If you’re ever in the mood to pat yourself on the back for being on top of things (I did the laundry AND am dressed like a proper adult AND the house looks tidy), you should prolly meet my mom and realize you’ve got a long way to go.
The other day, in the course of my daily phone call with my mamacita, I said, with a tinge of pride: “I got E’s birth announcements out in the mail today!”
(She’s now six weeks old.)
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then she said: “Well, it really doesn’t matter! People will love to receive them regardless.”
She then told me the most astounding story:
The birth announcements celebrating my arrival 32 years ago showed up in her friends’ mailboxes the day after I was born.
She said this casually, laughingly, before explaining brightly: “Well, just after you were born, they didn’t have any rooms ready, so I was stationed in a hallway and you were in the nursery. So, I pulled out my stack of birth announcements [editor’s note: !!], filled them in with your details [editor’s note: !!!!], and popped them into the envelopes, which I’d pre-addressed and stamped weeks earlier [editor’s note: !!!?!?!?!?!?!!!!]. Then, my mom came by to meet you, and I asked her to drop them in the mail. So they showed up for everyone local in the next morning’s mail. Ha ha!”
Y’ALL. Can you imagine having the wherewithal or mental agility to think to pull out a stack of cards and fill them out minutes after your babe was born?
She said: “Well, what else was I supposed to do? I was just sitting there in the hallway.”
So, I have a long way to go….
But, while I may have to humbly apologize for the tardiness of minimagpie’s birth announcements, I will proudly gloat over how adorable they are! I had them custom designed and letterpressed by Dinglewood Design. They are loosely based on these. They were a breeze to work with and, I have to say, the price is pretty good for getting something letterpressed! They also have AMAZING save the dates and wedding invitations.
(P.S. — I also considered this letterpress style from LittleDoveDesign — I love that retro script and styling!)
But anytoots, my mom is incredible and that’s the end of the story.
Everything I’ve done right for minimagpie I owe to my mom’s incredible example. Today, inspired by Bunny’s request in the comments on this post, I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned from my mamacita, setting aside my delinquency in achieving the high bar she set for sending out birth announcements.
These are pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s worth stating the obvious. I’ll be honest and share that I’ve learned a ton of stupid, practical, OBVIOUS things by observing/spying on other moms–for example, wadding a few swaddles under baby’s head in her stroller (we have this one) to prevent her head from rolling around as you go over bumps. I didn’t do this at first –and she was so littttle in that huge Bugaboo bassinet–until I poked my head into another mom’s stroller and saw she was doing this and copied her. I felt sorta sheepish for not thinking of this myself…
Lesson No. 1: Ask for Help.
My mom encouraged me for weeks to line up a part-time nanny or baby-sitter for after mini was born. I wasn’t sure I’d need one or that I’d feel comfortable with someone else in the house (I work from home!) or even what kind of schedule I’d want to keep or what I’d need help with.
Let alone how to find a nanny or how to interview one.
But, per usual, I’m so glad I followed my mom’s advice because it’s been epic and amazing to have support a few days a week so I can run out to get a manicure or work quietly or just have a set of extra hands to hold mini and help with her intense feeding schedule (I’m still doing the nursing-bottle-feeding-pumping routine, though I’ve reduced the amount of pumping each day, which is a maj blessing.)
I learned that a lot of moms use Care.com to find support–and have had good success with it–but I tapped my network here in Chicago and asked far and wide for referrals. I was surprised at how many leads this yielded.
Side note 1: Nurses and day-care employees are often looking for part-time work, and they typically have pretty good credentials to serve as a part-time nanny. BUT you should know that they are typically hard to engage long-term, because they have shifting schedules and tend to job-hop. (At least, this is my observation from discussing with a bunch of other moms and from my own first-hand experience.)
Side note 2: I found better success asking women who, ironically, either didn’t have kids OR who had since left Chicago: a lot of the moms with newborns here in Chi are struggling to find and keep their own nannies, so they are understandably protective of their sources! So ask everyone. You never know who has a sister or neighbor looking for this kind of work.
