The Return Home

Here’s a post-vacation tip after learning the hard way myself on Monday. My parents graciously watched our toddler for three nights so my husband and I could enjoy the long weekend a few hours away.

What we did: woke up at the hotel, made the 3.5 hour trek back to pick him up, then returned home to go about the rest of our day which included those post-trip things like grocery shopping and lawn mowing.

What we should have done: woke up at the hotel, made the 3 hour trek back home, gone grocery shopping and mowed the lawn in peace, traveled the rest of the way to my parents’ to pick him up.

While you still have childcare, complete those re-entry items that wrap up time away so you don’t feel like an absolute stress ball of fire trying to unload groceries. Of course we missed him and our reunion was adorable, but it would have made no difference to my parents to get a few more hours of grandson time in while we got our affairs in order back at the ranch.

Boy Band Jams

What are you doing for music during car rides with your toddler? I figured I’d be the parent who continues to play my regular podcasts and Spotify playlists, and that did work out fine for at least the first year. Now that my kid is starting to vocalize his opinions and is aware of Cocomelon songs existing on my phone, though, there’s more backseat dissent than I can tolerate if the entertainment isn’t tailored to his tastes.

I know. Don’t give in. But I do. And on those days when I can’t stand yet another round of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” we’ve found a solution that absolutely delights my inner pre-teen heart. 90S BOY BAND JAMZ.

One of my son’s favorite things to say to people right now is, “Bye!” He waves good-bye to cars that pass, he says “bye!” to everyone at the library, I respect immensely his ability to say “bye bye!” and wave in any situation he wants to leave. So, obviously, *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” was an instant hit. I was a Backstreet girl, myself, so to my delight, my son loves chiming in on the “yeaahhhhhh” part of the chorus in BSB’s “Everybody.” Our pre-Millenium pop songs are so simple that most contain hooks with vocabulary words popular with toddlers– a win/win for your kid passenger and your “I’m totally a cool mom in her 30s” self. You’re welcome.

First Birthday Parties

Disclaimer: this post, like all the others on this blog, is about what worked best for us. I am not dragging anyone who chooses differently!

My son’s first birthday party theme was chosen before he was born. It was genius. People who didn’t even have kids said so! A pun on his name + a very popular cultural event = maybe the best party theme ever. This soon-to-be event was spoken of many times throughout his first year of life, and my husband and I were delighted that our favorite college football team had a bye week the Saturday nearest his birthday. About two months prior to the event, I sat down to make the guest list…

…and I said, “Nope.” No part of me wanted to do it. I didn’t want to figure out who made the cut of invitees, I didn’t want to scrub my house to host people and I definitely didn’t want to clean up after them, I didn’t want to guess at an ideal start time to hopefully coincide with his naps that day, I didn’t want to fake smile my way through entertaining guests whose biggest common denominator was our son, a variable who was in no way guaranteed to like having that much family in his face (or who might show great preference to one or two of them and scream when made to take photos with others.) I wasn’t having any of it, so we didn’t have it. 

On his birthday, he celebrated with his friends at daycare, then his dad and I posed with him and his cake for a family selfie and filmed him half-heartedly poking into the frosting. We had my husband’s side of the family over for a birthday dinner before the date, and we took the baby to my family’s that weekend to celebrate with them. Done. He won’t remember any of it, we’ll remember it as being lowkey and meaningful, and I have 17 more years to use the theme, if I feel compelled to override whatever his preferred requests are in the future (if he got to choose right now, he’d have a Cocomelon birthday party and absolutely no thank you.)

I’m not here to convince you to not have a birthday party for your kid. This, like everything else in parenting, falls firmly into the You Do You category. If, however, you have an inkling that you might want to eschew tradition, I’m here to tell you that’s also very ok, and you’re not irreparably damaging your child by denying them a pivotal rite of passage. I’ve worked at bakeries and event venues in the past, and I’ve said this for years: first birthday parties are for the parents. There’s nothing wrong with that; keeping a kid alive for a full year is deserving of celebration– and a break! Squeeze that little nugget half to death, feel all the feelings about how much has changed in a year, then send them to Grandma’s house, if you’re able, to celebrate your big accomplishment in peace, complete with as much cake as you want.

