Or the year that pregnancy complicated and coronavirus shat upon.

When I revisited my post from early this year about what I wanted to accomplish, I was focused on it being somewhat simple–my thought was not that a year in which I welcomed my first child would be easy but that because of the time and attention (and money) he would require, the year’s goals would be straightforward.

And then coronavirus happened. It’s not that coronavirus changed that simplicity–in some ways, you can argue it added to it, what with being forced to stay home–

  • Small projects around the house. The baby’s room got done, of course, but the main thing I wanted to do–switching to a tankless water heater–was abandoned. I don’t want anyone coming in to install it. But we did tackle a few cosmetic things I’d forgotten about, like finally getting new outdoor lights up and putting in a new doorbell.
  • Find Paul a new job. My ideal was for him to find a new, better job and I’d quit mine. Instead, his company’s transition to Mexico advanced and he was let go mid-June, two weeks before the baby was born. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, we think. Because of the Trade Act, he’s going back to school for free and collecting unemployment during that time and can be home with Charlie for the next two years, and although I’m still working, it’s from home. It’s probably about as good an outcome as we could’ve hoped for.
  • Get published. I expected this would be tough post-baby, and I was right–but I did manage to get something published!
  • Explore freelance opportunities. I did indeed explore, but coronavirus made a mess of this, too. For starters, the tiny extra income I had from music writing through AXS dried up–no concerts means no show reviews or previews. And with people losing full-time work, other reliable streams were suddenly flooded with more people, so work got scarce.
  • Get physical. I wanted to get back to the gym, and just when I felt like I wasn’t puking too much to do it, everything shut down. The gym was either closed or seemed like a really, really dumb place to go during a pandemic. We did make it out walking on trails while the weather nice, but I didn’t do nearly as much as I’d wanted to. I’m convinced I would’ve felt better later in pregnancy if I could’ve kept up walking like I intended.
  • Don’t neglect myself in the postpartum months. Last year, I noted that I didn’t know what to expect. Turns out I think my body is primed for postpartum. Sure, pregnancy was exhausting and labor was tough, but recovery? Easy. To be really honest–and this is something I don’t talk much about because I have a weird kind of guilt about it–I do not relate to a lot of other new moms’ experiences. You know how new moms always say that maternity leave isn’t a vacation? I kind of felt like mine was.
  • Be a kick-ass mom. This is what I wrote several months ago: “When I think ahead to when the baby’s born, I keep thinking about the fun I think we’ll have. Everyone talks about how much things change and how hard having a new baby is and I believe them, but you know what I’ve also heard? That it’s exciting, fun, and rewarding, and I have plenty of examples around me of parents whose lives haven’t ended the way a lot of people like to make it sound like they will. As one of Paul’s work friends put it, if someone is still heavily into, like, late-night-drinking culture, sure, that’s done, but for those of us who stay in almost all week and venture out on weekends? We’re gonna be fine. So for 2020 and the six-ish months of it I’ll spend as a new mom, I want to take our kid out into the world to enjoy as much of life as a baby can, the way Paul and I have. Plus he or she will have two cousins to meet and get to know, plus grandparents and plenty of aunts and uncles.” Charlie is six months old. In those six months, I’ve had moments of exhaustion and frustration, but more than that, moments of bliss and adoration and fun. It’s not always easy and I have my share of Mom guilt, but I think Paul and I are both doing okay. Charlie seems to be happy, and he’s certainly loved and has rarely, if ever, seen us angry or upset. Now, what I thought this time of year with him in particular would look like is very different than the reality–that’s what I wrote about that got published. I was dreaming of Christmas parties and trips to the botanic gardens and the zoo, anything easy-ish to do with a baby that we’d likely be doing anyway. One of the things I was excited about when I was pregnant was just introducing him to all the things I love about life, the fun we had before he was born and had (and still have!) every intention of including him in. It sucks that we haven’t been able to do this. He mostly visits his grandparents, the occasional aunt and uncle, and goes to his pediatrician, and it’s a bummer. But it’s in the name of keeping all three of us safe, and there will be an end.

