choose your own adventure

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You know what’s great about not having a “regular” job? The flexibility. You know what’s super overwhelming? Flexibility.

Pretty much every day I have a long stretch of time without any plans. Hours that can be filled however I want. There are things that need doing: grocery shopping, work, meals, dishes, emails, diaper changes, exercise, laundry… But most of those things don’t need to happen at a specific time. I can work out in the morning or in the afternoon. We can go to the park whenever. Willa can nap at noon or 1:30. The grocery store is open all day.

This whole stay-at-home/work part-time thing has been tough for me to master. It’s a work in progress. Before Cameron, I felt like I sort of had things down. We’d go out and do something in the morning, and then come home for lunch and naptime. Even if we didn’t get out the door first thing, we still had time to do something. But now, Cameron naps mid-morning and so it sometimes feels like I’m being held hostage in the house with my almost-three year old. Good times. Notsomuch.

This summer, I need to figure out a bit more of a schedule. I need to be the driver of our time. It is wonderful to be able to design our days just how we want them, but it’s not without challenges. Sometimes it feels like the day slips away from me. I’m totally okay with staying home and not doing much, but I want it to be an intentional choice.

Here some reminders for myself as I work to achieve a more scheduled life that balances work and play. Maybe you have some pointers too?

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Have a plan. So simple. So obvious. Yet hard to execute. The days we have a plan and somewhere to be at a certain time, we get ourselves there. The days that are open-ended are when we sometimes get a bit cranky. Even when I don’t have an obligation or scheduled meet-up with a friend, it helps immensely if I make my own schedule ahead of time. I’m working on a “bucket list” for the summer to make sure we get to all the things I want to do.

Make use of small blocks of time. Don’t underestimate the short or simple outing. Everyone’s mood gets so much better with a little fresh air and stimulation from the outside world. But, I tend to overestimate how much time it takes to do things, so often I don’t go somewhere because I don’t think there’s enough time. It’s good to remember that a quick outing can be quite restorative, so squeeze something in between naps or whenever you can!

Ditch the schedule. But only sometimes. My kids like to nap in their beds. I’m not sure if it’s their nature or something we’ve fostered, but they don’t sleep very well in strollers, carseats, etc. As a result, I have a love-hate relationship with naptime. I love the break it gives me but I sometimes hate having to be home for it to happen. It’s good to throw naptime to the wind occasionally. This lets you have the whole day to do whatever you want. Sometimes this totally backfires and you’ve got meltdown madness on your hands. But usually everyone adjusts. It’s important for everyone to learn/remember to be flexible.

Do things you enjoy doing. Since becoming a mom, particularly a mom who is primarily at home, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to do certain activities. “Kid-friendly” things. Many of those things are a lot of fun. But some of them aren’t. At least not for me. But what I want to do is constantly changing. There are things that sound fun today that last year I swore I’d never do. I try to remind myself that there are many ways to raise kids, and children can benefit from a wide range of experiences, so it’s okay to just do what you want to do.

Be gentle with yourself. I’m working on this one. I try not to stress too much if I forget something or am a bit late to meet someone. I do the best I can, but things are hard enough without beating myself up. Yes, I try to remember the sunscreen. But if I forget it, we’ll find some shade and everyone will be okay.

Use television strategically and sparingly. I don’t have a real issue with kids watching TV, and I certainly make full use of our Netflix subscribtion. However, I’ve noticed that the more shows Willa watches, the grumpier she is afterwards. With summer coming, I need to remember that playing outside is much better for everyone. I want to try to limit our “screen time” (mine too!). I hope to reserve shows and movies for times we can cozy up on the couch together to enjoy the experience.

Slow down. As much as I enjoy doing things, it can be equally important and beneficial to stay at home or to just walk around the block aimlessly. I can be nice to just let the day unfold as it will. Some of the best memories can be made when you aren’t trying too hard.

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baby items you (i) actually need :: the first year

Last month, the food blog Eater published a post about editor Andra Zeppelin’s “Personal Denver 38.” For each city covered by Eater, there’s a list of the “Essential 38 Restaurants.” This is my go-to resource for where to eat. But I loved the idea to feature people’s personal lists, because everyone is a bit different. Different food preferences, different neighborhoods, different lifestyles.

