Category Archives: family

Rolling Resolutions: Personal, Creative, and Professional Goals

I hate New Year’s resolutions.

Basically, I hate anything that sets me up for disappointment. And setting a list of goals to accomplish in the new year always sets me up for disappointment.

Sure, I’ll start off great. But then life gets in the way, and by December, instead of looking at everything the year has brought me and everything I have accomplished… all I can see are those unchecked items on my list.

So instead, I revise my ongoing list of goals to reflect what I would like to accomplish moving forward. If it gets done in 2014, great. If I even start it this year, wonderful. Sometimes, all I have to do is mull one of the items over sometime in the course of the year. Other times, circumstances change so that I can’t, or no longer need or want to, accomplish one or more of the items on the list.

And it makes for a nice little blog post at the beginning of the year.

There is one thing I like about tying these goals to a new year: The holidays often take precedence over any type of personal or career development I have in mind. Eating habits worsen. Exercise is laughable. So I can see the benefits of “starting fresh.” But I’m still not going to make myself finish an entire to-do list in one year.

So what’s on this “All-Year Resolutions” list?

Family

Family photos

1. Be more present. One of the things I most regret about this past year, and probably all years, is not being present — but especially because this year brought us the greatest gift ever, our son. I do believe I have been more present, positive, and optimistic this year because of him. But there were also great swaths of time where I was too focused on meaningless details that, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t really matter, and I had no control over anyway. For instance, baby sleep.

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My God, how obsessed I was about baby sleep. I logged every minute he spent with eyes closed in an app, built spreadsheets to try to determine his sleep patterns for optimal nap scheduling, endlessly researched baby sleep, and generally fretted over every little thing. I worried about why he wasn’t sleeping in the crib at 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, three months, four months, five. I dramatically sighed and rolled my eyes and succumbed to despair every single time he made a peep after we believed he had finally — FINALLY — fallen asleep.

The fact is, our kid has never been a stellar napper. And for a long time, he sucked at falling asleep. He was always a good nighttime sleeper — at least, he always slept appropriately for whatever age he was.

And then, at five months, when he learned to roll over, we were finally able to put him in the crib, because he could do what he couldn’t up until then: roll onto his tummy, in his favorite sleeping position, and fall asleep.

And he fell into his own natural schedule.

And sometimes he’s tired behind schedule. And sometimes he’s tired ahead of schedule.

And now we don’t really stress. Mainly because it’s become easier.

But I really wish I hadn’t spent all that time crazed over something that, for the most part, I couldn’t control.

Baby sleep, man. Shit’s nuts. Deal with it and try to stay sane.

That’s just one example, but in general, I would like to spend more time WITH my family — “with” meaning in body, mind, spirit, heart. Not half-listening to my husband, half playing Candy Crush Saga. Not too busy instagramming a great moment with my son that I miss a dozen other great moments. Not worrying about yesterday, tomorrow, and everything in between when I should be enjoying right now with my family.

Personal

1. Physical activity. The year we got married, I really upped my fitness regimen.

Okay, I started a fitness regimen. Because until then, there was nothing to up.

I’m not one of those people who thrives on the adrenaline I get from working out. I hate working out. Hate. It. But I love the results.

But we got married, and went on a honeymoon cruise, and had Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then we were TTC, then I was pregnant, then I was a busy new mom, then I was breastfeeding, then it was Thanksgiving, then Christmas… basically, a million and one excuses for letting things slide. And it’s not about looking great (though that’d be nice). But it’s about feeling great, and feeling healthy. So now that our breastfeeding relationship is nearing an end, I’d like to get back on the fitness bandwagon. Which ties in with my next personal goal…

2. Diet. Not as in, start a diet. But as in, watch my diet. As in, the things I eat.

Eat better.

Like, not having a handful (or two) of M&Ms for a mid-morning snack. Like, HAVING a mid-morning snack. Like, not eating three helpings of pie. And a bowl of ice cream. And a bag of Lemonheads.

3. Work on my book. Last year, I started writing a contemporary young adult novel. I got the first draft done, and then I took a break, and during that break, I started a side business and that has taken up the abundance of my “free time.” This year, I’d like to work on that first draft and see what happens.

Professional

1. Grow my web presence. One of my biggest goals for my side business was to start a website for Franny & Franky Designs, my new graphic design business — which I accomplished two days before the New Year. So now, in addition to having a Franny & Franky Designs storefront on Etsy, it has its own place on the web, as well. I like it.

Franny & Franky Designs website

I registered a domain with GoDaddy and used Wix.com for the hosting. I opted for Wix’s unlimited package, which doesn’t have a shopping cart. That was just fine with me — I actually thought I would do an additional storefront here, but its cart was a little limited for what I wanted to do, and the idea of keeping up a storefront on Etsy and my own site gave me a headache. So I’m just linking to my Etsy shop from there.

There are a couple of things I love about having an additional website. First, it gives me a place to showcase my custom work, which I can’t do on Etsy. It also gives me another place on the internet to work my keywords, hopefully boosting my search engine ranking over time. It’s another way for people to find me. It allows me to tell more of a story than I tell on Etsy. And… well, it’s just fun.

2. Roll out a few new product lines for Franny & Franky Designs. I’ve already rolled out a few.  I’d like to work on more. The cool thing about creativity is that action begets ideas. In other words, the more stuff I work on, the more ideas I get.

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Franny & Franky Designs Wedding state guest book alternative art print

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New York City road map heart art print at Franny & Franky Designs on Etsy

Custom Wedding City Road Map Guest Book alternative art print at Franny & Franky Designs on Etsy

Custom wedding city save the date postcard by Franny & Franky Designs on Etsy

You might notice a pattern — more wedding products. I really love the idea of many of my designs being used as wedding guest book art prints. You know, those guest book alternatives that replace the traditional guest book, where guests sign a large print that you can then frame and display in your home. I considered having one of these at our own wedding a couple of years back, but ultimately decided on a book. Now, I wish I’d had this idea back then so I could have had one of my own prints there!