Charlie’s for Christmas is in the books!

We essentially spent the holiday at my mom’s house. I worked on Christmas Eve, we picked up chicken, and headed over for dinner with her and my brother and his wife and daughter and let the babies open their presents that night, and they had plenty. Charlie made it through one, needed a bottle, and fell asleep eating, but he was back at it when he woke up. Their Nini spoiled them both, and there were some unexpected gems from some of my aunts and uncles.

Paul and I–but mostly Paul–managed to forget a bag of gifts at home, and not wanting their recipients to have to wait, we decided late Christmas morning to go back for them. On top of that, in trying to pack for me, Charlie, and make sure we had everything else we needed, I managed to forget to pack clean underwear for myself for the weekend. While we were there, we bagged up some recycling to drop off, and Paul spoiled the cats with a Christmas feast of sardines. We also took the opportunity to haul some of Charlie’s loot back with us, and I had the bright idea to pull his stroller out of the back.

Us adults exchanged gifts when we got back. I got Kelly a bracelet with hers and Brandon’s birthstones and Eliana’s initial and birthstone, got Brandon a Mandalorian t-shirt, and got my mom charms for a necklace of the kids’ initials and Charlie’s birthstone since she already has Eliana’s, plus a hand-care kit as she’s been complaining about her hands being really dry lately. We got some gift cards and other Mandalorian-themed gifts, generous money from my mom, and other little things.

The original plan was to visit Paul’s parents on Christmas Day later on and again on Saturday with most of his siblings, but snow rolled in overnight and over the course of the day, and in their little patch in particular, the roads were bad. We’d just made it down the road from my mom’s when his mom called and said not to come out if we hadn’t made it far, so we turned around, went back to my mom’s, and hunkered down with wine in our jammies.

We did make it over on Saturday. We’d arranged to do just little stocking stuffers for each other, which was a cool idea and resulted in some neat little gifts for us. Charlie and his cousin on that side of the family, Arlo, were spoiled, of course, with at least a small gift from each of their aunts and uncles plus plenty of clothes and toys from the grandparents. My decision to ditch the stroller at home was a good one–the car was packed full, including with some of Eliana’s things Brandon and Kelly hadn’t had room for. We stopped at their place on our way home to drop them off, I popped in quickly to pee and see Eliana, and we headed home and spent Sunday relaxing there…and catching up on laundry.

I think for New Year’s, we intend to stay home–if anything, we might visit our parents again. There are also plans to visit my dad’s grave on Sunday. His birthday is tomorrow and Brandon planned to go then, but we all decided to go Sunday instead.

Saturday 9: Purple Snowflakes

 Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) The lyrics ask where the snowflakes go. Sam can answer that: she shovels them! Do you shovel or use a snow blower? Or do you live in a warmer climate with no snow? Shovel.

 2) This week’s artist, John Legend, recalls his Christmases growing up, singing carols with his family around the piano. Do you have a piano, or any other musical instruments, in your home? We have an organ and a couple guitars.

3) This song is from John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. It was a massive hit. Did you add any new music to your holiday collection this year? Just a couple songs, like Sam Smith’s “River” cover.

4) John and his wife Chrissy Teigen go caroling with friends. What’s the last song that you sang? Ooh, I’m not sure. Whatever I was singing along to in the car last, but I can’t remember what that was. We’ve had classical music in the last few trips.

5) Chrissy’s hobby is cooking. While she likes experimenting with new recipes, her young children prefer their familiar favorites, like mashed potatoes. She tosses a bay leaf into the water as the potatoes boil to add enhance the flavor. Do you have a dish that’s considered your specialty? My in-laws have come to love a very, very easy recipe for strawberry-cheesecake cookies.