The same is definitely true for baby items. (I can tie any topic back to food, apparently.) There are so, SO, many lists out there about the “essential” baby items. But what that person needs isn’t necessarily what I need. And what I need is not exactly what you need. Someone in a city needs different things than someone who lives in the country or the suburbs. You get my point; there are a few universals, but most baby stuff is a matter of choice depending on your lifestyle, parenting preferences, and more.

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Before Cameron was born, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we’d actually need for him and whether or not we needed anything new. I’ve written about some of my thoughts regarding all the stuff marketed to parents; all the stuff we’re made to think we need to successfully raise our children. I struggle with this. A part of me strives to be minimalist, but I also feel an urge to have the “right” stuff to make my life “easier.” Carefully selecting quality, useful items can indeed add to your life. But I’ve come to realize that too many material things makes me feel overwhelmed. It can be hard for me to focus on what really matters when the living room is a cluttered mess.

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When Willa was a baby, I discovered we actually didn’t need anywhere near as much stuff as I’d thought we would. I was shocked to realize how little we used a stroller. People always talk about how expensive kids are, but for the first several months of her life, I felt like she didn’t cost us anything!

Before she was born I’d tried to take a “less is more” approach to my registry, but we still somehow ended up with way too much stuff. We’ve since gotten rid of some of those things, but we’ve held on to most and continue to use them since we already have them. And I’ve of course bought new things. But. If I could go back in time and only buy or ask for the stuff that’s absolutely a necessity, here’s what I’d recommend to my former self:

Convertible car seat. Unless you are lucky enough to live in New York City, you probably drive sometimes. And if you’re going to drive with your baby, your baby needs a car seat. Your baby does not, however, need an infant seat. The car seat companies just want you to think that they do. That way, you’ll eventually buy another car seat when your baby outgrows the infant seat. I didn’t realize this before Willa was born, but there are lots of “all-in-one” car seats on the market. Meaning, one car seat that you use from birth until they no longer need a seat or booster of any kind. We’re a fan of the Diono Radian because it’s one of the narrowest on the market and also because it folds flat for travel. (It is not, however, the lightest!)

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Prefold cloth diapers. Babies need diapers. (Well, actually, you could go the Elimination Communication route, but that is a whole other topic that we don’t need to get into here.) I’m a fan of cloth diapers primarily for economic reasons. There are lots of debates about whether or not they’re better for the environment than disposables (I’m inclined to think they are), but it’s impossible to debate the fact that you save money by using cloth. The first time around I went with All-in-One cloth diapers because they seemed easiest, but experience has made me realize that prefolds and covers are a better bet. If one or the other gets worn out, you can replace them for relatively cheap, and most adjust small enough that you can use them from day one. I highly recommend econobum, but if you have a bit more of a budget, the Flip “diaper system” is awesome (so glad Alli recommended them to me!). And be sure to get some diaper cream too, as well as bamboo liners so you don’t ruin your cloth diapers with the cream (these are also good if you’re squeamish about poop and want it to be thrown into the toilet easily). Oh and make sure you have a diaper-friendly detergent. I love Nellie’s. You need so little that I only went through two bags in the 2.5 years Willa was in diapers. See, economical!

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Cloth wipes. I use these for everything. Diaper changes. Runny noses. Spit up. Ice cream hands. I love these particular ones because they are soft and have held up well after hundreds (thousands?) of washes.

Baby carrier. I read somewhere recently that baby carriers aren’t just for attachment parents, they’re for parents who like to get sh*t done. You can either hold your baby and get nothing done, or you can wear your baby and get stuff done. Especially when you have a toddler doing the most dangerous thing feasible at the playground on your first outing with the new baby. You need a carrier. Also, babies are tiny. They like to be held close. (Ok, maybe I am a bit attachment-y.) I have two favorites: the Solly wrap and an Ergo. Get both. (The Beco is a close 2nd to the Ergo, but if you only get one the Ergo is a better choice because it’s good for toddler carrying too.)

