Things I Wish I Knew: Holiday Edition

I have beef with all the veteran moms in my life. No one warned me in advance about these two holiday takeaways that I feel obliged to pass on to all the pregnant Natalies who’ve yet to be responsible for a whole other human life on Christmas (or Hanukkah, but my extremely WASP-y brain feels like an idiot not knowing if one travels for Hanukkah. Surely I would go insane being around family for eight days??)

Technically this was my son’s second Christmas, but it felt like his first since last year was just a lowkey immediate family celebration due to COVID, plus he was still in the blobby, not-at-all sleeping newborn phase so everything’s a little cloudy in the ol’ brain bank.

  1. Pack early, and do it while baby is sleeping. HAHAHA to me who thought I could just throw my clothes in a duffel like normal, leave some extra space for the baby’s, and make packing a daytime activity to also keep him busy. The child was pulling things out of the bag faster than I could put them in & putting in extraneous items of his own (a pink hippo bath toy managed to stowaway on our travels.) This was all, of course, in addition to his current favorite games, “Ooh, are these cords?” and “I hope she forgot to close the bathroom door so I can go play with the bad end of a plunger.” While packing a place for him to sleep, a stroller for the forecasted nice weather, and an armload of diapers because his molars are breaking through and his butt is a faucet, I neglected to think of where he would eat. Big thanks to my grandma’s neighbors who lent us a high chair from their attic; the few meals we attempted with him on my lap were messy mini-disasters.
  2. It is exhausting. I realize the media has been trying to tell me this for years, but I wrongly assumed stress around the holidays is what you make it. I figured as long as I managed expectations, committed to only one Secret Santa exchange, and never started any super creepy Elf on the Shelf traditions (yes, I am judging you), Christmas would be enjoyable. Reader? I am tired. And I kept the bar really, really low. Having family Christmas in my grandma’s least-child-friendly-house-ever was not an assist. Constantly redirecting him, making sure he wasn’t going to grab any handblown glass or insulin pens (why bother to childproof when he has a mother who can follow him everywhere?!), keeping him out of presents, feeding him, cleaning up, doing that again, putting him to sleep in a weird place, wielding boundaries around family members, attempting to help out and participate in established holiday traditions– I could go on, but my privilege is whining. On paper, there are more people around to help out, but if your baby/toddler is like mine, that will only make them cling to Mom even more. Next year, I will absolutely be taking a day or two off after Christmas to sleep.

First Birthday List

My darling boy turns one this week! He needs and wants for absolutely nothing, but it turns out that generous family members don’t like “If you buy him anything, I’ll cut you” as a response when they inquire about what they can gift him for his birthday.

Since I wasn’t at all thinking about toddlerhood when I made my baby registry, I’m sharing a few things I put on his one-year-old nice-to-haves list in case they might help the real Natalie or any of you pregnant ones. There are no toys or books or clothes because those always seem to be gifted no matter what & he doesn’t need any (do you hear me, family!?! STOP BUYING HIM TOYS. HE LOVES EMPTY TOILET PAPER ROLLS!! I WANT MY HOUSE BACK FROM THE INSANITY!!!)

  • No slip socks. This kid’s got almost three months of walking experience, yet he still prefers to do it without shoes. As it’s getting colder, I want those adorable piggy toes covered up in the house, but he’s more prone to slipping and falling if wearing socks. Enter: socks with grips on the bottom!
  • Foldable learning tower. Hats off to the marketing genius who named this spiffed up step ladder a “learning tower” and made them a Pinterest Mom must-have. Basically it’s a stool with a cage around it that will hopefully help him feel more included in the kitchen/ outdoors/ wherever we’re doing stuff so can’t hold him but would be too dangerous to let him roam free. I used to sit him in his high chair in the middle of the kitchen while making dinner, but he’s recently decided the high chair is lava so hopefully he can grow with this while learning beside me. There are approximately 1,000 learning tower options depending on what features you want and your budget, so I’ll report back on if the brand I linked is great or garbage.
  • A baby sled. This kid would be outdoors 24/7 if we allowed him to be, so I’m kind of terrified for when the temperature drops and there’s snow on the ground for months. 1- I assume a baby (toddler?! gah) in a sled will be adorable and 2- schlepping him around in it will help keep me warm.
  • Diapers. Just because baby is born doesn’t mean people can’t still gift you whatever sized diapers they’re wearing. My son thinks pulling tissue paper out of a bag is the funniest thing that’s ever happened to him, so he won’t mind if it’s boring ol’ diapers underneath.
  • Suction plate & baby forks. My friends with toddlers have had a wide variety of experiences with suction plates and bowls, but serving him food on regular ones would be an absolute fool’s errand at this age. I currently serve all his food on the high chair tray, but does that seem lazy? At some point, should he realize place settings are a thing? He’s currently in the developmental stage of using his fat lil’ arm as a windshield wiper and knocking all available options to the ground when he’s done or feeling cantankerous, so maybe this will help. Oh, and he needs forks because I got a bunch of hand-me-down baby spoons from my cousin and only just realized he should probably be exposed to other utensils.

