charlie took this the other day and i was struck by how well it captured my idea of motherhood before i went and actually had a kid. i ignored my co-worker becky as she lambasted my latest mommy blog find (one lady had actually archived photos of every bento box lunch she had prepared for her children, to which becky cried something to the effect of “this is unreal!!!!”) i would join her in her laughter at this ridiculous prospect and then go back to picturing days filled with chalk drawings and cute baby bloomers and bedtime stories and picnics and paper lanterns…

and it’s all true! just kidding. last week i remember a specific point where i looked in the mirror and thought “having kids means never being clean again” … that’s also not really true. i run a pretty orderly house, staying at home with jameson gives me the luxury to do so. wait, is “luxury” the right word for cleaning up after a 23-pound crazy person with a death wish all day? a more-active-than-usual toddler who acts as if each escapade is going to be her last so she’d better make it good. these pictures are all from the span of about three days. and if you’re asking herself, is she wearing a dog dish on her head while playing with an electrical socket? why yes, yes she is. also yes to the question, did the mom stop and take a picture before preventing the child from electrocuting herself?

photoi didn’t have room to include the picture of her trying to eat a river rock. i take these pictures if only to prove to myself (or my husband) that these things actually happened, or when i find myself exhausted and ready for bed at 8 p.m., i only need to look at my phone and realize that it’s completely acceptable because i’ve been through a lot. but these pictures serve another purpose, she looks so ridiculously cute sometimes it’s hard to stay mad that she can’t communicate yet. when we were at the river yesterday, after she stopped trying to eat the rocks, i asked her if she could hand me buddy’s fetch toy. she’s obsessed with it and every time i use it to throw buddy’s ball (it basically allows you to launch the ball a lot further than you could with your arm) after each launch for buddy, jameson immediately grabs it for her own purposes, usually digging in the sand. she usually gets mad when i take it back but on this particular day, i asked for it and pointed, and she handed it over. it was our first legitimate communication, where she understood me.

i felt like Jane freaking Goodall.

i’ll go back to one of my early turning points as a mother. jameson was a couple weeks old and it was just hard. each time charlie would leave the house for work i think he saw the terror in my eyes as i realized it was just her and me for the next several hours. one day he looked particularly worried (because i was particularly without sleep) and as he left he said “enjoy her.” i wanted to rip his head off. people had been saying this to us since she was a newborn and it just made me want to scream. it was right up there with “it goes so fast” and “before you know it you’ll be sending her off to college.” well after weeks of sleeping in two or three hour chunks, dropping her off at the nearest college campus didn’t sound like a bad thing.

but, and this is where i tell you that both me and my child made it through that first part, i did try harder to enjoy her that day, and i did. i still have to remind myself now to worry less about the mess and focus more on how great it is to spend all these early moments with her, to not get so hurt and take it personal when i’ve done everything “perfectly,” i fed her, allowed her to tire herself out playing, and she should be taking a nap this morning like she does every other morning, but instead i can hear her playing with her thomas the tank engine book (which means she has, yet again, dismantled the shelf above her crib to reach said thomas book) i have to let things go.

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photos by papa (aka http://charliejlitchfield.com/)

jameson has officially started walking … and so my life is over. this is the joke i continuously tell people when they ask how things are going. it’s easy to keep it simple and to how our daughter is doing since so much has happened in these past few months. my mother passed away in february. jameson turned one, and charlie was offered a job at a university in oregon. it was an opportunity we had to check out, so we moved across the country in april. it feels nice to be someplace familar (i grew up in idaho) but it’s also odd to feel homesick for the midwest after living there for only two years.

we are settling in but still in that not-so sweet spot where we’re coming to terms with the fact that we blew up our former lives and now have to pick up the pieces and see where they fit here in this new place. but i’m not complaining. i don’t really have time, i’m too busy chasing this little person around and being constantly shocked by how much she’s starting to feel like an actual human.

on Friday, May 29, in Eugene, Oregon.

on Friday, May 29, in Eugene, Oregon.

on Friday, May 29, in Eugene, Oregon.

