In October 2013 I wrote daily as part of The Nester’s31 Days challenge. I called it “Notes to a New Mum,” but after I finished writing, each note sounded more like a confession, stories about love, loss, breaking, gaining, and a whole host of different things along the way. So I’ve re-named the series Confessions of a New Mum, and in 2014 I started writing more confessions. You can find the index of the posts after the introduction.
Welcome, friend. You have been on my heart for weeks now. I don’t know how old your first child is, if you have children, want them, are pregnant or if you’re holding a newborn in your arms. We are all birthing something, we are all holding something new in our hands.
I’m holding another newborn in my arms these days and nights, and remembering my first season with a baby. These words are for her and for you. Re-visiting the woman I was and talking to my past self is a necessary part of growing, healing, living and it also frees me to move forward.
For the 31 days of October 2014, I’ll be writing these confessions of a new mum. I’m not a parenting expert. My toddler throws tantrums, our babies don’t sleep through the night early, veggies aren’t eaten, schedules are kept and disregarded, I leave piles of soiled nappies on the changing table. Please trust me, I’m not trying to pass on any great secrets or wisdom about the actual day-to-day of having small kids or babies. But there will be lots of stories, lots and lots of stories from my motherhood journey so far.
The only specific advice will be related to how much chocolate should be in your pantry at all times (lots), there will definitely be nothing on how to get your baby to sleep. There will be some letters, some lessons, some book reviews and a few guest posts from friends.
I hope the next 31 days are encouraging for you and for me. Hopefully my own reflections will bring growth, health, life and freedom to your soul in whatever season of life you may be in right now.
Last week on the day that Little Boy “Did it!” with the rock and the water, I was all wrapped up in the spirit of “Did It” that I didn’t start crying when I looked into our refrigerator and saw only a pack of short ribs on the shelves amidst the milk and eggs, and almost nothing else. As tempting as it was to open the freezer for another pizza or nuggets or fish sticks, I didn’t.
I decided instead to do it – to cook the ribs.
Two important caveats: I have never cooked ribs before and we had virtually no other ingredients.
So I googled “easy pork ribs,” and after noting that none of the recipes were at my level of easy, I had no grill and no one had a method for bringing a fairy godmother into the kitchen to just make it happen, I took a deep breath and said to myself, You can do this. Your kid can get a rock that is out of his reach, you can cook ribs.
Victory is contagious, what can I say.
Through some small miracle, Baby was happy, and Little Boy was mesmerized for at least an hour by a few trays of ice (Husband mentioned to me that when he took Little Boy out for lunch he – Little Boy, in case anyone is wondering – was fascinated by the way the ice melted and disappeared into his water.)
Seriously, he sat there with a tupperware semi-full of water and ice cubes, playing with ice, eating ice, sloshing water everywhere. Later I added frozen peas – even more fascinating! And he ate all the peas. For anyone keeping track, this was an activity that kept him occupied for a large amount of time and healthy and cheap and easy and educational (we got to talk about water’s different forms – SCIENCE, OH MY WORD).
In the mean time, I turned my eyes to our meager pantry – olive oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, salt, garlic, onions, muesli, baking powder, tea, lavender honey, vanilla essence, and I’m sure there were a few other things. My point is the pantry was bare. And now you’re probably thinking, She glazed the ribs with baking powder and cooked it with muesli!!!
I did not.
But I did use the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic and honey, and ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you. These ribs were lick-your-fingers tasty. Husband said they were amazing, but it is worth mentioning that he was eating frozen pizza and other fascinating frozen fare for the past week, so his judgment – or at least his taste buds – might have been at less than top form.
And me? Yes, it felt great to sit down and eat a real meal, but it was made only sweeter by the fact that I did something I did not think I could do. (And honey.)
You better believe I did a happy dance in my kitchen, arms raised in victory, proclaiming to my toddler and anyone who would listen – I did it.
“Did It” Ribs or The Easiest Recipe Ever
This is an incredibly easy recipe for ribs – I think it took me a total of 10 minutes to put together, and that’s probably because I crushed garlic, which takes a long time, am I right?
Heat oven to a very low heat (mine was around 150 C/300 F)
I had two racks of pork spare ribs, and I crushed two cloves of garlic and rubbed a clove per rack into one side with some salt (and obviously if we had pepper or red chili flakes, I would have added that as well).