At any rate, that leads me to my next goal for the business…

3. Expand my wedding business

I’ve already purchased a featured listing on mywedding.com, and we’ll see how that goes. I just wanted to start with one listing since I’m not super established yet and don’t have a huge marketing budget. It’s really a Catch-22. You need exposure to get big, but it’s hard to come by exposure when you’re just starting out. I’ve identified a few things I need to do, though, to start building this market, and I realize it’s going to come slowly since it is such a saturated market. For now, I’m reaching out to wedding planners (locally for the time being) to let them know about my products, contacting wedding bloggers and shopping sites, setting up as many free listings as possible, and working up a plan to incorporate more wedding decor content on this blog, on my Facebook page, on Twitter, etc. For example, I have a blog post planned on how to reuse wedding decor elements in your home to extend their life and give you a sweet reminder of the day.

4. Expand my business in general

I started this thing thinking, “I wonder if anybody will buy these.” Four months later, I’ve made over 100 sales, with minimal promotion. And without a business or marketing plan. So my goal this year is to develop a business plan and goals, achievements that I’ll need to reach to get closer to my goals, and steps to take to make those achievements. More on this in a later post.

You’ll notice that my professional area has more goals than family. But that’s not because the professional area is more important. It’s just because there are more actionable goals there. And, ultimately, I want to grow it to the point where I can work from home and be there for the kid’s after-school activities and whatnot.

So — what are your resolutions, goals, plans, hopes, dreams, whatever you choose to call them, for this year and beyond?

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Gummy Grins and Growth Spurts: A 3-Month Update

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NOTE: He’s 4 months old now — I’m playing catch-up!

You’re 3 months, bub — no longer a newborn, but a full-fledged kiddo. This month was even more exciting than the last (though I have a feeling I’ll be saying that every month).

You took your 2-month shots like a champ, as hard as it was to watch you cry. You slept like a log the whole next day, but then we were back to your regularly scheduled programming of 30-minute naps and frequent night wakings.

Your smiles became our favorite part of every single day. Your whole face lights up; the delight you feel is palpable. It’s hard not to smile in return. You used to wake hungry and cranky, inconsolable until fed. Now, while you may fuss or cry to tell us you’re all done sleeping, you smile when we appear to lift you from your cradle. A frustrating side effect of this joy are the coy smiles you flash as we attempt to rock you to sleep. You seem more interested in flirting or gazing up at the artwork on the walls than sleeping, and it’s impossible not to smile ourselves and interact with you even though we must remain focused on getting you to close your eyes for just a bit. But how could we possibly get mad at that gummy, gregarious grin? Your smiles took over this month and you became a thoroughly happy baby who left behind the wailing scream-fests of your second month.

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This month, you started grabbing at objects with more zest and purposefulness, succeeding on many occasions at wrapping your fingers around the tentacles of your Captain Calamari toy, the wings of the owl hanging from your activity gym, the spokes of the colorful Winkel we wave in your face during chill sessions on our bed. Your hand-eye coordination took a giant leap and you purposely began swatting at things instead of swatting near them.

You love to look in the mirror, so that’s entered our daily rotation of activities. You smile and laugh at the “other baby” in the mirror, and shyly turn your head from your reflection. You delight at seeing me there, even as I inexplicably hold you in my arms. We also discovered that you love to gaze at the phot0s hanging on the hallway walls, so we take you there daily, explaining who is in each photo. Your favorites are the shot of daddy and me kissing in a gazebo on our wedding day, and a snapshot of Zoe, grandpa’s Boston terrier.

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We started to add a nighttime read to your bedtime routine, and though you’re sometimes a bit too cranky to finish the story, you have started to pay more attention to the book we hold in front of you, occasionally quieting down long enough for us to finish. You especially love “Little Blue and Little Yellow” and “Oh! The Places You’ll Go.” If you’re in a good enough mood, I’ll cradle you in my arms and softly sing “Hush Little Baby” or “Hey There, Delilah” until you yawn and start the slow blink. It’s so sweet to watch you entranced, gazing into my face, and growing drowsy. Truth be told, though, you more often than not prefer to be held in a sitting position or vertically looking over our shoulders, so you can look at the sights surrounding you, rather than cradled like a baby.

This month, you started to really notice Rosie and Andy, our dog and cat. You’re especially fond of Andy, probably because of his high-contrast black-and-white fur. In true Andy style, he’ll settle himself near you while you’re chilling out or eating, but as soon as I turn him to you and stretch your hand out to stroke his head, he bounds away. Rosie has become your constant companion, however, following you around the house and lying next to you as you play in your activity gym, as if to guard you from intruders.

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We’ve started taking you out more since you received your first round of shots, to restaurants and a few stores. You are so good while out, and while you often end up skipping a nap, you don’t cry or fuss at all. We even took you out for an early dinner with the grandpas and Grandma P, to our favorite Mexican restaurant downtown (incidentally, I had my last pregnant meal at its sister restaurant the night I went into labor with you). You just played with your Captain Calamari, dozed off a bit, then gained a second wind as you gazed and smiled at the light filtering in through the mesh on your car seat canopy.

You’ve found your voice, as well, shouting joyfully at the toys in your gym and the Tiny Love mobile that you dance along to in your crib. I am convinced you’re going to be either a dancer or a soccer player, the way you kick your legs so vigorously. When you really get going, you point your toes and your arms pump up and down in unison with your feet, and you pant and coo. This is so much fun to watch — though not as fun to experience while trying to change your clothes and your diaper! You’ve even started smiling in the bathttub, and especially love it when I narrate what we’re doing. I’ve added a few moves to our nighttime post-bath massage, which you really seem to enjoy. I love this time with you to get quiet and connect before bedtime.