1when i first toyed with the idea of being a stay-at-home mom, i had just started my third job in journalism. after nearly a decade of being a reporter, i still loved it. i loved writing. i loved drinking endless cups of coffee and devouring all types of media, from news websites to every magazine i could get my hands on (seriously, i tend to judge doctors by the reading materials available in their waiting rooms.) anways, back to the working version of me, by my third job, i had finally got to the point where I could read a really nasty email from a reader and laugh. i could finally write a 900-word news feature and not kill myself over finding the perfect prose. i could do a lot of things that would have made my 25-year-old self crawl into the fetal position.

but the prospect of having a family, of furthering my own story, that was just too tempting to pass up, and i saw my opening. after talking it out, charlie and i put all our energy toward building our savings while also making some permanent changes that would allow us to live comfortably on my husband’s income (these changes now seem so small and i hope to write more about how we budget in the future). and then, with one month left in my pregnancy, i put in my notice, filed my final story and told my editor to “call me if you have any questions. oh, wait. don’t.” and then i went back to surfing mommy blogs and ordering cute clothes jameson would wear for about two weeks.

that was about the time the nervousness crept into the pit of my stomach, right about where baby jameson had jammed her head into my pelvic region. one by one, all the other women around me who were pregnant announced they were looking into daycares for when they would go back to work. it made me feel (correction: i allowed all of this to make me feel) well, completely awful and panicky. what were we thinking? NO body lives on one income these days. NO body stays home anymore. given the choice between talking to adults and a crying baby, NO body would choose the latter.

then, jameson unhinged her feet from my ribs and decided to come home with us (even after we asked the nurse one night in the hospital if we could both leave to run some errands and she basically accused of trying to abandon our baby). after a few months at home, around the time most moms would have gone back to work, i was ecstatic with our choice. i had a rough transition into parenthood and looking back, i think i was under the impression the baby would be more like an accessory and not, oh i don’t know, a TINY HUMAN BEING WHO NEEDS YOU FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. i’m glad i was home alone during some of those moments. as time went on, i started to feel not backwards, but lucky. most women don’t get the choice to stay home, and i heard that over and over again “you’re so lucky.”

jameson will turn one soon and i do feel lucky, incredibly so. it helps that she is a really happy baby and a great sleeper. every time i go into her room to retrieve her after a nap, she is there waiting with a huge smile on her face. she makes it kind of easy (most days, don’t talk to me on the sick days). she determines a lot of our schedule, but still, we get to do what we want most of the time and thanks to charlie’s non-traditional schedule (he’s a photojournalist) we get to do a lot of these things together. when jameson had her first swim class a few weeks ago, it was charlie who took her into the pool as i stood nearby taking pictures. “you stay at home?” the instructor asked. i told her i did. “you’re really lucky, and that your husband can be here too…” she said, eyeing us both suspiciously like we were either trust fund babies or homeless people who were utilizing the ymca as a shelter (which, i would love to point out to some of the more snooty people i’ve run into while working out there, is how the ymca initially got started, as a haven for young men living on the streets.)

BUT, and the “but” is why we are here today, the but is that, as great as this new life is, i do worry about leaving my “old” self behind. that person who knew the day’s news before most people even got to their office. that really ambitious go-getter who loved being good at her job. i miss that person sometimes. i’m still me, i still consume news like a junkie, i still devour magazines (even though i now notice most of the articles are geared towards working women). i still try my hardest every day. but when I see friends and former colleagues who not only had babies but also went on to amazing things in their careers, there is a definite stab of jealousy. how, in this world where moms are being all things to all people and not only that, the idea of “having it all” has pretty much been denounced so they don’t even have to be thriving to be a rock star, how could i choose to just do this one thing?

we didn’t set out thinking this would be permanent, it was an experiment, with the idea that once i was ready to go back to work we’d probably switch roles. i was determined to keep up my resume and started freelancing for a publishing company almost immediately after we came home from the hospital. earlier this month, i dipped my toe even further back into the work waters and applied for a temporary job at my previous company. this move was soon followed by a nice rejection letter from hr and jameson getting hit by a nasty cold that turned my life upside down. i felt so discouraged. not only did i start to doubt my viability in the workplace, but i also thought back to my previous life and how many times i got annoyed at my co-workers when they left for the day because their kids were sick. i now know how completely awful it is when your kid is sick. if I had a job, i would have had to call out every day this week and it would have made a stressful situation worse.

in thinking about all this, i realized i just don’t feel that great about how stay-at-home moms are portrayed sometimes. there’s the mommy bloggers-slash-entrepreneurs who make me wonder if i too should be photographing my child’s every smile and then turning those photos into a “collaboration” with the new kate spade line at gap kids. then, there’s the depiction of the angry mom (think lois in malcom in the middle or debra in everybody loves raymond) who just can’t wait to chime in every time gwyneth paltrow opens her mouth so they can set the world straight about how hard their job really is.

i’m new at this, and really not sure where i fall given these two extremes. i love photographing my baby and occasionally share images but i also worry a lot about privacy and find some of the comments on popular mommy blogs insanely creepy (don’t these women find it weird that hundreds of strangers know their kids names and what kind of ice cream they like?) but i also reject the angry label. i don’t hate the world because people don’t understand how hard i have it. i love my new role. being a mom has made me more understanding. i’m more patient. i’m not up all night because of stress (i’m now up at night for other reasons). i no longer see a therapist.

