12 Weeks with Elizabeth

This week marks my twelfth week with my baby girl. She is growing and developing right on target, which is truly a surprising blessing considering her premature birth. She smiles all the livelong day. (Well…except from 6pm-7pm when she’s screaming her head off for no godforsaken reason. Damn you, witching hour!) She loves bath time, which is the antidote to the poisonous 6pm hour. All of a sudden the screams and fussiness come to a screeching halt and she lays back in the warm water and doesn’t move a muscle. Pure baby bath bliss! She is locking in eye contact, which has been such a fun development. For weeks she just sort of looked right past us when we were talking to her. Her toys are now fascinating to her and she coos at them whenever she’s playing. She also fully understands and appreciates her schedule. Baby Girl loves to sleep and godhelpusall if she can’t get in a proper nap. We are using Moms On Call, an Atlanta-based company and book that supports new moms with how-to tips and an easy-to-follow schedule. It has been a godsend!

I am absolutely loving being at home with her. We have such sweet days together, and the very thought of going back to work is making me cringe with anxiety and sadness. Several people joked that I would be so ready to go back to work after being home for three months, but you guys are soooooooooo wrong. If we could afford for me to be a SAHM, I would stay home with her in a heartbeat. I have always been very good at entertaining myself, and I rarely feel bored. Maternity leave has been no exception to that rule. I have been building relationships with some other SAHMs, which has given me the adult interaction that all of us need. After twelve weeks at home, I know what the different pitches and sounds of her cries mean. I really really love taking care of her, meeting her every need, soothing her, feeding her, playing with her, dancing around the house to Taylor Swift with her.

Now in the spirit of truth, I freely admit that I have tremendously enjoyed the couple of nights out I’ve had with girlfriends and the night away that Jon and I had this weekend, thanks to my mom who kept the baby overnight. Being a mommy doesn’t mean you stop being a woman, a wife, friend, a sister, an aunt, a daughter. We just have to make sure that we create that balance in our lives, which will ultimately make everyone in our lives happier right along with us.

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Just to see you smile…

…I’d do anything! There is a sweet Tim McGraw song with those lyrics: “Just to see you smile, I’d do anything that you wanted me to. When all is said and done, I’d never count the cost; it’s worth all that’s lost, just to see you smile.” Every morning I play this game with my baby girl, doing whatever I can to see her smile after her 9am bottle. That’s her happiest, sweetest time every day. She lays back on my legs after cuddle-burping, and almost instantly a smile spreads across her face, like the most content feeling she could possibly have. For the next half hour, her smile comes and goes, and every now and then, I’m lucky enough to lock eye contact with her and see the biggest toothless smile that instantly springs tears from my eyes. For seven weeks, I have been her primary caretaker, and I have truly loved every minute of it. Even those middle-of-the-night feedings are a sweet time when it feels like she and I are the only people awake in the world. Those smiles let me see inklings of her budding personality, which I wonder about all the time. Will she be courageous? Will she be insecure? Will she be personable? Charming? Shy? Funny? Those smiles aren’t telling anything yet, but I love watching her grow and dreaming about what she will become.

The First Five Weeks of Her

There is so much more to new motherhood than anyone ever told me. Or perhaps they did tell me things, but I didn’t have the schema to connect what they were saying to what I would be experiencing. My baby girl is five weeks old now, but her due date is still four days away. I think about that all the time, how she isn’t even supposed to be here yet. She is still supposed to be growing inside me, making me uncomfortable, sending me to the bathroom to pee every five minutes, helping me waddle down the hall. Instead, she’s here. And she is beautiful and sweet and is already developing funny little quirks that will hopefully be part of her personality. Because she is a premature baby, I have to remember every day that she will not develop the same way that full-term babies will. Add that to the pressures and fears that all new moms carry around, and I’m a mess about her. I can’t decide if I am in love with Google or if it is indeed the manifestation of all of my fears. (Recent Google searches include but are not limited to: “baby constipation,” “how to relieve baby gas pain,” “is it normal for a newborn to sound like a goose when she sleeps,” etc.) I do know this: new mom message boards are for the birds. If I read one more poorly written, all caps, lol-laden post about what I need to be worried or concerned about, I might scream. Instead, I’m working on my relationships with other new moms, connecting with them about their experiences and hopefully building friendships in the process.