Side note 3: Don’t jump to conclusions about the profile of person you think you want as a nanny. I had sort of blindly and unreflectingly assumed I would end up with 20-something philosophy PhD candidate (?), but we found the most lovely lady who is a grandmother herself and who splits her time nannying for a few families and working in a nursing home. She is perfect for us. (Also: it gives me a little peace of mind to know she’s raised babies herself.)
Once I had a list of possibilities, my mom and a very smart girlfriend of mine (thank you, W!!!) counseled me as to what to look for and ask about when interviewing. I found that the most important thing was identifying what I wanted, which was another me. (I am literally stealing those words from my friend W. It wasn’t until she put it this way that I realized it was what I had been looking for as well.) Someone who could hold and change and soothe and bathe minimagpie, but who would also proactively do a load of laundry, wash bottles, let the dog out, and wipe down the countertops when they needed wiping.
And–importantly–someone who wouldn’t need a lot of direction doing so.
Other moms might want someone SOLELY focused on the mini–someone who will read to and engage with the baby all the time–but I was really keen on finding support in keeping our household in order, too, as I feel like that’s eating up half my day. (Before mini, I didn’t get why this would be the case–why would adding one tiny human make keeping the house so much more challenging?!–but there are always bottles to wash, miscellaneous baby items to put away, boxes to break down, laundry to do, beds to make, diapers to re-stock, etc. And it’s hard to do these things with one hand!) So it was important to ask, during my interviews…
+Whether the ladies felt comfortable doing light housework. You can tell a lot from someone’s reaction to this; even if she says “yes,” you can get a sense for how truly comfortable she is and where she draws the line. One applicant said: “I am OK with doing a little housework now and then, but I’m never going to clean bathrooms.” Another said: “Happy to clean up after the newborn…” [i.e., not after the whole family.] Totally fine, just good to know.
+Whether they feel comfortable with me being home and around while they are there. (Some nannies prefer autonomy / don’t want to feel as though THEY are being baby-sat.)
+Whether they have experience with newborns. Even if they’ve nannied before, they may not feel equipped to trim an infant’s nails or use those nasal aspirators or control a squirming babe in the tub.
+Whether they are ever free in the evenings/weekends, and whether they would ever be willing to spend the night.
+What their other commitments are.
+What they charge. For Chicago, it seems that the going rate is $18-$22. Sometimes a little less if they are younger, or a little more if there are a lot of children at home to care after.
+Who their references are. I found this SUPER illuminating. We called the references for the nanny we ended up with and they raved about her (“she’s family! I trust her to do anything!”) and they’d hunt me down if I tried to poach extra hours. HA! You can also ask blunt questions like: “Will she mind sweeping the floor every now and then, or unloading a dishwasher?”
I realize my insane fortune in being able to have a part-time nanny. Even if you aren’t in a position to secure support at this level, I learned REAL quick that you should never hesitate to ask for help from family and friends–so many of them would love the opportunity to baby-sit, or take your dog to the park, or come by and just hold the baby for awhile to give your arms a rest and give you a few minutes to take a shower. A lot of them want to help but don’t know how, so I just had to push myself to be pretty direct, and they always seem thrilled to contribute.
Finally. Equally as important. If the sitter’s not a good fit, move on. My mom advised us to always set things up “as a trial period” first, i.e., “why don’t you come two days a week for the next two weeks and then we’ll see what we need?” Sometimes, this can get tricky if a nanny is in high-demand; she’ll take the sure thing over the flaky one any day. But if possible, test things out first. One of my girlfriends went through three or four sitters before finding one that felt just right (using a lot of the questions above to screen!), and we also had to try a few on for size before committing.
Lesson No. 2: Get Organized. Like, REAL Organized.
Per the anecdote above, my mom is outrageously organized. Her closet resembles a high end retail store on Oak Street: everything immaculately ordered, pressed, and on display. And her bag…! It’s as if she has a tiny “Thumbelina” handbag housekeeper come through there on the daily to put things in their place, do a sweep, re-fold tissues, etc. I learned pretty quickly from observing her and asking for her input that organization pays off in a major way when it comes to babies. Specifically (and many of these observations are super “duhhh” but they still took me a hot minute to nail):
+Add an extra 30 minute grace period for getting ready and getting out the door. We were trying to go to Mass one Sunday and cut things wayyyy too close and ended up late and flustered. There’s always something–mini decides she’s hungry, or spits up on her clothes, or has a blowout, or…etc. Life feels better when you’re not rushed, and, for me, when I know I’ve left the house tidy with the bed made. I have a strange neurosis about a made bed. If I haven’t made it by the time I go down in the morning, it nags me all day long. It’s like an open cabinet in your kitchen–someone just needs to shut the damn thing!
