How to Write a Novel in 47 Easy Steps

1. Learn to read. Start with things like Little House on the Prairie and about 93% of the Goosebumps series. Fall madly, deeply in love with the printed word. Substitute shampoo bottles and owners manuals when books are scarce.

2. Become a pre-teen and realize there isn’t much for you at the library. The gap between The Boxcar Children and Adult Fiction is filled with very little, and what is there feels vapid and discusses lip-gloss way too often. Denounce said literature.

3. One day when standing in the tiny young adult section at your local library announce “When I grow up I will write books for this age group!” Then head straight for the classics section. Gone With the Wind at eleven? You’ll never be hungry again.

4. Attend high school in Italy. Meet a girl who lives in a cemetery in Florence and think “Huh. That would be a cool setting for a book.” (Remember this. It will come in handy later.)

5. Enter college and pretend for two full semesters that you don’t know what you’ll major in. Tell people, “Maybe biology? Maybe psychology?” Quietly sign up for four English literature classes.

6. Take creative writing classes. Find that you’re terrible at poetry but stories come pretty easy. Try not to be too grossed out by the ubiquitous 10% of your classmates who insist on writing thinly veiled retellings of their own sexual experiences. You’d just so much rather not have that visual.

7. Graduate. (Predictably) flail.

8. Get married. When deciding whether to change your name to Jenna Lyn Welch or Jenna Evans Welch, go with the latter. It sounds more literary. Also, it means your initials will be JEW. Hilarious!

9. Tutor elementary students in reading/writing. Find out after six months of this that your boss has told the parents of your students that you are an elementary school teacher. Feel terrible that they were misled. Leave.

10. Decide to write a young adult novel. Deep breaths. The first draft will be written almost entirely on a crappy computer in the upstairs room of a local coffee shop. You’ll subsist almost entirely on the establishment’s triple chocolate cake and you’ll feel that you’re doing something grand and dangerous.

11. Realize pretty early on that writing your first book is neither grand nor dangerous. Also, you have no idea what you’re doing.

12. Keep writing anyway.

13. Print out copy of book. Give to a few friends. Get some positive and some negative feedback. Read it yourself and realize that while your character and writing are pretty good, the plot is absolute garbage.

14. Try to fix plot. No success.

15. Despair.

16. Try again.

17. Despair.

18. Shove novel in closet.

19. Start working with Author Father on his novels. Spend several years doing this. Also start writing a blog. Continue reading feverishly.

20. Author Father asks, “What about your novel? You need to get back to work on it.” (Ignore Author Father.)

21. Author Father: “You are a great writer. You have improved every single one of my novels. You ‘hear the music.’ Why aren’t you writing?” (Hem and haw.)

22.  Pretend to be okay about not writing. You tried, right? And you couldn’t do it. Your plot was total garbage. Just because you know good writing doesn’t mean you can do it.

23. Keep pretending you’re happy about not being a writer.

24. Have Child. Give him Mark Twain’s real first name.

25. Keep reading.

26. Just before the candles are blown out at Child’s first birthday, get some astounding news. Despite your hemming and hawing Author Father and his Fancy NYC Agent have gone behind your back and presented your novel to the editors of Simon & Schuster. They see real potential. They want you.

27. Have exact feeling you had when husband proposed (nausea + panic).

28. Wonder why the best moments in your life always seem to make you feel nausea + panic.

29. Say “What? They want MY BOOK? But it doesn’t have a plot.” Fancy NYC Agent assures you they do want it. And the plot can be fixed. Then she tears up and tells you that getting you this book deal has been one of the greatest joys of her career. (She may be fancy, but after being in your life for 20 years, she’s also family.)

30. Suddenly realize they aren’t making this up. A major publishing company has just offered you money to make your biggest dream come true. (nausea + panic x 8)

31. Blow out candles on Child’s birthday cake. Feel as though you’re in a dream. Decide not to tell anyone your news until book deal is finalized. Last exactly four minutes before pulling out phone and calling everyone you know.

32. Begin work on rewriting novel. You have one year.

33. Write and write and write. This includes about a thousand starts and stops, and at least eleven meltdowns. Start neglecting other responsibilities (laundry, cooking, cleaning).

34. Hire a cleaner when in a burst of cleaning energy you realize Child responds to the vacuum like it is something he is seeing for the first time.

35. Hire a babysitter for 8 hours a week when you realize naptime is not enough time to write a novel.

36. Have at least 700 conversations with your husband that begin with the words, “What if….” and ends with some new plot twist. Feel incredibly grateful that he is the only one who will ever know every ridiculous turn your book could have taken.

37. Write. Then write some more. Six months later, send in first draft to your Two Lovely Editors.

38. Wait a realllly long time. Catch up on Desperate Housewives. And the laundry.

39. Receive edit letter. Learn that your Two Lovely Editors are incredibly lovely about the way they present their feedback. Learn to understand that sentences like, “We really feel your story is engaging, and want it to be that way from the beginning,” actually mean “Your opener is boring. Try again.”