Not having a party doesn’t mean people won’t still send gifts, but it does cut down on the (already massive amount of) clutter. I’m saying this from a high throne of privilege, from which I can see the sea of toys, books, clothes, and other gifts that truly generous people in his life have bestowed upon my son. Even if we’d put “no gifts” on the invite or asked people to bring toys for the local children’s hospital instead, you know we’d be left with more light-em-ups and whirly-gigs than we already have, even though his favorite activity is putting on and taking off the lid to a can of cooking spray.

If, when he’s older, my son asks, “What did we do for my first birthday?” I’ll tell him I got very emotional the night before remembering my nervousness and excitement at that time last year checking in to the hospital. I’ll show him the pictures of the simple cake I made him and remind him that I ate way more of it than he or his father did. I’ll tell him that we fawned over him and took pictures of him and he was the center of attention– oh wait, that’s been every day of his first year and well beyond because pretty much every day is your birthday when you’re a baby.

Book Recommendation

If you are in a traditional mother/father partnership, I urge you to seek out All The Rage by Darcy Lockman.

The subtitle is “Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership” and oh, baby. If mine hadn’t been a copy from the library, I’d have been highlighting, circling, folding down corners, and ripping out pages to throw at my husband. Moms, you will feel seen. Dads, don’t shy away from this.

The message isn’t “-eyeroll- husbands suck,” despite my husband’s defensiveness when, in the first 10 pages, I found about 18 different passages I felt compelled to share on Instagram stories. It explains, using science and data and interviews and real couples, how we so easily fall back into traditional 1950s-esque roles after babies are born, even though we all generally believe in gender equality and enter into partnership thinking things will more or less be equal. As most of us have now figured out, those traditional roles put the brunt of childrearing and household management onto the mother, even though she now likely works outside of the home. This causes a whole rage and resentment cycle, yet “but he helps” (lol changing a diaper does not a hero parent make) or “he’s a better dad than my friend’s husband.” Don’t get me started on the praise of fathers in public alone with their kid. I guarantee no one will ever glowingly fawn over me, “You’re such a good mom!” because I tackled a park trip alone with my toddler.

Get the book. It’s meaty, but it felt so darn good to read my experience- written much better than I could- and know that I’m not alone and there are ways to improve the situation. I’ll figure out how to write delicately around the ways the situation has improved at my house and do a follow up post because the good news is, things really have gotten more equal around here cue angels singing.

Teacher Exit

As if sending my kid to daycare didn’t already include a cornucopia of emotions that often leaves me feeling bereft of sanity, my son’s lead teacher moved away. Prior to motherhood, if someone had explained this scenario to me, I’d have been like, “…yeah? And? So?” But now?!?! It was a gut punch!! I did not see this coming! DO NOT LEAVE ME!! I mean, uh, my child.

She was there on the first day when all of my neuroses could barely fit through the classroom door. She was young and fun and really liked my kid. And, most importantly, he seemed to really like her! Does he care that she’s gone? Hasn’t seemed to notice. But what if, deep down, he does, and this manifests as some sort of subconscious issue with abandonment the rest of his life?!?!

All I’m saying is, no one warned me about this. She was a person I trusted with my kid, and now she’s gone. There aren’t too many adults who know the ins and outs of his likes and quirks, and now there’s one less of them in his orbit. So, Natalies, gird your loins for this one of- I’m sure- a billion seemingly innocuous things that will absolutely level you emotionally.

Though it’s nice to have the heads up that I’ll apparently require hospital-level sedation when he switches classrooms later this year.

Some Luxe Recommendations

Something about self care goes here.

I’m too cheap to pay for actual luxury when there are products that make me feel just as fancy for a tenth of the cost. Enter: a list of product recommendations for not your kid, but for you, the perpetually under-cared for parent! As always, no affiliate link warnings needed because they don’t exist.