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Bloom Alma Mini Urban CribThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in their parents’ room for the first 6 months. With both kids, we’ve had them in a Pack-n-Play in our room and then we’ve moved them into a crib in their own room. However, during those first months I always stress about where they should be napping and if I’m providing continuity (or does it even matter?). If I had to do it all over again, I’d buy one of these so I could keep it in our room at night and wheel it down the hall or wherever for naps etc. Folded up it’s approximately the same size as a playard anyway, and much prettier. Not to mention it looks much more comfortable.

Bottle(s). Nothing drives me more crazy on a wedding or baby registry than “sets.” Knife sets. Sets of pots and pans. It’s a racket! No one needs both a 6″ and a 8″ chef’s knife. But anyway. Bottles. Here’s the thing about bottles: your baby can’t drink out of more than one at a time, right? And, once emptied, they shouldn’t be left sitting for long or the milk residue will grow bacteria (see useful breastmilk storage/use guidelines here). So. You might need a few bottles. But you don’t need 10. And if you’re not going back to work full-time, you probably only need one. Ok fine, two.

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Blankets etc. Similar to bottles, you do need blankets, but probably not 15. I have 8 of these aden + anais ones and it’s way more than enough. I could get by with just 4. Make sure you read the material content of what you get though, because aden + anais blankets are now sold at Target and other stores and they’re not all created equal. Get the real deal ones. I also recommend sleep sacks. You don’t want to skimp in the sleep department.You can swaddle with blankets, but at 2am when you’re sleep-deprived the velcro version is pretty fantastic. When you baby gets a bit older, this one is awesome because it can be used as a swaddle or not, depending on what they like.

Clothing. Your baby needs clothes. But they grow super fast in the first year and you don’t need the added stress of making sure he wears all his cute 3 month sized outfits in one week. You’ll likely get plenty of clothes as gifts, but if you need more, Goodwill is the bomb. And I love thredUp too. Also of note: sets of white onesies seem to be ubiquitous, but I have no clue why. A pooping baby and a white wardrobe? Stock up on dark-colored basics, like these.

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Highchair. I believe it’s super important to include babies with you at the table for meals, and to do this you definitely need a highchair. (Ok, you can have them sit in your lap, and if your baby will sit with you and let you eat your food, I am insanely jealous. Mine won’t. They need straps.) I like chairs that don’t have trays, so you can put your baby at the table with everyone else. Which exact chair you get depends on your table/eating situation, but it’s hard to go wrong with the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It resells on Craigslist for almost retail because it’s that awesome. I also love Phil&Ted’s chairs. We have this one, which was discontinued, but their newer model looks fantastic, and Inglesina makes a good one too. Great for counters, travel, restaurants, etc. I also like the totseat for travel.

Eating accessories. In my limited experience, babies do need a few items in addition to their highchair to help facilitate meals. I do, however, try to limit how much plastic we bring into our lives and baby eating items involve a lot of plastic. Whenever I buy new things I try to stop and really think about if it has to be made of plastic. A place mat? Yes. A place mat is a good idea, especially if you have a table that could be damaged by excess crumbs and food scraps. I’m a big fan of this one because it sticks to any surface (several of them have suction cups which don’t work on wood or any porous counter/table). We don’t, however, have much by way of plastic dishes or utensils. Willa loves using the espresso spoons that came with our flatware, and I also have some wooden spoons that we use a lot. Around the house I give her food on small plates we already own. However, when she was first started eating I did buy one plastic plate and one plastic bowl from Goodwill. And don’t get me started on sippy cups…I’m a big fan of regular glasses…but I did really liked this cup as her first sippy (although beware: it leaks!), and I’m hoping my bottle-hater will take to it in a couple of months. For some reason “they” try to make parents think that kids need all kinds of special items for eating (fancy Disney plates, for example!?) but chances are you already have some small plates on hand as well as a cup or two that it won’t matter if it breaks. You also need a few bibs. I like these because they’re plain and the velcro doesn’t wear out after several washings (I hate, however, that they’re labeled “boys.” They’re primary colors!)