40. Try again.

41. Write. And write. Throw away half of it then start again. Continue neglecting other areas of your life. Realize how bad things have gotten when kitchen timer goes off and rather than shouting “Nutritious home cooked meal!” Child shouts “Pizza!” Hope your insane writing schedule won’t have permanent effects on his diet.

42. Gratefully allow husband to take over more than his fair share. Spend every second you’re not caring for Child, writing. Completely stop posting to your blog, because WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT? Your hair hasn’t even been washed.

43. Write at full speed right up until 5 PM on your deadline. Turn in novel again. Time this just before Valentines Day as a gift to your husband. He cares about you (and your book) but could really use a break from hanging out with someone who is spending most of her time with people she made up.

44. Wait. Breathe several sighs of relief. Do the laundry. (Has it been done in six months? No one seems to remember.) Marvel at how easy life can feel when you’re only existing in one world.

45. Hear back from editors. Time to edit. And edit. And edit. Throw out some scenes you think are perfectly lovely but no fourteen-year-old in her right mind will every care about. Make some more big changes. Make a bunch of small changes. Wonder if your book will ever really feel really done. But then one day, somehow, it is.

46. Attach your novel into body of email addressed to Two Lovely Editors and pause for just a moment. That little attachment is your work. Your dream. It represents your very, very best try. Once you press send there will be readers and critics and Amazon reviews and people who hate it—and that’s just if you’re lucky. It’s like standing with your toes over the edge of a cliff.

47. Press send anyway.

P.S. Love and Gelato will be out in March/April 2016.

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

Into_Thin_Air

I just finished this book today. It’s an old one and I’m sure many of you have read it, but if you haven’t I definitely recommend it. It is the personal account of a journalist who survived the May 1996 disaster that killed a record number of people on Mt. Everest. This book was not light and easy for me to read–there is a lot of details about climbing technique and the names and places are recorded carefully (Jon climbed Everest as part of a journalism assignment)–but it really took me into a different world. It was fascinating to me what people undergo (endangering their lives aside) to ascend Mt. Everest. After reading this I am 110% sure that climbing Everest is not in my future. But reading about it from my warm bed? That I’m up for!

Distraction-Free Parenting

photoI think the universe is trying to tell me something. Last week I saw this video posted on Facebook and thought about it for an entire day. A few days later, my cousin posted this on her blog. And tonight when I checked my email I had a message with the subject line Acknowledge the Cost of Your Distraction. It was an article from HuffPost “Stress Less Parenting” series. I recommend reading the article, but the bottom line was that all of our devices take us away from moments we can never get back.

I have been so plugged in (and yes, I realize the irony of blogging about this). I check my email while sitting at red lights and watch YouTube videos while feeding Sam breakfast. To get through daily chores I don’t like I oftentimes listen to podcasts or the radio. I’ve written about this before. But lately it seems worse. Staying at home with a baby all day can be challenging. It’s isolating, and tedious, and to be honest, it can be really boring. I am immensely grateful that I have the opportunity to stay at home and spend my days with Sam–there is nothing I would rather be doing. But it’s easy to fall into the Internet trap, and I want to change that! I’m not totally sure how to, but I started by unplugging for an hour tonight. I carried Sam around while making dinner, letting him touch everything (an onion, cheddar cheese, a loaf of bread), and then talked to him while he ate. Then I rocked him, played with him, and put him to bed. It was a completely normal, mundane night. But I know without a doubt that there will come a day when I will wish more than anything to be able to go back and spend one more night rocking my baby. I can’t save up tonight for later but I can enjoy it now.

Apps That May Help You Keep It Together

I seriously considered taking a few photos of my house to show you why I need to write and utilize this post. But then I got worried that a government agency would rope off my dresser in order to do a study/excavation of the layers of clothes, papers and ice cream bowls that currently reside there–perhaps to determine if they are harboring any life. I also (half-heartedly) considered cleaning off said dresser instead of writing about it, but quickly dismissed that idea. Sam might need it for a science project in junior high. By then it should be teeming with life! I am such a great mother!

I drag my heels when it comes to technology. Until about 18 months ago I was using a phone that didn’t even have the Internet. (I think David almost gave up on me.) But it makes no sense for me to hesitate, because every time I hop on a digital bandwagon (the iPhone/Instagram/e-book readers) I am absolutely amazed. How have I lived without it! Why didn’t anyone tell me how great they were? Internet forever!

Apps are my new thing. I have several that have made an honest to goodness difference in my life and home–and for the better! (Leave my dresser out of this. There are rows of clean baby bottles in my cupboard and I am wearing a bra and clean clothes right now–that shows progress!)

INTUITION+

The other day I had a lot to get done and so I started to make a to-do list. Several interruptions and a few hours later I realized I hadn’t even gotten around to finishing writing said to-do list. Motherhood requires but does not lend itself to organization. Also, I think it burns up your short term memory in a fiery ball of crazy. This app helps. It basically allows you to make as many to-do lists as you want and then have them on hand when you need them. Every time I notice we’re out of something I quickly add it to my grocery list. If I hear of a book I want to read I add it to my “To Read” list. I also love that it is visually pleasing–you can color code everything and it is easy to cross items off and add them back on if you need them again. Price: FREE.

photo-2 photo

Also, see that little cricket in the bottom right? If you click on him he will tell you encouraging things. He will be your new BFF.

