Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Newborn Essentials (When You Already Have A Toddler)

Eden is one month old! I feel like this is something to celebrate. We have survived! Slowly, we're digging ourselves out of the newborn haze. I will not deny it: the past month has been hard. I feel the distance growing between Isabel and me, and spending so much time in constant contact with another human being leaves me feeling drained by the end of our long long days.

And then, there are the days that never seem to end, dragging on through the night, punctuated by Isabel's calls for daddy - she doesn't call for me anymore, knowing I'm not going to come - and Eden's noisy sleep sounds, squeals and grunts and rattly, slightly congested breathing. No. This month hasn't been easy. 

But, there are a few things that have made it easier, and in an effort to be useful, I thought I'd share those things.

Swaddles, specifically ones that help you wrap those little arms in. Eden sleeps so much better when she's well swaddled, especially if I want her to sleep in her crib.

A swing for Eden. For a week or two we tried to put her down in the bassinet of her playpen whenever she slept and we felt like we needed a break. But, after her first two days of life, Eden made it pretty clear that she is not fond of lying on her back. We set up her swing instead, and she'll sleep there, contentedly, for an hour or two, which gives me a much needed break. The swing is, however, much more easily accessible to Isabel than the playpen, which has caused some issues.

A comfortable carrier. We use a Boba 3G, which doesn't require an infant insert, and instead folds to the size of a newborn. I also DIYed a ring sling, but I have yet to figure out how to make it comfy enough for long periods of wearing. Eden spends hours cuddled up against my chest, morning, afternoon, evening. It puts her to sleep pretty much every time I tuck her into it, and it's helped a lot with my ability to bond with her, while spending time chasing a slightly wild toddler who has started to occasionally act out. 

(While it's been phenomenal from a practical standpoint, helping us get through our days, carrying Eden has also been surprisingly difficult. I am rarely not touching someone. By the end of the day, when Isabel finally goes to bed, and I am craving a break, Eden is often just getting started. There are no breaks.)

A tablet. I debated including this one because I don't love the idea of toddlers and excessive screen time. But ultimately, I'm not sure I would have made it through this past month without our iPad. Having a tablet really helped get us through the first hard couple weeks. Handing the iPad to Isabel allowed me to spend the time I needed nursing Eden, changing Eden, bouncing Eden, cuddling Eden. We are now starting to cut down her screen time as I have developed new coping strategies, but in those first days, it was invaluable.

A library. For books and storytime and a first effort to return to real life. Reading is one of the few things I can do with Isabel while nursing Eden, so we do a lot of it. We go to the library weekly, hang out at storytime, and then grab a stack of 10-15 books off the shelves for our weekly reading. My toddler loves books and, as Eden wedges herself between Isabel and I, it's one of the ways I have found to maintain and grow my relationship with my firstborn. We snuggle and read, and for a little while, our little world feels very full and warm.

A cozy couch. A stack of books would be useless without a comfy place to cuddle up with them.

Playgroups. I am fortunate to have a wide range of free playgroup options in the area for Isabel. If you're in Ontario, you probably have them too, through the Ontario Early Years program. These programs have allowed Isabel to get out among other children, burn some energy, and maintain a sense of routine, which makes everyone's lives easier. We do storytime at the library on Monday, coffee break at our local church on Wednesday (a break for me too!), a playgroup at a different local church on Thursday, and nature play at the conservation area on Fridays.

Enough counter space for all the dirty dishes. Just leave them. Seriously. Snuggle your baby. Take a nap. Have a shower. Build a train track with your toddler. Go for a walk. Do them later when you have more energy, or when they really start to drive you nuts. Dishes can always wait.

Ultimately, be gentle with yourself. Do what you have to do and know that every hard thing you're going through during the first few days and weeks will not last and things will get better.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Three Weeks of Eden

Yesterday, Eden was three weeks old.

It feels like a parenting faux pas, but I can't help but compare my two girls in their first weeks of life, and my experience of them. I know I probably shouldn't compare, but it's hard not to when the adjustment from none to one was so different from the adjustment from one to two. I have regularly heard moms muse on what adjustment is harder; now I can answer the question for myself. Without a doubt, this adjustment has been far easier.

So far.

