On The Emotional Work Of Mommying

Talked with GOOD Magazine about motherhood’s emotional labor.

Here Are My Favorite Links On Motherhood

To mark Valentine’s Day, I dug into my Evernote (where I obsessively save links of interest) and found all the reads I’d tagged with “love.” For this Mother’s Day, I dove back in and cobbled together memorable links on motherhood, a topic that teaches, inspires and challenges me every moment. While I never grew up imagining my wedding/getting married, I always knew instinctively I’d be a mom.

As I write this, I’m surrounded by the singing, stomp-running and occasional screaming of three girls under the age of five, all who call me momma. My love for them is the deepest deep, and becoming a mom made me love my own mother — and need her — even more than I always had. When I was nursing eldest daughter Eva that first week of her life, my mom would stand over me with a bowl of soup and actually feed me as I was feeding my own baby, since my hands weren’t free. To my mom, my 30 year-old body was still her responsibility to nourish, just as I was doing for Eva. I recall so vividly a magical symmetry in the three of us together in those early days of Eva’s life.

Not all of us have kids, but we all have moms, so these links are for everyone.

We’re not so different from our own moms. “Because I’m so attached to her, I’m less attached to my own ego.” The conundrum of combining being an artist and being a mother. Tina Fey’s prayer for her daughter. On being a foreign correspondent and a mother. There’s no real safety net for working mothers. The worrying puritanism of progressive parents. Mothers are keepers of bodies. Becoming a new father, slowly. Getting pregnant is neither punishment nor reward. The only baby book you’ll need. Advice new moms gave me before I became one. The toll of pregnancy on a woman’s body, in one comic. Celebrate nannies and the network of people who care for your child. We have to stop thinking of work-life balance as a woman’s problem. Friend Kat remembers her late mom, by literally walking in her shoes. Thoughts on my back-to-back miscarriages. The black magic of being a mom, even for a moment. “I asked myself, ‘What am I going to lose by having a child?’ And so far the answer is nothing.” Letting go gets even harder when the children grow up.

With Isabel, in Okinawa, last year.

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True To Her Word

Eva remembered! Last week she brought home the book I Love My Dad and told me that she would get the Mom version next time. She delivered.

Her mind is a steel trap.

My Morning Routine Doesn’t Exist

I am continuing my quest to keep up this blog by picking random writing prompts from this list.

This is my morning routine, as of the past few months: Wake up around 6am to the sound of Baby Isabel murmuring and cooing in her crib. She never cries when she wakes up, she just says some stuff like, “Nnnnhn, breh, muhh, arrehh” and occasionally, “Mamamamamamamama.”

She sleeps behind us in a walk-in closet, because we’re space-limited and her sister Eva hasn’t warmed to the idea of letter her sister share a room with her yet. Anyway.

After I let Isa make her noises for a good 10 minutes so that I can slowly wake up, I or Matty go get her, and then I plant her face on my boob for feeding. She gulps down one boob, then switches to the other all while both of us are half asleep. Then I pass her off to Matty, who will burp and return her to her crib for anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. The reason the timing is not exact is because Isa is consistently awakened later in the morning by her own poop (cause who wants to sleep with poop on their ass) or her sister. Each morning, once the sun is brightly shining, we hear the thud-thud-thud-thud-thud of three-year-old Eva, whose footsteps slow as they approach the master bedroom. She creeps in quietly wearing a mischievous grin, and knowing full well that we’re going to tell her not to wake her sister. (She always ends up somehow waking her sister.)

Then Matty does Eva’s morning get-ready-for-school routine, Isabel gets handed off to our helper, Yani, and I go back to sleep. At least I try. This is only somewhat successful depending on whether Eva decides she only wants me to do her hair before school in the morning, and what I find in my email. If I get some sort of email that wakes my brain, I’m up for the day. If neither a hair nor email incident happens, I sleep until about 9:30am.

It sounds hellish but I keep thinking that someday I will miss this routine.

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“We often get caught up in platforms rather than the most important tool for success, which is not a technological platform at all: it’s intellectual curiosity. It’s that persistent tug to want to know more, to ask questions, to seek answers. The best reporting comes from the best questions, and no matter what the platform, great journalists are asking them.”

my chat with Gigaverse about finding good work, my favorite platform on which to report and balancing parenthood and journalism

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Liveblogging My Day With Two Toddlers

Hello from Baltimore, Md., where about 1,000 data journalists and the-people-who-love-them have converged on an EveryMarriott for NICAR 2014. It’s the annual gathering of the best nerd journalist/technologists in the land, convened by the National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting (which needs a name change, yes, we know everything is computer-assisted).

We (my fam) and the Bowerses (another fam with a similarly-aged tot) are staying at a lovely row home appointed with lots of doilies somewhere between Federal Hill and Locust Point neighborhoods of Baltimore. All four adults are journalists — the husbands are both on the NPR News Apps-turned-Visuals team — so in order to free up the guys and Becky B. to attend the conference, I am in charge of the toddlers today.