MOTIVATED MOMS

Sadly, I am not a natural housekeeper. I love doing things related to my home, but tend to make giant messes cooking and rarely put away clean laundry. Once Sam was born things got worse. Every time I had a few spare minutes I would start running around like I was auditioning for a Scooby Doo montage. What do I do first? Shower? Work? Run the dishwasher? Nap? I’d often collapse in a heap having completed about 14% of each of those tasks and having created an even bigger mess and completely exhausting myself. This app is awesome because it tells you what to do.

Every day you are presented with a doable housekeeping list of rotating chores. They include the everyday (dishes, sweeping, laundry) as well as the yearly (flip mattresses, change AC filter). It even tells you what days you should clip your baby’s nails and and when you should have a little You Time. I also adore that “Read to children” is on the daily chore list. You can try a Lite Version for free (I think it lasts two weeks), or buy it for $8. They also sell ebooks that you can print off if you’re more of a paper and pencil type of person. You can customize your lists (no need to clip your teenager’s nails or feed your nonexistent pets). Here are screenshots of my lists for today.

photo-3photo-4

Price: $8 for the year.

Are there any apps that have helped you out? I’d love to hear about them!

Christ as an Infant

I have spent the entire Christmas season wondering what Christ was like as an infant.

Was He a good eater? How old was He when he slept through the night? Was He calm? Active? Did He laugh easily? Did Mary chase Him around the house all day trying to keep Him from slamming His fingers in drawers and drinking from the dog’s water bowl?

Having an infant has made the divine birth feel so real to me. The images we see of the Nativity scene are so serene and beautiful, but I wonder if they mask the truth of how physical birth is. Of how tired Mary must have been, and how worried Joseph was that he couldn’t find a more suitable place for his new son. I believe that Christ went through mortality in a very real sense–along with experiencing the sins and pains of the world, He also went through teething, scraped knees, and hurt feelings. That He was comforted by a mother who didn’t always know the right thing to do, and a father who did his best.

I’ve also wondered how much Mary understood. Did she know that the infant she held had created the world? Did she know He would grow up to be loved and hated, and eventually killed? I like to think she didn’t know everything, that she held her infant and only knew some of the simple truths of mothers everywhere: that she loved her baby. That she’d do anything for Him. That He was divine and precious and a gift.

I am grateful for the new perspective and gift of motherhood, and in particular for an understanding of Christ that brings so much joy and peace into my life. Merry Christmas! I hope you spent it feeling the love of those around you.

 

Dear Childless

Dear Childless,

photo bombA few months ago we were at a BBQ together–do you remember? I had dressed up my baby in something really cute for the party, but he’d puked all over it just minutes before we arrived, so we showed up fashionably late and smelling slightly of puke, but we were there.

Maybe you were just being polite, asking me about the day to day life of mothering a newborn. You asked about being pregnant, and giving birth, and about all the sleep I hadn’t been getting. You agreed that my slightly pukey smelling baby was adorable and said you liked his name. And then, in a sort of round about way you asked me this: Is it worth it?

I’ve thought about your question for a few months now. I’ve also thought about all the questions I had before becoming a mother. I was surprisingly hesitant about having a child. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve always been in the Loves Kids category. As you know,  I’m the oldest of 5. I was a favorite neighborhood babysitter. I nannied all through college. And yet whenever girls talked about how dreamy it would be to have a child, I  just thought they sounded naive. I’d seen the hard days and long nights. I’d watched the stress and anguish and worry. I knew that the unexpected could happen. But here I am today, an honest to goodness mother. And I just keep thinking about your question, as well as all the questions I had before having a baby. So if you’re up for a little advice, here are the questions I had pre-baby, and my best attempts at answering them.

Do I have to have kids? Of course not. But let’s be honest: We live in a place and a culture that expects us to have children. But I seriously don’t think societal pressure is a good reason to become a mother. You can affect and change so many lives, kids or not. You can have so much love in your life, kids or not. You can be happy, kids or not. You can be fulfilled, kids or not.

DisneylandAm I ready? I wondered that for several years. And then one day I realized that I was never going to feel completely ready. More than anything I wanted that one pivotal moment where I’d know for sure, but it never came. Sometimes you just have to jump.

Will I always be happy about being a mother? No. There will be a day when your husband will come home from work to you in tears because you’re positive the baby hates you. It is just sleep deprivation. There will be days that feel so unbelievably long and lonely you can’t believe it. You’ll have to call your mom and haul the baby and his 30 lbs. of stuff to the mall to remember there is still a world out there. There will be moments that someone will tell you to “trust your motherly instincts” and you will want to smack them because you feel like you don’t have a single motherly instinct in your body. But you’ll be okay. You really will.