Two weeks after we brought Isabel home almost 2.5 years ago, I remember sitting on the edge of our bed with a cluster feeding baby in my arms and bursting into tears. Mark was soon going back to work, we had yet to introduce a pacifier due to a fear of nipple confusion, despite breastfeeding going remarkably well, and Isabel hadn't settled off the breast for hours. I sat on the edge of that bed, wondering through the tears I couldn't stop what the hell we had done to our lives. In that moment, our lives as a childless couple seemed idealistic and comfortable and utterly lost, while the future ahead seemed exhausting and filled with difficulty.

This time around, I believe I am emotionally stronger and more confident in my parenting choices. We've introduced a pacifier - though Eden seems completely uninterested in taking it. We've embraced bedsharing - a move we didn't take until 6 months or so with Isabel - in the interest of getting as much sleep as possible. We've been returning to real life and routine far earlier, purely out of necessity.

But Eden is a different baby than Isabel was. In her, I see the needs of the fourth trimester far more clearly than I saw them in Isabel. Eden does not stay asleep unless she is touching me. She will not lie on her back, and if she does, she sleeps noisily, grunting and squealing until she wakes after just a few minutes. Even our swing can rarely keep her happy for longer than 10 minutes. She adores being carried in a carrier, or just tucked in my arms as Isabel and I read books on the couch. While she craves closeness with her mama, she doesn't comfort suck in the same way her big sister did as a baby, which makes soothing both easier and more difficult.

While we have handled the change in our family remarkably well, it hasn't exactly been easy. On the first day that I was on my own with both girls, I found myself sobbing as I read The Blue Hippopotamus to Isabel, my big girl tucked in her bed, my little girl squalling against my breast. Never again, I realized, was I going to have the luxury of lingering over books with Isabel, reading to her until she fell asleep against my shoulder. Nap time was no longer going to be the sweetest time of our day.

That was a mere four days post-partum. My sense of loss has held true. Nap time isn't easy. But, every day, she still naps, and every day we're finding other sweet moments to cling on to instead. Every day gets a little bit easier.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Victorian House Tour: A Dining Room Fit For A Feast

When this house was built, sometime around 1860, someone had their priorities straight. The dining room is as large as the living room and clearly designed for entertaining, complete with a door to the kitchen just for the servants to use. The original main fireplace is here, so it would likely have been the warmest room in the house, especially on the coldest winter nights.

I don't love this room yet. There's a lot I want to see changed, though we have neither the time, nor the funds to tackle the list yet. For now, it functions as it needs to and there will be time and money to tackle our projects later. For now, we are spending a lot of time thinking and dreaming about what this dining room space could be. For now, we will learn to love it as it is.

Things I don't love:

The walls. I like the theory behind the walls - slightly different pattern on top and bottom and a decorative whatever-it's-called, chair rail? down the middle. But, the wallpaper is crumbling, particularly the wall paper on the bottom, and some of it is not lined up particularly well. The colour is also a little dark, especially in combination with the dark, painted ceiling. This room and specifically these walls will likely be our first priority when it comes to renovations and improvements.

The furniture. I mean, I kind of like the furniture, but I also kind of don't. All of the furniture in this room came with the house. The seller went back and forth a little bit about whether or not the furniture would be included and ultimately, I wonder if it would have been better had we unlocked the door to an empty dining room instead of this heavy antique furniture. Coming from a tiny house of 900 square feet, we didn't actually have enough furniture to fill the house, so having it is helpful, but it has made it a little more difficult to feel at home in this room. It's not our furniture, so it doesn't feel like our dining room. I've thought about taking a paint brush to some of the furniture, particularly the sideboard, but then I wonder if we should just plan to sell it all instead.

The fireplace. Ok, actually, I love the fireplace. But, I think the apple at the centre underneath the mantle is a little weird, and the whole thing has been a bit abused. It's well stained and well scratched, which is hard to fix since it's beautiful white marble.

Living room next! Though, I'll admit, its hard to get the living room - or really, any of the remaining rooms in our house - neat enough to be photo worthy, so I have no idea when I'll get a chance to clean and share. I'm not the only one who can't seem to get her house universally tidy, right?