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As my maternity leave comes to an end, I find myself gripped with fear at leaving you somewhere else all day long. I dread the time away from you, your face, your smile, your laugh, your little legs and arms, your chunky hands and feet, your cheeks, your hair, and your soft, hot breathing. Although I feel a sense of relief at connecting with the world as a working adult once again, at not having to struggle multiple times each day with your naps, and at gaining back some of my time to do some solo shopping and errands at lunch or to enjoy a hot meal (or a trip to the bathroom) without interruption, I can’t help but feel a sense of guilt and sadness at the span of time we’ll spend apart for 40+ hours each week. Daddy is getting a little misty, too, even though he chided me for feeling this way in the past. We made a quick visit to your daycare the week before you started, to get acquainted with your teachers and bring by some of your stuff. I think that’s when it really hit Daddy that you’ll no longer be the only baby around, that you’ll be one of eight other kids competing for attention. But we both do feel secure in knowing that your teachers are kind and loving, experienced and dedicated to making sure that you have the best day and continue to develop and grow as you have at home. In a way, a part of me is even envious that you have this social experience that I did not — not having spent much time with other children until I entered preschool at 4 years old, I know that you’ll benefit from seeing others achieve milestones you’re coming up on, and from interacting with those your age, learning how to play, share, and more.

I was certain that you hadn’t changed at all since your 2-month shot, but as usual, your 3-month picture side-by-side with the one taken 4 weeks ago has disabused me of that notion! You are far chunkier — you must weigh 15 pounds by now, if not more — and taller, able to support your head and sit propped up rather than toppling over like you did last month. While you’re still far from sitting on your own, you can spend some time in your Bumbo or on our lap without collapsing onto yourself in a pile of jelly bones.

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Growing Up So Fast: A 2-Month Update

2 months small

Note: He’s 4 months old now… playing catch up!

Happy 2 months, buddy! Grandma came to visit you all the way from New York when you were just 4 weeks old — a visit that was timed with your very first social smiles. Tentative but soul-lifting, you flashed a gummy smirk when we gazed into your face and spoke to you — and the smirks turned into grins over the next few weeks as you clearly started demonstrating a precious preferences for us, your parents. You also started laughing this month — the first time at me as I took you out of your rock n play when you wouldn’t sleep, to try reswaddling you. You giggled as if to say, “Haha mommy, that won’t work! Sleep is for the weak!” While they’re still just little chuckles, you’re such a  happy baby that they’ll surely turn into hearty belly laughs in no time. You’re happiest in the morning, unlike your mommy and daddy.

You also started grabbing for things — our faces, toys we showed you. It warms my heart that you might recognize us and be grabbing to say hello. One morning, lying in bed while nursing, you locked eyes with me, and I said, “Hi.” Up came your hand, flailing but aiming right for my lower lip, and you gently tugged. Were you saying “hi” back? I think so.

By the end of the month, your smiles came even more frequently and became so much more special. When I would come up to you after any sort of separation, your face would light up just for me. And your eyes began following your daddy and me around a room. When your daddy handed you over to me, your head remained turned, your eyes on him.

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You went from 9 pounds, 7 ounces at your 4-week appointment to 12 pounds at 8 weeks, and shot up to 22.5 inches. We retired footsie pajamas you’d suddenly grown too long for, but are still shoving you into the footless Carter’s sleepers that have now shrunk into highwaters on your lengthening frame. You started officially outgrowing your newborn clothes and fitting into some of your 3-month stuff, and I said goodbye to your newborn wardrobe at around 6 weeks. We adjusted your car seat straps when you shot up and inch, and then again when you suddenly grew by another inch. I can hardly believe how much and how quickly you’re growing, not just physically, but mentally, as well. Comparing your 1-month and 2-month photos, you barely look like the same kid at all.

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You also started sleeping for longer stretches of up to five hours at a time at night, and naps began emerging during the day — but only because we started putting you down at regular intervals. You are not the baby who will sleep anywhere, on or in anything! You will push yourself to stay up longer and longer — unfortunately, growing fussier and fussier as time passes. Aside from the nighttime, you’re not the greatest sleeper in the world. We tried transitioning you to your crib, an experiment that lasted three days before you found yourself back within the comforting confines of the rock n play beside our bed. Hey, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?

We introduced you to your activity mat at the beginning of the month, which you took to right away. You love to swat and kick at the dangling toys and seem delighted when you achieve the tinkling bell noise (though you still don’t realize the cause and effect of your motion and that sound). You started trying to flip over to your back during tummy time, and sometimes you get so frustrated you start crying, but you will get there! You managed to roll over at just 4 weeks, a fluke that sadly has not been repeated, yet thrilled us to the core.

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You make the most adorable noises, like a kitten. Your favorite face of ours is the DeNiro face, followed closely by “fish face.”

Daddy started taking over your baths this month, which quickly became his favorite task, even though he was at first afraid of accidentally drowning or dropping you. It’s so special to watch the two of you bonding and to hear him chattering away to you. Of course, I still retain the rights to your pre-bed foot massage, which you love so much.

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It’s been an amazing month, kid, but the best is yet to come. You’re no longer that bleary-eyed, feeding, sleeping lump we brought home from the hospital, but rather a child with a clearly emerging personality. “You can tell he’s going to be a good kid,” your daddy commented this month.

And I agree.

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A One-Month Update, Two Weeks Late

1 month small

Little man, you’re one month old today! When you were just a few days old, I held you on the couch and sobbed happy tears, telling your dad that my whole life, I’d been rushing from one thing to the next — marriage to house to pregnancy to labor — but that now, I was done rushing. I didn’t want you to grow up too quickly, or for me to have wasted your childhood anticipating the next thing. Yet I find myself oddly rushing your growth for a strange reason — you have so few newborn clothes and so many 3-month outfits that I’m dying to see you in!

Still under 10 pounds, you seem like such a shrimp to me. Your 3-month onesies fit, but the pants are still big. But then I took your 1-month photos and sat them aside shots from 1 week, and wow! How you’ve grown. I may have cried… just a bit. You’re taller, rounder, more unfurled than you were at birth. It’s amazing and scary. It makes me proud to know that in a sense, I did that. Breastfeeding was rough for both of us at the start, but keeping with it and feeding you with what nature gave me has helped you grow so big and strong. I love knowing that I’m doing that for you. It’s a gift only I can give you.

