Thursday, September 27, 2012

There's no place like home... sort of.

We survived our first trip with the baby! He was surprisingly well-behaved on the plane (although when we were walking onto it, he was fussing pretty loud and eliciting all of those wonderful "oh-great-a-crying-baby" looks from fellow passengers). Brayden was his usual happy pint-sized self for the entire trip... except for the one hour we actually wanted him to behave -- his baptism. We were definitely that couple with the crying child. He was crying so loud that Lauren didn't even hear half of the ceremony. Oops.

Overall, it was an awesome trip. And it really made me miss living close to family. Lauren and I aren't near much of our families out here in Virginia. It was so wonderful being surrounded by so many relatives for the weekend. It's a special kind of togetherness that you just can't get anywhere else. For me, having grown up surrounded by family, it's particularly difficult. My family lived with my grandma for several years during my childhood, and even when we moved out, we were just a few blocks away. One set of cousins lived just a short drive from our house, so we always saw them, too. I remember all of us getting together at their old house. The adults would be off talking together, and the kids would be playing in the yard or basement. Some of my best memories as a child were with all the family I grew up with.

I know my stories date me a bit, but I do, in fact, remember the "good ol' days" when families weren't so spread out. My immediate family members (siblings + parents) currently reside in four different states (five if you count where my dad spends half the month for work). Extend that to aunts, uncles and cousins and now you're up to nine states and more than a dozen different cities. In my opinion, that's really unfortunate. Nothing can replace family in someone's life and I've truly been missing spending time with everyone. There's something about starting a family of your own that makes you appreciate it even more and really recognize the importance of being near everyone. We're fortunate enough that Lauren's family has been able to come to visit regularly, but it still makes me sad that Brayden won't be able to just have Grandma and Grandpa stop by for dinner or be babysat by Auntie Cole on a random Thursday.

I would love for Brayden to grow up surrounded by his family. It was so wonderful to spend this weekend with mine and Lauren's family members. From my Uncle who showered Brayden with affection, to my brother who watched football with him, to my youngest niece who couldn't get enough of him... it was just amazing seeing all of the members of my family interact with him in their own special ways. My niece was the cutest. She immediately bonded with Brayden and, although she's only five, she was so comfortable with him and eager to interact with him any way she could. She wanted to hold him, help get him dressed, change his diaper, feed him (I had to politely explain why she couldn't help with that task), and just play with him. She even brought over her pseudo etch-a-sketch to try to "teach the baby to draw." It was adorable when she tried putting the magnetic pen in his hand and moving the toy around the pen so he "drew." (Although, afterwards, she looked at me and regretfully informed me that "he's not very good at drawing.")

Kendall playing with Brayden
It's these types of experiences that really make me miss being near everyone. Lauren and I got back to Virginia on Monday. In a lot of ways, it was great to be back. But in other ways, I felt like we were leaving "home" behind. I'm so blessed to have such a great family (mine and Lauren's), but I'm sad we can't see everyone more often. I suppose all I can do is be grateful for the time we spend together, look forward to the next time we see them, and keep bugging my wonderful husband about moving back to the Midwest. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Personalized Baby Books

I did it! I actually found time (albeit in 10 minute increments spread out over a week) to finish one of the projects I was working on. Considering the scarcity of free time in our household these days, that's a feat certainly deserving of boasting. And of course... as is typically the case, I got a bit carried away. I started with one idea, and once that was complete, I moved on to an even better one (I'm just in love with the second book listed below!).

The Look Book
The majority of moms have at least a few picture books with a common formula. A page of kid-friendly pictures (balls, rubber ducks, apples, etc) and large-print letters below it that name the item (or color, or shape). I had already been toying with the idea to make Brayden a picture book full of his family's faces (since we're spread out across the country, I figured it could be helpful for his developing memory!). When I received some codes for free Shutterfly books, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I stuck to a pretty basic format and layout for the pages, but took the chance to design my own cover in PhotoShop. Since Shutterfly doesn't have as much freedom as I'd like for their layouts, I just created an image in PhotoShop and chose a Shutterfly layout that let me use a single picture for the whole cover.

Bryaden's "Look Book" Cover. I decided not to put his name on it, since I will probably use it again with future kids.
Page 1
Each page had a picture of someone with his or her name below.
And of course, I couldn't forget our four-legged family members!

Brayden's ABC Book
But of course, I didn't stop there. I decided to then make him a personalized ABC book (again, using another common "A is for..." formula). This book came out great! I filled it with pictures of Brayden and chose words that were somehow meaningful to him. Each word was accompanied by a short rhyme I wrote. So for example, "I is for INCH WORM because you try with your might... to wiggle and squirm across your crib every night."