Thermometer. Self explanatory. But don’t waste money on a fancy pants one. Rectal is the most accurate.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Mat. Part of me wants to say that a baby doesn’t really need any toys. And that’s somewhat true. But, your life will be easier if you feel like you have a designated place to put your baby down. And this activity mat comes with 5 awesome toys, which makes it a good deal. Also, I recently discovered that almost every single one of my closest mom friends has this exact item. So that is pretty significant.

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That’s it! But I’m certain I’m forgetting something essential. So you tell me: what are your “must haves?” What could you have done without that surprised you?

it goes so fast

Cameron is three months old.

It goes by so fast. 

A truer phrase was never said.

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He is wonderful. My heart swells with love for him. “They” say there’s something about the second child. The second time around you are able to appreciate things in a way you couldn’t with the first. I worry a bit less. I find myself cherishing little moments. And knowing that the “bad” won’t last long. He’s so sweet. He’s so little. He needs us so much. We need him.

He is fantastic in so many ways. He sleeps. Oh my gosh he sleeps. Knock on wood. He sleeps as my first child did not. He naps in his crib! Several times a day. He can be put down awake. What!? 

But you know what he doesn’t do? Take a bottle. Nope. He won’t have it. I can’t say I’ve had to endure it firsthand, because obviously when I’m around things go a different way. But he is fierce in his resistance. We thought Willa refused the bottle, but turns out what she did was just mildly show us that she didn’t really like it that much. She drank from it. Cameron? Nope. He did for a few weeks, but not anymore.

I’m not happy about it. We’re still trying. But if it doesn’t work, it’s ok. It won’t be an issue for that long. In the blink of an eye he’s going to be a toddler. Running away from me instead of clinging to my shoulder.

Three months. Can’t wait for more.

being in the moment

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Sometimes when I’m reading blogs and looking at pictures of amazing people doing amazing things, I find myself wondering how much of their fun outing they spent trying to capture it in photos. Were those photos really shot quickly and effortlessly? Or were they staged and took 20 tries to get right? The blogger obviously wants you to think the former, but I’m sure it’s some of both.

I love taking pictures. Always have. When we’re out and about I try to snap photos when the mood strikes me, and then later I’ll see what I’ve come up with. I rarely have a specific shot I’m trying to get, but I do sometimes find myself trying to get some “good shots.”

My family was in town earlier this month. All of them. Mom. Dad. Sister. Future brother-in-law. We had a lot of fun. And they were a lot of help (2 kids to 6 adults seems like a solid ratio, no? ). Willa was in heaven. They were so happy to meet Cameron.

There was family time. Double date night. Mom-daughter time. It was great! But I didn’t take many pictures. On one hand, that makes me sad. But on the other, it makes me realize I was enjoying life and just living it. And I have lots of memories to cherish. Even without pictures.

“ready” for christmas

A common greeting this past week or two seems to be, “So, are you ready for Christmas/the holidays?”

It’s a perfectly friendly, well-meaning question. Nevertheless, I am not sure how to answer. What does “ready” mean exactly? Emotionally prepared? Gifts bought? Wrapped? Food planned? Centerpeice arranged? Even writing those all out makes me feel a bit overwhelmed…

There’s no way around it; a lot of “work” goes into celebrating holidays. I use quotation marks, because is buying and wrapping gifts really work? Not so much. But yet, it is. Work in the sense that it takes effort and organization. I go back and forth: on the one hand, I think it’s important to keep things low-stress. But at the same time, I want both us and our children to experience special holiday traditions, and those don’t just create themselves.

The past several years since I’ve been married, I haven’t gotten around to making our Christmas holidays as tradition-heavy as I would like. I always have grand plans, but never get to many of them. Somehow though, this year, we managed to make lot of things happen, despite having a new baby. I think time took care of things…the past couple of years Willa hasn’t been old enough to participate much in traditions, but this year she has been so excited about everything.

Here are some pictures of our holiday activities so far. And once I get my wrapping done, I’ll be officially ready for Christmas!

