The Rhythm

We welcomed our sweet baby girl into our world almost four months ago already. I can hardly believe how fast the time is flying by.

I find myself living between worlds constantly in search of my rhythm, my family’s rhythm. As soon as I think I have found it, we are off embarking on a new chapter.

*   *   *   *   *
Pregnant. Summer off. Home with toddler. Moving. New baby. Toddler back to daycare. Working from home. At-work working mama.

Dressing. Feeding. Cleaning. Drop off. Pick up. Playing. Loving. Off to bed. Exhausted.

Running around all day being mindful that my “work” hours are actually my most restful. Finding myself missing out on the sweetness that are my children as I’m rushing and stressing trying to get by. Maybe even on time.

*   *   *   *   *
Between the tears of getting our shoes on right out of bed, I almost missed my boy singing jingle bells as we walked out the door.

Slowing down. Trying to do it all. Finding new ways to enjoy the moments.

Smelling the evergreens

*   *   *   *   *
I find myself unsettled. Balancing my work and my family, not to mention myself, precariously between each other. Never quite able to feel satisfied in any area.

I am so grateful to have a job that I adore for so many reasons. I am challenged. I am rewarded. I am granted the flexibility every working parent should have. I am able to do work that is meaningful to me. I am grateful. And yet.

I so long to spend the days being a mama to my kiddos, with my kiddos.

*   *   *   *   *
Crafting and snuggling.
Singing and exploring.
Learning and doing.

Enjoying the rhythm that I found so natural.
Enjoying every moment of each of my children growing up.
So fast.

*   *   *   *   *
It’s different for me after my first child. Returning after my first maternity leave left me longing to snuggle and stare at my baby. The second return to maternity leave is different. I am longing to be with both baby and toddler. My heart hurts that I am missing out. And yet.

I wish I would be satisfied and satiated, as well as able, to be a stay at home mama. I don’t think I would be, but I don’t know. I wish I could know if it would be enough for me. Then it may not be so hard to go to work.

*   *   *   *   *
Today is day four back in the office. I can’t say that it’s any easier than the first. Perhaps even harder as I can identify the rough spots in my rhythm. In our rhythm. Thinking of the moments I’m missing, even when I’m there.

I try to find comfort in remembering the rhythm will always be constantly changing.  As hard as it is with so much on our full, lush plate, all I can do is welcome and try to enjoy the flow.

– NVC

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Thunderbolt

I had a baby.

I’ve been aching to sit down and write about it. I want to detail my birth experience before I forget the details. I want to write about the thunderbolt of pure love that struck me upon seeing my new baby girl.

I want to write about nursing, how I am trying again, and succeeding (though it’s perhaps ‘success’ by my standards alone, as I will always struggle with low supply and supplement with formula). I want to write about our five days in the NICU, our heart-wrenching time there and the immeasurable kindness we were shown.

I want to write about the joy and gratitude in my heart when we were released to go home.

I want to write about my smart and hilarious toddler, who just hasn’t been herself since we all came home to live our new life. I want to plead for advice in easing this transition for everyone involved.

I want to memorialize my beloved friend and dog who passed away a week after our new baby girl was born.

I want to rejoice through words how, after seeing the chaos that is our life these days, my dad told me, “despite all of this, you are the happiest I’ve seen you in months.”

I want to sit down and write. I want to make an apple pie. I want to have some beers and go to bed tipsy and sleep until I wake up. I want the lawn mowed.

But I had a baby. So for now, I’ll carve out time for my toddler. I’ll kiss her and hug her and tell her that it’s going to be okay, that it’ll work out, that we love her as much – and more – than ever.

I’ll nurse my baby because I finally, finally can.

I’ll sneak in a shower. I’ll study tiny fingers and toes and beautiful new-baby lips. I’ll nuzzle a soft downy peach fuzz head. I’ll kiss tiny, soft, paper thin ears and a button nose.

I’ll try to take a mental snapshots of these early days as a family of four, for despite the chaos and confusion, I know I’ll remember these as some of the best days of my life.

