The problem with family photos

My dear friend Bailey has taken some extraordinary family pictures for us (seriously, if you’re in Phoenix and need photos look her up)! After Lila was born, I realized it would be nice to have some images not taken on an iPhone, and she’s been gracious enough to oblige. The photos are incredible — it makes me do a double take to see us as a family — and I will cherish them as small trophies in our parenthood journey (look! I wasn’t a complete disaster all the time!). I want Lila to see one day, from ages before her memories could even form, what our family was like. I want her to look at them when she’s my age and remark on how wild it is to see the younger version of her momma.

But I always feel a bit guilty when I share these pictures with people. Sure, it’s nice to have everyone ooh and ahh on Facebook, but the professional-photo version of us, while lovely, is far from authentic. Shocking, I know. We don’t typically wander through scenic parks on Sundays in coordinating outfits. And I don’t ever wear make up or do my hair unless I absolutely have to, so take that into consideration. Of the hundreds of images captured in a shoot, I might share a few dozen, the best we got, keeping the outtakes (screaming baby, puking baby, wrinkles, unflattering angles…) hidden away from scrutiny.

It’s one thing to put your best foot forward, but I would hate for someone who might be having a low moment or tough day to see these and feel like I actually have my act together, and am doing something right or better than everyone else. Cause I don’t, and I’m not. The real us is unmade beds and messy bathrooms and sweatpants.

We build each other up by being honest and real, and holiday-card photos are not an accurate glimpse into anyone’s life. But that’s ok! They capture the joy and love we do feel but that we sometimes overlook amid the day-to-day struggles. They’re fleeting and staged but that’s why they’re so great. They’ll be what we can look back on one day to help us remember more of the good stuff and fewer of the trials.

I like the holiday-card version of us, but I like the real one, too.

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Oh, the wonder of it all.

A funny thing happened in Buy Buy Baby yesterday: a frantic person asked me for help choosing bottles. And then a funnier thing occurred: I provided reasonable suggestions and advice *gong sounds*. I knew my Avent from my Dr. Brown’s and spoke about nipple flow options like a boss.

A few months ago, every stinking minute of motherhood was a struggle. It felt like I was constantly swimming against the current, gasping for breath and exhausted, convinced I’d never find dry land.

I spent an excessive amount of time wondering what the hell I was doing, and why no one warned me I would ruin my life bringing a child into the world. It was a dark time. But then the craziest thing happened.

It got better.

You guys–yeah, ALL of you–who gently reassured me, gave me advice, let me cry and redirected my dark-circled eyes to the light at the end of the tunnel…you were right. Thank you.

I should note that I did NOT believe you at the time. In fact, I wanted to slug you every time I heard, “Oh just wait until she smiles!” or “Trust me, it does get better!” I’d roll my eyes thinking, “These fools don’t get it…my situation is the hardest EVER.” I didn’t understand how what I was experiencing could possibly evolve into something I would be able to handle or enjoy.

Lo and behold, I came to realize that friends, family, coworkers, random strangers at Target, pediatricians and every internet forum were NOT collaborating against me (for a while it felt like world’s best-orchestrated prank.) Because after a few months, a supremely fussy baby did start to chill out, smile and SLEEP, and the darkness of post-partum hormones faded. I got into a rhythm and started having fun. I’m still very tired and very scared, pretty much all the time, but I’m so enamored it doesn’t matter as much. Without any fanfare, motherhood grew within me, into the fiber of who I am.

There’s logic behind this metamorphosis. When you’re completely sleep deprived and isolated at home all day with a tiny crying human, unable to fulfill your own basic needs, things get weird. Anxiety gets gnarly. There’s a massive, never-ending learning curve as a parent that I doubt will ever dissipate. But aside from the information I learned and the skills I slowly honed, I adapted my whole style of being. I stopped swimming against the current…which, when you think about it, is an illogical waste of time, and realized I could float on my back and go with the flow. It was still scary and hard, but it worked, and I could relax.

I ceased trying to live my pre- and post-baby lives as one. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone. I relinquished my white-knuckle grip on who I thought I needed to be and began to see that between the black and white, the old and new, there was a beautiful new gray (gray is very in right now…coincidence?!).

Of course I can sit here now and wax poetic about the hardest time in my life, and that doesn’t erase it. But I feel so indebted to everyone who helped me out, I needed to pay it forward to whoever else might be out there, just a few weeks behind me. It’s gonna be ok.