1 week

 

One week

You’re holding your head up for several seconds during tummy time and when we hold you upright. You’ve also become so much more alert and aware when awake, looking around in wonder with those big blue-gray eyes (what color will they eventually become? Daddy thinks brown, like his; I bank on hazel, like mine). You’ve also started to fix your gaze on certain things, locking eyes with us here and there. You stare and bat and kick at the toys in your activity gym and appear delighted when you manage to whack one and make its bell ring. You grab at the toy bar in your swing. You open your arms and raise them toward us when we approach you in your playpen, and when I hold you upright and walk you around when you’re cranky and overtired, you nuzzle your head against my shoulder, the top of your scalp against my cheek, and fling your arm around mine. You don’t know what you’re doing, but you seem to know comfort and are leaning how to find it. It makes my heart burst that it’s in our arms.

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You also treated us to your first social smile the weekend you turned 1 month. You smile more at sounds than anything, and your laughs are still small and random (but so delightful — a gloriously hearty one while you were falling asleep one night warmed my heart and gave me butterflies — a sneak peek!) but you’re showing what you like more and more and becoming so responsive.

As for what it’s like to have an infant — overwhelming, wonderful, stressful, unpredictable, humbling, unexpected, life-changing, mind-scrambling, and more. If I could go back to that first week, I’d have some words for the new mommy who marveled at how much you slept (or maybe I’d just let her remain blissful naive). After that first week, we added “severe sleep deprivation” to the challenges parenthood presented us with. But now, just four weeks later, we’re all settling into a routine — as much as it changes.

At your 4-week checkup, you were 9 pounds, 7 ounces — a huge jump from the 7 pounds, 12 ounces just two weeks prior! It makes us so proud to see you fill out and grow.

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I’ve found that small things have begun affecting me in new ways. Having a child is like getting a new pair of glasses — the world doesn’t change, but your role in it does. While the idea of harm brought to children certainly bothers you as a human before you have children, it affects you as a parent afterwards. Children in pain, sick, dying — they make you grab onto what’s in front of you, sob for the other parent and child but silently thank God it’s not you. It makes you realize the confluence of miracles that must occur for you to stay with us day after day. Not only were we blessed with a relatively quick and painless conception when so many other couples struggle to get pregnant, we didn’t have to suffer the silent pain of a miscarriage. We didn’t have frightening ultrasounds or dramatic complications during pregnancy. You were never in distress. Your labor and delivery were practically uneventful. You passed all your tests, all your screenings, put on weight appropriately, and continue to develop well. The things we hear and read, the indignities and devastation that others must endure, and the fact that we didn’t have to — it changes the way you look at life. And while I’m sure you’ll get sick, hurt yourself, be hurt and live through disappointments, worry and fear, doubt and fret, panic and skulk, today, you are happy and healthy and snoring sweetly in your bassinet next to our bed. And for that, for just that one moment of you near me, I would trade a million yesterdays and tomorrows.

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I love you, little man.

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Bean Becomes a Little Man: A Belated Birth Story

How can I update this blog weekly on my pregnancy and go more than an entire month without even telling you that Bean was born? Oh, that’s right — diapers, breastfeeding, nap attempts, sleepless nights, and trying to squeeze a shower in there somewhere. Well, here’s Bean’s birth story, once and for all.

Little D was born at 8:27 a.m. on February 2, one day before his due date. He was 7 pounds even and 20.5 inches and healthy as can be — so the gestational diabetes apparently didn’t do any sort of number on him. After weeks of wishing and hoping and worrying and waiting, he came rather abruptly (at least compared with what I was afraid of — a long, protracted birth followed by an emergency c-section) and without too much fanfare.

I had been having some false labor for about a week before he arrived. The first couple of bouts, I knew it was nothing — it wasn’t timeable or terribly strong, just some cramping and general ickiness — but I kept hoping it would turn into something. My mucus plug had fallen out at 35 weeks, and I’d been having lots of discharge since, so I was paranoid that I wouldn’t be able to tell when my water broke. I’d also been having cramps, so I was paranoid I wouldn’t be able to tell a contraction from a cramp. All I could do was time my cramps and see if that told me anything. At 39w3d, I was having timeable cramps 10 minutes apart for an hour while at work, then they went away. They came back later that evening — not strong or really even very painful — 10 minutes apart, then went away.
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My last belly shot, 2 days before I went into labor.
At my doctor’s appointment the next day, I mentioned the regularity of the cramping and how crappy in general I had been feeling. To be honest, I was hoping he’d do something to speed things along, so I tried to look as dejected and exhausted as possibly — which wasn’t too much of a stretch. We had a biophysical profile ultrasound to check on the baby’s size and development, and everything looked fine, as usual. The doctor said he was hoping I would give birth sooner rather than later because of the diabetes. I had an induction date scheduled for the day after I turned 41 weeks, but after he examined me, he reported I was 2 cm and almost completely effaced, so he didn’t expect me to last that long. He also stripped my membranes, which was so, so painful. I bled quite a bit that day and had some strong cramps, but nothing regular, and by that evening, it had subsided.

That was also my surprise last day at work. My boss had told me earlier that week that, while Friday was supposed to be my last day before maternity leave, she wanted me to go a couple of days early to rest. I stayed for the lunch they had brought in, and went home for a really uneventful day. I was exhausted, so I napped in the afternoon, then for five hours at night before turning in for good  — my body must have sensed I’d need the rest. But otherwise, I didn’t feel like any progress was being made.

The next day (Friday February 1, two days before my due date), I felt discouraged because I’d had no timeable cramps or any other labor signs since the membrane sweep. I knew I was still two days away from my due date, but I was so consumed with the birth and so physically miserable that I was psyching myself out — and, I worried further, not relaxing enough for labor and potentially stressing the baby out.

My husband and I went for a walk around the block that afternoon, and then I napped a bit before we went out to dinner with my father-in-law, who’d come into town a few days earlier. I ordered the spiciest things I could on the menu in the hopes of jump starting something — I wanted to try all the tricks in the book. I’d also taken a warm bath earlier that day to try to force my body to relax.

When we got home that night, I complained some more about how much I wanted to go into labor right then and there, and how sick of pregnancy I was. Finally, I took the longest, hottest shower ever, just letting the water run over my back, and meditated and concentrated on the things in my life I was grateful for and the hopes I had for our unborn son. I tried to let go as much as I could and just enjoy the shower and the uninterrupted time with Mister Mister before Bean made his appearance.

