New Year Sum-Uppance, Vol. 7

At the close of each year, I typically do the same thing on my blog. I’ll write two posts; one is a recap of the top ten most-read posts of the year, and the other is a recap of myself.

Thanks to SEO, though, the top ten posts have stayed fairly stagnant over the last couple of years. In general, my how-tos dominate every time. (Lookin’ at you, How to Paint a Metal File Cabinet.) So I think it might be time to retire that one.

As for my yearly recap, I generally follow the same theme, answering the same questions so I can look back over the years and think ahhh remember when? (Here is last year’s.)

But before I get to that, let’s do a quick year-in-review.

Obviously, the biggest thing that happened to my little family this year was that we got a bit bigger. From the moment we announced our pregnancy, I think virtually everything I posted on here in 2015 was about the baby. Since I got pregnant in January, 2015 will forever be the year I remember as The Year of the Baby.

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2015 was also the year of work trips for me. It started with a week-long jaunt to San Francisco for some training. It was extra fun because I got to see my first friend ever, Jackie, who I hadn’t seen in a few years.

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Then, in early spring, I also started a new job (I know, I know, great timing, uterus!) that launched with a trip to Belgium for even more training. (And frites…lots of frites. I was pregnant, after all!)

First unpacked box!
First unpacked box!

Shortly after the Belgium trip, we moved into our current apartment. It was a relief to finally be able to explain to people why, exactly, we needed two bedrooms in our new place.

And then it was summer! The most notable thing that happened to us? Finding out that the little bean in my belly was a girl.

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That was such a blissful day. I still watch our reveal video sometimes!

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Next, Joey and I jetted off to Florida for a babymoon. I truly can’t remember every feeling so relaxed and at peace with my life as I was on that trip — or so excited for Vivian to join us!

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Shortly after that, Joey checked off a bucket list item: He ran his first half marathon! Even though I was super bummed not to be able to run with him, it was a fun change of pace to be the one proudly waiting at the finish line.

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Yay for Susan!
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Congratulations, Natalie!

Then our lives entered the “party phase,” with a slew of baby showers and two weddings (a welcome change from last year’s FIVE weddings).

After that, it felt like all there was left to do was wait — and get rounder. And then, one magic day in September, we finally got to meet our little girl.

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Have you ever seen anything so perfect? I haven’t.

Since then, my blogging regularity has been shot to heck, but my life has never felt fuller. It’s not always wonderful (as I’m sure any new parent would agree…or any parent ever), but there are a lot more wonderful moments.

2015, you were a hoot.

And now, the moment you’ve all (hahahahaha) been waiting for…my yearly sum-uppance.

Age: 28. And I’ve officially stopped getting carded. (Though the fact that a baby is often strapped to me is probably helping.)

Location: New York City

Occupation: Freelance editor/writer/social strategist. (The other biggest change in my life.)

New favorite food: A few years ago, I changed this question to be a shout-out to a food I realized I loved in the last year. I didn’t really eat a lot of new things this year because I spent a majority of the year mildly queasy, but in the last month or so, I was finally convinced to branch out from my usual Thai order and tried Beef Pad See Ew. And it was awesome.

TV shows I’m watching: I finished rewatching Gilmore Girls, but I haven’t really found another show to take its place yet. I’m a big fan of cooking competition shows like Chopped. Sorry my TV watching is so lame.

Book I’m reading: I just finished The Great Train Robbery (highly recommend), and now I’m bouncing between Replay and Making the Terrible Twos Terrific. (Oh, did I mention I’M A MOM NOW?)(Sigh.)

What’s my hair doing right now: This question started out as a joke, but my answer is literally different every year, and I find it genuinely interesting to look back. (That sounds shallow, but y’all know I have a lot of theories on the link between hair and happiness.) Right now, I’m honestly not in love with my hair. Probably because it is practical right now. It’s a lob (which I like) with no bangs (which I fluctuate on like every woman in the Western Hemisphere). And it’s dark blonde/ombre-ish…which I am not loving. I will probably be blonder in the next month or so. I CAN’T QUIT YOU, HIGHLIGHTS.

How I did on my goals from last year: Just to remind you, these were last year’s goals, along with how I did:

1. Completely pay off our debts: I actually did pay off my credit card debt! And Joey is very close to paying off his! I still have a car payment (though it is also much diminished), but we got very, very close to this goal in 2015. I think early 2016 is going to be our time.

2. Build up a savings account: I actually did this too! Of course, it is in serious jeopardy now that I’m not working full-time, but it was fun while it lasted.

3. Pioneer at least five times: This one was a bust. I hate making excuses, but I have to go ahead and blame pregnancy on this one — it took a lot more out of me than I expected.

4. Find a new apartment in April (still in Queens): Done!

And, just in the name of total honesty, you should also know that one of my secret goals last year was to have a baby. I just didn’t want to put it here because I didn’t want to add any extra pressure on the process. So I’m going to go ahead and check that one off too.

