Tag Archives: baby

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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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.

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?