+Try to plan around a feed. If we want to go to lunch or meet up with friends, we will always get everyone dressed and ready, and the stroller, bag, etc packed and set at the door well in advance, and then wait for her to wake up to feed. Then we jet out the door as soon as she’s full to optimize our time between feeds. This can occasionally backfire, BTW–sometimes mini shocks us and goes for 4 hours between a meal and we’re just sitting around waiting. (Of course, we have woken her up early to get the show on the road, but there are times where you’re just loosely planning to do something after her next meal and suddenly two hours have gone by and the wind is out of your sails.)
+Pre-pack your diaper bag. I love my ToteSavvy insert — I stock it with all of her essentials (diapers, formula, wipes, hand sanitizer, etc. — and P.S. these pre-mixed nursette bottles of formula are awesome when you’re out and suddenly she gets hungry and you panic; you don’t need to find water or measure out powder, and you can toss it when it’s done. Just know that you need to buy the nipples separately.) The cool thing about the ToteSavvy is that you can pull it out and throw it in a different bag if you’re switching your bag frequently. I also almost always have this monogrammed wet bag on hand stocked with a change of clothes in case of emergency. (Thanks, JB, for the rec!) That way, if you have a situation arise, you can change mini and put her soiled clothes back in the wet bag, and it’s easy to wipe down / clean out. (Another one of you recommended this slightly larger wet bag for the babe as she grows and her clothes get bigger/bulkier.) But also: pre-stocking my ToteSavvy was one of the best things I did before mini arrived. When I got back from the hospital post-c-section and then needed to go to mini’s first pediatrician appointment first thing the next day, it was such a luxury to have that bag already packed without me needing to put any energy or thought into it. (I ended up needed a diaper, wipes, nursing pads, and an extra pair of socks that day, all of which I had on hand! This, naturally, made me feel like a hero supermom for a second. I’ll take it.)
+If you are fortunate to have child care / nanny support, I try to pre-plan what I’m going to get done while my nanny is around: errands, work, blog, shower, even–dare I say it–nap??? I even dorkily keep track of these things in my Wunderlist app organized by date. Otherwise, I can end up doing a bunch of random things around the house and then kicking myself later for not taking advantage of the few hours of uninterrupted time I had.
+We aren’t here yet, but my mom had some great ways to structure our days/weeks and keep chaos to a minimum: she always went to the grocery on Sundays and Thursdays. We always had “quiet time” from 1-3 in the afternoon. We always kept our juice cups in a row, from oldest to youngest, in the same spot of the kitchen, so we only used one cup a day (to cut down on the billions of dishwasher loads she was always doing). “The kitchen was closed” after dinner (no more snacks, no exceptions!). I’m already following in her steps in that I try to do mini’s laundry every other day, wash our bedding every Thursday, sanitize the bottles and humidifier every Friday, etc. It’s helpful to have specific days designated for activities so that things actually get done and you feel like you’re in charge of your home.
Lesson No. 3: Just Do it.
I took Mini to Target by myself about three weeks after she was born.
I am embarrassed to say that I was totally daunted by the proposition. Mr. Magpie had always been in charge of carseat/stroller operations and I didn’t even know how to collapse the stroller or clip the carseat into the adapter.
But Mr. Magpie pushed me to go to Target–a small, brief, non-high-stakes, everyday errand–with her in tow just to get the hang of things. I’m so glad I bit the bullet early, even though I spent most of the time anxious as to whether she would wake up and start screaming, because it just meant that every subsequent trip has gotten easier. (Yesterday, I went to Target, the post office, and the pet supply store with mini and was whipping that stroller in and out like a PRO.)
I remember telling myself:
“Jen, why are you anxious? What’s the WORST thing that happens? She starts crying and…what? You go to your car and feed her in the backseat. Or you take her out of the carseat and soothe her. Or you give up and drive home. All of these things are totally fine.”