“You’re not very maternal,” my spouse says, citing my general dude-like sensibilities. But a girl can try! Since the girls are napping, I’ll offer my “live-ish” blog of the day and attempt to continue throughout. This will be really different than that day I live-blogged jury duty, that’s for sure:

8:47am: Becky, Stiles and Bowers leave me alone with a pair of one-and-a-half-year-old girls. After they leave, Eva runs to the window and puts her nose to the glass, looking out. After about two minutes of standing there, she goes, “Bye bye!” (I’ve been working on a bit where I deliberately laugh at jokes WAY after the punch line. Perhaps it is rubbing off on my daughter.)

9:15am: I dispatch with Eva by putting her down for a morning nap. She talks to herself for the first 15 minutes. I hear her trying new consonants while Amelia (a.k.a. The Squeezle) and I read Goodnight, Moon downstairs. We tried to play with one of those books in which you push on various buttons for different songs, but I discover Eva has destroyed it somehow, and it’s now cutting off songs after a few notes and/or buzzing. downdog

9:53am: Squeezle is also down for the count, after she and I played some serious Simon Says. I did a downward facing dog yoga pose to see if she would do it, she one-upped me by reaching her head to the floor. I subsequently tried several times to down-dog my head all the way down to the floor but could not match her flexibility.

10:07am: Toddlers tend to phase out morning naps at this age, but both girls awoke earlier than usual this morning (sometime around 6:30am instead of 7:30am). So I think I might have at least an hour to myself. Should I open my work email or watch last night’s Scandal episode? Besieged as I am with SXSW-related pitches lately, I think I’m going with Scandal.

10:17am: Don’t judge me, but since I want to save Scandal to watch with a friend — that show is much better when you can trash talk it while watching — I’m going to watch Grey’s Anatomy instead. Again, don’t judge. I realize it’s bad.

11:35am: After finishing most of Grey’s Anatomy, I hear Eva stirring. Then she calls “Mama! Mama!” Rest time is over. Sounds like Squeezle is still asleep, so I feed Eva lunch, first. She has now downed a bowl of cooked tofu, a blueberry pancake and a pouch. This may not be enough to satiate her, however. She has the appetite of Michael Phelps.

11:54am: I have just ordered a cheesesteak. And seasoned fries! Should be delivered in 30 mins. I do not plan on sharing these with the girls. ALL MINE.

12:15pm: Started jamming some Mariah Carey’s greatest hits in the kitchen. Eva is only somewhat interested into it, despite my great hopes that she’d enjoy “Dream Lover.” We then had a pretty raucous pillow fight in the guest room.

12:22pm: My cheesesteak/fries arrives at the same time Eva poops her diaper. Moment of decision: change her or down cheesesteak? I did the responsible thing.

Lunching with the Squeezle.

Lunching with the Squeezle.

1:03pm: First toddler-destruction of the day is at the hands of my daughter Eva, who yanked the open cheesesteak wrapper off the table, releasing all my unfinished cheesesteak bits with it. At least I was able to finish the fries, first.

1:19pm: Amelia’s awake! She’s pretty groggy from her long slumber, but I’ve distracted Eva with a Sesame Street episode on my iPad while I feed Amelia some lunch. She’s into it.

1:49pm: Eva’s got some sweet dance moves, as you’ll see in the clip. She’s entertaining herself while Amelia and I finish lunch.

2:18pm: Eva keeps trying to hand objects to Amelia, who is skeptical of all these giveaways. The only thing she happily accepted was her pacifier, when Eva stuck it right into A’s mouth.

2:19pm: I’m now deejaying the dance party with classic The Cure songs, such as “Just Like Heaven.” Both girls dig it. Friday, I’m in love.

2:37pm: Eva started crawling up the stairs, indicating she was ready for her afternoon nap. So I’m back down to one kid. Amelia and I continue our dance party.

2:44pm: I smell poop.

2:45pm: I was right. Okay so we know both babies have excellent gastrointestinal systems. All healthy.

She didn't do it.

She didn’t do it.

3:11pm: Tiny humans are pretty hilarious play friends. It’s kinda like hanging out with your grownup friends when everyone’s punch drunk at 3am. For instance, Amelia just found some leather gloves in the house and we take turns trying them on. Every time it’s my turn, I try to do my best Johnnie Cochran “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” impression. Amelia doesn’t understand why I keep cracking up. OJ jokes really are generational.

4:15pm: After the Squeezle (Amelia) and I had a lovely quiet hour of reading together, Eva awoke ready to destroy some stuff, as usual. She ripped apart her Doctor Maisy book (which is one of her faves) and now I’m quizzing both girls on their IDing of objects in a “First Words” book. It’s a bilingual experience. Eva’s saying the things she recognizes in Mandarin Chinese, while I’m quizzing Squeeze in English.

4:54pm: One of my girlfriends, Skyler, just called.
Me: I’m with two toddlers right now.
Skyler: You’re with two tacos right now?
Me: Toddlers.
Skyler: Two tacos?
Me: No, toddlers.
Skyler: Oh, wow. It’s just a lot more natural to assume you’re with two tacos.