Next year, we’ll probably ask for experiences like a science center membership, but based on two recent apathetic trips to the zoo, he’s still a little young for those. Because of his obsession with the real lawn mower and watching his dad and any neighbors mow, we’ll probably add a toy lawn mower in the spring when the Easter Bunny comes around. And dude loves to knock over the broom and try to eat the dustpan, so I need to capitalize on this ASAP and get him his own mini version to start helping around the house. Congrats! You’re one! Get to sweeping.

Summer Walks

Two words: stroller fan.

If you’re building a baby registry, add one for the baby and one to point back at yourself.

We met up with a friend for a stroller walk in the high noon heat of July, and their baby had a little stroller fan pointed at him. I thought, “Oh, to be part of the uppity, high maintenance stroller elite who require a fan for their sweet babe.” Reader? I am an idiot. I needed 18 stroller fans just for myself. Global warming!

My son rarely wears anything except for a diaper these days, and I always have a straw cup with water to offer him hydration breaks when we’re out on walks. We try to go first thing after his breakfast before the Midwest humidity absolutely murders us, but even then, I’ve had to deal with the judgment of neighbors commenting, “Kinda hot out for a baby, eh?” Kindly shove your head up your own butt & mind your own beeswax, MA’AM.

Don’t Send Flowers

To the friends and family members of people who have just given birth: do not send flowers to the hospital.

This isn’t a commentary on “flowers die, pizza gift cards live forever” (but seriously, food > flowers.) Send whatever dying soon flowers you want, or a potted plant, or a beautiful orchid– it’s none of my business! Just send it to the house and not the hospital.

Hospital rooms might not be the prettiest place one could ever sleep, but hopefully parents will only be spending up to three nights there. The patient will be too sleep-deprived and in love with their newborn(s) to care if a floral bouquet is brightening the bedside table. When they leave, they will have an absolute armload of things to carry out. Duffel bags of clothes, the Boppy they thought they’d use but probably didn’t, packets of newborn info with copies of hospital consents, plus a car seat holding a very fresh baby. They don’t have the arm space to also load up the car with your well-intentioned detritus.

Kids’ Music

Our tyke has always loved music, and he’s started to bop along and “dance” so I’m dead from the adorableness. A friend of mine introduced us to Raffi, who I’d never heard of previously, and now he’s a frequent Spotify play in our house on the Alexa/ government listening device.

Raffi is hokey kids’ music- I’ve already got all the lyrics down to “Banana Phone”!- but our son loves it, so I guess this type of music exists for a reason. So many pregnancy advice books told me to find a song we could play to the kid in utero that would be his favorite when he burst forth, but we’re not hugely musical people and never found the “right” one. Poor kid did listen to “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande at least 100 times during my pregnancy, though, so maybe we should revisit it??

I try to play him Fleetwood Mac and Simon & Garfunkel and his dad plays him The Beatles a lot because… I don’t know, we’re trying to culture him? Make him a really cool, old soul seven-month-old? Or probably because he’s too young and impressionable to actually be exposed to my garbage music preferences of Fall Out Boy songs popular in high school, explicit Cardi B, and “Bulls on Parade.” I should play him the Space Jam soundtrack more since that’s hands down the best movie soundtrack of all time.

Babies do love a full musical performance, so if you know the lyrics, I can recommend ELO and Meatloaf, though you’ll feel positively ancient and that you’ve already turned into the embarrassing parent you promised yourself you wouldn’t be. So, Raffi. Thanks, Rachael, for the music tip. I now pass it along to you, dear reader.

Pregnancy Laughs

One thing I miss about pregnancy (there isn’t much!) is the extra hormones that cause big emotions. It wasn’t super fun when it ended in tears- my husband has a video of me happy crying over the announcement that Big 10 football would be returning in the fall (???!!)- but they can also make you have laughing fits over things that, looking back, probably weren’t that funny. I realized a few weeks after the baby was born, “I haven’t laughed in a while… I miss that.”