i decided i would stay home with my child because i could, because after dedicating a decade to my work, i felt good enough about what i had accomplished to switch gears and give jameson my complete focus. do i struggle with that choice and what it means for me? i’m not perfect and selfless, so, yes. it can be isolating, and if you tend to over think things already, being alone can take you down some weird paths, ones where your self-image gets pretty distorted – hence the short-lived identity crisis that took place earlier this week.

with so much focus on working moms and what they sacrifice, i just hope that we can also give the same sort of understanding to those who parent from home. they are also making hard choices. they are also doing their best.

 

halloweenjameson’s first halloween costume. i was pretty proud of myself for spending under $10. i made the jacket and fashioned the vest out of one i already had by cutting out the back to make it small enough. the hat comes courtesy of quaker oats and some shoe polish leftover from another project.

fabric: $2
black pipe cleaners (ringmaster whip): 88 cents
buddy’s lion mane: $6.99

total cost: $9.87

photo781) inspiration. 2) before. 3) snip, snip. 4) wah lah.

i’ve had this picture of gia coppola in my style folder for a while but never thought in a million years i’d ever actually go with short hair. after seeing how dead my hair looked after the pregnancy i decided it was time for a change. here’s to a new, shorter chapter. (ps. i know i look miserable in the “after” photo but that’s only because i’m so incredibly uncomfortable taking selfies, not because of the hair. i love it.)

10-10 i love lists. it’s one of my favorite parts of reading blogs. i always leave with a great idea or two. so what better way to turn over a new season then to list some of the things i’m loving right now?

1) the tightwad gazette: this gem comes courtesy of my mother-in-law. the tightwad gazette was a newsletter started by a stay-at-home mom in the 1990s. amy dacyczyn (last name pronounced “decision”) was incensed by all the news stories at the time purporting that it was next-to-impossible to raise a family without two incomes and so her newsletter focuses on all the ways we can live on less (her aim is not only to save money so she can spend more time with her family, but she also talks about how this way of living is more environmentally friendly.) her ideas struck a chord with me. i still freelance as a journalist (i’m currently helping edit textbooks for a publishing company) but we mostly live on a single wage so i can stay home with jameson. if you’re interested, dacyczyn wrote three books (which are basically extended versions of the newsletter). along with tons of easy recipes, there’s also tips on how to buy clothing (at yard sales of course) years in advance for your children and keep an inventory so you always know what you have and what you need to stock up on. there’s also great tips on grocery shopping (she feeds a family of eight on $180 a month). apparently, I’m not the only fan, a quick online search shows there are other bloggers who have adopted dacyczyn’s strategies.

2) fall cooking: my sister gave me this crock pot for our wedding and i remember thinking “when am i ever going to use this?” it turns out, a lot. from homemade chili, to vegetarian dishes that make you forget about meat (one word: lentils (i promise). most of the recipes i’ve been trying come from the tightwad gazette books but there are tons of recipes online (enter, my favorite place to look at food when i’m hungry.)

3) this sweater: i plan to live in this all winter. it was a “treat yo’ self” kind of purchase considering i earned enough freelance income this fall to finally kill off my student loans. i love this brand (free people) but i only buy something from them like, once a year, on my birthday because it’s so spendy. i only buy things i absolutely love and that i consider to be “one of kind.” this sweater fit the bill (do people still use that expression) and i decided to purchase only after i looked around at discount stores like marshall’s and couldn’t find anything remotely similar. (sidenote: urban outfitters is a sorta spin-off from the people who started free people.)

4) baby gap sales: in another tightwad-gazette-disapproved decision (amy would have probably hunted her kid’s snowsuit down at a yard sale and then negotiated to have the price reduced because a zipper was broken or something), i bought this for jameson’s first winter. this suit was originally $78 (which is flippin crazy) so i waited for a good sale and got it for $35 (a discount of more than 50 percent). full disclosure: the sale was $45 off $100 purchase so i had to purchase something else and decided on this denim shirt (discounted 20 percent after they accidentally sent me the wrong size.) jameson’s our first child, and while we buy most of her stuff on consignment at this place, we also splurge once in a while.