I had a baby. Her name is Georgia.

– ALW

Milestones

Our household has reached a number of milestones lately, as we round the corner to Miss Red’s birthday.

1. No more diapers.

We are diaper-free at our house. We are not accident-free, but she now only occasionally wears Pull-Ups at night. This might not seem like a big deal, but after being done with formula, diapers were like the last thing you always *had* to have, and something that is a huge expense. While I’m on this, can I complain at how gendered Pull-Ups are? The options are pink or blue. Pink has princesses on it. We are a princess-free zone for as long as possible. The blue option has a car on it. Cars won. The first time Miss Red put them on, she said, “Oh, look, a car!”

Please don’t tell me that girls naturally like princesses and boys like cars. You are right. And wrong. So much of what kids play with is what we, as parents, give them, because of what is available. Miss Red plays with cars, trains, jumps off furniture and has a baby doll. The same as the other kids in her former daycare. So is it too much to ask that Pull-Ups be made in yellow or green? Why does a receptacle for bodily fluids have to be gendered?

CH and Miss Red at the Madison Children's Museum

2. No more booster seat.

Miss Red eschewed her booster seat at the kitchen table. “I want a grown up seat,” she declared. So down it went.

3. Retro TV

Crazy east side parent that I am, we don’t allow Miss Red to watch network TV. We don’t have cable. We do let her watch DVDs. Thanks to one of her best buddies, Little A, she is enthralled with Scooby Doo. I loved Scooby Doo when I was a child, and I nearly remember each episode she watches. It’s nice to have a show on that doesn’t make me want to stab my eyes out, like, oh, Dora the Explorer.

4. Love

CH and I recently celebrated our dating anniversary. Yes, we acknowledge that date. Eleven years of being together. One-third of my life. Somewhat significant since we met while co-workers at Borders Bookstore, and the next day they announced their liquidation. Upon the news, I said to CH, “does this mean we will liquidate our relationship?” “Yes,” was his response. Instead, we went to dinner at Nostrano to jointly celebrate that milestone and his birthday.

What about you? Any milestones lately?

– MD

Active Adventures

I am not a naturally active person. Even as a child I was an “indoor kid,” preferring to read inside, no matter how pleasant the weather. I have to consciously make an effort to move and exercise, no matter how much I enjoy the way it feels or the results. For those reasons I’ve regularly attended yoga class for three years and started up the Couch to 5K program again after quitting in the fall when it became too cold outside.

CH is also naturally an indoor kid, preferring to listen to music, make art and read. He had an active yoga practice in the past, but has been a runner for more than a decade. He is also graced with some fantastic genetics. Not many people can eat bagels and cereal before bed and look as good (in my opinion) as he does.

Before we had Miss Red, or before we had any kids, I would joke, “Ug, what if our kid wants to play SOCCER.” It would mean standing outside, in the heat, cheering for other kids with runny noses. Obnoxious, right?

Miss Red had been a cautious child physically, until recently. We’re weren’t worried. She was a late walker, is slower to try new items on a playground and generally takes her time with new pursuits. That’s fine. One of my favorite stories about CH as a child is when he climbed a tree. According to my mother-in-law, he first looked at the tree, then climbed a few feet and came down. Then climbed a little more and came down. Then a little more. And a little more, until he had reached the top. It’s very much how he is now, approaching and tackling new challenges by slowly attacking them.

Swinging for maximum slide speed

Last fall we enrolled Miss Red in a toddler soccer class. I know, I know, but it was at the nearby Goodman Community Center, and we wanted to get her involved in sports in case she was indeed an indoor kid and needed a sample of something else. We shouldn’t have been surprised, but she really, really liked it. Granted, her attention span, and the attention span of others in the class was typical of their age, with kids resting in goals and wandering around, but she had lots of fun. Since then, she’s embraced more activity. This spring she hopped on her trike and peddled away, confidently. She started climbing on everything at the park – reaching the highest rung of the climbing structure, or balancing on different areas of the playground.

