Saturday, December 15, 2018

On Motherhood (at five weeks)

Layla is over a month old.  Sometimes I feel like I blinked... how could she possibly be over a month old already?  Other times... the days really do feel rather long.  Still, I'm grateful for all of it.  Being her mom...  how could I ever have imagined how powerful that would be? 

She is the best thing that has ever happened to us.  Frankly, I don't really even remember anymore what life was like without her.  Before her.  I mean, I have these vague notions, but compared to the technicolor wonder of her mere existence, they pale in comparison.

I attempt to do a few self-care type things every day... this is better for my sanity as a mom and better for Layla, too.  One thing I always try to do is take a shower; I haven't been brave enough to attempt it solo, while she naps during the day, but when her dad is home after work, I'm generally able to find the time.  It's like the one moment during the day where I have a few minutes to myself...  I am so happy to share my days, and my whole self, with Layla, but I am still making the transition into this new role... so sometimes it's nice to be able to stand under the hot water and take a deep breath and be still and be singular.  Usually, I miss Layla and her dad already by the time I've put in conditioner and started washing my face.  I guess that's just the way it goes.  I even miss her when she's sleeping sometimes.

I'm lucky that I had a, relatively speaking, complication free pregnancy.  I definitely don't take it for granted.  I found out that I was pregnant on the morning of my 30th birthday (a day I will never, ever forget).  I was so sick in the beginning--I remember a phone call with my mom, where I cried to her that I felt so awful that I couldn't even keep down water, that the only thing that sounded good was cake.  Her response?  "Eat the cake."  Morning sickness was definitely a misnomer for me, but by the time that I got into the second trimester, I started feeling better. 

There were times where I struggled mentally and emotionally with being pregnant...  I loved our kid more than anything in the world, but I felt pretty rough some days. The changes were hard to process, and I felt really uncomfortable in my own body.  As she grew, though, and as I began to feel her move around more often, I began to feel more secure in what was happening to her and to me, more comfortable with being pregnant.  Now that she's here, I find it to be true that I miss feeling her move around in my belly.  I'm glad I have videos and photos to document that connection.

The third trimester was not without its issues...  I ended up having to go to PT because I was experiencing intense back and rib pain, thanks to the girl.  I had to spend time being monitored at Labor and Delivery because I caught a stomach bug and was unable to keep anything down for hours.  They hooked me up to 2.5 bags of fluids and it was probably the most sick I have been in years...  how terrible it felt physically, but also to be that sick while carrying Layla.  I knew she was fine--she had been monitored too--but I felt so protective of her.  I was glad I followed my instincts,

The last month was tough; I kept going to my OB check ups and not having any progress.  Layla was doing great, which was the most important thing... but I was ready to be done, ready to meet her  As the weeks passed I felt more uncomfortable, felt more worse for the wear...  but looked no closer to giving birth.  And as the week of her due date came, and then the actual date itself, and we didn't seem to be ready then yet, either.  Who knew the next day would be the day? 

Being pregnant didn't come naturally to me.  It was hard.  I spent 2017 training for and running the Chicago Marathon, and that was the hardest thing I'd ever done--until I became pregnant.  I wouldn't trade it for anything, and hopefully we'll have the opportunity to do it again in a few years, give Layla a sibling.  Marathon training probably prepared me for this whole thing, if I'm really being honest.  Still, how I always imagined it would go, and how it actually went were pretty different. I am so grateful that my experience laboring and delivering her went so well (even the things that didn't go to plan).  In a series of life-changing moments, our world shifted beyond comprehension.  There she was, the reason for everything.  It made it all worth it.

And, much to my surprise and delight, being Layla's mom came easy for me from the very start.  Even those first days in the hospital, those first few nights where I didn't sleep because every squeak and whimper woke me up (spoiler alert, she's a baby so she's constantly making the most ridiculous noises, even when there's nothing wrong at all!)... those moments where I doubted myself and cried because she just wouldn't latch or she wouldn't quiet down from being fussy or I felt overwhelmed... I never felt like I couldn't do it.  I felt like I was afraid of letting her down, maybe, or like I was afraid I wouldn't be able to console her quickly enough.  But I am hers and she is mine, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I knew I could do it, that I would, that I would just need to be patient with her and patient with myself.  And so far, we're getting along just fine.  She makes it easy.

Now that she's five weeks old, it's even more wonderful than it was in the beginning: she is waking up and recognizing us and starting to become a little more active in our world every day.  I was so concerned before she got here--I didn't know how to be a mom, how was I supposed to take care of a baby?  I was so worried but it turns out that knowledge, the fundamental role of being one of her keepers, was inherent within me all along.  Being Layla's mom is probably the most natural thing I've ever done, the most important job I've ever had.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Welcome to the World, Layla Eleanor Grace

This is long and it's probably slightly hazy on the very minute details (remember that I'm not getting nearly as much sleep as I used to, haha) but there are moments here that I remember so clearly that they must have just happened and more than anything else I have ever experienced in my life, I needed to write it all down.  It's perhaps the most important story I've ever told.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Hello, friends!  It's been a while...   A lot of really crazy and wonderful things have happened since I wrote last.  I turned 30 and celebrated with the perfect night downtown, we moved from Edgewater to a two-bedroom in Evanston, Tom ran two marathons (DNF one, but victoriously finished the other), he got a new job, and I gave birth just 10 days ago to our firstborn daughter.