After getting out of the shower, I put on underwear and a tank top and started to get into bed — that’s when I felt a pop and suddenly had what I thought was the strongest cramp known to man. I also let what I thought was a tremendous amount of discharge go into my underwear. I had to brace myself against the wall until the “cramp” passed. My husband popped up and asked, “What is it? A cramp?” I nodded, and then, when it passed, I sat on the toilet to check my underwear — which looked as if it had been soaked through with water, not discharge. And then I was leaking water into the toilet — not peeing. I looked up at my husband and said, “I think my water just broke!” He got nervous, I started laughing uncontrollably, he said, “Are you sure??”, and I stood up only to let a huge gush of clear liquid onto the floor with every laugh.

OK, so I think I know the difference between water breaking and discharge leaking.

I cleaned myself up, put on fresh underwear with a pad, and called the doctor’s answering service like they’d requested, just to tell them I was headed to the hospital because I thought my water had broken. We crazily packed up the rest of our hospital bag, all nerves and excitement tinged with a bit of fear and vague worry. Mister Mister called his dad to come over and watch the dog overnight, and then I sat on the couch and was treated to what I now know was my second true contraction, exactly 10 minutes after the first one. It was sickening, wrapped hard from my back to my front, and gripped me tight for up to a minute. For the next hour, I walked, I leaned against a wall, I had my husband press against my back. I tried getting on my hands and knees and bouncing on the yoga ball. Nothing pulled me through them except the breathing I learned in birthing class.

Well, I now know the difference between a cramp and a contraction.

By the time Mister Mister’s dad arrived an hour later, the contractions were  five minutes apart. By the time we got to the hospital, 10 minutes away, they were two minutes apart. They just kept crashing over me; I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was 11 p.m.

>We checked in, they did a cervical check in triage, and I thrashed around on the bed and begged her to finish quickly.It was the longest minute or so of my life. “It hurts so bad!” I screamed. “That’s because you’re at 7 cm,” she said. Holy cow! My goal was to hit 5 cm before getting an epidural – this made that decision much easier. Two nurses arrived to set me up with an IV since I had requested an epidural and needed to be fully hydrated first. I had requested they tap a location that would be more convenient to breastfeeding than the inside of my elbow, but they had difficulties finding a good vein in my left hand and tried for a couple of minutes, digging around trying to catch a vein that kept moving and disappearing. It was sort of horrifying combined with the contractions, but they were finally able to get something on my right hand.

It’s funny how your priorities change in labor. I had been so afraid of the epidural because I wouldn’t be able to move around and I wanted freedom to labor in any position. Yet as they got ready to wheel me up to labor and deliver, they asked whether I wanted to walk or ride (in the bed) and my immediate answer was RIDE. I did not want to walk anywhere!

Over in L&D, I got my epidural at 1 a.m., and by 1:15, I was 8 cm but feeling very little pain — just basically low pressure  when I had a contraction. At 1:45, I was feeling more constant pressure in my butt, and they checked me and declared me a 9, 90% effaced, with baby at a 0 station —  just hanging out.

The epidural did slow things down, though, to where my contractions were spacing out and not strong enough to push the baby down much, which made any pushing less than effective. By my next check at 4 a.m., I was at 10 cm and fully effaced, but baby was still a 0 to -1 station. I practice pushed a bit around 5 a.m., but the nurses said if I started pushing then, I’d be pushing for two to three hours and they — nor I — didn’t want that. The nurses could see his head full of dark hair, though, which was incredible to hear.

Around 6 a.m., my midwife had them start me at Pitocin to help my contractions come stronger and closer together. They bumped that up a few times and I tried to relax and save my energy for pushing. Finally, at 7:30, my contractions were strong enough and close enough that I could effectively push. My midwife pushed with me for a bit while Mister Mister and nurse helped, then she left for a while and came back around 8:15 as I started to crown. I pushed through a few more contractions and finally he crowned – at which point the burning and pressure was so intense that I decided I couldn’t do it and said so. That, unfortunately, was not an option, and I pushed hard – and just when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, Mister Mister exclaimed, “Baby, look!” and I looked down to see our son coming out of me. He started crying almost immediately, I stopped pushing out of shock and started crying, the midwife reminded me to keep pushing, and I pushed him the rest of the way out of me. My midwife had Mister Mister delivery the shoulders, and then had him move our baby up to my stomach while they vigorously cleaned him off. Mister Mister then cut the cord, and they moved him up to my chest for immediate skin-to-skin contact. I was so amazed and overwhelmed — I have no words. I had been so worried I wouldn’t bond with him immediately, but reality could not have been further from my fears.

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Mr. Grumpypants being weighed and measured

The first part of our hour of kangaroo care wasn’t all rainbows, though. I had to push out my placenta (no big deal) and then I was bleeding too much so my midwife had to manually help my uterus clamp down (slightly bigger deal). They were messing with the IV in my hand and gave me a shot of something in my leg. I ended up with a 2nd degree tear, and the epidural helped only slightly with the stitch pain. But then the hub bub was over and I got to nurse Little D for the first time. After about an hour, the nurse took him and weighed him, got his footprints, and helped my husband take some pictures. She helped me up to go to the bathroom (I’d had a catheter but needed to be able to pee on my own, which I did) and get cleaned up and put on the mesh hospital panties and a pad (both of which I stocked up on when leaving the hospital — the mesh panties are amazing!). Then we were wheeled over to our mother/baby room and the grandpas got to visit their grandson for the first time, with my stepmom and a friend coming later.

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Our family

 Altogether, I am so grateful to have had a relatively easy birth. The nurses and staff at our hospital and our midwife made everything as easy and wonderful as possible. All my fears throughout pregnancy — an emergency c-section, an epidural bringing an avalanche of dangerous interventions, problems with the baby, complications — all proved unfounded, showing that I probably could have stood to relax a bit over the previous nine months. My body and my baby did exactly what nature intended, and now we have a beautiful, perfectly healthy son.

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Four weeks later
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Holiday Heartbreak: My Mother’s Bittersweet Broccoli Casserole

I didn’t expect that a casserole would make me cry.