I know that much of this is due to her age, but seeing her fearlessness unfold has been so fun. I remember being a fearful child, somewhat risk adverse and embarrassed by my size. Seeing this smiling, swinging and balancing redhead is just the activity I needed all along.

Miss Red and CH

– MD

Acting As If

One of the stages I really like in toddlerdom is the acting out of life scenarios. I don’t even remember when this started. Maybe before Miss Red was one and she would mimic talking on the phone? I don’t know, those memories have slipped away.

But since she turned two those situations have been more elaborate, starting with independent play and having her “guys,” or Fischer Price toys, march about.

Dr. Red is in.

She started to remember trips to the doctor’s office and would reenact those scenes with her toy doctor kit, always giving us shots and listening to our hearts. One of our treasured heirlooms is her paternal great-grandfather’s stethoscope. We let her play with it, and she loves listening to our “beat hearts.”

"You need a shot, dada."

There was much to-do about her haircut on Sunday, and she spent the remainder of the day talking about her hair cut, the “hair cutting store,” and reenacting getting her haircut. She slung a purse over her shoulder and dragged a small chair around, insisting that she was cutting hair. She scraped at CH’s head with a toy spatula, finishing when her mind decided she was done, announcing that “she had to go to work.”

The afternoon also consisted of us playing “rest time.” She brought out her blankets, laid them on the floor, and had us rest while she quietly walked around, telling us she was the teacher. CH actually nodded off a few times until she announced that rest was all done.

I think what I love the most about these moments is that it’s seeing her life lived on the outside. As adults we learn to keep our thoughts inside and probably relive our day’s scenarios in our minds one million times. But watching Miss Red replaying the big moments in her life – again and again and again – is like dreaming while awake.

– MD

Baby’s First Haircut

Miss Red isn’t a baby, but even with her approaching three, we still hadn’t cut her hair. It was one of those things that I couldn’t emotionally handle, even as CH combed through tangles each morning as we chased her around with a wide-toothed comb. But it had reached a critical mass, and we were able to pile it on top of her head, very Lucille Ball-esque.

Miss Red, channeling Lucille Ball

So last week I made an appointment for her to get her first haircut with Alice at Cha Cha. Now, before you get all “wha – you took her to that hipster place for her first cut?!” Yes, yes I did. Alice is amazing and loves cutting curly hair and I predicted I would be a sobbing mess and knew that Alice would be able to handle that. And it’s half of a normal haircut.

I borrowed a fancy camera and planned to document each snip, for posterity’s sake. I planned on catching her lovely hair and saving it for, I don’t know, the next Rapture.

Per Alice’s recommendation, we also brought along the iPod for distraction. I packed lollipops. We talked about it over the weekend and driving there she was so excited, “We going to the hair-cutting store, mama!” and “Is the lady nice?”

Once we got to Cha Cha she was shy. Alice put on the special booster seat, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. So Miss Red sat in my lap, with the cape wrapped around me. I fired up the iPod and Alice snipped away. The cut took all of 15 minutes and CH missed it since he was on his way home from Quaker meeting.

It wasn’t until the very end I remembered the camera. I also forgot to cry. I grabbed a small chunk of hair that was stuck to the cape and put it in an envelope. I snapped a quick picture, with dry eyes.

Miss Red, post haircut

– MD

A Few of My Favorite Things

And here we are, the end, for now, of my recounts of Japan. I wanted to end with some of my favorite moments of our time there.

1. Time, Sweet, Time

As I’ve written, my job has been more than intense lately, and the weight of whether or not I’ll have this job – my favorite so far – weighs heavily on me, well, almost constantly. But being away from everything and unplugging from the constant chatter of the online world, which I love, was so needed. My favorite moment was a ton of moments, where I forgot the day, had nothing to do but spend time with my lovely little family. No cooking, no cleaning, no email, nothing. But time.