Jon was home with me for the first three-and-a-half weeks. Now she and I spend all day every day by ourselves, and I love watching her and learning about her. She shakes her head side-to-side with her little mouth open when she’s hungry, thus earning the nickname Little Bird. She hates changing clothes, mostly because I am so bad at it right now. I keep promising her I’ll get better. She was born breech so her favorite position to sleep is curled up on my chest. She loves her passifier. She doesn’t mind a bath but hates getting out of it. When she’s waking up, she squawks like a goose. Her whole body relaxes when she hears her daddy’s voice when he gets home in the evening. She purses her lips when she’s had enough to eat and when she is waking up. Our days are spent mostly on the couch, with a few breaks for tummy time on the play mat and reading books in the rocker in her nursery. I love reading to her and I hope that she loves reading as she grows. Yesterday I was reading poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and I came across this one that brought me to tears:

IMG_7625We have so many hopes and dreams for her already, and that sweet little poem captures them perfectly. She literally has her whole life ahead of her, so much potential, so many dreams, such opportunity. I just feel so lucky to be her mommy and guide her and teach her and love her through every step.

2014, The Year I Became a Mommy

Sure, I spent most of this year not being a mommy. We decided in January to start trying to have a baby, but I really didn’t think I would be able to get pregnant. In April, my body proved me wrong when a giant plus sign showed up on a stick and I ran downstairs waving it in the air to Jon, who responded, “Are you shitting me?” (Major points for him, right? Oy.) Thus began the pregnancy journey, which was, relatively speaking, an easy several months. No morning sickness. No swelling. No significant fatigue. Just some back pain, which was there before pregnancy. And then…with five-and-a-half weeks before our baby girl’s due date…my water broke.

I was at Authentic Beauty getting my brows done by the fabulous Aly Hoag at 6pm on Tuesday, December 9. I squeezed in the appointment between work obligations–I was due back at school for the chorus concert at 7pm. Baby Girl had other plans. I stood up to check out at the salon and there was this…gush. So gross. And it didn’t stop. So I called my dear husband, who again responded, “Are you shitting me?” (Points.) And then I drove myself to his office and we went home together to wait for the on-call doctor to return my frantic message. This could not be happening. I have five more weeks! No bags are packed! It’s too early! Is the baby going to be ok? Am I going to be ok? We went to the hospital at 8pm, contractions started at 9pm, and I labored for three hours before being taken back for a C-section because Baby Girl was breech. In a whirlwind, I was given a spinal block, laid out on a table, cut open, and handed my screaming, gorgeous, 5lb 11oz, 19-inch, crazy-legged baby girl. I’ve never cried like that before. Pure joy mixed in with overwhelming relief that she was here, that she was ok.

That was three weeks ago today. Since then, I’ve made tremendous strides recovering from surgery, and my premature baby has championed her early birth experience and refused to act like a preemie. She was never sent to the NICU; instead, she and I spent her first five days skin-to-skin to regulate her blood sugar, body temperature, breastfeeding ability, and overall development. She is eating and sleeping perfectly and has started to show tiny parts of her personality.Elizabeth_1

Becoming a mother is more magical, but also more overwhelming, than I ever imagined. I can’t believe how much I love her, how much I want to hold her, how protective I am of her. I have three months to stay at home with her before I have to go back to work, and I know that I need to savor every single moment, for I will never have so much time with her again. We are in full-on hibernation mode, perfect for the cold dreary days we’ve been having this month.

Jon and I are so thankful for the thoughtfulness of our family and friends who have visited, sent texts and cards, called with offers to help, and made us feel so loved and cared for.

2014 was 365 days long, but it will forever be defined for me as the year I became a mommy.

Cheers to the coming days, weeks, years of parenthood!

A Most Eventful Year

This post has been swirling around in my head for weeks and I have not made the time to sit down and commit those thoughts to words on a page screen.  Today, in the middle of my two-week winter break, that changes.  This blog is one of my favorite things I have ever started; I love to go back to Summer 2009 when I wrote my first post about going to Spain and Italy by myself for a month.  That girl, that version of myself, was discovering a part of herself she never knew existed.  She was growing in confidence and feeling rather footloose and adventurous in all facets of life.  I love her.  How important it is to look back and smile, knowing you did something right.  Reflection is how we learn, how we think critically, how we embrace mistakes and celebrate little victories.

So let’s do this.  Let’s reflect on the last twelve months in a cliche end-of-year post.  (Did Auld Lang Syne just pop into your head…or is it just me?!)

January: a thousand glances at my left ring finger that was sparkling with a brand new diamond and a promise.  My best friend moved to Africa for a year on January 9. My principal, who hired me and believed in my potential as a school leader, left the school after me being on the job for six weeks.