It was a lot of fun to put together. I got to go through all my pictures of the little guy and use some of those great creative skills of mine to write clever rhymes. It also let me reflect on some of the things that are meaningful to Brayden (even at such a young age!). And again, I used PhotoShop to make both the front and back covers.

"The Brayden ABC Book" Cover
Page 1
A is for ACTIVE, B is for BATH TIME...
J is for the JOKES Daddy tells (which Brayden will certainly grow weary of after he hears them for the hundredth time...)
Q is for QUIET (...there's no more of that here) and R is for READING.
Back Cover
The Anniversary Book
I actually had a third code for Shutterfly (can you believe it??). I had already been planning to make my wonderful husband an "anniversary book" of sorts and just applied the code to the one I had been putting together. From the time we started dating, in October, we'll have been together for TEN YEARS (wow!). His book was way more in depth than Brayden's. Instead of just the cover, each of the pages were made in PhotoShop so I could do something really cool.

Each page has the year of our togetherness (with the actual year itself next to it). I then put a bunch of fun memories in a neat format (including where we were living, funny quotes, jobs, etc.). I alternated between five brightly colored solid backgrounds (using two of each). The corresponding page has picture(s) of us from that year. It was pretty fun going through our pictures again... especially the ones from Italy, Germany, Aruba and all the other trips we've taken over the years.

Because I know my audience so well, I also accompanied the pictures with a lyric from Dave Matthews Band (my hubby's absolute favorite musician) that I thought epitomized our relationship that year. The last page in the book is a series of pictures of us through the years with one of my favorite DMB lyrics (from "Best of What's Around"). Also a lot of fun to put together... but a lot of work, too!

Anniversary Book Cover
Title Page
Year 1: 2003 (Dating)
Year 4: 2006 (Married!)
Year 9: 2011 (Last Year... So much fun!)
End Page (Pictures through the years)
I still have several other projects in the works, but I don't expect those to be finished for a while. The problem - as always - is that as soon as I finish one thing, I come up with ideas for six new projects!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tantrums aren't just for toddlers

When kids have temper tantrums, it's fairly straight forward. They want something. They can't have it. So, they get angry and vocally express this frustration (right in the middle of the grocery store, the restaurant, the airport, or any other location that allows dozens of other strangers to stare at the outburst). When adults have temper tantrums, it's a bit more complex.

This weekend, I definitely had a good old-fashioned tantrum. Although adults typically refer to them with more eloquent terms like "breakdown," they're really just tantrums. I didn't realize how stressed out I was until it came out in a way that made me wish I was pregnant again and could blame hormones (I can still have hormonal imbalances 11 weeks after giving birth, right? Right?). So what wasn't I getting that I was upset about? That's the tricky thing... I didn't even know.

The great thing about being a kid is that emotions aren't complex. They don't need entire books in the psychology section of Barnes & Noble to explain why you're feeling a certain way and how to deal with it. And kids are pretty in tune with how they feel. Adults ignore, deny or don't even realize they're feeling certain things. Until it comes out in typical tantrum form.

Sure, it was a stressful weekend for me. Brayden wasn't sleeping very well, which is frustrating in itself. Add that to the subsequent lack of sleep, the million things I was trying to figure out about an upcoming trip, a messy house, a plethora of projects I had taken on that I was trying to finish, and a trip the vet, and no one would blame me for my molecular meltdown. But it wasn't any of those things. My breakdown happened while fielding phone calls about the trip, trying to make dinner (manning four burners on a way-too-complex meal) and listening to a screaming baby. Still... it was one of those reactions that was so overly-extreme for the circumstances that you know there's something else going on.

So what WAS going on?

Lauren always said that if he suddenly got to stop working, it would be awesome. At first. And then a few weeks later, he would get bored. I stopped working three months ago. And I haven't gotten bored. And you know, I never will. I think some of the inherent difficulties of being a stay-at-home-mom hit me all at once this weekend. Or maybe they all hit me at the same time and made them impossible to ignore. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love staying home with Brayden. But I didn't realize how hard it would be. It's the constant interruptions (rarely do I have even 45 minutes of uninterrupted time during the day), being tethered to a (adorable) baby (which leaves me unable to do simple things like jogging or making it to a yoga class held at a non-negotiable time), and just generally always having things things to do (how many loads of laundry am I up to this week??).

Just doing what "needs" to get done would take up the majority of my time. But come on, I'm me. So that means that I add in a bunch of other stuff that doesn't "need" to get done. Like everything else in life, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it right. Being a parent is similar to being a teacher - it will take up as much time as you let it. I'm the master at finding new projects and games and awesome things to do for other people. The consequence is that there's just no time for me.