MD and Miss Red

2. Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

So Miss Red has red hair. Not so common in America, but in Japan it was like seeing a dinosaur. Everywhere we went, and I do mean everywhere, people would smile, comment, and say “kawaii,” cute in Japanese. Older women would reach out and touch her hair, and even thought we didn’t speak the language, we could understand that there was a love of her hair. So much so that Miss Red started to get a little skeeved by it. Understandably so.

Cheese!

But one day while exploring a woman approached us and made the mime of taking a picture. We thought she meant of Miss Red, but she then handed her camera to her companion, stopped down and posed with Miss Red. I tried to capture it myself. Miss Red, CH and I were in shock, and afterward Miss Red clung to our legs. Understandably so. But those memories of the sing-song “kawaii” still rings in my ears. I mean, the girl does have some amazing hair.

3. Swimming

Miss Red took swimming lessons this winter and let me say that it was one of the more stressful things I’ve done as a parent. For a 30-minute class, it was about two hours or wrangling, with getting us both ready, driving there, getting both of us into the water, showering afterwards and driving home. And she hated it. Like cried for 2/3 of each class and I was the one who mostly went with her. We’ll wait until she’s older for additional lessons, but we were excited to head to the hotel pool in Japan.  We didn’t go every day, but as a family we went and CH and I each took her individually and it was so fun. That might seem obvious, but as someone who had to wrestle a slick-as-a-seal toddler in the water, it was so nice to see her, albeit timidly, enjoy herself, and our family, too.

Water baby

4. Castle

One day we took the monorail to Shurijo Castle Park, a complete replica of an castle that was bombed in World War II. It was a long and winding walk to the entrance and Miss Red insisted on walking every. single. step. And she did it. Up and down and all around. I loved seeing her confidently explore and absorb everything as if it were just another day.

Walking the path to Shurijo Castle

5. Smile

One morning at breakfast Miss Red made friends with another toddler. They didn’t share the same language, but played for a few minutes, racing back and forth to the large picture-windows over-looking the water. In those five minutes she picked up a cultural cue that many Japanese women use, which is to cover their mouths when smiling or laughing. Japanese women even used to blacken their teeth, a practice stopped a long time ago.

Smile!

We had an amazing opportunity to go to Japan and I’ll be eternally grateful for the experiences and time together. It gave us reprieve from life, and we hope, sparked a travel bug for Miss Red. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and look forward to our family’s next adventures. I wonder where we’ll head next?

Happy Travelers

– MD

What’s Different?

The most common questions we are asked when we returned from Japan were about what we ate and what, besides the language differences, was different. I’ll take a crack at some of what we saw as different. I am not an anthropologist, and frankly, sometimes the other side of town where I live feels different, so differences are relative. We were in Naha, Okinawa, a separate island from mainland Japan, so that in itself marks major differences. Also, I need to find another word for “different.” Enough jabbering, here’s what I’ve got:

Shoes

Alas, for better or worse, I have flat feet (thanks, Dad!). Large, flat feet. That means no fancy high-heeled shoes for me. Danskos it is. Side note: in Madison Danskos can even be considered fancy! But anyone familiar with America knows that we’re trained to perceive the confident sounds of high heels across an airport concourse, or walking down a hall, implies strength and power. Women tower in five-inch heels, never wincing, to slip them off later and hobble around their abodes.

Yet, in Okinawa, women wore all types of footwear, sure, but if they wore high heels, they looked really uncomfortable and they didn’t hide that fact. Women would literally shuffle around in spiky shoes too big or too small, taking painful-looking steps and not worrying how it looked. It was interesting, and frankly, a better illustration of how painful most women’s shoes are.

This shirt could be yours.

Money

As mentioned in a previous post, Okinawa, and Japan in general, is a cash society. We brought cash with us, and fortunately our hotel exchanged money, but many of the family members traveling with us had to find a Post Office to use an ATM that accepted American cards and then exchange money.