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Dear Lila,

I have long, in-depth conversations with you. I tell you random things and talk to you like you’re aware of my words. You smile and stare, gnawing on your tiny fist, and part of me thinks you understand me.

Caring for you is hard work, and sometimes I need a break, but picking you up at daycare is the best part of my day, every day. I have to hold myself back from running down the hallway to see you. I want to know everything that happened, how much you ate and pooped. Yeah, I care about your poop a whole lot.

The coos, gurgles and shrieks you make are the sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard. They cause this indescribable internal joy that’s a mix of melting and exploding.

Your dad is amazing with you. A-ma-zing. From day one he’s been hands-on and engaged, paving his own routines and games with you. He gave you your first bath, put you in the car seat the first time and stayed and held you when the pediatrician had to prick your heel 10 times…(while I cried and bolted out of the room). You make huge smiles at him and he beams right back. And he’s really good at picking out your clothes and packing the diaper bag.

I feel so proud to have entered a new stage in life because of you. I’ve joined the most wonderful club there is.

You make hilarious facial expressions, regardless of your mood. I often call you the skeptical baby because you give us a bored, all-knowing stare when we do things wrong or say ridiculous things.

Sometimes I check your car seat buckles eight times. Sometimes I rewash bottles I know are clean, “just in case.” Sometimes I stare at the monitor in the middle of the night to see you breathing.

I love wearing you, even when my back aches, and even when you spit up down my chest. Watching you sleep on me is so sweet.

When you were sick this week, getting you better was all that mattered. We went to the pediatrician three times, and I completely overlooked caring for my own illness in the process. PS, we learned you’re allergic to amoxicillin, so stay away from that junk.

I take an obscene number of photos and videos of you. Fortunately people still seem to respond positively to this influx of baby spam. Or they’re just too polite to object. Winner either way!

I’m already sad that one day you will go through things that will be hard and painful. I worry about your future far more than I ever did my own.

I marvel, every single day, that I carried you inside me for 39 weeks. I think of all the places we went together and things we experienced that were just us two. I feel happy about those memories.

I try my hardest every day for you, and still feel like it’ll never be good enough. Not because I’m striving for perfection, but because you’re so perfect, nothing could ever be good enough.

You are remarkable. You are a delight. You are a gift.

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To be thankful

Thanksgiving begs for sappy gratitude posts, and I’m in no position to resist.

Family. We became a family of three this year and it’s been a heck of a ride. My highest highs, my lowest lows and everything in between. Babies bring you such an overwhelming sense of purpose and connection. They make you feel whole, and they make you discover the real meaning of love. I am thankful for the blessing of a happy and healthy baby, for access to top medical care for both of us, for the way the experience has challenged me and for how it has brought me closer to my husband. I’m thankful to have parents who support us and delight in being grandparents. I’m thankful for my brother who is a driving force in my life and sometimes the only person who can get in my head to help me sort things through.

Marriage. We’re past the 3.5 year mark since our wedding and are close to hitting eight years as a couple. We’ve grown up together and continue to grow in ways I appreciate and never anticipated. Jim, you are my better half and my grounding force in life. You are what makes me wake up happy each day and go to sleep feeling safe. I’m thankful for the love and balance you bring to my life, the wonderful father you’ve become and for your never-faltering integrity and kindness. There are lots of ups and downs on this ride but I wouldn’t want it to be with anyone else.

Work. I am thankful to work in a dynamic environment with people who truly have become a second family. It is a rarity to be able to say that, and to have had their support when I became a mom was invaluable. There are lots of frustrating moments and hard weeks, but I’m privileged to learn from all different kinds of people and to be pushed at every turn.

My body. Have you ever pondered how insane the human body is? Straight-up magic. I’ve always marveled at what my body is capable of and love pushing myself physically. The past year this awareness soared as I not only carried a baby (STILL blows my mind that people make other people), but also learned the value of functional fitness and training. I’m thankful for my health and what my body provides.

Friends. Friends are family, no way around it; life would be an incomplete puzzle without them. I’m thankful to have so many incredible, loving, hilarious and inspiring friends who show up when it matters most.

Stillness. It’s fleeting to have moments of stillness and quiet these days, so I’m especially thankful when they occur. Introverts rely on alone time to recharge and I’m no exception.

Dogs. My dogs have taken the inevitable backseat following baby’s arrival, but they’re as loving and loyal as ever. They’re loud and messy and wonderful.

Writing. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to think and share on this blog, for all the support and encouragement. And for the opportunity to truth-tell and help others feel ok.

