedic screening. I had stupidly assumed everything would be perfectly fine.

The doctor examined her hips by ultrasound and recited to us a bunch of sciency gobbledygook in an extremely loud voice so as to be heard over Annabelle’s screaming. Then he brought in the harness (what an awful word — “harness”) and put it on our sweet, unsuspecting little baby, giving instructions to George while I sat in a chair and cried messily into the palm of my hand.

As her sweet Aunt Erica said, "She pulls it off!"

Through tears I remarked that it was “so sad,” and the doctor shrugged and said it was no big deal. I can appreciate that he didn’t want to give into my hysteria, after all, he probably sees so much worse, including cases where the hip dysplasia wasn’t caught in time to correct.

But ultimately, he was wrong. It IS a big deal. It’s a big deal because this is the first time my heart will break for my daughter. It’s the first time we have to face life a little unconventionally to make room for an unfair imposition on my sweet baby.

The doctor left the room and I looked down at my crying daughter in this strange new contraption. I nursed her so we could endure the 1.5-hour drive back to Stillwater from Tulsa, and for the first time since her birth, I actually enjoyed it. Something I had up until then dreaded every time because it was physically painful had become an easy way to soothe little Annabelle, and I was more than happy to sacrifice my own comfort to answer her needs.

You can’t save your child from every difficulty that may come her way, but I discovered in that doctor’s office that I will always want to.

Welcome to motherhood, I suppose! Consider me duly initiated.

“My darling girl, my darling girl, you’re all that matters in this wicked world. All that matters, all that matters … Well I can’t stop the pain when it calls, I’m a man. And I can’t stop the rain when it falls, my darling, who can?” – Mark Knopfler