And now…goals for next year:

I would like to travel a bit (mostly to see family and hopefully to visit the area where we got engaged), especially while Vivian still flies free. I also want to simplify a lot of our lives, from cleaning out clutter to cutting back on unnecessary expenses. Other than that, I mostly want to keep raising Vivi and make this whole freelancing thing work. You know, no big deal. (LIFE, YOU GUYS.)

So as we bid adieu to The Year of the Baby, I have to say it’s one I will never forget. Can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Vivi Update: Three Months Old

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It’s beyond cliche to say that time goes too quickly for most parents, so I’m not going to say it.

BUT YOU GUYS.

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I’m around Vivi every day, obviously, so sometimes she changes without my noticing. But then I sneak peeks at her newborn baby photos (usually during her naps…because I’m obsessed with her, apparently), and I realize that my squishy little baby has been replaced with this bright-eyed, wiggly little girl.

I mean, it’s a good thing. Her growing up is good. That spitting up after every feeding phase? I don’t miss that.

But…

Babies are so fleeting. So I’m still trying to soak up her little baby sweetness every second.

Ugh, is it DUSTY in here? I need a tissue. Moving on.

Here’s a quick update on what the little lady has been up to, plus a teaser about me/an upcoming post:

The biggest change as of late is that, well, Vivian has just gotten to be so much fun lately. She babbles to me constantly, but even that is in this interactive format where I say something, she lets out a “goo,” I say something else, she gurgles and grins — it actually feels like a conversation even though very little is actually being said.

And it’s so freaking cute.

And as if her HUGE grins weren’t enough to totally make up for all those nights of lost sleep I’ll never get back, she also started giving “kisses” on command. (I’ve literally watched that video over a hundred times. It never gets old.)

Last week, she started to get more mastery over her hands, meaning she’s now picking up and holding her toys.

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Her favorites are a set of plush blocks that rattle and her Sophie giraffe. The cutest part is that she always look fascinated by her fingers when they actually do what she wants them to do. I die.

On the more practical side of things, she’s also sleeping through the night and not having nearly as many spit-up attacks as she used to, both developments that make my life a million times easier.

All in all, she’s pretty awesome. It’s such a joy to watch her grow up.

Which leads me to my next announcement…I’m not going back to my office job.

EEP.

Maybe this isn’t that shocking of an announcement (or maybe it is), but for me, it’s a big deal. I’ve worked in an office for the last 8+ years, and I truly thought I always would. But last week, I took the plunge into the world of full-time freelance. It’s a little scary since I only have a couple steady gigs at the moment, but I’ve been in touch with a lot of friends and former co-workers who are looking for writers/editors/social strategists, and I feel like there will always be something to fill in the gaps. (Hopefully?)

No matter what, I know this is the right choice for us, and I’m excited to start this next season of my life. Here’s hoping Vivi’s next month is just as exciting.

Stories of Sleep Training. Or, How I Got My 10-Week-Old Baby to Sleep Through the Night

When you talk about having a baby, it usually takes roughly .00003 seconds for someone to mention that you are going to be tired.

They love to say it like it’s a big gag:

“A BABY? HOOOOOO-boy! Get used to not sleeping! YUK YUK YUK!”

Okay, to be fair, they might not actually be that obnoxious. But by the 78th time you’ve heard someone make that comment, they all start to sound like an uncle from a Home Alone sequel.

The point is, babies = not a lot of sleep. It’s a thing. People know this.

Which is why, when you tell someone you just had a baby, one of the first things they usually ask is if they’re sleeping through the night.

Has anyone else read Bringing Up Bebe? It’s one of my favorite books I read pre-baby. There’s a whole section about sleeping and how French babies tend to sleep through the night within the first couple of months. But the chapter opens with the writer (an American living in France) talking about how all these French parents used to ask her if her several-week-old baby was sleeping through the night, and she thought it was just kind of a cruel form of teasing until she realized that they really did expect the baby to sleep through the night.

That was a long way of saying that, when your baby is not sleeping through the night, it feels like a cruel joke whenever anyone (French or non) asks if she is.

To be honest, Vivi was never a horrible sleeper. She went through a few weeks where she was actually only waking up once or twice a night. That increased to about three times a night in her second month. It wasn’t so bad because she usually went right back to sleep after being nursed.

Side note: Can I just tell you that there are few moments of despair that compare with the feeling you get after feeding your baby at four in the morning, only to look at her and realize that she is just WIDE AWAKE WITH NO INTENTION OF SLEEPING EVER AGAIN? You just sit there, in the dark, staring at each other, like some bizarre game of sleep chicken. (For the record, the baby always wins.)

But the point is, I counted myself lucky that my kid didn’t scream for hours on end at night and was usually pretty amicable about dozing off again without too much fuss.