Old People Facebook was a constant source of laughing to near tears. I also watched a ton of inappropriate best of Eric Andre compilations. If you’re currently pregnant, enjoy your giant laughing fits. You’re not losing your mind; it’s a normal side effect. If you’re postpartum and need some levity, I can’t recommend enough the book Sh*t, Actually by Lindy West. A friend sent it in a new mom care package for me (Rachael, you da real MVP) at a time when I thought I would never be able to have alone time to read a book again. Each essay was a source of true belly laughs, including my new favorite line from any book, ever, when she’s recapping the movie Top Gun: “It was Goose’s last honk.”

Currently Singing

“Ima Ima Ima fuss boy

ah ah ah ah, ah ah ah

Look at me whine!

ah ah ah ah, ah ah ah

Ima Ima Ima fuss boy”

to the tune of the Weeknd’s “Starboy,” obviously.

We’re in the middle of a very fussy phase during Leap 5. Jim Carrey was wrong– this isn’t the most annoying sound in the world; the constant whine of a child who is perfectly fine yet upset with everything in life is.

Will I Ever Not Feel Insane?

Spoiler alert: no!

I can’t, in good conscious, recommend parenthood if your grip on reality is already tenuous. At least once a week I text my husband, “Motherhood is insane.” I have many theories on why this seems to get worse with each generation, mostly hinging on the Internet and social media and the ubiquitous nature of constantly seeing other parents in action, all the time, but only the pretty parts. My brain has decided it will literally never be satisfied no matter how I arrange the sizes of my life pie chart: baby, self, marriage, work, etc.

EXAMPLE TIME.

The first 16 weeks of baby’s life: Please sleep. Please take a nap. Please nap longer! Your brain needs good sleep to grow, baby. I need more than 40 minutes in which to cram sending emails/ showering /eating/ unloading the dishwasher/ paying that bill/ will I ever work out again? Insert here a lot of pleading with all known and perceived deities to just please help my baby get quality naps in.

The 17th week, when we implemented the Ferber Method and the kid now consistently naps more than an hour: I am a horrible person. I just got in a virtual work out AND showered AND had breakfast AND am starting work emails and he’s not awake!? He probably thinks I hate him. He doesn’t even need me anymore. He’s so cute– I wonder what he’s doing in there. Probably looking really adorable while he sleeps. I feel so guilty for enjoying this time without him. What kind of monster person wants their kid to sleep this long.

Truly, this is mental hell. Women in the 1950s couldn’t possibly have given this many shits, right?? I mean, I know a lot of not-that-well-adjusted people born in that era, so I think a cultural swing towards more involved parenting was warranted, but still. Something about pouring a mid-day martini while baby is safely alive in a playpen sounds very chic (or maybe they just needed something to help turn off their brains from the barrage of parenthood contradictions playing on a loop in their heads? IS THAT WHY THE SHOW IS CALLED MAD MEN?!)

Another example.

I spend all day with my chunky dinosaur boo-by baby. When he’s awake, we’re playing or I’m feeding him or I’m shaking a toy in his face and trying to not feel terrible for also working on my phone with the other hand. The other day was just a long day. Baby wasn’t grumpy, it was just physically many hours on the clock until my husband got home from work. I knew I needed to leave the house, so I booked the last available in-studio Pure Barre class and kissed my loves good-bye. And halfway through my workout, I thought, “I miss him.” WHY. WHAT. You’re exhausting me, hormonal brain. He is safe at home with his father! It’s important for them to have alone time! You spent all day waiting for a break, and when you got one, you feel an insane pull to immediately return?!

Just… give in the insanity, Natalie. There’s no use fighting it. It is helpful to talk about it. You can text me when it happens, and I will say, “Yes, you are crazy. I’m crazy, too. But please don’t pour a martini at noon or I’m calling the cops.”

An Ode to my Scalp

i always knew you were there

but we’d never met.

you’re in all the worn photos of my own childhood

a bald baby til almost a bald toddler.

we had 31 years of peace, symbiosis

hair grew, chicken pox briefly visited, lathered on in the shower but never worried about

and then.

i saw you. just last week. why.

you’ve made yourself known. i see more and more of you as the hair leaves

the hair the hair the hair is everywhere

hair on the baby. hair in the shower. hair on the pillow. hair on the husband.

goodbye, hair

hello, scalp

i didn’t want to meet you.