It wasn’t only the focus of being in a cash society, calculating exchange rates, which fluctuated from 78 to 82 yen to 1 US dollar during our stay, but that money is not something that is directly handled. Everywhere we went, including in taxis, there was a small tray near the register that you placed your money on. Only in returning money did money literally exchange hands. And even then, paper bills were placed first and coins fanned out on top. I found the practice to be quite nice, since it gave a sense of importance to one’s money and made the transaction seem special.

The ticket machine for the monorail.

Paper Goods

Paper goods are rare in Japan, and most people carry a handkerchief of sorts. More like smaller squares of fabric, they are sold everywhere and come in an endless variety of patterns and styles. Paper towels are rare in bathrooms, since most have eco-friendly hand dryers, but restaurants rarely have paper napkins as Americans know them, and maybe have tissue-like squares or cloth napkins. This description from Craft Nectar, who moved to Japan, summed it up well:

“For Japanese women, carrying a handkerchief is essential. Not all public bathrooms have paper towels so having a lovely handkerchief with which to dry your hands is helpful. The handkerchief is also useful during humid summers to dab you brow or neck on a crowded train. I never saw anyone blow his or her nose into a handkerchief the way Americans do. It’s more for discreet dabbing the way you would when you walk inside after walking a few blocks on a snowy day and your nose drips a tiny bit. Tissues are used for dealing with runny noses and serious nasal congestion while handkerchiefs are a more multipurpose cloth kept either in the pocket or purse. Japanese hankies are made of very lightweight cotton so they dry extremely quickly and are not bulky in pockets.

Even babies had their little handkerchiefs, tucked into baby carriers and strollers. Picking out a few fun ones for Miss Red was a neat experience.

Painted wall outside of a restaurant.

Overall, everything and nothing was different. I’m sure, as Americans, and now knowing cultural nuances, we were at times rude or awkward. But if so, no one pointed it out to us or did we appear to make major gaffes. A few times I told CH to speak softer, only because he has a boomy voice. We did our best to be polite at all times, smile, bow and just be good humans. It seemed to work.

Miss Red ready for another day of sight seeing.

Next post: some of our favorite highlights. Anything else you’d like me to report on?

– MD

A Smile and a Bow Go a Long Way

When we booked tickets for our trip to Okinawa, it would be the first time I traveled to a country where I didn’t speak the language or was with someone who did. In previous instances CH and I could cobble together enough words or traveled to places with a similar enough alphabet that we managed.

Gum

My main concern? How I would find a bathroom. I’m kind of skeeved out by public restrooms in general, and the thought of being somewhere and not even knowing how to ask for one was beyond me. And Miss Red is “potty training,” so the thought of managing her on a toilet that I didn’t even know how to ask for made me sweat a little. Thanks to Kyle for passing along some of my fears and questions to a friend of his, who sent me two awesome and lengthy emails with some basic phrases and a general course of what to do while in Naha.

I don't think I need to read Japanese to understand what this poster offers.

CH also decided that he was going to teach himself Japanese. He had been to Japan, to Sendai in fact, about 15 years ago with his family, and Grandma had been a number of times, so there were a few Japanese phrase books around Grandma’s house and Miss Red even has a set of Kanji magnetic letters on our refrigerator.

Barber

He selected the Pimsleur method, one he had had success with when learning French. And that, folks, is one of the many reasons I love CH, in addition to the great skill that you can ask him what was happening in pretty much any year, and he knows something of importance. To keep himself occupied on the treadmill he’ll run through Vice Presidents. Backwards.

Mind the gap.

It worked. He ended up being decent enough to know more than some basic phrases. Along with Grandma, we were actually OK during much of our travels. Having CH’s cousin there to translate the first two days was also amazing, and many people in Japan know a small amount of English. But knowing sumimasen (excuse me, or sorry) and arigato (thank you) helped tremendously. I also learned that a smile and a bow go a long way. When in doubt, I would repeat “sumimasen” and bow. When someone did something nice, I would bow and repeat “arigato.” And people were friendly and understanding.

