A Reflection on Mother’s Day

Today is my first ever Mother’s Day. Exactly five months ago I became a mommy and my whole life changed forever. Every night when I put Elizabeth to bed, I whisper in her ear that I’m so proud to be her mommy. I often feel like my heart will burst with the love I have for her and the awe I feel when I look at her. We made her. She came from me. I grew that gorgeous baby inside me. What a gift. I am so lucky.

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Every Mother’s Day I spend time with my sweet, selfless, loving mother and try to show her how much I appreciate her and admire her. She always has time for me. She always answers the phone with joy in her voice, sounding so happy to hear from me. (I’ll try to call more often, Monya.) And the way she talks about Ashley and me…you would think we were wonder-daughters. But to watch her as Grandma to Brooklyn and Elizabeth is the sweetest role I have ever seen my mother play. Brooklyn is obsessed with Grandma. If given the option to spend time with anyone, Brooklyn chooses Grandma. It’s so wonderful to see your mother become a grandmother. I can’t imagine how that must feel to see your own daughters become mothers.

As happy as I am today, I can’t help but think of my friends who have lost their mothers and the void they must feel today. And my friends who desperately want to become mothers and are betrayed by their bodies. Today is so very hard for them. I am thinking of you and sending sweet, warm, comforting thoughts your way, friends.

Things I Want to Remember at 5 Months

She rolls over to her tummy and then gets mad that she’s on her tummy. She hasn’t yet figured out what to do with her arms to roll back over.

When she takes a bottle, she waves her hands all around the whole time she is eating.

She kicks her legs when she’s really amused or happy. She also does this in the bath, making water go everywhere.

She loves to be held cheek-to-cheek.

Holding blankets and soft books are the only toys she’s shown interest in so far.

When she wakes up in the morning, she wants a bottle immediately. Even before changing her diaper.

IMG_0297The television is fascinating to her, so we have to be careful how much we leave it on when she’s in the room.

She rolls to her side as soon as you lay her down in the crib.

No matter where I lay her down, she ends up laying sideways with her head and feet at the bars of the crib.

She loves to be outside, lay on a blanket on the grass, and feel the wind and look at the sky.

She has started parroting some sounds.

To get her to calm down and fall asleep, I sing Amazing Grace while rocking her and it works every time.

She has only laughed twice. Once when Daddy held her up over the door while Mommy was in the shower and once when my hair fell in her face when I was playing with her on the changing table.

WM Five Weeks Later

I have been back at work for five weeks now, but one of those weeks was Spring Break when I happily slipped right back into maternity leave ways with my little one. Today I am at home sick with a sinus infection, a sore throat, a cough, and pink eye in both eyes. Yesterday when I went to to doctor and told him I have a baby in daycare, he responded, “Oh yeah. You’re going to be sicker than you’ve ever been in your life over the next year.” Elizabeth got a cold and cough in her second week at daycare and it lasted two weeks. She also had pink eye in both eyes. And now two weeks later, here’s Mommy with the same thing. It makes me sad that she is exposed to germs that she wouldn’t be if I was at home with her. But the reality is that I must work for now…we are working on a plan for me to stay home later, but that time is not now. We all have to accept it.

When I was at home with her on Spring Break after being back at work for two weeks, I looked at Jon and said, “Fact. Keeping her all day by myself is way way way more exhausting than doing my job all day and coming home to her.” And I have a pretty demanding job. Being a SAHM is so much harder than I thought it was before I had my baby. I have made it abundantly clear that i want to do it, but I feel the need to go on record about how much harder it is than working every day and paying someone to keep your child.

Now let’s talk about my baby. She’s four-and-a-half months old now and last weekend, she laughed for the first time ever! Hands down, it was the greatest moment of parenthood thus far for me and Jon. It was a true giggle, and she did it twice, but she hasn’t done it since then. (I guess we need to work on being funnier.) Everything the gets in her hands goes straight to her mouth. She loves sucking on her fingers and refuses to take a pacifier, much to my chagrin. She sleeps through the night and wakes up pleasantly in the morning, often rolling around and cooing until I come get her. She’s also rolling over from her tummy to her back, and no longer really cares about the witching hour (Thank goodness!). I view the evenings and weekends very differently now as they are the only time I get to spend with her. I miss her so much throughout the day, but I am working on transferring that sad feeling to being thankful and happy for the time I do get with her.