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DSC05854^^spinach balls! a christmas tradition since i was little, and i’m so excited willa enjoyed eating a few this year!^^

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DSC05889^^tree decorating! i missed out on most of the ornament hanging this year because i was on the couch breastfeeding, but willa did a great job with a little help from her dad. our tree is from whole foods again this year, and i think it looks good!^^

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DSC05948^^many hours have been spent making three batches of cookies (sugar + gingerbread). the first batch of sugar cookies had natural food coloring for the frosting. tasty, but not pretty (in the photo above, willa’s attempting to make green. puke green, i suppose?). willa’s favorite part is licking anything she can get her hands on. she’s not as interested in eating the finished product, but she is very excited to leave some out for santa!^^

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DSC06018^^last saturday, we rode the bus downtown for a family adventure. we’d thought about checking out the carousel at denver pavilions, but decided to first go to union station for a hot chocolate. union station was so festive that it ended up being our only stop before dinner. we had hot drinks and cake pops from pigtrain coffee, which we enjoyed by the huge christmas tree. santa ended up being there and willa was initially really excited to see him, but as soon as it was her turn she went and hid behind a chair. i don’t really blame her! he scared me a little too (he wanted to sneak up on her in her hiding place so i could get a picture? and when i declined to that plan, he suggested “photo bombing” via a different angle? chill out, santa!) after a quick dinner at illegal pete’s, we took the bus home after dark and admired the christmas lights along the way.^^

back on my feet

A few weeks before Cameron was born, I read an article in The Daily Beast entitled, “Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough On New Mothers?” It discusses how our modern culture is so focused on a mother’s quick recovery after giving birth, in contrast to hundreds of years ago when family and other female “attendants” would keep up the home and care for the postpartum mother as she recovered physically. This practice of a “lying in” period remains in many cultures, but has mostly fallen by the wayside in the U.S. Many women go at it alone, or with limited help and support from their partner or family. The article points out the pressure put on mothers to be “Facebook ready” in just a number of days. It’s no wonder, too, that women feel a need to get back on their feet straight away, given how most American parents are eligible for only a short amount of time off work. There’s not really time to sit on the couch for long.

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The piece really resonated with me. It made me realize that my mindset has been to recover as fast as possible, but mostly because I don’t do that well sitting around for long. I get antsy. It was really interesting, though, to think about our priorities these days. What are we trying to prove?

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This being my second child, I assumed I knew what I was in for with the recovery. But due to a small complication with the birth, my recovery was much more challenging this time around. Two weeks in and I still couldn’t get around very well. (It really made me wonder how women who have C-sections do it. My hats off to you ladies!) Dan was thankfully off of work for a week and a half (yep, a whole 10 days), but he day he went back, I cried. My mom was due to arrive that evening, but the prospect of a whole day alone with a baby and a toddler seemed insurmountable.

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Thankfully, my mom was here for almost two weeks to lift heavy objects, cook and clean, and entertain my wild Willa. Not to mention provide hugs and support when my emotions got the best of me. This week, we’ve had more family in town for Thanksgiving. But next week, it’ll be just me. And managing two kids day in and day out by myself still feels quite daunting.

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I know I’ll get it figured out. I have most of my energy back. I’m focusing on the good, and lowering my expectations for what needs doing in a day. I’m just thankful to have two beautiful children, a fantastic husband and teammate, wonderful family to call on whenever I need them, and amazing friends who listen to me whine and are always up for a playdate.

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Let’s end this post with this fantastic picture my mom captured of our family. Willa’s just as wild and crazy as she looks, but gosh, I love her so.

the first night home with a newborn

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I’ve always been a concrete thinker. When someone tells me what they do for work, what I’m really wondering is not what their field or job title is, but what they actually do all day. More than once I’ve asked someone, “ok, so you go into your office, you sit down at your desk, and then what?” I like the details. I could give several other examples of this…Recently, I asked a friend whose house is always super clean, “Seriously. How do you do it? When do you clean? For how long? Tell me your secret!”

It amazes me, then, that despite the 998,230,301,394,720 things you can find on the internet about having a baby and caring for a newborn, there are very few outlines of what you actually do when you first bring home your baby. There’s lots of general advice about feeding and sleeping and taking care of yourself and the baby etc. etc. But where’s the step-by-step guide?