Lauren used to always yell at me for not putting myself first (sorry, it's just my nature to focus on making others happy). But he recently told me that even if I'm not first - or fourth - on my list, I need to at least be ON it. So that was my breakdown - not being on my own list. And you know, I readily admit that it was all self-induced. Did I need to make an awesome ABC book for Brayden on Shutterfly full of adorable pictures of him and cute rhymes? Nope. But I'm glad I did because it's going to be such a special possession of his. And therein lies my problem. I always want to do things for other people. And now that I have a son, I would spend 24 hours a day doing things for him if I could. And as much as I might WANT to spend all my time on other people, I just can't. I really do need a little time for myself where I can just be me and do something that rejuvenates me... something just for me and no one else.

So there it is. My long-winded "Eureka" moment. I've realized the importance of carving out a little time for Mommy. But how the heck can I manage to do that? It's difficult for me to even get a short yoga session in at home since I don't have a reliable time every day. And it's equally hard for me to choose to get away and do something for me when I could be spending it with (or on) my family. Honestly... I'd love to do it. I'm just not quite sure how I can accomplish this seemingly impossible feat. How do I make the time? And how can I make sure I spend the time on myself?

I suppose it's a start that I've figured out why I had a three-year-old's temper tantrum this weekend. Now if it were only as easy to solve as getting my mother to let me buy that piece of candy at the grocery store.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Happy Husband & Wife

September 3, 2006

Yesterday was me and Lauren's wedding anniversary. In a way, I can't believe we've been married for six years. What's even more amazing is that not only have we not killed each other (to really appreciate this feat, you need to be around me when I'm all-emotion-and-no-logic or Lauren when he's all-logic-and-no-emotion), but we still like each other, still have tons of fun together, and still are so much in love. ("Awwww," right?)

You always hear people talk about the "honeymoon" phase of a marriage and how afterwards, things take the migrating bird route and fly south a bit. I suppose we're one of the non-migrating couples then, because our marriage is still pretty amazing (even with the added stress of an infant who Lauren can't reason with). Last night we were reminiscing about marriage and what makes it work. Below are the keys to our happy marriage... and a few that can be extended to all couples. Feel free to chime in with your own lessons and advice (for instance, I know my dad would add "never put up wallpaper together" to the list!).

Never, ever, EVER play the card game "Casino" together. 
We both agree that this is top on the list. When we lived in Indiana, we were miles away from any friends (and civilization in general for that matter... come on, it's Indiana!). We needed something to pass the time, so we looked up two-person card games. The game we found seemed pretty fun at first ...and then it started showing its demon horns. Seriously. That game is probably the fastest way to get a divorce known to man. We had to stop playing for the sake of our marriage. The entire game is built on the premise that you screw the other person over. So there you are, building up these cards and doing all these great things to get all these points. And then WHAM - you're dearly beloved steals everything from you and just begs to be punched. The punching never happened in our house, but there still exists a Casino scorecard somewhere that stops short of the 21 points needed to win the game and states "K threw fit." Yep. I yelled, I screamed and I threw the cards at Lauren and stormed off. Do. Not. Play. This. Game. I know you want to Google the rules, but I'm telling you - it's not a good idea.

Understand what the other person needs in any given situation.
This was Lauren's big contribution to the conversation last night. The example he gave was that if he and I are in a fight, he should never ever laugh (or make any sound that sounds remotely like a chuckle). The seeming appearance of him laughing at me ruffles my feathers like no other. And he knows this. Over the years, he has learned certain things that make me tick and how to deal with them. And in return, I know that if a sappy commercial comes on TV, as much as I want to look over and see if Lauren is crying (because nine times out of ten, he will be), I should NOT do it. I fight all my urges to witness my husband's odd sensitivity and pretend like nothing is happening. Occasionally, I can't help it and (still facing the TV) just start laughing. To which I get a few expletives tossed in my direction. But you know, they don't mean as much coming from someone who is crying because an old man in a car commercial is playing catch with his son.

Remind the other person that they are special. And be considerate.
Okay, this is sort of two things, but they're related. They're both "little" or everyday things. And you know, little things are what make up big things. So when you give drive-by hugs and send random "thinking of you" text messages, the other person feels validated. When you make your husband's favorite pie when you hear he's having a bad day, or when you do a silly dance to cheer up a grumpy wife, it means a lot. It makes the other person feel special and loved. And love is sort of important in a marriage.

Show up no matter what. 
It took us a long time to understand the idea that a marriage is a team. Once you take that approach, problems are so much easier to solve. A team and a marriage doesn't work unless both people show up and cooperate. Always have the other person's back and be there to support them. Don't abandon the team, even just for a day.

And finally...

Laugh together.
Our marriage would be pretty boring if Lauren didn't make up sexually explicit nursery rhymes or if I didn't use fondue forks as "bull-hooks" to chase my stubborn husband around the house to get him to do what I want. If you can't have fun together, what's the point? We have some absolutely absurd stories. We routinely laugh until one of us cries... and it's one of my favorite thing about our marriage. It is never without joy, smiles or laughter.