So when our pediatrician suggested we start thinking about sleep training at her 2-month appointment, I was fully on-board. I actually knew the conversation was coming because it was discussed when we went for our pre-baby “meet the doctors” appointment, and I had always been pretty in favor of the philosophy. Not because I relish the thought of letting my baby cry it out a bit (I’d probably rate it somewhere above a bikini wax but below coming face-to-face with a cockroach), but rather because I’ve seen her sleep seven-to-eight hours at a stretch, so I know she’s capable, and I’m a big believer in anything that teaches a person (infant or otherwise) to self-soothe.

Granted, I knew the idea of sleep training was probably going to be a lot easier to take than the actual practice. Like I said, I don’t love hearing my daughter scream. In fact, I’d put it pretty high on my list of least favorite things, right above bikini waxes and right below coming face to face with a cockroach. So I approached the first night of training with a bit of trepidation, but I tried to think positively because some people (the French included) believe your attitude can actually make a huge difference in the training’s success. And, not gonna lie, I would do anything to make this easier.

And it went…well, here’s how it went:

Night One

I don’t want to scoop my own anecdote, but the first night went better than I ever could have imagined.

After our bedtime routine (typically nursing, jammies, book, nursing again, sing a song, prayer, and then put her down…every few days a bath is thrown in there), I put Vivi down a little before 8 p.m. awake (per my pediatrician’s instructions). She dozed for about ten minutes, and then awoke with a veangence. This was honestly one of the hardest moments of the whole process. Vivi screamed for twenty minutes while I sat on the couch with silent tears rolling down my face. I had to keep reminding myself, nothing is wrong; she’s just pissed off. Because babies are creatures of habit, and she was used to eating whenever she accidentally woke herself up, regardless if she was hungry or not.

After 20 minutes, she dropped off suddenly into sleep, and I poured myself a glass of wine to cope with the trauma. (Kidding.)(Sort of.)

She woke up again around 3 a.m. and cried for an hour, but this time, I could tell her heart wasn’t really in it. It was mostly a whining kind of cry before she fell back asleep. I went into her room around 7:15 the next morning to find her awake but contentedly scooting around her crib and hungry. I considered this a great first night.

Night 2-4

Ohhhh, Justine. Have we learned nothing about parenting? Never, ever start telling yourself that you got this.

While on the second, third, and fourth nights it took Vivi only five minutes to put herself to sleep (and without any of that unsettling screaming), she would wake up sometime between three and four and just never really go back to sleep. Instead, she would cry for about 45 minutes, JUST seem to doze off, and then suddenly jerk herself awake and cry 30-45 minutes all over again. This pattern typically went on until around 6:00, when I would finally crack (telling myself at least it had been the minimum ten hours the doctor recommended) and going in to nurse her.

I was worried I was undo-ing the process. I was worried my baby was legitimately hungry and maybe too young to start this process. I was worried. In short, I was being a parent.

So I called the doctor for some backup. A very nice nurse listened to my concerns and calmly told me that, more likely than not, the baby was just testing me. She really did not need to eat for up to 12 hours each night because she had been gaining weight well. She really could sleep that long, and I really had to stick with the process for a week-and-a-half to two weeks to see serious results.

The nurse told me to do whatever made me comfortable, but to remember that whatever pattern I created now, the baby would ultimately stick to. So I took a deep breath and steeled my resolve anew.

Night Five

I was really nervous about this night because, that day, we were actually driving to Ohio to visit my family. I wasn’t sure how nine hours in the car was going to upset the process, but I knew my baby was not a big fan of changes to her schedule.

Miracuslously, though, this was the first night Vivi slept 11 hours straight. I literally woke up in almost a panic when I realized it was 7:30 and I had gotten about nine hours of sleep myself. Again, though, she was awake but happily wiggling around in her bassinet.

SUCCESS!

Nights 6-13

The next week went by with slightly varied but still pretty good success. Vivi would occasionally wake around 5-6:00 a.m. but usually could put herself back to sleep within half an hour if I waited.

But here’s the really good part: The last two nights, she has slept TWELVE full hours. Without waking up at all in the night.

And while, yes, I realize that by even putting those words into print I am probably cursing the entire process, I do feel like, at the very least, we aren’t starting from scratch anymore.

Though, my newfound positivity could just be the result of getting 19 collective hours of sleep over the last two nights. I feel like I could climb a mountain right now.

The point is, for us, the process worked. I didn’t invent the idea of sleep training (I would be much richer if I had, I’m sure), but here are a few things that really helped us should you want to try this method yourself:

1. Routine, routine, routine. We wind down for bed almost the exact same way every night. The only true variable is the bath, and I always feel like she sleeps even better after a bath. She’s too little to get one every night (at least I think so), but when she’s older, I definitely see this as a regular part of the routine. The point is, Vivi knows what’s coming starting around 6:30 in the evening. Lately, she has been dropping off to sleep with maybe a single cry or none at all.