5) target’s cartwheel app: i tend to view these types of programs as discounts that really only save you money if you get in the door, don’t look at anything else, and buy just what’s priced down. but i have been extremely impressed with the cartwheel app, particularly on baby stuff. the app is also super easy to use, allowing you to pick which sales you want to add to your barcode, which is scanned at check-out. the discount is on top of store sales and coupons. for example, all target diapers were recently on clearance (they’re introducing new ones) and so i was able to get not only the clearance price, but an additional 5 percent off using the app. plus, the store had a spend-$125-on-baby-stuff-get-$20-off so i decided to guess ahead and buy jameson diapers and wipes that should last her through the next year. total: $118. (i should point out this buying strategy came from the tightwad gazette. i know that target’s store brand diapers usually cost 16 cents apiece because i keep a price notebook, as dacyczyn recommends, so when i crunched the numbers and realized that with the clearance price, the app, and the store discount, the diapers would be 11 cents apiece, i knew it was unlikely that i would ever beat that price).update: this is another app i frequently use to save money.

6) crane humidifier: we are running this little guy 24/7 since jameson woke up with her first cold. the crane brand beat out a lot of others in online reviews and we’ve been pretty happy with this one. also, the elephant looks enough like a toy to pique’s jameson’s interest so that when she’s in her walker she scoots over to it and just sits under the steam, which i love because right now it’s hard to imagine anything worse than listening to your baby try to breath through a congested nose.

3During the past couple weeks, Charlie and I have been trying to get outside as much as possible before the cold weather gets here and during these outings there have been one or two moments where people will make kind comments about what a “nice family” we have, or one instance, where I was riding my bike alongside Charlie, who was running with Jameson in the stroller, a man passed by us and commented that we were “a Norman Rockwell painting.”

Hmmmm.

He was just being nice, and while the angry German man who lives inside my head and hates everything I write is shouting at me right now: “You OVER-analyze EVERYTHING!” … still, this comment made me pause. Did I love hearing we resembled an idealistic picture families should aspire to? Sure. Did I cringe inside knowing how much I detest people who are seemingly “perfect” on the outside? Yeppers.

The comment pestered me because me and “perfect” don’t get along so well. Me and “perfect” tend to drive my husband crazy (as I follow him around the house picking up his cups/work paraphernalia/ shoes almost immediately after he sets them down). Me and “perfect” have done damaging things to my heart and mind. Me and “perfect” went into the bathroom at work and cried after someone wrote me an epically mean letter about how my grammar was so bad they thought I should choose a new profession.

I try not to spend too much time with “perfect.”

When I meet others who aren’t fans of “perfect” I tend to cling to them. It’s like radar, I sense it immediately when someone else is more, what I consider to be, “real.” The kind of person who will laugh when you tell them you ate an entire bag of snack-size peppermint patties for lunch and “felt totally fat.” They don’t care you actually checked a celebrity gossip website to find out if Kate Middleton was showing yet. They won’t judge when you tell them you spent the day in your pajamas or when they see you pick up the pacifier that fell onto the floor for the 2,456th time and wipe it off on your shirt and give it back to the baby (I did this once in front of a lactation consultant after it fell onto a carpeted floor and she literally grabbed the pacifier out of Jameson’s hand and said “Well we’re not going to do that!)

Disclaimer: There is a difference between being “real” and just being negative. I’m a huge fan of being honest but I don’t think it’s fair to “dump” all your bad mojo on people.

I went to a moms meeting at my church and one of the pastor’s wives talked about how there was nothing more refining than becoming a parent because at times, you see yourself at your worst. She said: “I learned that I wasn’t God.” I almost stood up and did a little cheer, because honestly, I think we’re all trying to be perfect, or God-like, even if we don’t talk about it or fess up. And here was someone talking about how futile that (not-so-secret) mission really is…

Which brings me to our family photo. We picked a rural area that was beautiful, but also infested with mosquitoes. We didn’t get the couch cushions situated right before we snapped the shot of Jameson. I was too busy flapping the bugs away from the baby to care about smoothing my hair down so it didn’t look crazy. In summation, it didn’t turn out exactly as we had planned.

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4Later, when I went through the photos Charlie took, at first I concentrated on what I perceived as flaws, everything I didn’t consider to be “perfect” (about me mostly) Me, miss-i’m-so-real-and-down-to-earth, wanting to photoshop in smooth hair and my pre-baby toned arms.

My hope for myself (and frankly, my daughter) is that I learn to harness this desire to be “perfect” into a force for something positive. Because when I think about living unsatisfied as a woman because my hair, or clothes, or body type is not someone’s idea of perfection, it just seems, well, stupid. But when I approach it as a Christian, to live unsatisfied may not be so bad, because I find that even when I’m thinking of how great I’m doing, I can always do better. We can always show more kindness, more patience, more forgiveness, and more love when we interact with each other.

 Or at least I know I can, maybe you’re perfect.