6) John prefers to unwind with a good book and loves comparing reading recommendations with friends. Did you discover any books in 2020 that you’d like to recommend to our Sat 9ers? I realized recently when I took a look at the books I finished in 2020 that it was a very light year content-wise. I mean, not even some nonfiction work about politics or other current events. It was heavy on simple graphic novels and re-reads, but I guess in a year in which I had a new baby, that was probably my best bet. My favorite among what I finished was Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, known for the Scott Pilgrim series and its film adaptation. My husband always says O’Malley’s books are well-suited for specific points in life and that Seconds is for your late 20s, about a woman who owns a restaurant and is on the verge of opening a second one when she gets chance to fix past mistakes…but of course, it isn’t that simple.

7) This song was written by Motown powerhouse Marvin Gaye. Who is your favorite Motown artist? I think I have to go with The Temptations.

8) In 1972, Marvin wrote another Christmas song, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas.” He dedicated it to the troops then serving in Vietnam. Do you know anyone who is protecting us this holiday season? Tell us about him or her. Whether they are in the armed forces, the police or fire department, or the ER, we want to say thank you! My brother and my best friend’s boyfriend are both in the army.

9) Random question: You go into the kitchen to make your perfect sandwich. What fixings do you need? It doesn’t matter as long as I have cheese and some kind of condiment.

Friday 5: Year in Review, Part 2

  1. What did you learn in 2020? How to be a parent. That although I do really, really miss things like concerts, I don’t find staying home for weeks particularly difficult. And I guess that my marriage might be something of a rarity–while lot of couples struggled with being at home together for so long, we didn’t. He’s good company.
  2. What do you regret doing (or not doing) in 2020? This is tough. Lockdown limited a lot, and I was pregnant on top of that and now have a 6-month-old. I honestly don’t know that I’d change much.
  3. What are you proud of doing in 2020? Having a baby and taking care of him these last six months, finally getting some work published, even if it was short and not my best. Come to think of it, I’m proud of any writing I did in 2020. I didn’t really expect to have much output with a new baby, but I tweaked a few old things and wrote a few new ones.
  4. Who did you get to know better in 2020? My new baby!
  5. What do you hope to accomplish in the remaining days of 2020? Part of me wants to accomplish nothing and just clock in at work, clock out when I’m done, and chill, but part of me also wants to straighten out the house. Baby’s first Christmas means being spoiled by grandparents.

From Friday 5.

Around Thanksgiving, as public-health officials and responsible citizens were begging people to stay home for the holiday so as not to further spread coronavirus, people were sharing posts saying things like, “It’s just one holiday,” and I found myself thinking, “Yeah, but…” For new parents, it’s a little different and not “just one,” it’s our kids’ first, and it looks radically different than we imagined it would. So I wrote a little something about that and sent it off to The Good Men Project’s parenting publication, A Parent Is Born, and they published it last night.

It’s short and not my best work, but the window I had to get it out into the world was closing fast. In fact, finding somewhere to send it was huge on my weekend to-do list, and the site has published my writing in the past and had a relatively quick response time, so that’s where I landed. The response among my friends and family on Facebook has been great, and it feels good to have something out there again. It’s been a while, and with a new baby, I’d kind of accepted the fact that writing and publishing would be on the back burner this year, so I’m quite pleased with the fact that I got something out. I feel like I’ve broken a dry spell, although that’s not entirely accurate. It’s not like I was really submitting anywhere and getting rejected, and it’s not like I haven’t been pretty busy for the last year.

We met up with Terra briefly on Saturday. I’d been lamenting the fact that I was struggling to find a gift for my sister-in-law, and she offered to make her a bracelet with my niece’s birthstone and had it done to give to me. So we met at her brother’s pizza place around the South Hills, I gave her her very late birthday present (her birthday is in August), and she gave me Charlie’s Christmas present. Our gifts for each other were (are?) still in transit. And since we were there, we ordered some takeout. They’ve owned the place for a little while now, but it’s a bit out of our way and not really close to anywhere we go often. They offer vegan wings (made of seitan), so I tried and quite enjoyed those and a slice of cheesecake. I wish they were closer, because everything was great. Maybe when we feel comfortable going out more, we’ll make it a point to go every so often.