2. Consistency. Even when it breaks your heart. Yes, you really, really, really do have to just tough out the moments when they’re crying. Obviously, have a video monitor if you can so you can reassure yourself nothing is actually wrong, but just remind yourself that any time you go into that room after you put them to bed, you’re creating an expectation in them. And it will be just as hard to break the next night. But if you’re consistent, it really does get easier.

And if that isn’t enough to keep you out, remember this: The older they get, the bigger the tantrums get. And the more likely it is they will be able to call you by name. (So much worse than just crying.) And the more likely it is that they will try to climb out of their crib, possibly injuring themselves. These were all thoughts that helped me.

3. Remember: Sleep begets sleep. The better my baby slept at night, the better her naptime routine became during the day. It seems like the opposite would be true, but the fact is, she got better at going to sleep period, and her entire schedule became more consistent. Which just makes life as a whole go more smoothly.

Granted, this is what worked for us. I’m not saying your baby will have the exact same experience. It might be harder. It might be easier. As my nurse said, you have to do what makes you comfortable. But if you do go this route, hopefully this is helpful.

Other mommas: Have you tried sleep training? How old was your baby when you started? How did it go?

Motherhood makes me want to be braver

{imperfect is the new black}
{imperfect is the new black}

Insecurities are a funny thing. Over the years, I feel like I’ve been pretty open on this blog about mine. In general, I don’t consider myself an insecure person, but that hasn’t always been the case.

For the most part, I’m a person of very cyclical moods. About once a year, I experience what I consider to be some kind of depression or low point. (I say “consider” because I’ve never been officially diagnosed with anything.) It typically lasts anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. It’s usually marked by an increase in mood swings, sensitivity, and a marked uptick in my insecurities. (And, you may have noticed, a lack of blog posts. The blog starts to feel incredibly insignificant during these lows, and I can’t imagine anyone caring what I have to say about anything.)

It’s not fun, but I at least feel more in control of these times than I used to because I’m now able to recognize them for what they are. Anyone familiar with depression can tell you what a liar it is — it tells you you’re not good enough, you’re unlovable, you’re just not enough. So, for me, there is power in being able to feel those things but still step back in my mind and remind myself I won’t always feel that way and that they probably aren’t true.

The insecurities I deal with have evolved over the years, but they’re usually a mix of doubts about something superficial (in high school, the size of my thighs; now, my teeth and nose) and something social (in high school, that my friends and family didn’t really like me; now, that my friends and family don’t really like me).

It’s at this point that I feel obligated to remind you that, in my rational mind, I know my friends and family love me. I do. You don’t need to tell me you do; I know it. Depression just makes me not believe it for a while, or wonder when the day will come that they will stop loving me.

I think everyone handles these feelings differently, for better or worse. For me, I workout (the best therapy for me) and I think about it — a lot. I reason on my feelings, what brings them on and what I can do about it. Often the answer to the latter is simply to ride out the storm and keep reminding myself that depression is a liar. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever really discussed these feelings publicly — I’d venture a guess that most of the people in my life don’t even know I deal with them.

I’m kind of a hermit when it comes to my own struggles. But I’m trying to be better about that because bottling it up (surprise!) doesn’t really seem to help anything.

I’m happy to tell you that, while this post was inspired by my latest bout of low-ness, I can already tell I’m coming out of it. Good talks with some close friends and a weekend with my family were huge helps to reaching the other side of this valley. But even though it’s (hopefully) almost over, the most lingering part of my lows are always the insecurities. Kind of like a bad cough.

I think about my insecurities a lot now as a mother of a daughter. Girls seem to be especially plagued by insecurity, almost to the point where it is weird if you’re confident. I don’t know if I can keep Vivian from having her own self doubts, but I never want her to feel crippled by them.

I want her to laugh loudly even if she thinks her laugh is obnoxious. I want her to wear the sleeveless dress she loves even if she doesn’t like her upper arms. I want her to get down on the dance floor even if she worries someone will think she looks ridiculous.

I want her to live her life bravely, even when she doesn’t feel brave.

And the fact is, I’m going to be her best example of how to do that. So I had better start being a good example.

Which brings me to my new project: Eradicating my superficial insecurities. I’ve decided I’m going to stop only taking photos from what I consider to be my “good side” — just because my nose and teeth are straighter from the left. I’m going to grin broadly — even though in the back of my mind I think my teeth are big and slightly bucky. And I’m going to do whatever I can to stop letting myself slip into the old habit of being who I think people want me to be — and just trust that anyone who does stop liking me was never all that great to have to begin with.

Because I want Vivi to do all those things too. Because, to me, she is perfect. And who else could she possibly be to be better?