In an oven-proof casserole dish, add olive oil and the ribs, browning both sides until there’s a nice colour
In a bowl whisk together soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and honey (melt the honey if it’s too thick). There’s no science to the proportions here. I just tasted as I went along until the mix was to my liking; the idea here is salty, sour and sweet. (There are so many other combinations that would work, too: lemon juice, barbecue sauce, whiskey, stock, sugar, etc.).
Pour it over the ribs. The liquid should cover the ribs, so add water if it doesn’t.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover it with a lid or foil, transfer to the oven and bake for about two hours or until meat is tender and tasty.
We ate this with rice and a bag of frozen Chinese veggies. Ridiculously easy, incredibly tasty.
Little Boy has tasted transition in some big ways in the past two months – a baby brother born, two sets of grandparents coming to visit and leaving, his Papa going on longer-than-normal business trips, moving out of his only home to a temporary apartment, and then leaving Geneva for a new home in Sweden.
We did our best to prepare him for it with books about a new baby, talking about everything, letting him see rooms getting packed up, skyping with grandparents before they arrived and after they left, giving him his own suitcase that got filled up with toys (a brilliant idea suggested by a friend), and showing him pictures of our new house – the “lellow” house (yellow house).
There was no way to be certain about what he did and did not understand, but I know that ever since Baby came home there has been a new pain etched on his small, expressive face, a look that says, I am lost here, I don’t know my place anymore.
It manifests itself often in behaviors, most of which are unpleasant for us – extra defiance, screaming, waking up at night, wanting to drink milk all the time. But it’s also made him more fearful and unwilling to try new things. We watch him every day trying to process what has happened since we moved to Stockholm.
Daily he tells us he is getting on an airplane to go away.
Daily he says to me, Papa coming back?,
When we are out and coming home, he will say several times,
Lellow house. Here now. Lellow house. Here now.
And it’s like he is telling himself, I live here now, this is my home.
Walking to the Baltic Sea is part of our daily life here. The first part of it is a little open area where boats can just drive up, and I see moms and dads bringing their kids in the morning by boat so they can go to the little school that is two doors away from our house. A gravel path begins there and circles on the south end of our island. We walk this path daily, saying hello to the boats, the ducks and the occasional piece of construction equipment.
On our way home the other day he wanted to get out of the stroller at the opening part; I said yes, and he got off and started taking handfuls of rocks from the path and throwing them into the sea.
Plash! Plash! he says (splash, splash).
He’s inching closer and closer to the water, which doesn’t look terribly clean and clear if I’m being honest, and he’s got shoes that will get wet and soak his feet through, but I’m making choices to let go, let go, let go. Let him go and get his feet wet in water that looks a bit suspicious, everything will be fine.
He starts eyeing bigger rocks that are right where the water laps up to the path, squats down, reaches in for the big rock, gets it, stands up and throws it back in.
Big plash! he says, delighted.
Big splash for the big rock! I say back, enjoying his joy.
But there are only two of those rocks, and of course he wants the big plash again. So he squats back down and reaches forward to get one of the rocks he threw in.
The rock is just out of his reach, and I can see the frustration on his little face.
Can’t do it, can’t do it, he mutters, and yes he’s only talking about a rock, but I’m hearing something else.
I’m hearing my mantras for the past few years, I can’t drive in Europe, I can’t be alone for a week with two kids, I can’t be outside in cold weather and rain, I can’t handle tantrums, I can’t figure out Swedish cell phone plans, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
A parent’s words quickly become a child’s mantra, and a parent’s insecurities easily become a child’s fears.
So I’m looking at my little boy who is so gown up in his dark green cords and blue and coral striped rugby shirt and little Adiddas runners saying Can’t do it, can’t do it, and something in me rises up, and I say to him, Yes, you can do it. You can do it, kiddo, lean forward, you can reach it. You can do it.
I keep encouraging him, willing him to believe that this is possibly even though I am secretly afraid it will not all work out in the end. He leans forward, strains forward, reaches one hand back – he needs me to hold it keeping him steady, and I do – his hand hits the water, his feet are still planted, shoes and pant hem soaking wet, just a bit more, his fingers find the rock, grab it and pull it out.
DID IT! he says, the jubilation in his face, the pride in his eyes, it’s all I can do to keep myself from crying.