(Photo thanks to Tom)

Say hello to Layla Eleanor Grace!  Born November 10 at 12:10pm--8 lbs 13 oz, 19.75 inches long.  The most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  The sweetest, most laid-back little one.  She's only been with us for 10 days but it feels like we've known her forever.  Already I cannot imagine my life without her.

Though I haven't done any writing here the last nine months, I have been keeping up with it!  In July, I started keeping a journal for Layla and have been writing her letters since the second trimester.  I've continued writing to her now that she is born.  I also documented my pregnancy via my Instagram, which you can find @veilsandstarlight, lots of short-form writing, bits and pieces of the adventure of growing a daughter.

I am still looking for the words to perfectly capture how I am feeling about this new stage in our lives, but suffice to say, I am delightfully sleep-deprived, I am more in love with my husband than I thought possible, I am head over heels about this tiny girl.  Somehow I really do feel like I've woken up from a deep sleep to a bigger and brighter and more vibrant world, and I'm finding my voice again in this place, with her in it.  More to come soon!

Monday, February 26, 2018

8 Minute Memoir, Day 48: Childhood Toy

My most beloved childhood toy is a stuffed dog that I got from my parents' as a Valentine's day present.  The dog was small and white with red ears and wore a cute little dress and had a bow.  I named her Courtney and she was my security blanket.  I still have her, actually; right now, she is in a storage bin in my closest here in the apartment with a bunch of notebooks and stuff from work. That bow on her small, stuffed dog head is barely hanging on after over two decades of love, worn in on the paws, incredibly soft after all these years.

The other thing that came to mind was... our playhouse.  We had a playhouse in the backyard, with swings and a bright yellow slide attached to the second level (that moved as the evergreen tree across from the structure grew wider and in the direct way of the landing zone).  At one point, there was an open space for a potential fire pole (that was eventually closed up, probably for the best).  The playhouse was built at my grandpa's house and then brought over to our backyard on the back of a trailer.  It was anchored to the earth with posts buried deep into the ground... even the most vigorous of swinging couldn't move it from the foundation, even if we felt that motion on the top level.

It was the home to our wildest imaginations.  Once, I brought all of my worldly possessions from inside the house out to the playhouse and declared that my new home.  I also have a memory of my little brother throwing my stuffed animals over the side and me yelling at him about it, haha.  I remember swinging, pumping my legs back and forth, over and over.  Setting up a home in the prime real estate, the "balcony" next to the slide, cozying up in the middle of summer in a Disney sleeping bag and an old pillow.  Eventually, we grew up and it became a place we could get a little peace and quiet...  And when we were old enough, we sat out there with our friends and drank cold beers and reminisced on our younger years, just barely on the other side of them.

Someday, I hope we have a backyard, and I hope we can give our kids a playhouse, treehouse, what have you.  I hope we can give them a space to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity like I got all those years ago.

Jess Goes Running: Today

Today, I woke up with a plan.  The sun was shining (earlier than I expected) when I rolled out of bed, and I ate some cereal and drank some water.  The end of February is here, and with a 50 degree day in the forecast, I knew I had to take advantage of it.  I hopped in the car, went over and picked up my friend V, and we headed over to Montrose Harbor.

The last time we'd gone running there, it was cold and windy and icy, so icy that we couldn't even go out onto the curlicue part of the pier.  Today, however, the coast was clear.  It was sunny, crisp and fresh--and windy.  Very windy, as we'd come to find out during our second mile.  But it felt so good to be out there, running with the backdrop of a beautiful skyline on turquoise water.  I turned off the run/walk intervals on my watch, and V and I ran three miles with no walking breaks.  Probably one of my first of those since the 2017 Evanston Flying Turkey 5K for sure.  It was tough, but I did it!  And felt awesome.  I put in the work and I felt amazing afterwards.

When I got home from running (and then brunch at our favorite place, of course!) I kept my running clothes on... and a little bit later, I put my shoes back on and went out again.  I was initially planning on running three miles, another three straight miles without walking breaks... but then three miles turned to four.  I ran from the apartment, to the pier on Hollywood Beach, down along the breakwall to Foster Beach.  It was a breathtakingly beautiful afternoon, even if the wind was just as tough on this run as it was the first time.  At the end, I stood downstairs outside the apartment and caught my breath and just smiled.  I had done it.  Another four miles in the bank.

Today, I ran seven miles...  This is my highest mileage, combined or otherwise, since the marathon.   Wow!  It feels so good to be back here.  Today is the strongest that I have felt in a long time.  I had two fantastic outings today, two fulfilling and wonderful and fantastic runs.  Two opportunities to exist and breathe and feel my feet on the pavement in the most beautiful city in the world, my kind of town.  Man, I am so lucky.  I know that I need to be ever vigilant; I know injuries can happen anytime.  But I am feeling so strong, so confident, so certain, right now.  I am ready to see what the spring brings.  Winter has been long, and I haven't done as much running as I hoped, but... maybe in a way I needed the break.  Maybe now I'm coming back stronger than I thought possible.  I am so excited for whatever lies ahead.