February:  a general sense of feeling lost without Amanda, enduring the winter blues

March:  wedding date and destination chosen

April:  my first visit to NYC with the ever-fabulous Jason Clark, a lovely wedding for Jason and Erin, prom (still cracks me up), engagement pictures courtesy of the fabulous, multi-talented Jon Whittaker

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May:  Jon quit Fox Sports (thank god) and started working at The Weather Channel.  He had no idea what it was like to feel happy, fulfilled, challenged, and respected at work.  Our relationship immediately became healthier. I finished my first full semester as an assistant principal, having learned many hard lessons but loving leadership and the change in my career.   Took lovely little Memorial Day getaway to Jen’s mom’s home in Beaufort, SC.

memorial day group pic

June:  got a new principal who makes me better every day, went to NKOTB with Jen and had the most ridiculously fantastic time reliving my childhood. And Kimber called to tell me that she can’t go to the wedding because she’s going to have a baby in a few months.

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July:  the most eventful, glorious month of them all!  Spent ten days in the Dominican Republic getting married and honeymooning with our parents, Brooklyn, Ashley & Craig, Jen & Marty, Elizabeth & Greg, and Jon & Lindsey. Everyone got along swimmingly and had a lovely time. Our wedding was exactly how we had hoped it would be: a beautiful day on the beach, a perfect dress, gorgeous pictures, and only those we know and love there. Jon Whittaker led us through our vows and legally united us in marriage, therefore coming full circle in our relationship as he was the one who introduced us years ago. We came back to celebrate Brooklyn’s first birthday, sweet little love of mine. Shortly after, we threw ourselves a hell of a party at Monday Night Brewery and celebrated with our friends and family who traveled from near and far (Africa!) to shower us with their love and congratulations. Then the next week we bought a house.  (July, you win.)

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August: a flurry of a month, spent getting mortgage documents together, starting a new school year, packing up the apartment, working 14-hour-days.  Closed on the house on my birthday (August 29, duh) and moved the next day.

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September: unpacking, adjusting to suburb life; working every Friday night at the football games (Go Raiders.)

new house

October:  lovely weddings for Robin & Chaz and Lindsey & Aaron

November:  Brooklyn was dedicated to the church, my 102-year-old great-grandmother passed away

December:  painting, decorating, furniture shopping, celebrating, gift-giving, (finally) relaxing.  Oh, and Amanda moved back home.  :)

And that’s a wrap, folks. New jobs, new bosses, a destination wedding, a new home. So many life events crammed into a few months but I feel healthier than I have in years. The Jillian that started this blog five years ago is still very much alive in me, itching for plane tickets to anywhere, but priorities and behaviors have shifted a bit.  (My bank account thanks me.)

Now that life moves a little slower, I have a few new habits I’d like to pick up in the new year.  (I am remiss to use the word resolution as I feel like it sets one up for a feeling of failure if they are not carried through to fruition.) I want to learn to sew, to crochet, and to garden.  I want to continue running, a practice I have picked up and dropped over the years, but one that makes me feel whole and healthy and powerful when I am consistent.  Most of all, I want to read and write more, another practice that makes me feel whole and healthy.

My heart swells with love and gratitude to those who enriched this year with your love and friendship.  Thank you.

He Gave Me a Ring and a Future

It is mid-January and my windows are open, letting in the 60-degree air, freshening the apartment and intensifying the street sounds below our fourth-floor home.  On the table next to me is a vase of stargazer lilies, brought home by my sweet fiance for absolutely no reason at all.  Fiance.  Yep, we’re engaged to be married.  Jon proposed on the Decatur Square, the site of our first date, on Christmas night.  Below is a collage of the pics we have taken in the same spot.  Starting top left is our very first date.  We took that picture to send to Jon Whittaker, who set us up, to let him know that we were having a good time.  In the upper-right corner, we are at the Decatur Beer Festival one year later.  We went with our fellow craft beer-loving friends, Josh and Simone Parker.  Bottom left is the same festival this past year, our two-year anniversary.  We attended with Jon’s parents and Josh and Simone.  Bottom right is the night we got engaged.

At Decatur Square

Jon and I were headed to Brickstore to meet up with Amanda, a Christmas night tradition, and he scooped me over to the same spot we have taken all of those pictures.  I complained about being cold and wanted to walk a little faster, but he pulled me aside, hugged me, and said, “Two years, two months, and nine days ago we came here on our first date.  I love you.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”  I started laughing from pure joy, jumping up and down, hugging him uncontrollably.  I’m pretty sure he kept talking, but once he opened the box showing me the most gorgeous ring I’ve ever seen, I have no idea what he said.  He had to stop me to make sure that I said yes, to which I replied, “Yes, yes, yes…a thousand times, YES!”  We called our parents, our siblings, our best friends…and then we met up with Amanda and Jon Whittaker and enjoyed a night with beloved friends who feel like family.