Paul headed out for a haircut on Sunday, which left me with a very hungry and sleepy Charlie, who we suspect is hitting a growth spurt. He’s been sleeping through the night for a while now, but the last few nights, he’s woken up pretty late and guzzled a bottle before going back to bed. Kid’s teething, too, but still the best.

Saturday 9: Happy Holidays

1. As you can see, Sam loved giving her annual wish list to Santa. Yet some children are reluctant to climb into Jolly Old St. Nick’s lap. Did you enjoy the tradition or were you shy? Or did you by pass it altogether — either because you wrote him a letter or because your family didn’t celebrate Christmas? I always enjoyed it. My brother didn’t, though, se we have many a picture of the two of us sitting on Santa’s lap with him either trying to escape or crying.

2. Are you currently on the Naughty or Nice list? How did you get there? Nice, because I’m not an asshole, I guess? Look, I didn’t really go above and beyond this year, but I’m also a decent person, so…

3. Did you ship any gifts to friends and family this year? If so, which one traveled the farthest? I haven’t yet–I give myself a little leeway with time (and money) when it comes to out-of-town gifts. But I think the only one I’ll be shipping will be going down around D.C.

4. Did you buy yourself a gift this year? You know, I’m usually awful for finding myself stuff when I’m supposed to be shopping for other people, but I don’t think I really did this year. I think that’s because of coronavirus and having a new baby. I wasn’t doing as much browsing in stores and shopped almost entirely online, so I was more focused, and then I was aware of the fact that I don’t have as much wiggle room to splurge on myself.

5. What’s your favorite holiday-themed movie? Have you seen it yet this year? A Muppet Christmas Carol, and I have not.

6. Thinking of movies, Christmas is lucrative for Hollywood. Have you ever gone to a movie theater on Christmas Day? I haven’t, but my cousins used to go every year and usually invited me along. I was generally more content to stay in my jammies.

7. Have you ever suffered an embarrassing moment at the company Christmas party? Nope!

8. What’s your favorite beverage in cold weather? Either a hot black tea or something like a white chocolate mocha from Starbucks. Or a good hot chai, but I find I only like hot chais from a handful of places.

9. Share a memory from last Christmas. I was pregnant and I was hitting peak morning sickness, except for me, it was evening sickness. We spend Christmas Eve with my mom and Christmas Day with my in-laws, so I finished up work Christmas Eve, and since I work from home, I then showered and got dressed. At the time, I also needed to sit down and drink a glass of juice or water or something after I showered, so getting ready to go anywhere felt like real work. The whole time I was getting dressed, I kept saying, “I wish I could just go in my pajamas…maybe I just will,” but I didn’t. We get there and my brother, his wife, and their little girl are all in matching Snoopy jammies and I was like, “Damn it, I wish you would’ve told me because I truly would not have put real clothes on,” so I changed into my own jammies. I made it through the holiday without throwing up, and there’s a super cute picture of me with my niece in front of my mom’s tree. It was her first Christmas but also our first as a family since my dad died last August, so it was bittersweet–we were enjoying her and celebrating my pregnancy while also feeling his absence.