We have a little party on this street corner in front of the reeds and the boats and the water, I proclaim to the world Josiah did it! You did it! I am so proud of you!
Yes,he says, Did it,and looks down at the piece of black rock in his hand, pride keeps shining in his eyes, and I am thinking about all the ways this transition has been hard on him, on all of us, I’m thinking about all the ways we have not said Can’t do it, but have lived, Can’t do it, this is too hard.
I look at the rock, his eyes, and I know this is a golden moment. This rock is a memorial stone – for him, for our family – and I turn to him and say, Kiddo, this is the rock that says, ‘You did it, YOU DID IT.’
He is delighted of course, reveling in his newfound success, and yes, he walked a little bit taller, his face a little bit happier. And me? The rock is crying out to me, too and is telling me what my new story could be: Did it.
We keep the rock, we bring it home, it sits in the kitchen, and for the whole day when he struggled to walk up the stairs alone, I told him, What did the rock say? And he replies, DID IT! and tentatively takes one step at a time, when he feels afraid in the sandbox because he is alone, I ask him, What did the rock say? And I see the flicker of memory cross his face and he says, Did it!.
Yes, it says ‘did it!’I tell him because you can do it, you can do more than what you think you can do. You can do it.
The Rock That Says ‘You Did It’ has a new, permanent place in a square of the bookshelf that divides the kid play area from the dining room, and it will not be going anywhere. It’s at Little Boy’s level, but we can easily see it. All of us need this reminder that the challenges that are daily in front of us need not overwhelm us – lean forward a bit more, keep feet planted on the ground, hold on to whomever may be around, and when you think you can’t give anymore, keep on giving.
We all need a rock that says, ‘You did it!”
That which is out of reach will be in your hand soon.
Grocery shopping, it’s my favourite thing to do in a new country. Some people go to museums and fairs, for me the best place to start understanding the landscape and psyche of a new place is found in the aisles of the supermarket. This is not easy to do with two kids, particularly if one of your children – the one with a vocabulary – is not a fan of the Peruse The Aisles Process (or waiting in line), but oh happy day, Stockholm’s grocery stores stay open until 9pm.
Two days ago after Husband and I ate dinner, I snatched the keys to our rental vehicle and darted off to our local ICA, which stands for something I have absolutely no knowledge of (and is pronounced eeeeeka). Normally driving in a new place would intimidate me to the point of not going anywhere, but after four days of being in a house with two children under the age of two and almost no time to myself, I would have driven on snow and ice during a blizzard in Russia.
Our ICA is two-minutes by car from our house and the parking lot was almost empty at 8:30pm. I ran inside and started looking. There wasn’t enough time to take it all in, but I’m sure I will be back. It’s a small one, our store, but still has a fresh seafood counter, and lots of fabulous products including a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that definitely went into my shopping bag. I think it’s a rule in the cultural adjustment process that we will gravitate to the things that are familiar.
My only major observation is that I adore Swedish packaging design – everything looks gorgeous and delightful. I have no idea if the products itself are of equal quality, but there is so much beauty just on the shelf.
I went without a list, but I knew I wanted the ingredients for one thing – a fruit smoothie. The Swedish sun has Little Boy up quite early, and the whole day begins in a pleasant way if he has something to eat that he loves. Smoothies are always a hit. I heard that Sweden has a fabulous berry crop, but I will probably have to wait until next year to sample fresh ones. If their frozen blueberries are any indication, it will be good. These were gigantic, plump blueberries, nothing like frozen blueberries I’ve seen elsewhere. While this isn’t a Swedish smoothie – I attempted to search for local coconut milk, but the Swedish coconut crop was not great this year, apparently – it is still a small homage to our new home and a smoothie is always a fabulous healthy, tasty way to start the day.
(Recipe after the photos)
Blueberry, Mango Coconut Milk Smoothie
1 cup or more frozen fruit (I used blueberries and mango), 1 cup of warm water, 1 cup of coconut milk, top the blender with spinach
I try to get out of bed an hour before the kids do. I let the frozen fruit sit in the cup of warm water and the coconut milk to let the fruit melt a bit (it blends better for me this way). When Little Boy wakes up, he gets to come down and push the button, which he loves to do. This makes about four cups of smoothie, add water if you want
Morning dawns early in Sweden. August means sunrises around 5am, not quite the same as the no darkness of June and July, but it’s something. I get out of bed and can’t miss the fact that I am cold, too cold for August. Around 6am, Little Boy wakes up, a while before his normal wake-up time. We still haven’t bought black-out blinds.