I should have known. It was, after all, my mother’s famous Broccoli Casserole, the one she served every Thanksgiving to an eager table of hungry family members and friends. And seeing as how I hadn’t tasted the mainstay, not once, in the nearly three years since she passed away… well, it was pretty much inevitable that when I nailed the recipe on the first try, my emotions would get the best of me.

Mom inherited the recipe from her friend Mary Pat in the late 1970s. The first year she made it, the story goes, my family was less than enthusiastic. In fact, some of them simply refused to taste the dish. My gentle immigrant grandfather, a man who would eat anything you put in front of him, led this skeptical pack. So my mother, never one to take an insult lying down, stomped around the dinner table, testily spooning out portions of the cheesy, gooey concoction onto every. single. person’s. plate.

The following Thanksgiving, most of the original naysayers nonchalantly asked if she’d possibly maybe be making that casserole again. After that, it became tradition. She occasionally considered cooking it in the “off season,” but she felt it wouldn’t be as special if she made it more frequently.

I agree.

Even after many of our family members passed away and the rest scattered, after Thanksgiving became just my mother, my father, and me, she made a full table of food every November — turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cranberry sauce, and, of course, the Broccoli Casserole.

Cooking became for me after Mom died from a heart attack on the morning of Dec. 1, 2006. She had been a stay-at-home mom throughout my life, and my memories of her usually revolved around the dishes she made and the time we spent in our large, sunny Oklahoma kitchen. When I began living on my own and making my own forays into the culinary world, I’d frequently call her, sometimes two to three times a night, asking about substitutions and measurements, cooking temperatures and times. If a recipe was especially good, I’d email it to her. Sometimes she’d argue with me about certain things, like the oven-fried chicken recipe that called for the chicken thighs to cook for 45 minutes on each side (“They’ll be too dry!” she protested. “Mom, I swear, I’ve made it a million times and it’s great. It’s 45 minutes,” I said. “OK, if you say so, but I think they’ll be dry,” she clucked as she gathered the ingredients. She later called me raving about how moist they were).

It wasn’t until almost two years after her death that I slowly started cooking more for myself and others. It was harder than I thought to not share my hits and misses with my foodie Mom. So when a friend invited me to a 4th of July barbecue back in 2008 and asked me to bring a covered dish, I decided to try out Mom’s Broccoli Casserole.

Initially, my Dad and I were worried that she hadn’t written it down. Sometimes, if she made something enough times, she’d go by sheer muscle memory and periodic taste tests in the kitchen. But a few weeks before the barbecue, Dad and I were sifting through her Ziploc bag of recipe index cards, and we found the casserole recipe — two copies, in fact. I took one home with me, pinned it on my kitchen bulletin board, and began playing guessing games with the cryptic portions.

While not as bad as some of my grandmother’s original recipe cards — a pinch of this, some of that, a little of this, that to taste, whole steps left out — the Broccoli Casserole card left me scratching my head at turns.

“Six frozen chopped broccoli.”

Six what? Six ounces? Six bags? Six pounds? I vaguely remembered her using those little boxes of frozen broccoli, but I couldn’t be sure.

“2-4 oz. shredded cheddar cheese.”

Why 2-4? Why not 8? Or did she mean “two to four”? I brought it to friends and tried to figure it out. I finally settled on 2 pounds of frozen cut broccoli (slight error in judgment — it needed to be chopped not merely cut, and I spent a bit of time after cooking it cutting it down to more manageable pieces while trying not to scald my hands) and 8 ounces of shredded cheddar. I had intended to make the full recipe, but ended up with half. Before it went into the oven, I tasted a bit… and it was dead on.

And that’s when I cried.

It was partially the memory of how it tasted, the memories of childhood Thanksgivings spent with family in Chicago and, later, in Florida with my parents. It was partially the idea that I’d made something that had been my mother’s territory alone, and the notion that she’d somehow watched over me while I made it for the first time.

I didn’t let myself cry for long, and I went about preparing for the barbecue. The casserole was a hit with my friends, and only a small spoonful remained.

The tradition of the Broccoli Casserole carries on, then — and carries through all our family Thanksgivings from here on out (that 4th of July barbecue was the last time I made the dish outside of the fall holiday season).

Fran’s Famous Broccoli Casserole

2 pounds frozen chopped broccoli
1 10.5-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cups mayonnaise
1/2 box cheese nip crackers, crushed fine
1 package shredded almonds

Preheat oven to 350. Cook broccoli. Put in bowl. Mix soup, mayonnaise, lemon and cheese. Pour into 2 quart casserole. Top with cheese nips and almonds. Cook one hour. Serves 6-8.

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Thanksgiving Eats: The Menu

I love Thanksgiving. It’s easily my favorite holiday, even though there are no presents. You know why? Because there is just so. Much. Food.

I grew up Italian, so Thanksgiving dinner was always a big gluttonous festival of foods. Even when my parents moved to Florida and my grandparents had passed away and my whole family was in shambles and it was just the three of us, my mom would always cook for like eleventy billion people and then send me home with tons of Tupperware filled with mounds of every dish.

I like carrying forth traditions, so I also cook for eleventy billion people, even though there are usually only four of us — Mister Mister, my dad, and my dad’s missus. This year, the verdict’s out on whether there will be two or four of us — my dad’s step daughter usually spends the holidays with her in-laws, but there was some… um, stuff that happened, so now there are no in-laws, and she may want to spend the holiday with her mom. Fair enough. I’ll still pork out like a proud preggo. Particularly now that our kitchen is humongoid compared with the shoebox I was cooking in last year.

So what exactly do I make every year? There are some variables, but the menu is more or less set.

Turkey

Easily my least favorite part of the dinner, it’s still a must. Maybe I’ll just buy a smaller turkey this year. I’m still searching for the perfect recipe, but here’s a nice basic one from Queen Martha. Online friends turned me onto this Alton Brown recipe for a brined roast turkey, so I’ll be trying that this year. The bonus is it requires me to stick it in the fridge to thaw on Monday instead of my typical Tuesday, so it should be totally thawed by Thanksgiving morning.

