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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 …

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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.

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

Parenting a Newborn, in Three Acts

23 Jan

Our daughter, Annabelle Gwendolyn Speed, was born at 8:32 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2012, and I sure love her.

When they put the wiggling, wide-eyed little girl on my stomach moments after she arrived, I looked down at her and saw the most gorgeous human being I’d ever laid eyes on. I had expected myself to be more superficial, analyzing her looks and trying to determine if she were objectively attractive or not and hoping I’d be able to attach emotionally right away.

Instead, it was clear the second I saw her that there would be no objective way to view her.

I saw somebody tiny and brand new, and somebody who was a part of me. A stranger on the one hand, she also felt like somebody I had known forever. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able adequately to explain the familiarity I felt with that mere seconds-old creature.

Since those first exhilarating days, during which I had something quite the opposite of the Baby Blues and more like a sort of Baby Euphoria (which partly derived from the knowledge that the dreaded Labor and Delivery had gone smoothly and were behind me), the initial excitement has transformed into a more tempered sort of happiness that has been peppered with some extremely challenging moments as well.

What most stands out to me about the newborn days so far is their cyclical nature, rotating through three stages over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and … you get the point. These are tedious – if precious – first weeks.

It all starts with the …

1. BLISSFUL STAGE

During the Blissful Stage, Annabelle is either peacefully asleep or “quiet, alert,” observing the world around her. We feel like she is literally a doll come to life – a perfect, innocent little being whose primary role is to be cute and snuggly. In complete awe of the life we’ve created, we feel like we could stare at her for hours. But of course we can’t, because we need to take advantage of the …

2. GIT’R DONE STAGE

Annabelle is still sleeping but we know our time is running thin, so we have to compress all that we used to do in a typical day into the few sacred minutes we have to ourselves. It’s time to make dinner or clean up or take a shower or post photos to Facebook (I actually count that as “productive”). It’s a lot of pressure to take care of everything in the few free half-hours we have scattered around the clock. But tend to the chores we must because around the corner, staring us down, is the dreaded …

3. CRYING, SCREAMING, “WHAT HAVE WE DONE?” STAGE

Suddenly all hell breaks loose, and I’m not exaggerating. Annabelle pulls out all the stops: purple face, bleating cry, quivering lower lip, flailing arms. I’m sure it’s old hat to seasoned parents, but our own fragile nerves are so easily shattered. It’s like our daughter is suddenly possessed.

We kick it into high gear, nursing her, changing her, walking laps around the house with her, using mind-control tricks from “The Happiest Baby on the Block” on her. And usually one or some combination of these things works, and just when our sanity is threatening to disintegrate into a puddle of madness, our hard work suddenly pays off and we melt happily back into the Blissful Stage, just in time to remember it’s all worthwhile. It’s all … worth … wh … zzzzzzzzzzzz…..

The W..A..I..T..I..N..G Game

6 Jan

Yesterday, George glued the missing ear back onto this bunny. We've officially run out of home-improvement projects waiting for our daughter!

I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to write another blog post before this baby was born. But, alas, she is taking her sweet time.

Back at Christmas, a week before my due date, we were hearing from friends and family constantly, everybody eagerly thinking maybe today was the day. But the inquiries have slowed.

After weeks of watching the pot simmer, expecting it to boil any moment, it seems the heat has actually been turned completely off. The closer I get to my scheduled induction, the less likely it seems that my water will break or labor pains will begin.

The most common piece of advice I get these days is to enjoy this time with my husband and bask in the final quiet moments. But let me tell you, when you’re both on school vacation and stuck in small-town Oklahoma for the entire holiday season, enjoying the quiet moments is ALL you do.

I have been cooking nearly constantly – chicken soup with homemade stock, sticky buns that took two days, a wide assortment of experimental dinner recipes and baking projects and comfort food to freeze for later.

We’ve watched tons of movies and a billion episodes of “How I Met Your Mother.” I’ve even streamed some of the Bowl games on ESPN.com, which is completely unlike me. We’re both deeply immersed in our books – “In the Garden of Beasts” for me, and some 700-page tome about 12th century England (France?) for George.

And, most hilariously, the home projects we NEVER thought we’d get to are actually getting done: patching up small holes in the walls, cutting a small piece of wood reinforcement for the sagging shelf under the TV, and even gluing the chipped-off bunny ear back onto a bass figurine that’s been living in the closet for who knows how long.

Baby Girl: Your father is tending to his bass-figurine collection. Arrive already, and save us from this madness!

Nursery Set-Up: All That’s Missing is the Baby!

29 Dec

An early shot of the nursery.

The “nesting” instinct really kicks in when you’re preparing to welcome your baby into the world. You have this sense that you’re about to have the longest house guest you’ve ever had, and you are overwhelmed with the desire to make it a comfortable, happy place for her to live. Before you know it, you’ve put the baby books aside and spent all your time in the oh-so-important pursuit of building an abacus.