And I can see the words flashing in my mind before there’s chance to make it out of my mouth, It’s too cold, it’s too early, he’s supposed to sleep for longer, it’s supposed to be warmer.
Complaining about the weather is one of my skills after three years in Europe where the winters were too long and too cold and the summers too short and rarely hot enough. But this morning I hold my tongue, and tell my heart,It’s a new season, don’t do this again. Don’t go there. Your attitude is your choice.
We wrangle Little Boy, down the stairs, to the kitchen table. I fry eggs on an electric stove and egg whites splash on the surface and cooks straight on it, the eggs look bizarre, we still don’t have salt, Husband is running late for work, the baby won’t go back to sleep. Little Boy has a breakdown when his dad walks out the door, thinking he’s going away on an airplane again, and I’m standing there in my black pants and cream top with no sleeves thinking, It is too cold for this, but today I make my choices.
I walk to the closet and take a cardigan off the hanger, I find my brown boots and pull them on. Little Boy and Baby are in the stroller. Baby’s smile stretches from one ear to the other, and we start walking toward the sea. It’s less than five minutes down the road. We have the gravel path to ourselves, no one is out because it’s 8:30am, the time we’re normally finishing breakfast. The sun is bright in the east, shimmering over the Baltic Sea.
Green boat! Small One declares. He still can’t believe we live next to a Lake, lake lake! that has real boats.
We keep walking, Little Boy, Baby and I and find our neighborhood park. It is pefectly situated on a curve of land that juts into the Baltic. The small, sandy beach houses a few geese and a little swing set and a rocking fish and lizzard are to the side. Little Boy makes for the swings immediately, and I push him – Faster! Faster! – I look around. There is a giant oak tree with long branches that stretch in all directions and hang over the beach; it is gorgeous, a stunning piece of nature, at once strong and beautiful.
And the day that started so cold and too early, it is slowly turning around as I make my choices to engage. When in Stockholm, wake up early. When you live near the Baltic, go to the sea.
A few weeks ago, Husband and I did a day-long cultural training program in preparation for our two years in Sweden. The trainer asked us to imagine we were on a flight out of Stockholm in two years time reflecting on the years past: What would have made your time there successful personally and professionally?
I had a long list, but here was an important one:
I do not want to spend the long winter of darkness wishing it away for the two months of summer. I can’t live most of the year for a few months. It seems like such a waste of the year.
But the comment was about so much more than just the weather.
I don’t want to spend Baby’s newborn months wishing away the sleepless nights for more sleep. I don’t want to spend Little Boy’s toddlerhood wishing away his incessant talking and attitude for quieter days. I don’t want to spend a season of newly moving somewhere wishing away disorder for the “perfect” home. The list could go on and on and on.
I don’t want to miss my beautiful now because I’m obsessed with its inconveniences and imperfections.Yes, I am tired from getting up at night, but the time I spend with my second born I will never have again, he will never be so squishy, so easily comforted, and so delightfully mine as he is now. Yes, I am tired of Little Boy’s demands and his defiance and tantrums, but I will never have the power to influence and shape his life as I do now, and the attention I am able to give him and conversations we can have now are irreplaceable, times I will never have again. And the mess in our house? This is part of the fun and challenge of moving.
Sing songs, says Little Boy from the swing, SING SONGS! He repeats when I ignore him.
Yahwee, Yahwee, he says.
The moment wants a song, Little Boy was right. So I stand there alone on this piece of land, with Baby strapped to me, pushing Little Boy with one hand and yes, it is too cold and it is too early, but the sun is shining through the oak tree with its sprawling branches and leaves letting the light through, and it says to me, You are strong. You are beautiful.
I will not be a slave to the weather or my attitude, I have the power to make my own choices, and today, everyday, this is my creed:My life will testify to the goodness of God.
So I stand with my arms stretched to the heavens, and I sing as loudly as I can.
Lord of all the earth, we shout your name, shout your name Filling up the skies with endless praise, endless praise Yahweh, Yahweh, we love to shout your name, Oh Lord.