Will it be hard? Duh. But seriously, what phase of life isn’t? Work is hard. Marriage is hard. High school was hard. Look back on the easy-peasiest time period of your life and I bet you’ll remember some hard. That’s just life.

Will it affect my marriage? Yes. You’ll see the man you love loving that baby you made and you’ll feel like your heart is going to explode. Other days he will forget to start the dishwasher full of bottles and you’ll feel like your head is about to explode. Motherhod is draining, and there will be times you’ll feel like there isn’t an ounce of anything left of you at the end of the day. It will take extra commitment, extra communication, and lots of patience with each other. You will see the best in him. You’ll love him even more. You’ll have a connection you didn’t know you were missing.

Can I do it? Of course you can. As one book put it, you come from a long line of succesful parents. It is in your genes. No, it isn’t all intuitive. And no, I have ‘t figured out which cry is “hungry cry” and which is “wet diaper cry.” But you can do it.

Sam and PhillyWill it be like I imagine? A whole hearted no. It will be better. It will be worse. It will be crazier. One day you’ll leave the house fully aware that there is spit-up in your hair and you’ll wonder Who the heck am I? But it most definitely will not be like you imagined.

So, finally. Is it worth it?

Over the past 5 months the following thought has come to my mind on a weekly basis: These are the moments you will look back on for the rest of your life. I keep feeling like this is the most important thing I have ever done. I keep looking at Sam’s impossibly big eyes and feeling like I am the luckiest person I know. And to be honest, I didn’t know I would feel like this–I just hoped.

I will not try to tell you whether or not it will be worth it to you, but I will tell you that it is hard to know what it will bring into your life until it happens. So listen to whatever voice is speaking to you. Follow it. If you feel like motherhood is for you, then head in that direction. Embrace it! So much love will come into your life. So much life will come into your life. Be excited! But if it isn’t for you then allow yourself to be at peace. Be kind to yourself and shower the people you love with all the good things you have to offer. You’ll know what to do. And remember, so many of the good things in life come from embracing the unknown!

Love,

Unsolicited Advice

10 Things Thursday

220px-Some_Like_It_Hot_posterFirst of all, I wanted to say thank you for all of the insightful comments, shares, and all-around love about yesterday’s post. I cared a lot about it and I was so grateful to hear that so many of you have walked the same path I have.

Today I’m introducing something new. Every week I will be posting a list of 10 things that caught my eye or attention in some way. Imagine we are having an Internet lunch date. After ordering some version of a turkey sandwich (so predictable) I lean forward and say one of the following:

1. Let’s imagine a fantasy world where we can eat an entire tray of cookies for lunch and leave feeling fabulous. Now let’s make it a reality.

2. Let’s imagine ourselves as the sort of people who can take a man’s T-shirt and make something worthy of Anthropologie out of it. Then let’s remember what happened the last time we tried to sew something and head right back to #1. They’re impossible to mess up.

3. Let’s add to our already impressive list of adult skills (like fixing our AC and scheduling regular dentist appointments) by getting our finances under control. 

4. Noodles, schmoodles. Let’s make a mouth-watering lasagna with thinly sliced zucchini. And be called a genius by our hungry husband. (Yes, I am referring to our one collective husband.)

5. Let’s allow reality to slap us in the face. I knew there was something fishy about all those orange-skinned “After” photos.

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 2.12.53 PM6. Let’s go to Target and let our baby try out all the cool baby gear. Also, let’s wash him with Baby Magic and spend the rest of the day smelling his head.

7. Let’s meet this girl. Her writing and story are oh so beautiful.

8. Let’s get our butts kicked by tiny ballerina athletes. And then go back the next day (and next) for more.

9. Let’s enjoy exaggeration at its finest. Lines from this blogger have made it into the Welch family vernacular.

10. Let’s take some time to re-watch our favorite movie.

 

*Ten Things Thursday is inspired by the ever inspiring Shutterbean.

What We’re Really Talking About When We Talk About Our Bodies

Half MarathonSo.

There was this one time about 7 years ago that I gained some weight. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough that I worried. It was the very first time it had ever happened to me and I decided it was a problem I needed to correct immediately. I signed up for a weight loss program and began a long year of tracking all the food I ate and weighing in weekly.

There were some good moments. For one, it was easy to lose weight. I lost about a pound and a half a week, and I felt like I’d accomplished something big when I reached my first goal. I learned more about nutrition, learned to cook a little, and felt pretty great about how I looked. I also started exercising regularly and started spending a lot of my free time doing active things, like hiking and yoga.

There were also some not so good moments. At a certain point my weight loss stalled, and regardless of what I did to try to regain the magic of my early weight loss days, the scale simply would not move.

wedding day danceAfter several months of redoubling my efforts a few things happened. One, I burned out. Two, I became pretty obsessed with everything weight related. What followed was several years of yo-yoing. I felt like I was doing everything I could to not gain weight, yet it just kept happening. At one point I was on a raw food diet–meaning I basically ate vegetable juice, salads, and sweet potatoes, and was still managing to gain weight. Those years were super painful. I wouldn’t say I ever got really big (at my highest I was about a size 12/14), but I definitely had a big problem in my head. I was obsessive about my weight and drastic in the things I did to try to change it, swinging from “I don’t care, I’ll eat whatever I want” (translation: I’m eating as a way to mask how painful this experience  is for me) to “If I don’t lose weight I will never be happy” (translation: I’m not eating as a way to mask how painful this experience is for me).  Neither position was healthy, and I went through some shaky times.