I think beyond anything I could list here, I’m just thankful for the life I’ve been given and the places it has taken me. The people I’ve met. The challenges I’ve overcome. The love I’ve experienced and the losses I’ve learned from. I’m thankful for how it all weaves together.

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A Serious Interview with my 14-Week-Old Baby

Reporter: So, Lila, we hear things have been a real whirlwind lately–what, with starting daycare and the introduction of a humidifier to your nursery. Tell us, how are you staying sane amid all this chaos?

Lila: Well, it hasn’t been easy, I can tell you that much. Daycare requires me to wake up AND be mildly presentable at an ungodly hour, five days a week. And my glorious feeding-on-demand days seem to have transformed into an absurd sequence I’ve heard the tall people refer to as a “schedule.” The humidifier? It helps with my boogers, but I’m wary of the glow it casts across my room at night.

Reporter: With cooler temps across the country, how are you feeling about your wardrobe?

Lila: Ooh, you know me, I love a range of options. But who am I kidding…I throw up on everything I wear, so my preference is for absorbent fabrics like cotton. I’ve also recently begun to wear “pants” — they’re snuggly, which I love, but prolong diaper changes which makes me question their usefulness. Oh! I almost forgot about bibs. LOVE them. It’s like a fun superhero cape that also catches spit up.

Reporter: Any recent milestones you’re comfortable sharing?

Lila: I mean this in the most humble way possible, but I’ve become kind of a badass when it comes to keeping a paci in my mouth. I’ve also been experimenting with actually keeping my socks on for more than a few minutes at a time before kicking them off.

Reporter: Our real estate fans will want to know, how are you enjoying your Pack N Play?

Lila: (Laughs) That thing? It’s alright I guess. My parents are convinced it’s this miraculous haven for me, but the joke’s on them…I only tolerate it because I can see the tv from one angle. I’d be just as happy in a cardboard box as long as someone swaddled me.

Reporter: Any special recipes you’ll be testing this Thanksgiving?

Lila: I’m fairly jazzed about a pumpkin-spice flavor of formula I’ve heard about. My only experience with a pumpkin thus far was when my parents propped me up next to one for a Halloween photo (MAN, did I scream!), so this seems like a better option.

Reporter: What trends do you predict will be big among babies in 2015?

Lila: Pastel onesies. Hooded bath towels. Brunch.

Reporter: One last question: what’s something no one knows about you?

Lila: (Grins) I poop in the tub.

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Cruising.

My first car was a 1988 Volvo. Lots of character, not a lot of bells and whistles. In some countries it could’ve been considered a military tank.

I was shamelessly jealous of friends with new Honda Civics or Ford Explorers and all the fancy features these vehicles boasted. Related: in high school, your self worth is defined by the STUPIDEST things.

Years later when I got my first new car, I was fascinated by all its modern awesomeness, and particularly floored by cruise control.

You push this button and the car drives itself?

What.

Ok so not really, but the whole notion of this functionality screamed luxury to me. It made things so easy. What isn’t appealing about coasting? Even the word is fun. Cooooaaaasssttinggg.

But I quickly realized the problem with cruise control — it was almost always impractical — at least for my lifestyle. There was rarely a situation where it made sense or was safe — there were too many obstacles and traffic always got in the way. I hardly ever used it, despite its early appeal, because it was impossible.

And on the rare occasions I did use it, I would completely zone out. Bad. You know you’ve done it. You wind up at a destination and have no idea how you got there.

I started thinking about this a few days ago because life has been hard lately. Not terrible-hard, but HARD.

Whenever I enter a challenging season, my natural tendency is to immediately panic and seek a way out…like dogs when they realize they’re en route to the vet. I feel like I’m failing when things are messy and misaligned, and am convinced that the world is ending and I’m a failure for various illogical reasons. I’ll start to equate happiness to easiness. Dumb.

I’m finally starting to get that things are rarely going to be easy. If ever. Maybe never! There’s a lot of hard stuff, and not always a lot of fun, but the whole mess of it weaves together to be your unique life. And that’s amazing.

There’s no cruise control option for life — and if there was — we’d zone out miss all the good stuff.

Instead of freaking out every time things derail from my maniacal vision of how life “should” be, I wish I was better at embracing hard times for what they are, letting myself feel and process without a self-imposed agenda.

Cruise control isn’t practical for cars or for life. If you switch on autopilot, you lose sight of the journey. Obstacles aren’t necessarily things to overcome and forget; they’re essential to our lives because they allow us to understand joy.

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