I’m Not Ready

Tomorrow I have to return to work after 14 weeks at home with my baby girl, and I don’t want to go. It’s not that I hate my job, although there are so many things about it that are incredibly hard. Rather, it’s that I want to be with her. I am not ready to leave her in someone else’s care for ten hours every day. I am not ready to think about things other than her care and our home. I am not ready to pour energy into other people’s children while some sweet girl at daycare pours her energy into my child. I’m not ready. I need more time.

In January, when I was home with my one-month-old, there were a couple of news stories about how the US has one of the worst maternity leave policies in the world. In many other countries, mothers are supported to stay at home for the first five or six months. In some countries, it’s up to a year! At my job, I had to cash in sick leave that I had saved up since I started working in 2003. BUT…I could only cash in eight weeks of leave (it would have only been six weeks if I hadn’t had a C-section!), and the rest of my leave I had to take unpaid, even though I had more days saved up that I could have used. For the last six weeks I’ve been at home, I have not received a paycheck. When I return tomorrow, my checks will be prorated for the duration of my contract, which ends in July. If I had been new to the profession or new to working for the state of Georgia, I would not have had hardly any sick days saved up and therefore would not have had any paid leave. I know several women in that position right now. When Elizabeth was born, my husband Jon was able to take two weeks paid paternity leave and then another two weeks of PTO, so he was home with us for a month and was paid for the entire time. I think that is a great perk that The Weather Channel offers. Of course it could be better, but plenty of companies have no provisions for paternity leave.

I’ve been reading Bringing Up Bebe, a book about French parenting styles compared to American parenting. In France, daycare is subsidized by the government, making it much more affordable for families. Almost every French mother works outside the home and leaves her child in fabulous, state-run childcare facilities that do not create a significant financial burden for the family. French mothers also stay home for five or six months before going back to work.

I think I would feel so much better if I didn’t have to return to work yet. I’m just not ready. She is still so tiny. And she just started smiling and cooing and squealing in the last few weeks. She locks in eye contact and gives these huge smiles that make her eyes squint, just like her mommy. She’s discovering toys and blankets that she can grasp and bring to her mouth. She is spending much more time just being pleasantly awake, compared to the 18-20 hours/day she slept in the first month or so. In the mornings, after I feed her around 6:45, we lay on the bed or on the rocker and she just kicks around and raises her arms in the air, smiling at everything she sees. She takes great naps in the morning after her first two bottles, and then most of the afternoon is spent awake, either cuddling, playing, or going for walks. She takes a shorter nap in the middle of the afternoon, usually when she’s in the stroller on a walk. The weather has been absolutely beautiful lately, so we have been spending much of the afternoon and evening outside. Her senses are on high alert outside, taking in the new sounds, smells, and sensations. Somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30, Jon and I give her a bath, a bottle, and put her to bed. After 8:15ish, we are on our own for the rest of the evening, which has been a dear and sweet time for us. Now that I have to return to work, my time with her won’t start until 5 or 5:30, which only leaves a couple of hours in the evening to spend time with her. And I can hardly speak about the evening demands of my high school assistant principal job, which come about at least once per week during the spring sports season. On those days, I will be at work until 9pm or 10pm watching other people’s kids play sports or sing in a chorus concert and only see my own daughter for a few minutes before I leave for work in the morning. I can hardly bear the thought. Tears spring from my eyes every time I think about it.

Tomorrow is going to be such a difficult day. I hope there is a fresh box of tissues in my office. I’ve already bought waterproof mascara so that I don’t look like a raccoon after crying throughout the day.  I really need to focus on some positive things, like seeing friends and coworkers I’ve missed in the last 14 weeks, and interacting with the teenagers that I love. I know I’ll enjoy visiting classrooms and seeing the incredible teachers at my job inspire their students. Perhaps it will feel good to be in real clothes, although I haven’t worn pants with a waistband since July when I started wearing maternity clothes! And once that school day is over, I know that I will have joy in my heart as I drive toward my baby girl who I’ve missed the whole day long.

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

NYCengagement pic

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.)

wedding

wedding group shotbrooklyn oneparty pic

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.

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