It took a couple of years and several doctors to clear things up. After a while I settled at a weight I felt fairly comfortable at and have been able to arrive at a healthier mental state. But I definitely have some residue left over from my weight loss experience. For one, I listen hard when people talk about their bodies. I feel like they are saying so much when they look in the mirror and say “Ugh. I hate my arms,” or “What happened to me? I used to be so toned.”

I’ve come to believe that the way we feel about our bodies tends to have nothing to do with reality. I have seen tiny women bemoan their chubby thighs the same way I’ve seen larger women do. I’ve seen people point to nonexistent lovehandles. I’ve seen women stand around talking about their worst features as if it was fun. I’ve also come to believe that having a thin, attractive body is not the fast track to happiness that so many of us believe it is. You can look great and be miserable. It’s all about perspective. If you aren’t happy you aren’t happy, regardless of what kind of body you are living in.

Angels LandingAlso, a lot of us take away everything else that we’re made up of and boil it down to one issue–fat or thin? We can be  intelligent, kind, creative, funny and sexy, and the only thing you think you are is fat. So what is it that we’re really saying when we say we want to be thin? Do we want to be loved? Special? Admired? Accepted? Cherished? Do we want to be happy? Comfortable in our own skin?

So does your weight just not matter? Of course it matters. If I’ve learned anything, its that ignoring your body doesn’t work. It’s what hauls you around on your grand adventures. It’s what gets you up in the morning and drives you to work.  It’s what looks back at you in the mirror.

Whenever I run into an issue that is causing me significant stress I like to give it the “End of Life Test.” And by that I mean that I imagine it is the end of my life and I am on my deathbed. Does the issue I’m so concerned with have any bearing in that moment? When it comes to weight, my personal answer is yes and no. No, I will not wish that I’d had thinner thighs or lived off of diet shakes so I could fit into a size 4. But yes, maybe I will wish that I’d taken better care of my body so I could do all the  things that matter: play with my kids, work hard, experience less stress.

So what if you have a long road to health ahead of you? So what if you’re behind in the game and need to make some big changes? You can do it–start today. And in the meantime, treat yourself like you treat your best friend. I’ll bet you don’t dwell for a second on her arms or hips or thighs. When you look at her, you see all those late night conversations and that time she did a Cher impression that made you laugh so hard you peed your pants, or the afternoon she brought you a grocery bag full of pizzas and ice cream and a tiny stuffed elephant because for a whole week you’d thought you were pregnant and when you found out you weren’t you were devastated. That’s what the people who love you see as well. Be one of those people who loves you.

first moments with SamI think we all know what we need to do. We know we need to exercise and eat well and say no to unhealthy foods more often than we say yes. But we also need to look in the mirror and say thank you. Thank you for making it possible for me to swim in a waterfall in Costa Rica and have my babies and dance like a ridiculous grasshopper at that summer wedding. Thank you. I’ll do better at taking care of you–but for today, just thank you.

You may have noticed the pictures scattered through this post. These are  pictures of important moments in my life over the last few years–the finish line of a half marathon, the pinnacle of a challenging hike, my first day with my baby, dancing on my wedding day. Those were moments that couldn’t have happened without my body and yet I don’t remember thinking much about it in those moments–so I’m taking the opportunity to say it: thank you. 

Why Diets Should Crawl into a Hole and Die (Plus, the plan I’ve chosen)

diet noteHere’s the thing about diets: They should really just crawl into a hole and die.

I know that’s harsh. But here’s why. You start out completely pumped. You clear out your cupboards. You go to Barnes & Noble and buy every book written by your latest diet’s guru. You spend a day feeling vastly superior to the people around you who are not following your enlightened diet of eating only foods that existed in the Elizabethean courts/Laura Ingalls Wilder plains/Southeast Asia.

You are committed. You are determined. You will succeed, damn it!

A few days go by. You’re crabby. You’re making your husband crabby. You get hungry and go to the cupboards only to realize you emptied them out a few days ago in preparation for your Sunshine and Air Diet. And then suddenly you remember: Don’t I have an old bag of M&Ms in the pocket of my winter coat?

Next thing you know you have ripped apart your coat closet and are devouring a bag of stale, low-quality candy that you normally would have turned your nose up at.

Then you feel guilty. But feeling guilty about letting yourself down sucks. So  you turn on your recent diet’s creator. Maybe you send a strongly worded email or post an anonymous Amazon.com review. And although posting comments such as

The diet was a complete joke and who applied the
author’s spray tan? An orangutan? 

make you giggle for a few seconds,  you still don’t feel that great about how you look and/or feel. So it’s back to Barnes & Noble. And the cycle continues.

Holy crap.