"In running the mind flees with the body, the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms."  
-Joyce Carol Oates

Friday, February 16, 2018

8 Minute Memoir, Day 47: Swimming

My feet graze the sand as I float in the warm saltwater of the Pacific Ocean.  I am a little ways offshore, letting the gentle rolling motions of the waves bring me in and out.  It's a beautiful day in Costa Rica and the first time I've touched the ocean in over five years... we are here, together, for an entire week.  Our first adventure to a foreign country and so far, we are proving to be good travel buddies.

He and I have vacationed together before, of course, but never anything like this.  When we left the airport in San Jose we were given directions that included things like "make a left at the soccer field at the bottom of the hill" and generally didn't include many street names, only the vague notion of a final destination, a wayward path to our home for a week.  But we made it, and now we are here, floating in the ocean.

I have always loved swimming.  We were lucky enough to have a pool growing up and I can't tell you how many countless hours I spent in the water during those long hot summers, my hair turning green from the chlorine.  I took swimming lessons and relished the ability that I had to be in the water.  Of course I was going to go swimming in Costa Rica, it wasn't even a question.

Over the course of the week we spend here together, we go swimming until our skin is wrinkled and sunburnt (despite constant sunscreen reapplications) and watch the sun go down over the horizon.  We go wading in the mornings, the water knee deep, the sun already burning brightly in the sky.

We go swimming in the aquamarine pool of our hostel, the space entirely ours alone--languid and luxurious laps from one end to the other, occasionally meeting in the middle for a kiss or two.

Tom rents a body board and plays around in the surf while I see how long I can hold my breath underwater, gliding back to the sand with the current.

We spend a day with one of our best friends, Jackie, who has friends who live in the big bright yellow high rise on the south end of the beach... we check out their gorgeous condo, then we go swimming and get tipsy in the palatial infinity pool down on the ground level.

We make the drive to Manuel Antonio National Park... the colors on the beach are so vivid and the water is unreal, almost technicolor... but the surf is rough, and it knocks me around a bit, to the point where I spend the rest of the day on a beach towel, with a book, soaking up the sun and watching Tom swim.

Even later on in the week we spend there, when I start dealing with congestion and burning eyes from some sort of illness that follows me back to the States, I take medication (with labels in Spanish, from the pharmacist who I think could understand what I was looking for) and I throw myself into the water anyway, because even though I feel pretty awful by the time we have to leave, I can't stay out of the ocean.  In fact, on the day that we finally do our make our departure, I am quiet and observing during the 2 hour drive back to the city, to the airport, and I cry before I get on the plane to go home.

I dream of those waves, the crystalline glitter of the sunlight hitting the surface, the salt sticking to my skin.  The rhythmic melody of the waves, always consistently rolling in, over and over and over.  A rhythm not unlike that of my own feet on a run, dependable and steady.  I'd go back there in a heartbeat.  Hopefully someday, I'll get to experience the emphatic delight of playing in those waves again.

Friday, February 9, 2018

8 Minute Memoir, Day 46: Christmas Tree

Somewhere in my childhood home, there exists a home video, recorded on a camcorder that was set up on a tripod on the other side of the room--and in the middle of the frame, my dad, putting our claimed from the tree farm Christmas tree into a tree strand and slowly, meticulously, stringing it with lights.  Also featured in this video, my little brother and I, taking turns sharing the spotlight in front of the camera while my dad got the tree ready for decorating.  My mom, meanwhile, would bring the box of ornaments up from downstairs: delicate, handmade projects from school holiday parties; Hallmark ornaments to commemorate birthdays and anniversaries.

I feel so grateful that as a child, the holidays always held such a particular magic for me.  Even now, thinking about it, I am filled with the utmost nostalgia and warmth.  Every Christmas Eve, we would make the drive to my grandpa's house... pulling up his long driveway and coming inside, everyone's arms filled with presents and food.  A veritable feast, delicious desserts, the exchanging of gifts, the grown ups drinking coffee and having conversations.  Thinking about these Christmas Eves now, at nearly 30, has me near tears because I am overcome with how magical it was to drive to my grandpa's, through the cornfields, the snow, the skies always so clear and filled with glitter... stars twinkling overhead.

And then leaving Grandpa's house and driving home, the car cold and crisp, but warming but before we even got inside...  driving home, coming inside to find the house lit up only by the glow of the Christmas tree, there in the corner of the living room, everything set in an ethereal haze.  My heart beats a little more quickly just thinking about it, how loved and how safe and how lucky I felt.

This is exactly the kind of thing I hope to replicate for my future children because I believe without question that it was an important part of my childhood, the wonder and delight of being a kid, getting my toes wet and learning new things and exploring the world, on the road to becoming an adult.  I want to give them as much sparkle and joy as I felt... I grew up in a technicolor world and I want that and more for them, I want the moon.