Both times I’ve had a baby, the first day home has caused me to freeze a bit. (More so the first time, but this time as well!) Nighttime comes, and we stand in our room with the baby, and say to ourselves, “Ok. Now what?” It doesn’t matter what advice you’ve read or which parenting philosophy you’ve “chosen.” In that moment, you have to do something.

So, if you’re one of the 5 people who read this blog of mine, you’re in luck! Because here’s my detailed version of the ins and outs of a first day at home with a newborn:

1:30pm – Arrive home after an uncomfortable car ride during which you noticed bumps on the road that never seemed to be there previously. Limp into the house hoping the neighbors don’t see you. You’re not quite ready to be cheery. Have husband carry carseat into house. Set it on the floor for the dog to smell.

1:45pm – Send husband to fetch a blanket to cover the couch. Lots of potential for messes in the coming days, and the last thing you want to worry about is cleaning the couch. Have big sister hold the baby before Dad takes her upstairs for naptime. Take a few pictures, but you’re not really feeling “photo-ready.”

2:00pm – Attempt to nurse baby. At this point your milk may or may not be coming in, but either way it’s important to offer things up. Change your baby’s diaper to rouse him, and then he’ll likely proceed to poop again while nursing. Rookie mistake.

2:30pm – Find some place to put the baby down. Perhaps back in the carseat, or in a bouncer or swing or lounger or other baby item everyone told you that you “needed.”

2:45pm – Have a snack. Perhaps a sweet treat someone sent you, or fresh fruit, which you’ll likely be craving. Hydrate.

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3:00pm – Take a shower. Hopsital rooms have showers, obviously, but during both my hospital stays they seemed way too daunting. Showering at home, however, improved my overall mood tremendously.

3:45pm – Relocate necessary items from your room and the baby’s room to the downstairs. Having the nursey all “ready” always seems like a great idea until you realize you’ll be spending most of your time with your baby in the general living spaces of your house.

4:00pm – Settle onto the couch and nurse baby again.

4:30pm – Relax on couch while baby relaxes on you.

5:30pm – Friends visit! If you’re lucky like me, they bring you ice cream sandwiches. They hold the baby while hearing some version of his “birth story.”

6:00pm – The doorbell rings again while you’re nursing the baby again. (Take notes. This detail is a good one!) Out-of-town friend has sent the best local delivery option imaginable. Husband sets the table while you find a pillow or other soft item to sit on. You move the sleeping baby to the bouncer/swing/lounger that you’ve placed near the table. Take pictures. Eat more than you should have because you didn’t quite realize the still fragile state of your systems.

DSC053376:30pm – Move back to the couch. Nurse baby. Overwhelm yourself mentally with questions about breastfeeding that you likely won’t even remember in a couple days.

7:00pm – Say goodnight to  your toddler, not moving from couch. Upload a picture of the baby to social media. Nurse baby again in anticipation of visitors at 8pm.

8:00pm – Neighbors come over! They brought your favorite beer! Drink some! But not too much.

9:30pm – Neighbors leave. Nurse baby again. Drink a little more beer.

10:00pm – Head upstairs to bedroom. Settle gingerly into bed and nurse baby.

10:30pm – Have husband swaddle baby, because he’s basically a professional swaddler and you suck at it.

10:45pm – Place your baby on his back in the Pack ‘n Play, turn out the lights, lie down, and cross your fingers.

10:50pm – Baby starts wailing. Husband gets out of bed faster than you can, picks baby up, and bounces him for a bit. Baby is quiet until put down again. Cries.

11:00pm – Husband takes baby downstairs and holds him to get him to sleep.  You sleep, amazed at how much more comfortable your bed is than the hospital’s.

1:00am – Husband returns with baby. You take 5 minutes to get yourself to seated in the bed, and then take off the baby’s swaddle and pajamas so he’ll wake up enough that you can nurse him.

2:00am – Husband swaddles him again, and puts him back in the Pack ‘n Play. He fusses for awhile, but doesn’t fully cry.

2:30am-6am – Everyone sleeps!

6am – Nurse baby.

6:30am – Big sister wakes up. Time to head back downstairs to your couch. Real coffee awaits!