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Victorian House Tour: Come On In

We have lived in this 2700 square foot Victorian semi-detached house for 3.5 months now. It is surprisingly easy to adjust to all the extra space, surprisingly easy to fill it, despite the 900 square feet we lived in for five years. It has also been surprisingly easy to fall in love with this house. I expect the soaring ceilings and the beautiful glass chandeliers have something to do with that.

I don't have a lot of energy or focused time to blog these days. (I've been spending a lot more time on Instagram and have even revived the This Dusty House Facebook page for updates that don't warrant a blog post, but don't seem to quite fit on Instagram.) I do, however, want to share a proper, in depth tour of this house, because guys? If you like old houses, this one is gorgeous. So, I'm going to take it room by room, and while I make no promises, I'll do my best to not take forever sharing the whole house.

Today, the entryway.

It's a new thing for us to have an entryway at all, let alone one this large and this grand. In the bungalow, the front door opened directly into the living room, and in fact, banged against the couch when it was opened fully. When guests came to visit, shoes were piled awkwardly in front of the door. and in the winter, fingers of crusty salt worked their way across our living room floor. Here? Our entryway regularly fills with random things on their way in or out of our house - not to mention the mixed pile of toddler and adult shoes that never seem to make it back on the shoe rack - and we barely see them throughout our day.

The entryway runs down the centre of the house, the artery that leads to all other rooms. To the left, Isabel's play room. To the right, the living room. At the end of the hallway, the dining room, and just behind the stairs, the kitchen. The stairs make a statement, the beautiful original railings leading the eye up towards the upstairs bedrooms.

We've been making plans for this entryway. This area of the house will, hopefully be one of the first to see some changes, though none of them particularly large. We want to create some kind of well organized coat and shoe storage in the corner where the large wardrobe currently stands. The wardrobe is a beautiful piece, but the interior is incredibly inefficient and I find the whole thing kind of cumbersome. I think I would prefer a configuration of hooks and a bench with baskets underneath.

And then there's all these wide white walls. They're calling out for a gallery wall, I think, but there's a debate between Mark and I as to which wall. He wants family photos running up the stairs. I wonder if the better wall for a mix of family photos and artwork would be the large white wall running down the hallway, perhaps with a sideboard or console table beneath the gallery. Or both? But, perhaps that would be overkill. Perhaps we should do a gallery wall on the stair wall and one large piece of artwork on the hallway wall.

I do know that in this blank space, we're going to add a full length mirror. We already have the mirror. The house came with a piano, onto which someone had mounted a mirror. Mark removed it, but the mirror itself is still in great shape. I want to add a frame and hang it in this space.

Even without these touches, I love the entryway. I love how full of light and contrast it is. I love how it leads directly into every part of our home, a space that welcomes and pulls people in. I love its warmth and elegance.

Now, it just needs a little bit of an infusion of our personality, and it will be perfect.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

One Week With Eden

One week ago, Eden came into the world. Her birth was one part beautiful, two parts surreal, one part gory, two parts traumatic, and, best of all, all parts fully in the past. I am grateful she is here and I am grateful for how she came into the world - at home, in the comfort of my own bedrooom - but I am also grateful that it is over. And now, we're one week in to settling in, now a little family of four.

So far, that settling seems too be going fairly well, depending on your definition of success. We are sleeping ok, surprisingly. Isabel decided now was a great time to start sleeping through the night again, and Eden sleeps as well as any baby should, waking to eat two or three times between 7:30pm and 6:30am. She's a noisy sleeper though, grunting and squealing through the night; it's taking some getting used to, but one week in, I'm finally starting to sleep through her night time serenading.

Isabel seems pretty taken with Eden. Every morning, while she watches her cartoons, we let her hold her little sister, propping Eden's head up on a pillow, her little sleepy body draped over Isabel's lap. Big sister is not always the most gentle, and we sit close to make sure she doesn't shove Eden off her lap in a toddler fit.

But is she adjusting? I'm not sure yet. She's getting more screen time than I'm entirely comfortable with, screen time that has expanded from Netflix cartoons to iPad games and YouTube Kids. She's enjoying the increased control she has over her media consumption; I worry about how much she's consuming, and the quality of it. What is this period of adjusting our family going to do to our toddler's brain?

But today, we finally managed to get out for a bit. I took Isabel to a nearby playgroup and sat back and watched with Eden tucked into a ring sling as she ran around the large gymnasium, fully in her element among dozens of other toddlers and toys. Today reassured me that we will get back to normal, even if that normal looks a little different than it did before.