  • CeraVe Vitamin C Serum: Serum is such a posh word! I’m already in! The medspa I occasionally frequent won’t stop touting the benefits of Vitamin C for your face, but their brand du jour is $166 for a tiny dropper bottle that makes your skin smell like hot dogs (straight up. Google it.) I was thrilled to stumble upon CeraVe’s version, which also contains hyaluronic acid (it’s truly laughable that I’m pretending to know what any of this means) because their moisturizers have always worked as advertised for our family. The other day, I said, “Self, why does your skin look suspiciously normal? Almost, like, good??”- something I haven’t had said in 32 years on this planet- and then I remembered I’d started using this about a week prior. I’ve also heard good things about this dupe (I shudder! But apparently that’s what the kids/ beauty bloggers call it!)
  • Jill: If you’re my husband, it’s an exfoliator and yes I would like you to leave the bathroom now. But for those in the know, it’s a face razor, ya’ll. Not a five-blade Shick with shaving cream, but a single blade like when you pay for a dermaplaning with your facial (I swear I’m not the 1%, I just know how to maximize a gift card deal.) It absolutely works, and it absolutely does not make your facial grow in thicker or darker or faster. Jill sends you new blades each month so you don’t have to hack away at your face with old ones (because they know I’m cheap enough that I totally would.) Wash your face –> baby oil –> Jill –> be freaked out/ super impressed by what comes off your face –> moisturize. That’s it! You can do it weekly or monthly or somewhere in between.
  • Olaplex No. 7 Bonding Oil: What are these words?! Who am I?! A person with dry ass winter hair, that’s who. Everyone’s favorite Queer Eye cast member JVN once said that coconut oil is actually damaging for your hair, so I’ve been avoiding any leave-in products ever since. That was just laziness! This stuff smells good, isn’t greasy, and so far does as promised. Plus you feel fancy AF putting a few drops of hair oil on your busted head hay even though you know it’s going to be in a twisted knot on the top of your dome the rest of the week.

Check, Please

When dining out with your kid in tow, ask for the check right after the food comes. Once your plates arrive and the server asks, “Is there anything else I can get you?” that’s your cue to say, “We’ll take care of the check now. Thanks!”

A fun time out can turn into the stress circus of your nightmares in mere seconds when small children are involved. It’s far easier to scoop up and flee with all belongings and offspring if you don’t have an open tab. Murphy’s Law states that the time your kid has a blowout/ screaming tantrum/ knocks over everything is also when your server never again comes by the table and you’re left waiting to give someone your credit card for 20 minutes. Be proactive, pay early. Lingering conversation and “just one more” after dinner are frivolities now reserved for date nights with a sitter.

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.

And Yet

Why, when my child is almost 14 months old, do I have an emotional response- or at least a mini, internal gut punch- when I hear about someone breastfeeding?

My son is healthy. He has the most diverse diet of any toddler you know. It’s not like I didn’t breastfeed- there were half-hearted attempts at pumping and combo feeding for the first two months of his life. I believe that fed is best (informed is best!) and he’s growing amazingly and developing beautifully.

And yet.

And yet I’m sad. I’m disappointed in myself. I think! I’m not quite sure what I’m disappointed about. That it didn’t go like it was supposed to. My milk never came in. Wasn’t I supposed to wake up that first night home from the hospital having to change the sheets because my gigantor boobs finally leaked everywhere?! We spent the first night home from the hospital with him screaming because he was hungry. The gigantor boobs never came.

I’ve gone through it many times in my mind. The night nurse who said, “He hasn’t quite lost 10% of his body weight, but it’s close, so do you want us to go ahead and give him some formula?” Was it her fault? Was she was being lazy? The doctor the next morning said his weight was fine. What is a new parent supposed to say– no, don’t feed my baby? But I don’t hate the formula. It did its job. Formula saved us. Formula helped bond my husband and son during bottle feedings.

And yet.

Of course I had supply issues. The thought of food made me sick; my appetite completely dropped off the second he was born. I knew there’d be less sleep, but I didn’t know not sleeping at night when the baby did was an indication of a larger problem (and an extra blow to my supply.) The hours I spent laying awake, willing every cell in my brain to please god just go to sleep, maybe should have been spent pumping? Trying to coax my body into doing its job?