Now we are planning our July destination wedding…a second wedding for both of us, but sure to be our forever marriage.  In our pasts, we did not know ourselves, did not know that the decisions we made independently of one another would actually lead us to each other.  I would not be the woman I am today had I not gone through that marriage at age 22 and that divorce at age 25.  I do not look back with regret; rather, I look ahead at my life with Jon, thankful that I will enter into the covenant of marriage with him confident in who I am, in who we are together.

A New World in the Same World

What a whirlwind my life has been since I last posted!  In August I started my tenth year of teaching, my second year at Riverwood, and my first year as English Department Chair.  I have worked harder in the last four months than I have my entire life, regularly spending 12 hours at school.  I taught two classes of at-risk 9th grade English, two classes of 10th Honors English, and then served a department of 14 English teachers as their leader.  I was overwhelmed and overworked, but so happy to be at Riverwood and be in leadership again.  In late October, at a faculty meeting held after school, there was an announcement that one of the Assistant Principals would be retiring, effective November 30.  My principal encouraged anyone on staff with a leadership certification to apply if interested, that they would be looking for in-house applicants first.  My head was spinning, my veins felt electric, my hands were shaking.  Could this be it?  I poured myself into my resume, my cover letter, my application, and my interview preparation.  On Monday November 12, I interviewed in front of a panel of ten people.  On Wednesday, I was pulled out of class and sent downtown to interview with the superintendent of Fulton County Schools.  On Thursday, a recommendation to hire me as the new AP of Riverwood was made to the board of education.  On Friday, it was announced to the Riverwood community.  Two weeks later, on December 3, I left my classes in the care of a substitute and moved into the front office.  I have been in the position for two weeks and three days, and I absolutely love it, not the way that I loved teaching, quite different, but I do love it.  I do miss my kids.  There is no feeling like standing in front of a classroom of teenagers and commanding their full attention, watching them learn, pushing them past where they thought they could go.  I will miss that.  This new job is a different kind of teaching, a different way of educating, a different kind of tired at the end of the day.  I have more one-on-one conversations with kids now.  I work with adults throughout my day, whereas for nine years I was isolated in my room with kids, having very little adult interaction in a work day.  I have a designated parking space, an office, a phone.  I hired my own replacement and she will step into my classroom next semester, take over my rosters, and teach my kids.  Weird.  And kind of sad.  But not weird or sad enough to make me want to go back.  It was time for a change, time to use the degree I worked for, time to lead.  It’s a new adventure, a new world, even if I still drive to the same school every day.

A Perfect Partner

When I started writing this blog, I was traveling alone through Spain and Italy in July 2009.  I was happily single, loving the freedom of solo travel.  (See my earlier post for my reflection on the glories of traveling alone.)  While I still would enjoy a trip by myself, my affection has shifted toward a handsome, 6’5″ man who happens to love me and wants to explore the world with me.  Jon and I took our first true vacation together last week, traveling to Boston and to Rhode Island over the span of seven days.  Neither of us had been to Boston before, so each day was a new adventure of sightseeing, day drinking, relaxing, and walking…lots of walking.  We absolutely loved Boston and all that it has to offer.  The history is so rich, so tangible, and it makes you proud to be an American.  Our favorite part of the city is how walkable it is–you can truly walk from the North End to the South End, from Fenway Park to Quincy Market.  They also have a brilliant subway system, with stops around every corner, destinations anywhere you would want to go.  We took the MBTA to Providence, Rhode Island from Boston, and for $10/ticket, we realized this is something Atlanta is severely lacking, and we winced when we got home to Atlanta and had to get back in our vehicles to go anywhere.

The second half of our week was spent in lovely, charming, beautiful Rhode Island.  We were there to visit with the Barton family and celebrate the marriage of my dear friend, Taylor.  The wedding festivities were lovely, and we tremendously enjoyed our time with family and friends.  When we were not obligated with the wedding, we went to Newport for the day.  Newport might be one of my favorite American cities–simply beautiful.  The waterfront alone sets it apart from most other places I love, but add to that the charming homes, the cobblestone streets, and the restaurants and my heart swoons.  Especially over the lobster.  OMG, the lobster.  But that’s a separate post…anyway, on Sunday, we saw a different side of Newport when we attended the Newport Folk Festival, one of the greatest music festivals in the country.  It is where Bob Dylan first played the electric guitar.  It is where up-and-coming artists draw huge crowds and win over new fans.  It is set at Fort Adams State Park, just across the bay from Newport.  There were four stages, spread apart enough not to interfere with one another.  We bounced around from stage to stage all day, loving every minute of seeing some of our favorite artists:  Of Monsters and Men, The Head and the Heart, Punch Brothers, Tallest Man on Earth, GraveRobbers…I could go on and on. Jon and I first connected over our love of folk music.  He and I constantly seek out new artists to enjoy, and it is my favorite thing about us, that shared passion. Attending the folk festival with him was so special, such fun, and the perfect way to wrap up a fantastic week in New England.