Daddy and the Abacus

Since returning to Oklahoma after our summer in New England, we have taken on so many projects it’s ridiculous. We redid the kitchen, with new granite countertops, a new range, sink, faucet, etc. It’s been SO nice to cook and bake more at home.

New Countertops!

We moved the guest room into George’s office and moved George’s office into mine. We tossed and sold some furniture and made way for a nursery. The nursery started as a blank room and slowly transformed into a very special little place for our daughter.

The biggest project was the abacus. Why did we (and by “we,” I really mean George) build an abacus? We don’t really know. I saw one on a nursery blog and really loved it, so I enlisted my husband to do the building. At first, he was hesitant, but within days it became a total obsession that had him out in the garage for hours every night, priming, sanding, painting, drilling and who-knows-what-else-ing until we had a really unique piece of art for our daughter’s wall.

It’s also a nice nod to the Speed side of the family. George’s dad was a math professor for 38 years at Converse College in South Carolina. His mother and sister are both math teachers. Meanwhile, I like the abacus as a funky piece of kitsch that also happens to be pretty to look at. One of our friends suggested we use the abacus to keep track of who does how many diaper changes!

Priming and painting 100 abacus beads

Building the abacus frame.

Placing the beads and closing the frame.

The finished product!

In addition to The Abacus Project, we did the typical decorating and arranging. Crib and changing table. Curtains. Some paint touch-up. Hanging a floating shelf, etc.

We also particularly love the four photos we bought from one of our wedding photographers, Katie Barnes. The nursery colors are (generally) pink and white, so we chose two prints of snow and two of pink flowers. They look so sweet above the crib. To add a little bling for the babe, we got black, glittery mattes (hard to tell in the photo).

Four original photos above the crib. You can't tell, but the mattes are glittery!

My mom made us this Raggedy Ann and Andy hook rug. That was one of my all-time favorite books when I was little.

Love seat and floating shelf with books. George carefully carved through the chair rail to make room for the sconces.

The closet is full of tiny, little clothes and toys — mostly pink (she’d better be a girl as the doctors have claimed)! All that’s missing now is the baby herself. If it were my choice, I’d be pretty eager to be out in this cute, cozy world we’ve made for her — not scrunched up in a surely under-decorated womb!

Come on, Little Girl. We’re ready for you!

Closet full of toys and clothes - what more could a little girl want?

One-Year Anniversary: The Best Father I Could Find

21 Dec

Our New Years Day wedding, 2011: nothing short of perfect.

Forgive me while I gush.

One of the most exciting things to me about entering parenthood is that I will be able to look at our daughter – and any future kids we bear – and know that I have given her the best possible father I could find. I will be able to tell her, “I worked hard not to settle, and as a result, you get a great dad.”

The ability to proudly present your children with an outstanding daddy isn’t necessarily something you think about much when you’re dating, but boy does it reassure you when you take those first steps down the never-ending path of parenthood. Especially when you can’t even see your toes as you walk down said path.

Whether your husband is going to be a total douche through fatherhood (and oh so many husbands are) is one less giant thing to worry about when you are days away from ejecting a squirming, screaming, 8-poundish creature from your body and then holding yourself responsible for her well-being for the next 18 years.

It helps, during those anvil-dropping reality checks, to know that you’ve chosen a mate who will hold your hand in the delivery room, change diapers in the middle of the night, be a comforting force during tearful moments (yours and baby’s), serve as a strong, moral compass during the shaky growing-up years and stand up for whatever your family needs through every upcoming stage. It helps to know that you genuinely like the guy.

A year ago this New Year’s Day, George and I were married at a small, stone church in Newton, Mass. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in the 50s, with the perfect blanket of snow left over from a blizzard days before. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. No jackets. No pantyhose. No cold, red ears to ruin the pictures.

After a lovely ceremony, we celebrated our nuptials at the All-Newton Music School. Instead of the traditional dance party, we opted for a “cabaret,” where our incredibly talented friends and family performed a series of “acts.”

They entertained us with clarinet, piano, guitar, voice, violin, flute, cello and trumpet. There were original lullabies and a short play and three unforgettable toasts. The food satisfied, the decorations were handmade and stunning, and nearly everybody stayed until the very end. We didn’t spend much money, as far as weddings go, but we’d like to think we provided an original and meaningful affair for everybody there. It will forever be one of our greatest memories as a couple.

While we would have loved a year or two or ten to bask in our romance before bringing children into our family, we also knew we wanted kids and didn’t necessarily want to put it off. We started trying and, as George often likes to marvel, “It worked!”

Now here we are, a year into our marriage, and it looks like we’ll be having our first kid before we have our first fight – although I suppose there’s always room for a good, old-fashioned, “I Hate You Why Did You Do This To Me” temper tantrum during delivery. We’ll see!

And even if I do direct my fury toward my poor husband during those hours of unbearable pain and frustration, I will know that mere moments later, our daughter will be resting in her dear father’s arms, and I will look over and know that she is a lucky, lucky, lucky little girl.