I don’t hate other moms who breastfeed. I’m happy for them, but I’m jealous. I know how hard it is. None of the roads are easy. 

I’m thankful I know to never ask another mom how feeding her kid is going. I’m working on the whole compassion thing when it comes to family who said, “Your supply won’t get better if you keep feeding him formula.” Thankyousomuch, unsolicited advice is my absolute favorite, and I definitely didn’t know that without you telling me!!!! I have the self-awareness of knowing that if I get pregnant again, my brain won’t let the breastfeeding thing go. I’m better prepared, but I’m also more fragile if I fail*. 

*Logically, I know it’s not failure. And yet…


In the weeks leading up to my son turning one, I had a lot of feelings. And still do! Apparently all I do now is feel, and that makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s annoying that all the motherhood cliches turned out to be true, including those along the lines of “you can’t really know until you go through it.” It’s like surfing– I can explain to you how to surf, but until you physically try to get up on the board and ride a wave, there’s no real way to describe it. Also, I have never surfed.

The physical load is obvious, and thankfully the mental load of being a parent is being discussed more openly. What I wasn’t prepared for– especially as a Millenial who ate up cultural messages about feelings = bad, being apathetic and aloof = cool– was the emotional load that has come with loving my son. I say this as a person who does not identify as an empathetic person, a person who has been told countless times that I have no tact. I’ve been called out for using humor to deflect real emotions, and I fully admit to being an emotionally immature person who usually has to experience something myself before understanding its true impact. The logical part of my brain has always been more dominant. If a friend said their baby was in the NICU, I understood that it sucked for them, but figured, “Well, they’re the best nurses in the hospital. You’ll get to take your baby home soon.” If you are one of those friends, consider this a public apology.

The baby exiting my womb a year ago woke up the dormant emotional side of my brain. Becoming a mother has cracked me wide open to a full array of feelings, and quite frankly, it’s often scary. I feel so fragile loving something outside of myself so much. I am keenly aware of the life loads & continual slogs of shit happening around me and their impact on those experiencing them. Especially working in a children’s hospital and previously on the maternity floor, I have feelings all damn day long. If I were to try to type an analogy here that will absolutely crash and burn, it’d be something about the baby being an exposed nerve in my tooth that makes even the smallest things radiate pain through my body. (I told you it was bad. And a bit lazy, writing-wise, but it’s what you get on a free blog from a sleepy person.)

Now if a friend’s baby gets sent to the NICU, I start crying about how hard the separation must be for them and feeling so thankful my baby is healthy. The trippy part I’m currently struggling with is that the logical part of my brain is still there, wanting to make sense out of it all and be the fixer. I have friends who have experienced stillbirth and infant loss, and many people I know are struggling with infertility. This new, raw emotional part of me cannot handle any of these things. There is no logic-ing or fixing for parents who had a baby who never came home with them. But, like, this is the entirety of the human experience?! People- parents or not- who are feeling big feelings over unimaginably hard things yet somehow going on. I feel very dumb that this is all just now coming together for me, but like I said, I was really good at just doing me for at least three decades.

Of course, the baby has brought out all the fun emotions, too. I never thought I’d be so content just sitting in our backyard- sober!- watching a kid play fetch with himself with a mini soccer ball, yet there I was just this weekend. It’s a daily battle to be present in the good feelings without being scared that I’m now also capable of the hard ones. It’s an internal balancing act to be supportive of new moms without word vomiting unsolicited advice about the semitruck of emotions that’s about to run them down out of seemingly nowhere. When I tell a new mom, “If you need ANYTHING…” I don’t actually know what I have to offer them. I can fold the sh*t outta some laundry and will make you food for days, but I so badly want to be able to fix the parts that I know felt so adrift in myself over various time periods of this entire past year. There’s no way someone could have articulated this to me in advance- and I don’t know that it would have been helpful or I would have understood, if they did- yet I still feel compelled to try. 

So I guess this is me trying, Natalies: we tell you it’s hard, but we mean it’s hard in unexpected ways. I was prepared to not sleep much and not love how my body looked for a while, but I wasn’t prepared that having such intense feelings for my son would make everything else that much more intense, too. It’s just all a lot.