Dear Claire: 13-Month Update

(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.) 

Dear Claire,

Here are the latest updates in this budding little life of yours over the past month:
  • You have started blowing kisses, especially when you see daddy.
  • You can wave “hi” and “bye.”
  • One of your favorite games is to go up to a photograph and say, “Who is that?” You especially love Grandma’s gallery wall where you point at pictures of yourself and your uncle and ask that over and over.
  • You also love to ask, “What is that?” when you see something you’re interested in.
  • When you see something you like, you often will say, “It’s a ball!” (Everything is a ball.)
  • Your appetite has slowed and you’ve rejected a lot of the foods you formerly loved, so I’ve been trying to experiment with new ones to keep you eating enough solid foods. Lately, you’ve been enjoying oatmeal, peanut butter, hummus, almond milk. And you still love rice cereal, chips/crackers/pretzels, and bananas, so long as we let you feed them to yourself.
  • You still nurse a handful of times a day, and I love those moments with you.
  • A favorite little game you like to play is walk up to someone and start running in place, in hopes that we’ll do it back to you. Then, you start back up and we do it simultaneously. You love this!
  • You went to your first baseball game of the season and loved all the action!
  • Also, the weather has turned nice and so you’ve been playing outside when it’s warm enough (it has been unseasonably cold this spring!) and have loved getting to walk around in the grass, discover rocks, pull up leaves, and otherwise get to adventure!
  • If we ask you for a kiss, you’ll lean your head in toward us so we can kiss you. It’s so adorable!
  • You are now up to 8 teeth: 4 on top, 4 on bottom. The last two came in at the same time this past month, but you bore it like a champ. I think you’re teething right now, because you have been drooling a lot lately, but you never let me look in your mouth so I usually don’t realize you’ve broken anything until it’s well through.
  • For the past month or so, you’ve been taking one long nap around lunchtime, usually for 2 to 3 hours. Nighttime you usually go to bed around 9 or 10. If you accidentally fall asleep in the car, that throws everything off, but we have learned to roll with the punches around here, so I don’t mind. We can always get back to the swing of things tomorrow!
  • Much to my joy, you are starting to get a little more interested in books, finding them and opening them up and looking at their pictures. You’ll sit still long enough for us to read a couple of pages before you take it away and insist on playing with it on your own. We still don’t really read on a daily basis but I’ve been trying to incorporate it more.
  • You still love to dance and clap and anything music-related. We may not read daily, but we sure do make time to dance and sing multiple times a day!
  • You also are our little opportunist who gets into all sorts of things that you know you’re not supposed to. It’s like you have radar, when a certain door opens that we otherwise keep locked or closed. You make a beeline to try to get in before it closes and see what damage you can do. If we aren’t careful there will be grocery items or Q-Tips or office papers strewn all over the floor in just a matter of minutes!
  • Your hair just keeps getting longer and longer—and, consequently, crazier and crazier. If I stretch it out in the back, it can reach down your back a couple of inches (but typically curls up to look like a bob), and your bangs are past your nose. I try to keep your bangs pulled back, but you pull your barrettes out so more often than not, you’re peering out at the world through a fringe of bangs!
  • You love your family and squeal with joy when you see one of us return after being gone for awhile. It is utter joy that makes us feel so loved. On the flip side, you still hate when we leave you. Consequently, I’m still hanging out with you in the nursery at church during the service!
  • You’ll walk along beside us, holding a finger. If I hold it out, you’ll come running up and grab it to walk with me. If I ask you to come, oftentimes (but not always!) you’ll come.

Finding a New Home

Life as of late has been lived indoors, thanks to the off-and-on cold and/or rainy weather that the Midwest has been sending our way. (There's talk of snow flurries this week. Talk about a welcome home!)

But it seems fitting, this drive to the indoors, because right now we’re in the throes of house buying and are actually under contract on a house right now. It's been an exciting time, as we could see ourselves staying in this house for quite some time.

There's plenty that I'd like to do to this home (it currently is a mess of tans and decorating projects gone bad, including faux-bois on the kitchen cabinets and kids' painted handprints in the bathroom), and so I find myself researching all sorts of DIY ideas and paint colors and furniture purchases and a myriad of other things you can monitor along with me on Pinterest.

But the best thing we love is the location, which is in a part of town that's woven with walking paths and a pool just down the block and lots and lots of families littering the neighborhood. And it's not far from my husband's work (10 mins), church (5 mins), or our families (20 mins). I didn't know if it was possible, but things are starting to come together, it seems...

We are pacing ourselves in the process, trying to keep the future firmly in mind (along with the reality that life with a toddler naturally limits a lot of remodeling or redecorating) rather than get whisked away by pretty hardwoods and freshly renovated kitchenscapes. It can be quite the balance to strike!