Friday 5 for December 18: Year in review part 1

  1. Who made you laugh most this year? My husband, and not just because he’s the person I’ve seen the mot of by far. He’s been making me laugh since we were cramming in hours of late-night chats when neither of us should’ve been awake.
  2. In what ways was 2020 better than 2019? I realize this year has been an all-around mess, with COVID and its related problems, but honestly, 2019 was horrible for my family and 2020 far surpasses it. In 2019, my brother was physically attacked at his job, then got fired, my husband found out he’d soon be losing his job, and my dad was diagnosed with the tumor that killed him within about six months. The bright spot was Eliana. This year, although my husband ultimately did lose that job, our son was born, and everyone is fine. No one is sick. No one is dead. We have an adorable, happy baby boy. It’s a win.
  3. What was the best movie or TV series you saw in 2020? …surely I watched a film at some point in 2020, but I swear I don’t remember. We focus a lot on shows. So my picks there are Good Omens, The Mandalorian, Unsolved Mysteries, Dead to Me, and The Affair, with a small caveat of I’m about to start the last season of The Affair and so far feel that the first season was its absolute strongest. The new Twilight Zone was also solid this year and an improvement from season one, in my opinion.
  4. What was your favorite food discovery of 2020? I was pregnant for about the first six months of the year and locked down for about 3/4 of it, so I don’t think I actually tried anything new. Pregnancy meant navigating the puking, so we weren’t going out until right before COVID hit, plus the many foods they suggest you avoid while pregnant. And after the baby was born, by then, COVID was in full swing and we still weren’t going anywhere, and anything we were cooking wasn’t super adventurous. I did make a great potato soup, though.
  5. What’s something nice you purchased for yourself or received as a gift in 2020? My son! That’s a cheesy answer. But honestly, my birthday was low-key and right before he was born, so that’s a bit of a blur. You know what? My baby shower in and of itself. Because even though everything was for him, it was very strange times and it meant a lot to me that even though we just did a drive-by shower, some people came from as far as they did to be there. People will talk about feeling surrounded by love on their wedding day and women will talk about it at their baby showers, but something about the weirdness of it and the fact that people took that time and effort had more impact.

From Friday 5.

We mostly did as we said this weekend and stayed put, save a few errands. I’ve been doing our Christmas shopping almost exclusively online, but there were a few things that I could get at the outlets nearby and didn’t want to pay to ship. Sorry, Bath & Body Works, I’m not paying 10 bucks to ship a few small bottles of hand sanitizer.

I’d say the shopping is almost done, for the most part, save a few people I’m stumped on–and they’re people I’m almost always stumped on. This would be much easier if I could, you know, browse a mall. When I went out, I stuck to a plan. I went to the specific store that had something specific I was looking for, and then I’d pop in one or two others. No walking the entire mall, and once I bought from one or two places, I left.

Also on my hopping list was candles for the windows. We don’t have windowsills large enough to hold those light-up candles, but I found ones that cling to the window and have a little battery pack. The reviews are all over the place and the look admittedly wimpy, but I think it’s better than nothing. The house looks took dark and, as I said before, Grinch-like. I grabbed us a new doorbell, too. When we had the siding redone last year, they never put the outside lights and doorbell back up, all of which needed an upgrade anyway. Part of the issue with the doorbell was they’d cut a hole a little too large for the one we had, and so I finally get one that would cover it completely and had Paul get it hooked up yesterday. Paired with the nice, new lights his dad put up last weekend, we’ve had some minor yet huge house upgrades lately. Lights and a doorbell are small, simple things, of course, but they make such a huge difference in the appearance.

I also had some pictures printed from our family session at my mom’s last weekend. We did a big group picture, and then my mom snapped some of each of our little families. Since she’s using the group one for her cards, I printed some copies of the best picture of the three of us to put in ours…which are the cards I bought and intended to send last year. Everyone probably thinks I chopped them from my card list, when in reality, I was pregnant and was deep into first-trimester nausea this time last year, and they perpetually were pushed to “I’ll do that tomorrow” status. I’m pleased to say I’ve gotten them started this year. Sure, a little later than I’d like, but still an improvement over last year.

I was able to pick up some overtime at work lately, so that’s been a nice, welcome boost in income. We had some worries about the Trade Act not approving Paul’s move to get an MBA, but seems as though the holdups are fixed. He’ll need to file an extension with the state to keep getting unemployment until the Trade Act benefits kick in so we may be in a dodgy position for a little bit coming up soon, but for now, things are good and moving forward.

If only I could get caught up on laundry. How do we have such a huge pile of dirty clothes when we barely go anywhere?

Saturday 9: Santa Baby

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) In this song, Madonna refers to Santa as “baby,” “honey” and “cutie.” What’s the most recent endearment someone called you? I don’t know. My husband and I have never really used them.

2) At the top of her list are a fur coat, a new convertible and a yacht. If you could receive any of those luxury items, which would you choose? A yacht. I’d love to hang out on a boat of any kind, really.