And with my spouse on his way home soon to relieve me and dinner to prep for the girls, I should wrap up this liveblog. All in all, not a bad day. Eva’s saying a new word — baby, and Amelia is CRUSHING IT at playing the xylophone. Thanks for reading along. Until next time…

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My Daughter Turned A Year Old Today

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And just like that, a year is over.

Babies manifest the passage of time in a dynamic way. One day they’re tiny, the next day they’re not, and suddenly they’re not even babies anymore.

On this day last year, my mom was quite literally feeding me a chicken leg in between contractions that were three minutes apart, before we met my midwife at the hospital. She insisted I needed the protein for the final few hours of labor. She was right. That chicken saved me, and Matty, who she also fed.

People say, congratulations for making it to a year, but I don’t think we deserve much credit for anything. Eva, as those of you who know her, just crushes it at life. Her fearless approach to every new encounter delights and inspires us, but perhaps her greatest gift over the last year is allowing us to maintain our freedom. Being well-rested and of good cheer, Eva let us proceed normally with adult pursuits. She has reliably gone to bed every night around 6:30pm since she was six weeks old, so Momma can get out to her happy hours and dinners as before. She also knows never to wake up before 7am, because her parents need sleep to function. And she travels with us to cities around the globe — she’s logged 22,295 miles on planes, and who knows how many on trains, boats and automobiles.

A hopeless nostalgic, I take photos and keep journals and blogs because it makes me sorta sad that *this moment* will never be, again. Our memory cards are exploding with images and videos and data from the last year. I’ve used an app to log every hour Eva’s slept, every minute she’s nursed and every diaper since her first week of life. It’s proven so helpful for understanding her natural routines so we can just go with her flow, and in packing, since we know how much stuff she consumes or uses over the course of the day. But a year seems like a nice stopping point for the relentless tracking.

Incidentally, the Washington Post just ran a story this weekend about how digitally saving every memory could actually be confusing us. If we save everything, how do we know what’s worth remembering? I think our hearts and brains figure that out. I was talking with my mom on the phone this morning and she recalled how, when I was one, I figured out how to turn my body around to go down steps legs and butt first. And how my hands kept grabbing at her collarbone when I was lost in a nursing haze. Little memories, tiny things, my momma can remember like they were just mere moments ago. She reminded me that that’s something transformatively powerful about your momma-baby relationship. It’s living and growing and changing, but also imprinted in your heart and mind forever.

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The Lactation Station (And Other Nursing Adventures)

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

Someday when I am old, I will look back on these days of new mommahood, when at least four times during the workday I find myself in a windowless 3’x5′ room, on the other side of the wall from our national security correspondents, attached reluctantly to an electric breast pump while overhearing conversations about the ramifications of unilateral disarmament.

To be clear, I think nursing is awesome. I truly enjoy providing both physical and emotional sustenance for Baby E in one loving act. It’s really no sweat, either, since Eva is my only baby. My Chinese great-grandmother nursed seven (7) babies in total, earning her the respect of many generations and lasting evidence of her hard work — mom tells me my great-grannie could actually fling her drooping boobs over her shoulders. Impressive on many levels, that lady.

But the difference between nursing a baby and pumping milk for a baby is like the difference between visiting Venice and going to the Olive Garden. Pumping is tedious and soulless and in my case, always really awkward when I emerge from the lactation station and make eye contact with the national security guys who surely overheard my pump as they were discussing war and Syria and what not.

I am glad I had a daughter, because maybe one day she will have a baby of her own, and she, too, can experience the wonder and the weirdness that is motherhood.

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Waiting For The New Human

An ongoing debate. (Photo by Denise DeBelius)

I’m now at that stage of pregnanthood where I feel like the Kool-Aid man, about to bust through a wall going “OH YEEEEAH.”  But Fetus is not scheduled to arrive for another two weeks, which means I’m maintaining my regular work schedule, minus the air travel. 

For those who have been through this sort of thing or are just curious, here’s what we know: The baby’s active and his head is down, in the optimal position for delivery. He/she is still getting properly oxygenated, and midwife is estimating he/she is at about seven pounds right now. (It didn’t stop some various pals from guessing birth weights at 27 lbs, however. Stiles data-vizzed our pals guesses for birth date, weight and sex.)

Really healthy and smooth situation over here. I haven’t had any back pain or skin weirdness and usually my shoes fit fine. (The exception is after my chili cheese dog binges, which are normal in my diet.) We are generally set with our baby stuff, thanks in large part to the two showers from this summer, and my online shopping problem.

I switched to midwives instead of an OBGYN practice about four months into the pregnancy. (If you are interested in the reasons why, reach out to me anytime.) The midwives are fantastic and they catch babies at the hospital, so there are surgeons nearby should they be required. But our hope is to let everything go as spontaneously and medication-free as possible. Now we wait.

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