Photo by tuchodi via Flickr

Gravy

I make my own. It’s awesome. I use Martha’s Pan Gravy recipe.

Photo by Miia Ranta via HubPages

Cranberry sauce

As much as I love the jellied stuff (comfort food), this recipe for Orange-Scented Cranberry Sauce is just the best, and pretty easy.

Photo by MGF/Lady Disdain via Flickr

Stuffing

No Stovetop Stuffing! I made this Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing last year and it’s now The Stuffing For All Years (not pictured above).

Photo by Meng He via About.com

Broccoli casserole

My mom found this recipe in some magazine or got it from a friend or whatever, and made it for the family like 30 years ago, and everybody thought it would be gross and wouldn’t eat it. So she forced a big spoonful onto everybody’s plate (I totally am my mother’s daughter). And then next year everybody was begging her to make it again. So it was her recipe, and now it’s mine. As much as I want it every single day of the year, we keep it Thanksgiving special.

I’ll be sharing the recipe in a future post, so stay tuned!

Photo by Kathryn Hill via The Kitchn

Mashed potatoes

Natch. I don’t really have a go-to recipe, I always forget each year which one I used the year before and forget to print it out and save it. And throughout the year I always just end up using a different recipe. Yeah, I need a recipe to make mashed potatoes. Sue me.

Photo by plasticrevolver via Flickr via The Circle of Moms Cookbook

Corn

Just because. Dude, my recipe is sooooo good: I buy a bag of frozen corn, and cook it. Wow. I’m a culinary genius.

Photo by my_amii via Flickr

Sweet potatoes

Potato Part Deux. Because you have to. Last year I tried some new sweet potato casserole thing I found online and it was TERRIBLE. It didn’t cook the sweet potatoes at all and we didn’t even try to eat it. This year, I’m hunting for some approximation of how my mom made it: Simple, with the sweet potatoes peeled and halved and cooked with some sort of buttery maple glaze thing going on. Any ideas?

Photo by Wally Hartshorn via New Frugality

Appetizer: cheeseballs

This is my all-time favorite party recipe. I usually only make two, ditching the cheddar cheese one. They are so effing good — a perfect starter to gorging. I use Martha’s Cheese Balls Three Ways.

Photo via MarthaStewart.com

Appetizer:  cashews

Again with the Martha: Chili Lime Cashews.

Photo via MarthaStewart.com

Dessert: French silk pie

I don’t make this shit. We buy it from Perkins or Village Inn. Has to be one of those. “Chocolate cream pie” is NOT the same thing.

Photo via Rolling Sin

So there you have it — my “it could feed a third-world country but instead we shove it into 4 mouths, pick off it for 2 days, and throw out the rest, American style” Thanksgiving dinner.

Now I’m hungry (even after eating three breakfasts this morning).

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One Year: New Marriage, New House, New Baby (to be)

Mister Mister and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary this past weekend. I can hardly believe it’s been one year — it either feels like a lot less because it seems like just yesterday we were running around planning a wedding, or like a lot more because of all we’ve accomplished in this past year. Not only did we get married last November, but we bought a house in April and conceived a child in May. While everybody did say, “Oh, wait to have kids, enjoy each other first, blah blah blah,” it was pretty neat celebrating our anniversary at almost 7 months pregnant with Mister Mister’s son.

Since our anniversary fell on a Monday, we had the bulk of our celebration on Saturday. The day was busy for me — chiropractor, haircut, trying to vote and ending up picking up a mail-in ballot instead — but after all that and a nap, we headed down to Anna Maria Island to eat at one of our favorite restaurants from when Mister Mister lived down there, which was also the site of our rehearsal dinner last year.

We also exchanged gifts on Saturday. I got Mister Mister somewhat sentimental gift to go with the “paper” theme — the book “What I Love About You” by Kate and David Marshall. It’s filled with prompts like “If we’d first met in a comic strip, the thought bubble over my head would have said…” and “One of your most irresistible physical features is…”

At 112 pages, it’s not exactly easy to fill out. It took me 2 months of slowly answering the questions — some of which I had no answer for so I goofed around, others that were pretty repetitive — on breaks at work. I was afraid to bring it home lest he find it. And while I was feeling sheepish about whether it was a dumb gift, he loved it, though he did at first think it was just a regular old book somebody else had written until he started going through it.

For his part, he got me an awesome gift: A print from the Dark Hall Mansion Yellow Submarine ’68 set. We both love the Beatles, and he knows I love quirky art, so this was an amazing gift. The quality is really awesome too, printed on archival paper and numbered. It earned a special place in our hallway, across from our gallery wall of wedding/honeymoon/pet photos.

On Monday (our actual anniversary), we opted to eat out again, but only because I was starving and the meal I had planned to cook that night was supposed to take an hour. So we went out for burgers, and then came back and ate our year-old wedding cake.

We had wrapped the cake in saran, as well as the box, and stored it in our pretty small freezer for a year, so it’s nice to have that space back. We thawed it out in the fridge overnight by taking it out of the box and wrapping the cake in a fresh layer of parchment paper, then a couple of layers of saran. And while everybody swore it would be gross, it wasn’t that bad! I mean, it was year-old wedding cake… but it wasn’t terrible.

All in all, it was a pretty sweet little weekend, and totally us — low-key and homey. We even snuck in a competitive game of Catchphrase on Saturday night. Yes, we play Catchphrase just the two of us. The dog is also not impressed.

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Am I Too Much of a Material Girl?

A couple of weeks ago, Mister Mister told me about a tweet I’d once written that concerned him. It was somewhere around a year into our relationship, and it went something like, “Do you ever have the feeling your life isn’t going the way you want it to, but you have no idea how to get back there?” And of course that would concern him. And I couldn’t come up for a good reason why I would have written that, except that I hated my job with a gut-wrenching desperation that I’ve hardly felt about anything ever, and I was going through some major anxiety that needed medicating.

I’ve felt the need to apologize a lot for that 2-year-old tweet in the days since we talked about it. Just like I feel the need to apologize when I get too wrapped up in the to-do lists and the things I want to buy but can’t afford and the stuff I’m afraid might go wrong someday.

