5:23 a.m.

No matter how often it happens, the baby’s cries on the monitor always awaken me with a jolt. Over several months, my sleeping patterns have gradually adjusted to consistent waking at night, but this shrill sound is always off putting. Something has changed, though, and my reaction has softened.

Once resistant to these nocturnal interruptions, I’ve become more malleable. They are no longer a personal affront, but rather, a sacred duty.

I’m tired, so very tired, but it’s alright.

I cross the house in my nightly pilgrimage to the nursery, and search for the fallen paci in the dark. My hands locate it with ease and as I return it to a whimpering mouth, silence ensues. I rest my hand on her chest for a few moments so she knows she’s not alone.

I pick up the pillow and blanket I keep near the crib and lie down on the floor. Instead of angrily calculating how little time until my alarm will sound, as I did for weeks, I lay on my back and listen to her soft snores. I enjoy the quiet darkness.

Motherhood remains the Hardest Thing Ever. Lord, is it hard.

But it fits me now–like a second, invisible skin. I finally get it. I recognize that this work–this endless and exhausting and thankless work–is my greatest purpose and privilege.

This love is a forceful energy and I am grateful.

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10 reasons I’m jealous of my baby:

1. She has a permanent personal attendant conditioned to respond to her every waking need. And every sleeping need. And every other need.

2. Her clothes are all super comfortable and stretchy and she never has to wear shoes or Spanx.

3. No one judges her when she throws up on herself or farts audibly. She’s like a tiny, sweet-smelling fraternity brother.

4. She can sleep while someone else drives. Always.

5. She never has to do laundry, dishes or grocery shopping.

6. Naps…Just yes.

7. It’s considered cute that she’s chubby.

8. No hair yet means no hours spent washing, conditioning, brushing or styling it. This surplus time is instead devoted to chewing her hands, spitting up and other valuable activities.

9. It’s totally acceptable for her to lose her sh*t in public, scream and cry at the drop of a hat or refuse to make eye contact when she’s bored.

10. Free worldwide air travel for two years?? Sign me up.

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What makes us strong and unique is what makes us beautiful.

My best friend Amy visited yesterday on her drive back to LA. While we played with the baby, she couldn’t help but smile and comment on Lila’s chubby cheeks (can’t blame her, they’re pretty terrific). We started talking about how there’s something so perfect about babies, possibly the fact that they are completely unconsumed with vanity–have you ever seen an adult vomit on herself or poop her pants with such abandon–and how sad it is that this immunity to self doubt won’t last forever.

The first time I can recall wanting to be thinner was in the first grade. I know. It wasn’t so much a desire to be svelte at age six, but rather a simple yearning to be like Carrie, a popular girl in my class. She was tiny with long, golden straight hair. Pretty much my opposite. I have this funny memory of sitting on the floor next to her for some class activity, and noticing that my legs were much bigger than hers. What a strange observation to make at that age, years before I was exposed to anything beyond G-rated movies and Raffi.

It’s not like I was an overweight kid. I really wasn’t. But I also wasn’t a string bean the way many little girls are. I was then, as I am now, what’s politely coined athletic or curvy. Largely due to genetics, but also because I am athletic.

Through adolescence, all I wanted was to lose weight; to fit into a smaller jean size and achieve some warped, pop-culture-infused sense of beauty. I just knew the mythical size 5 would bring me a boyfriend, perfect grades and blissful popularity…Until it didn’t.

Junior high, high school, college…there was always someone to compare myself to with disdain. Cheerleaders, sorority girls in tiny matching shirts, girls who actually bought pants at Charlotte Russe. Even today, I look at old pictures and lament that I wish I was as skinny now as I was then. I curse myself for having a negative body image at the time the photo was taken and not knowing how great I looked.

The trouble with being a young woman in America is that our culture has given us falsified and unrealistic perceptions of beauty–to a damning extent. So that no matter how many times we’re told we’re beautiful by our parents, friends or significant others, and how many miles we run or calories we forgo, we’re always left feeling like less than enough.

Despite all this, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Because while I waste/d plenty of days wishing I was somehow “better,” these thoughts didn’t turn into unhealthy behaviors (to this day I have never consumed water mixed with maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper). I kid. But lots of people aren’t so fortunate:

  • 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting; 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
  • 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
  • 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.
  • The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

I am so, so sad when I read these statistics, and when I think about people I love who have lost parts of their lives to eating disorders. I feel sad for every girl who feels she isn’t worthy because of her weight or appearance. Some of it can’t be helped, but some of it can.

It all matters a LOT more now that I have a daughter. Right now, she’s happily oblivious. She eats whenever she wants (cued through ear-piercing screams), and as she grows, we delight in her rolls. She has a baby muffin top and it’s seriously the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. The doctor meticulously ensures she’s gaining weight at each visit as a sign that she’s thriving. I dread the day she realizes weight has a different meaning.

I’ll do my best to shield her from excesses of pop culture and negative influences, as much as is realistically possible. I’ll teach her what health and beauty mean, across the world. I will model positive behaviors around food and exercise. I’ll encourage her to respect her body, and to demand that respect from others. I’ll share that not everyone is given the blessing of good health, and the importance of taking care of ourselves. I’ll explain that what makes us strong and unique is what makes us beautiful, and that her opinions of herself are the most important. And she’ll likely sigh and roll her eyes, wondering how I could possibly understand.

A few disclaimers:

1. Remember Carrie (name changed) who I referenced in the intro…wouldn’t it be ironic if she ended up overweight and unsuccessful? Whelp. I just looked her up on Facebook. She works for Google and went to Harvard. Ok then.

2. While I (gently) knock sorority girls, I was in one myself…(I KNOW)…but not a typical one which is why I loved it.

10 things I actually do when the baby sleeps

Sleep when the baby sleeps, they say.

The baby will nap, they say.

The famed advice everyone (seriously, everyone) feels compelled to tell a new mom is, “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” Sounds wonderful. Sensible. Convenient.

Also IMPOSSIBLE.

If by some miracle my daughter does nap, I can neither: A) instantly fall asleep after weeks of caffeine-induced mania, or B) forget the piles of laundry, neglected pets, unread emails and hundreds of other things I’d like to attend to.

What do I actually do when graced with these mythical naps I hear so much about?

1. Lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling and marvel at the wonder of silence.

2. Consider showering…try to remember the last time I showered…get distracted by the appalling amount of dog hair on the carpet and then revert to # 1.

3. Frantically use my phone to pay bills, check social media sites, news apps and text messages in an attempt to reconnect with reality.

4. Debate making dinner, cleaning, getting the mail or otherwise being productive but decide instead to re-fluff the clothes that have been in the dryer all week and pick my nail polish off.

5. Spend several minutes staring in wonder at the baby and making sure her breaths are perfectly rhythmic. Tear up at the wonder of the life I created. Panic when she stirs and exhale deeply when I realize she just had to fart and is still asleep.

6. Explore feelings of guilt for not doing anything but lying on the floor. Mentally sweep these feelings under the rug (*real* sweeping is out of the question) and attempt to crack my back. Still on the floor.

7. Wander to the fridge. Sigh deeply upon realizing a chocolate cake has not magically appeared since I last checked. Pick up a string cheese…toss it back. Close fridge. Sigh again. Trudge back to nursery to stare lovingly at the baby again.

8. Call my husband to brag that the baby is napping and to prove that I am not.

9. Think about doing some yoga. Execute one or two poses. Feel wildly confident and fit.

10. Go through the 2,000 or so baby photos on my phone and silently vow to be a better, more productive mom tomorrow than I was today.

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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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