3) She would like to decorate her tree with ornaments from Tiffany’s. Do you have a favorite holiday ornament or decoration? Not really, but my whole tree is Wizard of Oz-themed. That said, I’ve decided this is the last year I’m doing it, at least until maybe my son is grown. No kid wants to have to put up his mom’s themed Christmas tree every year.

4) “Santa Baby” was written in 1953, before electronic payments. While her wish list includes blank checks, a 2017 survey revealed that 51% of consumers felt check writing was “a pain.” Who received the last check your wrote? Who most recently gave you a check? I still write them for bills. It’s a little easier for me to keep track of what needs paid that way. I think the last one I technically received was in the mail after my son was born in June, but I managed to find one from my baby shower that somehow got missed and deposited it yesterday.

5) Madonna has been a successful singer for decades, and 1985’s “Into the Groove” is her top-seller. What’s your favorite Madonna song? “Open Your Heart,” hands down.

6) Madonna was born in Bay City, MI, and traveled to New York City to find fame and fortune. When she first arrived, she supported herself by working at Dunkin’ Donuts. What’s your standard DD order? A strawberry glazed donut and either an iced caramel macchiato or something seasonal, which lately has been the sugarplum macchiato.

7) The only Christmas card Sam has received so far this year is from her dentist. Have you received many cards this year? One from my husband’s grandparents, one from his sister, and one from my aunt. The real story is that last year, I didn’t send any because I was pregnant and was really wiped out–if I wasn’t nauseous, I was sleeping. So Christmas cards were one of those things that was perpetually on my “I’ll get to it tomorrow” list. I’m getting to work on them this weekend and getting some sent out Monday.

8) Will you wrap many presents? Or do you prefer to use gift bags? I’m a gift-bag person, but my husband can very neatly wrap, so I’ll have him do that with nice, square boxes.

9) Madonna recorded “Santa Baby” to benefit The Special Olympics. Here’s your chance to plug a cause or organization that’s near and dear to you. I’m just gonna encourage everyone to support their local libraries and animal shelters.

Friday 5: Heigh Ho

  1. What do you do when it’s bedtime and you’re not sleepy? Usually grumble about it to my husband, screw around on my phone, and lie in bed until I fall asleep. Which usually doesn’t take too long, even if I’m not tired.
  2. When were you most recently bashful? I don’t know. It’s not like I’ve interacted with many people lately.
  3. Have you seen a doc in the past nine months? I have a five-month-old baby, so sure have! I was going once a month in early pregnancy, then every three weeks, then every two, then every one, then my six-week follow up after he was born. I was quite glad when that one was over and I knew such frequent visits were done. They’re super important, of course, and it’s not like I didn’t want to make sure he and I were both healthy, but man, was I tired of going there.
  4. What’s got you feeling grumpy lately? The reaction to the governor shutting down things like indoor dining, which is why I think he waited so long to do it. He knew he’d face swift, intense backlash because this state, and our part of it in particular, is struggling with listening to the facts about the virus. What really bothers me is frequent comparisons to Hitler and the Holocaust, as though public-health shutdowns and genocide are remotely similar, as well as nasty transphobic attacks toward our health secretary. There’s also a strange idea that the governor is trying to kill small businesses and wants them to fail, which I think defies logic. No governor wants their state to struggle and take a hard financial hit, and I’m frustrated that the people lobbing these accusations aren’t thinking critically about it at all.
  5. What’s making you happy today? My husband, my kid, and my cats. And the fact that I bought a new doorbell. Currently, we have some wires poking out of a hole. And the fact that I also bought window-cling candles. We don’t have proper windowsills, at least not ones big enough to house little candle decorations, but I found ones you just stick in your window that have a small battery pack and run on a timer. I joked that we’re the Grinch house of the street because this is our third Christmas here and the first we’ve put up any decorations for various reasons, one of which is just figuring out what we like and what suits the house. We probably won’t do much more next year, but I think next year, I’d like to add some wreaths in the mix.

From Friday 5.