Saturday night, when Mister Mister came home from work and we talked about playing a board game, it struck me that I was feeling pretty good about life. I’d had a productive day that included spending around $400 at IKEA and Target, and putting together stuff to go around our house. I looked around and admired the colors on our walls and the framed pictures I’d so carefully hung, and liked that the place finally felt like home instead of a house we pay for that all our stuff is in. And yes, some of that gratitude came from my husband and dog romping on the bed in the dimmed bedroom. But too much of it came from satisfaction over the stuff.

I’m acutely aware that I spend too much time deriving satisfaction from new dining room chair seats and the way the reading room is finally starting to look pulled together. Why could I not conceive of our house as a home in those early months after moving in, even though the furniture may not have been as coordinated as I would have liked and our walls were bare and all one color I wasn’t fond of? Why did I waste my time striving for a different day, a day when my house would *look* the way I wanted it to, instead of feeling the way that it did? Why did I wait until October — a full 6 months after we moved in — to start planning a get-together for all our close friends to come share our home with us? Was it because I was somehow ashamed that things didn’t look as stylish as I hoped they would? Was it because our walls were beige and our couch too small?

One of the reasons I scheduled a party for late October was because so many people still hadn’t been to our new house, and it seemed like a friendly thing to do. But I said to Mister Mister, “After February, I’m sure I won’t deem the house guestworthy for a long time, with baby stuff everywhere and me with no energy to clean up.” As if there’s a certain shame involved with having baby toys strewn about and the kitchen counters a bit less than sparkling.

Today, I’m striving for the day when I can feel happy simply waking up alive and healthy, next to my alive and healthy husband, with our alive and healthy baby inside of me, and our alive and healthy animals sleeping or roaming about the quiet, morning-lit house. I’m striving for the day when I can feel good that we put something warm in our tummies around dinnertime, instead of the complexity of ingredients therein. I’m striving for the day when I can feel good that we have access to water to wash our clothing, instead of the cost, style, and quality of that clothing. I’m striving for the day when I have time for a long hug and several kisses with my husband, instead of the day when I’m hurrying about fixing everything to look just so for that someday person that might judge me for the disarray of my belongings.

So how do I get there?

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I Hate Our Cat

Yes, our adorable, 11-year-old bundle of purrs and kitty hugs. The way he glares at you while lounging superiorly on the kitchen counter — the same one we prepare food on, and that he rubs his butt on — I know, is just so precious. But I assure you, he sucks.

I’ve always had kind of a love/hate relationship with Andy Cat. I adopted him when he was about a year old. I was living on my own for the first time out of college, and wanted a companion, but I knew I couldn’t have a dog because I couldn’t even pay a phone bill or remember to call my mom at least once every three days, so how would I look after a creature who was basically one step away from a baby? As luck would have it, the same day I launched my kitten search, a coworker told me her friend had to get rid of her cat.

I named him Andy, after Warhol.

OK, now, I admit, there were times I treated him poorly. I never abused him or left his declawed self outside to lamely fend for himself, but I’ve never been awesome at changing litter, and there was a period of a few years way back when when I was going through a lot of shitty stuff and I may have frequently run out of cat food and so filled his bowl with cat treats, instead. WHATEVER, I was in my 20’s.

So I vowed to make my amends by letting him cuddle up to me and knead my arm/boob/whatever. And it is kind of precious, that he’s the equivalent of a 70-year-old man and still behaves like a kitten.

But he can be a total bastard, too.

Like the other morning, when I was cuddling in bed with The Po Pup, waiting for Mister Mister to come back from his morning bagel trip. It was too perfect, she was curled up on Mister Mister’s pillow, right close to me, yes with her butt in my face, but still, I could curl around her and just be content.

And then I hear a plop behind me, and a purr, and a crash, and a splat, and a loud plop and a scamper. And I know in that moment that he has totally fucking tried to drink my water way down at the bottom of my water glass, and in the process, knocked the damn thing over.

(Mister Mister’s response: “You shouldn’t have it there.” My response: “I’M PREGNANT, ASSHOLE.” Pretty much my response to everything nowadays.)

I whirled around to grab my phone in case he’d spilled anything on there. He hadn’t. He’d spilled it behind the whole bed.

So I had to truck my sore ass out of bed, move the damn bed, and wipe behind it to ensure whatever bad things would happen from behind-the-bed-sogginess, didn’t happen.

And of course The Po Pup moved.

No more cuddling.

Asshole cat.

He also does stuff like jump on our game board when I’m trying to win Trivial Pursuit, and steal raw chicken off my cutting board and cooked beef from my sautee pan. He’s always running underfoot like he wants to trip me and kill me. He spreads out in the middle of the floor and stares at you like, “This is my house, bitch, why are you even here? P.S., you’re fat.” And he gives you “love bites,” which means he sidles up to you, purring, and attempts to bite a hunk of flesh from your body, still purring.

I’ve really started to hate him.

Which kind of makes me sad.

The Po Pup is above hate. You could NEVER despise her. She could poop in the middle of our rug — which she did, once — and you would hug her and tell it it was OK. You would invite her to poop anytime. In fact, you’d join her in pooping. She’s that adorable and loving and helpless. She’s a rescue dog and rarely ever does a terrible thing. So I know, or at least desperately hope, that when Bean makes his arrival in the world, I could never resent her presence or the attention she demands while I try to take care of a newborn.

But Andy Cat? I could totally see imploring Mister Mister to let me send him to the pound in the baby’s first week home.

If he can even stand being around the baby, which is doubtful. He hates loud things.

(The cat, not my husband.)

So I’m vowing to hate my cat less. I even gave him some chicken yesterday — though I made sure it was cooked, because I really don’t want to clean the product of feline salmonella from my house.

(If that’s even a thing.)

Remember, I have some amends to make for forcing him to choke down a bowl full of fatty cat treats instead of his treasured, nutritious Meow Mix.

And for giving him Meow Mix while we feed the dog $40 pet store food.

And for moving all his shit out of the nursery because we need to put a brand-new, loud human in there.

I’m sorry, Andy Cat. I love you.

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