As you can imagine, I haven’t had a great deal of time to sit down and write much for this post. I’ve been recovering from labor, we’ve had family and friends visiting, and we’re getting the hang of our new sleep “routine” — all thanks to this truly sweet baby boy that arrived exactly one week late on the afternoon of November 18th weighing in at a healthy 8 pounds 15 ounces. We named our son Oliver Stephen Schick (we simply liked the name Oliver, and Stephen is my Dad’s name) and for the first week or so after bringing him home, I couldn’t look at any of the photos our doula took without being truly overwhelmed with emotion. I think it’ll still take some time to process that day and the experience of labor, how incredibly supportive Sam was, and how incredibly hard it all was. I can look back at photos now and find myself doing so during Oliver’s late night feedings or when I have a spare moment to lie down on the couch. I can tell he’s changing already — his cheeks and arms not quite as chubby — and we’re spending lots of time snuggling and rocking him, and trying to notice it all.
The things people tell you when you’re pregnant about not being able to prepare for labor are, as it turns out, true. I still gave it a real go, packing a hospital bag with everything from a heating pad and ginger candies to birth books and energy bars. The day we were heading home and I was getting things ready for Sam to bring to the car, I chuckled as I stared into the bag — the thought of me taking a pause from pushing to consult some of my notes from birth class made me smile. I didn’t touch a thing in that bag, choosing instead to wear the ill-fitting hospital gown for our entire stay, and eating cottage cheese and breakfast burritos from the hospital cafeteria. Oh and that ice cold apple juice! But everyone was right: there is no way to tell what you’ll need, how you’ll feel, and how it will all turn out. I think I probably knew that deep down, but having those ginger candies and birth books made me feel as if I was doing something right.
Arriving home with Oliver for the first time was surprisingly emotional for me. The house wasn’t how we normally leave it, and staring at the living room brought back memories of the hours of painful contractions and moving furniture around to find a comfortable place to labor (it turns out I did a lot of the hard work at home, arriving to the hospital already 8 centimeters dilated). Once we unloaded the car and got settled in, Sam helped bring some order to things around the house and his sister Christa brought us over a hot dinner. We wanted to crack open a bottle of champagne but I think both realized we wouldn’t make much of a dent in it, so we made tea and cranked up the heat instead.
We all slept in our bedroom that night and woke early the next day (after many wakings that night), the first full day as a new family in our own house. I wish I could remember what we did that day, but time all seems to mash together into one long chunk peppered with meals from friends, Sam’s scrambled eggs, many cups of tea, hot showers, a trusty white noise machine, short naps, eggnog, and records in the living room. Sam is already a natural Dad — as I knew he would be. He’s been reading Phillip Larkin and The Odyssey to Oliver, singing him elaborate made up songs, and soothing him like a pro. I look at him and feel so lucky to be doing this together, and I look at Oliver realizing that right now he has no idea what a selfless, cool Dad he has.
When I said earlier that there’s really no way to prepare for labor or the experience of having your first child, that’s certainly true. So all you can do, really, is trust in yourself and the things you’ve put into place. I guess that’s all we can ever do with new endeavors or adventures, isn’t it? And once you do that, you settle into it, hope for the best, and try to envision it all. For Thanksgiving this year, we joined a big group of friends and all sat at a long, communal table sharing dishes we each contributed and turkey that our friend Natalie worked hard on. There was a true abundance of food, two other babies there besides Oliver, warmth and good conversation. I had a hard time eating my meal as I kept thinking about the occasion and what it meant: coming together and giving thanks. We had talked so much about baby Sprout for almost a year … and here he was. Here was Oliver. Here we were. We couldn’t have prepared for any of it, but we’d hoped so hard for it all.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)