I never ever ever ever ever (x300) want to do that again. And believe, me, I’ve done it.

DietDiets don’t work. Neither do diets that try to hide themselves under the cloak of “This isn’t  a diet, it’s a lifestyle.” Seriously, you’re not unique with this line. 97% of all diet books start with that sentence. And if you’re making me do crazy stuff that requires insane willpower, then I’m sorry, but yes. You are a diet.

Also, willpower doesn’t work. We aren’t made to spew forth massive quantities of it–in fact, every will-power based decision we make dips into our (shallow) reserve of it. Check out this article, Why Willpower Fails Us. It’s fascinating.

So what is a new mother to do?

I’ve been thinking very hard about this, and through a combination of honest introspection, praying (really), research, and talking with my doc, I’ve come to the following conclusions about me and weight loss:

A. Trying to just “eat healthy” without any structure doesn’t work particularly well for me. It is too easy to justify healthyish foods and get off track.

B. Counting every calorie/point/gram whatever makes me feel obsessive, OCD, and all around miserable.

C. I need to be able to have treats, cook, and enjoy eating out without feeling panicked about “messing up.”

D. Exercise (and not just a leisurely stroll, but the sweaty kind) needs to happen often. Very often.

E. My plan needs to be something I can see myself doing long-term without feeling like I’ve sentenced myself to diet prison.

F. I need to work towards my best body now. Not my body at 18, or when I was a ballerina, or when I was making out with frat boys. Times moves forward people, trying to move backwards only make you unhappy. Also, you married that frat boy, so move on!

G. I want to settle at a weight/size that is easy and natural for me to maintain. In the past I’ve reached low weights that required heroic efforts to maintain, and it is so not worth it. It is also very demoralizing.

H. I want to lose my baby weight ASAP. According to my doctor, many women get stuck with the last 10 lbs. or so, and just keep adding on to it when they have more babies. She said that my body is in weight loss mode right now and that I should really go for it.

So my plan is (drumroll)

WEIGHT WATCHERS.

Wait, really? But that is totally a diet.

You’re right. And I’ve done Weight Watchers before, with mixed results. I’ll write about that first experience some other time (get excited, it involves a room full of middle aged women playing with puppets), but I have to say, it just feels right to me. I really think it can help me create habits that lead to a healthier lifestyle, and, it fits all of my requirements.

Weight Watchers has two plans, Points Plus, which is its most well-known plan and requires “tracking,” or counting points, and Simply Filling, which takes away most of the math and has you focus on the healthiest foods (and is the plan I have chosen). I have been trying this out for a couple weeks now and will be making my own tweaks to the plan, which I will describe soon (probably tomorrow). So far it has required effort, but nothing that feels like a fad diet of yore. In the meantime, here is my first online weigh in.

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I can’t figure out how to turn it the other way, so just go ahead and tilt your laptop on its side. There you go. When the Software Engineer/Frat Boy gets home I will ask him to fix it. It says 162.2 lbs, which means I am 7.2 lbs. away from pre-baby weight! Also, I seriously can’t believe I just posted my weight online. It’s all the fault of that vulnerability book!

In other news, Sam has developed a terrible case of Fake Cough. It’s pretty serious, so if you want to send us flowers or bring us a casserole we’d really appreciate it.

BAD CASE OF FAKE COUGH VIDEO

READER QUESTION: Have you tried any “fad” type diets? What happened when you did?

Losing the Baby Weight

Pregnancy has its perks. (You see? The amnesia is already kicking in.)

For one, I absolutely adored feeing unselfconscious about my body. I loved wearing maternity clothes, my typical problem area (belly) was something to be celebrated, and I loved putting the whole diet mentality on pause. No, I didn’t throw caution to the wind and eat peanut butter cups for breakfast (or at least not often), but I did let myself just be. It felt like a gift.

I was also surprised by how I felt about my body after Sam arrived. I went almost a week past my due date, and he and I got big. I don’t think any amount of cocoa butter would have saved me from the stretch marks caused by that little tank! (This picture stirs up some feelings of PTSD. Pregnant Jenna, you were completely justified in breaking down because you had to walk all the way across Target when you broke a pack of lightbulbs at the cash register.)

In the weeks after Sam was born I was surprised by how I felt about my body. I kept looking at myself in the mirror and instead of feeling upset about my stretch marks and random pooches I kept thinking: This is okay. I am okay. Pregnancy taught me that my body is for way more than my own self-absorption. Why critique something that let me bring this little guy into the world?

During my last trimester I made a conscious effort to avoid looking at the scale at my doctor’s office. I’ve struggled with body image issues in the past and I was worried that a high number would mess with my mind. I knew my doctor would tell me if there was a problem, and I just tried to stay reasonable with what I ate. But if I had to guess what I weighed just before Sam was born I’d go with about 190.

A lot of that came off fast. Sam alone was almost 9 pounds (hello, baby!), and I had several weeks of intense night sweats that drained out a lot of water weight.