So far, so good.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Yesterday morning, I went to Coffee Break.

(Coffee Break is a Bible study for women that is pretty universal across the Christian Reformed Church, which is the denomination Mark and I both grew up in. We have yet to settle on a church here in our new city, but we still have strong ties to more than one CRC in the area, so I happily accepted an invitation to join the group. An hour and a half to be something other than a mother every Wednesday morning? I'll take it!)

As I sipped my coffee after sending Isabel off to nursery, someone sat beside me and asked the question I've been getting whenever we see one of our friends, family, or acquaintances: are we settled?

The answer is difficult. Technically, I suppose we are. the boxes are all unpacked. We've bought ourselves a new couch. We've tried out different furniture arrangements in our living room and master bedroom. We've hosted a few guests. We've painted a room. We've even done some of the expensive, necessary, but not glamourous maintenance and renovation jobs - knob and tube replacement, fixing some plumbing. Our house has become comfortable, and the more time I spend in it, the more I fall in love with it, the more it feels like home. 

Yes, I told her. More or less, we are settled. 

Our new town is even starting to feel like home. Isabel and I have found some fun playgroups and have settled into a routine that gets us out of the house and around other caregivers and kids. Our neighbours are all friendly - yes, all - and many have gone out of their way to welcome us to the street and the city itself. They've gifted us homemade bread, 15 year old, mint condition, hand-me-down toys, and pitch forks. They've helped us clear out the intense amount of shrubbery that overwhelmed our house when we first moved in. They've brought our dogs back when they've gone wandering - twice now - exploring the neighbourhood without a leash. Our neighbourhood feels safe and with each wave and pleasant exchange, it feels just a little more like home. 

It's different than Toronto, but yes, I suppose we''re settled.

Except, I don't feel settled yet. 

I expect it's obvious why. Today, I am 37 weeks. "Full term", far enough along that Baby Girl can come any time she wants, though not yet far enough along that she's likely too. I still have a list of things to get ready, not the least of which is my own mental preparedness. I have spent so much time and energy over the past few months getting settled in this new place and so little time on working through what it will look like to bring another life into our family that I feel like the whole event is working on creeping up on me unexpectedly. 40 weeks is not enough time to get ready for this. 

Did I feel this way when Isabel was born? I expect I did, but I remember very little about the last couple weeks of waiting for her. I remember knitting contentedly on the front porch. I remember reading - though I couldn't tell you what book. Instagram or this very blog might be able to fill in some of those holes, and if it can, I imagine the life I lived in those three weeks following the start of my maternity leave and before Isabel's arrival looked very different than the way I'll spend my next few weeks. I imagine it will look far more settled, even if I didn't feel like it was so. 

Perhaps, in hindsight, I felt more confident bringing Isabel into the world.

Perhaps, more naive.

I don't know when this baby will join us. Any time now! So they say. And even more unsettling, I don't know how I'm going to fit her into our life. I know we will figure it out, and we'll figure it out with the same level of confidence and certainty with which we fit Isabel into our life over two years ago - we will do what we have to do. But, until I am in the depths of motherhood times two, I know this unsettled feeling with follow me.

Not long now. 

Three more weeks.

Or five.

Or tomorrow.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

35 Weeks

Today, I am 35 weeks into my second pregnancy.

On Monday, I realized that not only did I have no idea where our crib hardware was, I also had no idea where to even look since our move. All the major parts are leaning up against the wall of the nursery, but the hardware to put it all together was not with it and I couldn't remember seeing that little baggy of bolts and washers during the packing or unpacking process. Ultimately, this was a small problem: the base of the crib had a whole list of the hardware that we needed stuck to it. We could have solved our problem with a trip to Home Depot. Failing that, we could think of at least two people who might have a crib we could borrow for a while, and failing that, IKEA sells a decent crib for $100. Failing that, I have a perfectly good play pen with a bassinet sitting in the baby's closet that would work just fine in a pinch.

Losing our crib hardware was really not that big of a problem.