Point to order

Most restaurants have menus with photos of the meal on them, so we could see what we wanted and point to the waiter. Signs we were able to understand, and we only really got lost once, when CH realized that maps are positioned differently than how we read them. And since I never even attempt to read maps, I let it go.

My favorite sign. I walked by it two separate days to work up the nerve to pantomime if I could purchase it and didn't have the guts.

And finding bathrooms? They were clearly marked everywhere we went with the standard image of a male or female icon or listed “toilet.” Were they clean? My friends, they were some of the cleanest, albeit tiniest spaces I have ever seen. Some seats were heated (!) and had helpful buttons such as “courtesy noise,” which sounded like flushing.

The most awesome thing ever. This holds your baby so you can use the bathroom.

Monday’s post? Cultural differences. I mean, there are differences even within a city, but I’ll recap the ones that we found most interesting.

– MD

Toddlers and Japanese Weddings

Now onto the reason for our travels: to attend a wedding. To recap, we headed to Okinawa for a family wedding. You can read more of the background here.

My dates for the wedding, Miss Red and CH

A few family members were in the wedding and needed to get to the hotel earlier to get outfitted into kimonos and have their hair done. It took hours, and according to them, was very difficult to eat and breathe.

The back of a kimono.

For the wedding itself there was an emcee and a translator. Pretty much everything was said in Japanese first, followed by the English translation. The wedding was amazing – it started with a beautiful dance of the bride and groom, in traditional Okinawan clothing, and his wife’s sisters, along to Okinawan music. It was quite something.

In traditional clothing, with marriage certificate

My own wedding was a low-key affair. CH and I paid for a majority of it, so cost was a huge factor and it was bare bones: no flowers, no favors, no open bar, etc. What was also another fun contrast was attending Megan’s wedding the weekend we were back, whacked out of our brains by jet lag. Her awesome party, at the local VFW, was so fun in the Madison East-side way and was a perfect welcome home.

The lovely couple, after outfit change

What followed was really quite fun. Every culture has it’s unique elements of celebration, and this was no different. While there wasn’t a DJ coaxing people onto a dance floor, the bride’s friends and a few co-workers performed to a pop song, dancing and lip synching. Family members danced, again in traditional Okinawan dress, to music, inviting the new family members up. People gave speeches.

Performance by friends and co-workers

The food was also great. Large platters of sushi, sashimi, Western food and everything in between was placed on large lazy Susan’s in the center of the table.

You’ll have to excuse the poor quality of the photos. The room was crowded, I have a simple point and shoot, and at some point during the ceremony, Miss Red, who was acting out the worse she ever has in her life, turned into this:

Asleep in my lap

Out cold, impervious to the speeches and applause, she slept on my lap for a majority of the ceremony and reception. We weren’t able to attend the party directly afterward and headed back to the hotel, where she did wake up and we took her to the pool.

But my favorite part of the wedding? When the families read letters to one another. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand Japanese and needed to wait for the English translation. We could tell from the emotion what was being conveyed. And that’s what a wedding is about.

Sharing letters

Some interesting tidbits:

  • The ceremony and reception were just that. Ceremonial. There, people get married at a court house and it’s a low-key affair, with really office people as witnesses. So the bride and groom had been married in December, but weren’t considered “married” until the ceremony. It was at that point that they started wearing wedding rings.
  • Another neat part considered traditional was the combining of the waters. In the past couples would bring water from their own villages, combine them, then drink from the same cup.
  • Part of the receiving line was signing in and handing money envelopes. We had a card from the states, so that stood out. You also sign your name, and since we can’t write Kanji, they kindly turned the page sideways for us to write in English.
  • At the end of the reception, the bride and groom stood and posed for photos with people.
  • During the ceremony the emcee would announce when it was a good time to take photos. People would flood the areas and do just that.

Next up? How we navigated Japanese.

– MD

p.s. Have these posts been helpful? Are there any questions I can answer? Are you patiently waiting for me to go back to musings and less recounting?

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