But did I lose it all? Not quite. I had this glorious fantasy that every last ounce would melt off as a byproduct of maternal bliss, but alas, the image I had of motherhood pre-Sam only vaguely resembles reality.

Trying to lose weight feels scary to me, because dieting and I have a not so great past. You can read a little about it here. So I am approaching this new effort with caution. No, I don’t want to get stuck with extra weight, but going down the road of obsession and self loathing is absolutely not an option for me. (I don’t have time for that nonsense!)

What I really want is for a healthy lifestyle to become my second nature. I already eat pretty well and exercise often but I know I can bump up my efforts. I’d love to clear the plateau I’ve been on for the last few years and settle into my best weight (and perhaps a sexy pair of  jeans).Plus, I only get the one life, why not clear out this issue now and move on to bigger and better things?

I also want to be very clear about something–in no way do I believe that a person’s self worth is based on their appearance or size or anything external. There is already so much junk circulating in our society that sends that message and I do not want to contribute to that by writing about my personal journey. Life is about relationships, and learning, and finding happiness. It’s about growing and being kind and sharing what is uniquely you. It is not about being skinny and it never has been. But I have come to the conclusion that being healthy puts me in a better position to achieve all those things. So bring it on! (I will now step down off my soapbox.)

I’ll fill you in on the details of my plan tomorrow. The little tank is singing to himself in his crib and I have a feeling he needs a raspberry blown on his belly.

Vegetables & Tender Mercies

For the past 3 weeks I have woken up every morning with a hankering for fresh vegetables. Or in other words, there’s a distinct possibility that aliens have taken over my body.

Pre-baby I spent most mornings trying to figure out a way to make dessert resemble a healthy breakfast (i.e. oatmeal with chocolate chips and coconut flakes–try it, seriously). Lately, I’ve started the day with sugar snap peas and carrots dipped in hummus. If there are any cooked vegetables or leftover salads I go for those too.

I call this new trend a Tender Mercy.

There are many Tender Mercies in my life right now. For example, my hair has decided that shampooing every third day is enough. I also haven’t washed my makeup off at night since Little Man Sam was born and have not broken out like I normally would. And two days ago I tried on my pre-baby jeans and they zipped up. Yes, they zipped up to form a scary little muffin top, but still. Another tender mercy? Leggings. And sweat pants. I cannot fathom a day when I’ll want to move on from them. It may be the start of a long and unhealthy relationship.

But back to vegetables.

My sister-in-law brought over the most heavenly dinner the week after Mustache Man Sam was born (let’s see how many nicknames I can divulge here), including this salad dressing. I am over-the-moon about it:

Tender Mercy Salad Dressing (aka El Torito Salad Dressing):

In a blender combine:

  • 1 TBSP dry ranch salad dressing mix (like Hidden Valley)
  • 1 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1/2-1/3 cup fresh cilantro, long stems cut off
  • 2 TBSP roasted and salted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 TBSP finely grated parmesan (optional)

Once blended, slowly add 1/3 cup vegetable oil through the top cover of the blender jar. Blend until smooth and refrigerate. I’ve been eating this over a salad that includes avocado, shredded chicken, and extra pepitas.Eat and repeat until pre-pregnancy jeans fit.

 

Baby Daddy.

When I was 15 and in the throes of my very first romance I thought very intently about what kind of man I wanted to marry. It was something that needed to be pondered. Weighed out. Decided. And then I made a declaration.

I can remember it very clearly–I was standing in the dining room of our rented Italian home with our nanny Cammy. Every available surface was lined with vintage wine bottles (our renters’ decoration) which they had made us swear with all solemnity not to drink. (Hilarious. They didn’t realize how safe their precious collection was with their Mormon renters.) I had made a decision, and I made the following statement (Cammy, back me up on this):

I want to  marry a guy who is tall with green eyes and curly hair. It would be cool if he were good at computers. And, I like the name David.

Okay, if you know us maybe your jaw just dropped? If not, please know that that is exactly who I married. David Welch, green eyed, curly haired (childhood nickname Big Wave Dave), computer software engineer David.

Or in other words, I think I dreamed this man up and then somehow convinced him to marry me.

There are other weird things about us. Like on our first date (17–I know–17) when I told him I thought it would be great if we got married because I thought it would be really fun to live with him. He thought for a moment then agreed.

Or maybe the time he was present at my first kiss? Me and another 14 year old emerged from the bushes to find David standing there with a smirk. “What were you two doing?” he asked. I yelled something like “Shut up, Welch.” Or maybe the time we were high school gym partners?

Anyway, I digress.

The point is, there is no one who could possible be better at loving me. No one who thinks I’m quite as funny or encourages my writing quite as well. No one who would allow me to scowl at him for hours on end when morning sickness struck. No one who I’d find quite as brilliant and understanding or a better listener.

What’s even stranger is that when he was 13 he said he wanted to marry a blue-eyed supermodel named Adriana Lima. Oh. Wait. That wasn’t me.

What the First Two Weeks Were Like

This post is inspired by an article by Jody Peltason called “Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood,” which the beautiful
Mal sent me a few days ago. The timing was perfect for me, and I’d really like to add my own thoughts.