But, panic set in a little bit this week anyway. It wasn't just about the crib, I know. It was all my anxieties about this baby, about adding a second child to our life, about change on top of change coming to the surface. As our life flipped upside down with our move, I've found myself with barely any time to think about the baby's arrival as it creeps ever closer. People ask me how far along I am and I draw a blank, sometimes even finding the question odd. I'm pregnant? Oh yeah. I guess I am. 

When Isabel was born I was deep in baby mode. I feel like I thought about it every day. As soon as I started showing, I never missed a week of taking my picture in front of my office's mirror, almost always making sure the overflowing garbage was shoved out of the way. I spent hours researching things - cloth diapers, baby carriers, cribs, baby registeries, breast pumps. I had opinions on everything. Breastfeeding, home birth, epidurals, hypnobirthing, soothers, placenta encapsulation, deli meats, sushi, stretch marks. I felt so ready for our new baby. I was going to be Invinsible Mom.

You might think that I'm now going to tell you how much of a reality check I got when Isabel was actually born but I'm not. For the first six months of Isabel's life, I was so relaxed. She and I spent hours lounging on the couch, cuddling skin to skin, blissfully breastfeeding, or walking - and eventually running - for hours along the trails close to our house. I was lucky to have a baby that napped well, that nursed well, that adjusted to life on the outside well. We hit a few hiccups along the way, but for the most part, Isabel was easy, and I just went with her flow for the first 18 months of her life.

But now, we're firmly entrenched in toddlerhood, and I am firmly installed at home full-time, at least for the next six months or so, since no public libraries in the area seem at all interested in hiring a newly-graduated-but-pregnant librarian. And toddlerhood? It's not nearly as easy. I have all the normal complaints: I never get to pee alone anymore unless I wait until nap time; reading the same book over and over and over again has me bored out of my mind; the playroom is always a disaster and she never wants to help me pick up her toys; going anywhere has become a huge task; and really, I just want 30 minutes without my little ankle biter so I can make dinner in peace. 

And then, there's the anxieties that almost every mother seems to have, but that most don't necessarily talk about outside the circle of motherhood. Is she talking enough? Does she have enough words? Is she actually acquiring language, or should we get her some early intervention like, yesterday? Is she getting too much screen time? Am I on my phone too much when I'm with her? Is she playing appropriately, learning how to play independently? And socially? Am I getting her out around other children enough? Has she eaten enough today? Were those chicken nuggets healthy enough, because they're the only thing she'll eat a sufficient amount of and she already seems to so thin? Have I put enough sunscreen on her legs? Is SPF 30 ok, because that's what I bought accidentally last time and I can't find the SPF 60 and is that a freckle is she going to have skin cancer when she grows up now and on and on and on.

I actually manage all these questions and anxieties pretty well. We have hard, long days some days, but I'm with her nearly 24/7 and it's manageable working through them on a day-to-day basis and feeling confident in my ability to mother my daughter.

But now, with only 5 weeks to my due date, I'm starting to think about how those early years will go for my second daughter. I'm worried, worried in a way that I was never worried with Isabel. I fear that she will find herself neglected, tucked into a baby carrier and nursed and changed as needed, but not nurtured in the same way Isabel was. Will I sing to her? Will I lie down with her under a play mat and read her Dr. Seuss? Will I stare at her, unable to take my eyes off of the beautiful creature we created and brought into this world? 

I know my relationship to my second daughter will be different. I don't believe there's any way to avoid that. In fact, I think it's important that my relationship with her is different; it is one of the things that will make her different from Isabel, unique in her own way. And, I know that she and I and Mark and Isabel will figure all of this out together when the time comes, that I will continue to go with the flow rather than letting my anxieties get the best of me. But, as the time gets closer, and I begin to face how different her start of life will be from the life I provided for Isabel, I can't help but think and worry and panic over crib hardware.

I found the crib hardware on Wednesday, after two days of worrying about where it might be. It was one of those epiphany moments as I swept around a little IKEA entryway table by our front door. We had never actually unpacked it's little drawer in the move, just loaded the whole piece onto the truck and, sure enough, as I slid open the drawer on a hunch, there was the little baggy, each bolt and washer still safely inside. This weekend Mark and I are having a date day and night, and together, we'll put the crib together, and then maybe go out and pick up some artwork for the baby's room. I will continue to worry, but we will be ready, or at least as ready as one can be for a new life.