And if I ever think I can’t do something, I think about my mom, who had five children under the age of 12 and told me recently that she would take us to the grocery and have two in the cart, two hanging onto the sides of the cart, one in her arms, and be wheeling a second cart behind her. CAN YOU IMAGINE. (Mind blown.) In her words: “You just do it. You just say, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ and you figure it out. You also need to be really organized–go in with a list organized by sections of the grocery, i.e., ‘this is what I need in produce. this is what I need in the dairy section.’ and you move fast.”
I also went out to get a manicure two weeks after mini was born by myself, while the nanny was around and Mr. Magpie was working at home. I’m glad I did that early because I know that some moms end up pushing back a solo trip for weeks and weeks and then build up a lot of anxiety and guilt around ever leaving their baby. Which I can totally understand. There are already weird things that I feel attached to doing. Like, nursing is exhausting and all-consuming and sometimes I have to admit I struggle to find the joy in it, but the handful of times we’ve solely used expressed milk or formula for a feeding, I feel this weird sense of guilt and separation and I legitimately can’t wait until her next feed! (But also: I saw another mom with a baby that was maybe a month older than mini in the nail salon and she totally made it work. So, there’s that! Salons are full of women and women tend to be really forgiving in case of a mini meltdown.)
The same goes for a date night Mr. Magpie and I had about a month or so after mini arrived: we knew we just needed to pull off the bandaid. Of course, it was critical that we’d had the nanny around while we were there a few times in a row so that we felt totally at ease.
YES, I miss her when I am gone, but it’s amazing how quickly you can recharge the batteries when you have a little spot of time to be an adult on your own. Also, truth be told, I miss her more when I’m sitting at home and she’s upstairs in nanny’s arms. I can hear her and I feel guilty for not holding her when she’s in earshot. I know this is ridiculous, but there it is.
Lesson No. 4: You Can’t Spoil a Newborn.
Based on my mom’s advice and my doctor’s advice: you can’t spoil a newborn. It’s way too early to let them “cry it out.” So there’s a lot of holding, rocking, cooing going on over here.
Lesson No. 5: But Also, Newborns Cry. And Sometimes for No Good Reason.
So, despite the previous bit of advice, it’s also been critical for my peace of mind to realize that babies cry a lot. Even non-colic-y ones. So sometimes I go through the whole checklist of possible discomforts–is she hungry? does she need a change? is she too hot? is she too cold?–and she’s still freaking out.
And it’s OK.
A lot of the time, I model myself after Mr. Magpie, who has an insane level of Buddha-like zen when dealing with our crying babe. He’ll say to her: “Oh, you’re OK. You’re OK. We’re right here. You’re OK.”
And I think that half the time he’s saying this to soothe and reassure himself.
But it’s a lot about keeping a good sense of perspective–knowing that if she’s crying, she’s breathing, and that she might just be tired or needing a little extra love.
And when all else fails, pat her little butt repeatedly.
Or hand her off to your spouse and take a shower.
Or pour yourself a glass of rose…
My Latest Minimagpie Finds…
+Baby’s first sandal. Love these. They can go right into the water, so they’ll be great for pool parties with her little friend G up the street. (Annie, see you soon!) P.S. — A dear family friend gave minimagpie her first swimsuit — a KATE SPADE! So chic. It looks similar to this one. (Thank you, AB!!)
+I mentioned recently that I don’t understand why baby clothes are sold by age instead of by weight. It makes no sense to me. Well, my friend and veteran mama S. told me to check out Hanna Andersson — they sell their clothes by height. Genius. I stocked up on their celebrated pajamas in a few sizes, since they have a bunch of ADORABLE prints on sale! I especially died over this giraffe print one, since, ya know, giraffes are sort of a theme for mini in her nursery. And also, this pineapple and banana print!
+A new nursing sleep bra. I layer one underneath button down jams like these, my favs, when I’m not wearing my favorite nursing nightgown, which I own in multiple prints. I also ordered one of these nursing bras, which is apparently the highest rated on all of the Internet! (Pretty much every “best nursing bras” list includes this as the top-rated style.)