This post is about my first two weeks as a mother. I don’t think every new mother’s experience matches mine, but I think the things I went through
are common enough that it’s strange we don’t talk about it more. Maybe it’s just practical–could anyone possibly share in words what those first few weeks feel like? How heavy our new responsibilities (mixed with sleep deprivation) can feel? It may be impossible to describe, but I’m going to try.

I’ve heard it said numerous times, first about pregnancy, and then about the newborn stage, that mothers’ brains drop a curtain over the difficult times. All those anxious, terrifying, nauseating moments get camouflaged behind a hazy image of your squishy newborn gazing up at you, their perfect eyelashes fanning out over their cheeks. I think that’s a good thing. It allows us to look back on one of the most important times of our lives with happy memories. It allows us to get our courage up to have sex again, get pregnant again, have more babies. But in my experience, that curtain can make a woman in the throes of new motherhood feel all kinds of lonely.

The author of the article above shared an experience she had going to the drugstore with her newborn. She was exhausted and stressed by the ordeal of getting her baby out of the house. An older woman came up to her and pointing to the baby said, “Aren’t you just on cloud nine?”  This prompted a feeling of disbelief. Of guilt. What was she supposed to be feeling?

Five days after my son was born a neighbor called to ask how she could help out. It was 8 AM and I had just had one of the most profoundly anxious nights of my life. Over the past few days I’d only slept for a few stints of about 45 minutes a piece, and that was only because I’d forced myself to stop my crazy Internet searches that were going on at all hours of the night. The neighbor congratulated me on my baby, then said “Aren’t you just in heaven?”

There was a horrible pause.

Was I supposed to feel like I was in heaven? I was bleeding, I was engorged, I was swollen. I still hadn’t figured out how to breastfeed my son, and my anxiety was so bad that I’d woken up shaking and hyperventilating on multiple occasions.

If I’d been honest with my neighbor I would have said something like “Sam is the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me, and I’ve never been so miserable in my life.” It’s amazing that those two statements can both be perfectly true and exist in the same sentence. Instead, I mumbled something about how wonderful my baby was. And he is.

It’s just that my body had just undergone the most dramatic shift of its life at the exact moment that I was handed the most important role of my life. It’s just that my mind had started had started inundating me with horrible images of accidents that could hurt Sam–falling down the stairs holding him, bumping his head on the dresser, and others that scared me so much I’ve decided not to record them. It’s just that nothing had ever scared me more than being responsible for my perfect little boy.

So, in heaven?

No.

But it did get better. All the support around me helped. Figuring out a way that I can get several hours of uninterrupted sleep every night helped. And time helped–just a few weeks later and I feel completely different. Five weeks after giving birth, motherhood is feeling (dare I say it?) fun. 

One day those early experiences will be a tiny speck in my life’s rearview mirror, and all I’ll remember about that time period is that first sacred moment when the doctor laid Sam on my chest, and the way his head smelled, and the way David cried when he first saw him. But I wanted to make sure I remembered this part too. Because motherhood encompasses all shades–the yellows and golds of contentment, the reds and orange of anxiety, and even the gray, jaggedy-edges of depression. It may not have been what I was expecting, but what ever is?

 

Lullabies

At 4 AM I found myself singing a Ke$ha song to the baby.

He’s now waking up every morning feeling like P. Diddy, and if that morning arrives at 6 AM or later I feel like a lucky woman.

Sleep is sort of my new hobby. I’m in the off-season, of course. But what I lack in actual hours logged I make up for in sheer mental energy. I read about it (Happiest Baby on the Block, BabyWise), I strategize for it (dream feedings), I plan for it (I have a notebook where I record what methods works), and I purchase gear (swaddling blankets, white noise machines, Johnson & Johnson bedtime lotion). It’s kind of like going on a diet and suddenly wanting a hot fudge sundae more than anything.

As a side note, I am starting to look more and more like Ke$ha, but with more spit-up stains and less glitter. I have also started taking care of the baby in my sleep–meaning I hear his squawks, and make him a bottle, change his diaper, and start feeding him, only to actually wake up and realize I have done none of those things yet and Boss Baby is gonna fight, till he sees the sunlight.

Tik Tok.

 

 

Reaching Out

I really don’t know why I’m writing this.

It is past midnight. My adorable (but almost unbearably fussy) little guy is wheezing happily in his crib. We just had the ceremonial “changing of the guard” in which the baby is brought down to the parent who has been holed up in our spare bedroom (aka The Baby Bunker) and passed off so the other one can get some rest. And here I am blogging.

I think I need a little normalcy. A little outlet? Somewhere to record all this awesome craziness that is now my life.

It’s funny, I had the nursery all ready. I had stacks of onesies washed in special baby detergent, and a giant basket of diapers, and a stack of books on breastfeeding. I’d taken my classes, read my online articles, hedged my bets. And as it turns out, there’s simply no preparing for this thing called parenthood.

Sam. Born 3/14/13 at a very alert 8 lbs 13 oz with an abundance of hair and a fan club already waiting.