I would love to go back overseas, but each summer that I spend seeing new parts of this great country, the more I realize how much domestic travel has to offer.  What a wealth of opportunity we have here!  And now I have my partner with whom I can enjoy all of these experiences…to say I am blessed would be an understatement.

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More Than a Teacher

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In the halls of Northwest Whitfield High School, circa 1997

Today I had lunch with a woman I hold oh-so-close to my heart, and have held her there since I was 15 years old.  She is one of the most influential people in my life, and in many ways, she made me who I am today.  Her name is Ann MacKinnon, and she was my high school science teacher for three years: Physical Science in ninth grade, Honors Chemistry in eleventh grade, and Honors Physics my senior year.  She is hands down the most intelligent woman I have ever known, but that is not why she is who she is to me.  You see, Mrs. MacKinnon saved me.  She went so far beyond what was expected of her as a teacher–she looked past my own view of myself and saw something she believed in, something she knew I needed to discover in myself.  Every morning before school, I went to her classroom to talk to her.  Many days I was back in her room after school, reaching out to her to help me figure out who I was.  Who I now am.  You see, I had a rough go of adolescence.  As so many teenage girls do, I hated my body, struggled to make good friends, and battled constantly with my parents who, I now realize, had absolutely no idea what to do with me. Mrs. MacKinnon reached out to me, pulled me close, and simply loved me.

ImageSince graduation in 1999, I have stayed in touch with Mrs. MacKinnon, who I later began to call AA for Aunt Ann, as she transcended the role of a teacher and became like family to me.  She and I try to go to lunch or dinner as often as we can, and whenever we do get together, we can’t help but look back on those tumultuous years and smile.  She always tells me how proud she is of me, how happy I am now, and how impressed she is with who I have become.  Is there any greater, more meaningful compliment?  I don’t think there is.  I always think of Ann when I stand in front of a room full of students, like I will be doing about three weeks from now, and I remember what she did for me, how many hours she gave me of her personal life, how many encouraging notes and gifts and hugs I have received from her over the years.  I can only hope that I have loved my students the way that Mrs. MacKinnon has loved me.  When teachers allow themselves to be more than a teacher to a kid, lives change.  I know this much is true.

ImageThis is a gift she gave me at lunch today, and as I opened it, she said that she thought of me as soon as she saw it, and she has had it wrapped for months, waiting on a chance for us to see one another.  I am humbled by her thoughtfulness and her love for me today.

Girls’ Trip?

Generally speaking, I am not a girls’ girl.  Growing up, I was awkward, terribly insecure, and much more interested in climbing the magnolia trees in my front yard with Patrick Ricker than playing Barbies inside the house with my sister.  In high school (notice I skipped middle school–no need to revisit those hellacious years), I made a few girlfriends through tennis, but those ended up being years I would generally rather forget.  And then through college, my insecurities kept me from getting close to girls because I couldn’t stop comparing my imperfect self with their (seemingly) perfect selves.  So…all that background to say, I do not have a strong background in female friendships.  Some of that has changed since my divorce and since Taylor moved to Bolivia three years ago, but I still never had a group of girls whose company I enjoyed.  I thought I was just a one-on-one type of girlfriend.

That said, I did not imagine myself ever going on a girls’ trip…and enjoying it. But last week I spent five days with three other girls and had a damn good time.  A fantastic time, even.  We giggled.  A lot.  We sang 90s music at the top of our lungs.  We talked about boys, about relationships, about hair, makeup, fashion…all those girly things that I didn’t think I liked talking about.  Well you know what?  I do.  I had a freaking blast with these girls, painting nails with them, letting them do my makeup and hair, and just being silly and ridiculous.  I tell you the truth:  I had NO IDEA I was capable of such behavior.  Seriously!  Going into the trip, I was so afraid of having one of my insecure meltdowns or worse, not knowing how to just be a girl around girls.  Neither fear manifested itself.  (Hallelujah!)

So contrary to my long-held belief that I just preferred being around guys or doing things on my own or with one other girlfriend, I learned that not only can I survive being in a room full of girls, but I can actually enjoy it.  I am so thankful for this realization, and thankful to the three girls who made my first-ever girls’ trip a raging success…already looking forward to next year!

Love love love to you, Jennifer, Robin, and Stacie Jean!

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