I find myself having to remind myself to hold things loosely, that phrase that I feel as a banner over me now. I look at the stained floors and the pretty hues and I tell myself to calm. I look at the ridiculous wall paint choices or the cramped closets and I tell myself to calm. It is just a house, but I know the Lord cares about it for us all the same. I trust that he will guide us, as he did the first time around, to a house that will—in the end—suit us perfectly, as our first did for the year and a half that we lived there. And then when we needed to leave it behind, it sold without a hitch. The Lord saw us through that and I trust him to see us through this next one.

So I hold these things—the hopes, the hitches, the possibilities and the problems—loosely. I am learning this process slowly. I am being taught to practice at it constantly. But what matters, is that I am learning. And I am loosening this grip of mine.

My Favorite Baby Items: The Unexpected Essentials

When I was building my baby registry while I was pregnant with Claire, I poured over different people's lists to see where I should spend my money as well as where I could skip. (If you want to see what made it onto my original baby registry list, check out this post.) Even now, I love seeing what other parents recommend for their children.

So, I thought, as I'm looking back over Claire's first year, I'd recap some of the items we got for Claire that have been the best hits. I'll be sharing these favorites (the things I'd buy over and over again) in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, divided up by category. (You can see all the posts in this series of my favorite baby items.)

Brica Baby In-Sight Mirror: I never realized how much I'd rely on this little mirror that straps onto your seat so you can keep an eye on the babe in the car. But even now, a year in, I still love being able to check on Claire while we're driving around, whether it's to see if she's falling asleep or figure out why she's mad (Is the sun in her eyes? Did she drop a toy?, etc.).

WubbaNub Pacifier: I already mentioned in my previous post that this was an essential toy for Claire, one that she always had with her. The fact that it brought her such comfort is why it was such an essential for me, too! I had never anticipated needing to use pacifiers (especially since I never took one as a baby) but when I saw the difference it made, I was a convert!!

Hotslings Adjustable Pouch Baby Sling: This was the main sling I used with Claire, having tried three others in a vain attempt to figure out what would comfort her (since she always wanted to be held) and would provide me some comfort in the process. I say "some comfort" because since most of her weight sits on one shoulder, as she got heavier, it got more burdensome. But for the most part, it was bearable and she adored being held tight in here. (In spite of the fact that she hated being swaddled, surprisingly.) It was one of the easiest ways to get her to sleep.

Ergo Baby Carrier: This was my second favorite carrier, and one my husband used a lot. While I could get it on single-handedly, it was a little cumbersome and hard to put on once baby was already asleep. The only thing I don't think Claire liked about it was that she couldn't see and people-watch as easily as she could from her perch in the sling pouch. Still, it was very comfortable for me to wear and I like it even now because it transitions into a side carrier for putting her on my hip and being able to multi-task with ease.

Pack n Play with Changing Table and Bassinet: When Claire was first born, she would not sleep in her crib. I think it was just too big for her. But we found that she would sleep in this bite-sized bassinet. We also liked using it as a changing table and likely will use it for that purpose whenever we buy our own house.

Apple iPod Touch: Oh, beautiful, wonderful technology. My husband bought this for me as a pre-birth gift before having Claire. So once she was born, my apps were already loaded and ready to go, which was so helpful in tracking her schedule as well as taking my mind off those late-night feedings when I could read an e-book or catch up on Facebook. It also enabled me to easily snap impromptu photos, especially of the sleeping variety when Claire wouldn't leave my arms. I think this helped keep me sane so much back then!

Celebrating My First Year as a Mom & A Look Back at How It Changed Me

Now that I’ve crossed the threshold of my first year of motherhood, I can look back on it and see the beauty of it. There was plenty of hardship, as I’ve shared countless times through the course of this past year. But becoming a mom has brought so many changes. Not just to my sleep cycle or the fact that being peed on doesn’t gross me out in the slightest. It has changed me....

Now that I’ve crossed the threshold of my first year of motherhood, I can look back on it and see the beauty of it. There was plenty of hardship, as I’ve shared countless times through the course of this past year. But becoming a mom has brought so many changes. Not just to my sleep cycle or the fact that being peed on doesn’t gross me out in the slightest.

It has changed me.

There have been so many times when I don’t want to do things for Claire. When I don’t want to change another diaper or stop what I’m doing so I can pick her up and comfort her. When I don’t want to hold my frustration in and respond with a smile instead of a scream.

But I know that my actions matter. In a way that they never have before. My love matters. I know that I have the choice with how I respond to her and what those responses can add up to. There is power in how I treat her and how I love her.

And I have seen it shape this crazy little baby who started out crying all the time into a toddler now who is filled with joy. I like to think that I have helped give her that joy. That my selflessness—even when it was forced out through gritted teeth—has made a difference.

Certainly, I make mistakes in my mothering, and I would never claim anything near perfection. But I know I have tried hard and I can say I’m proud of the mom I’ve become, proud of the woman that being Claire’s mom has made me. Her pitiful, soul-shattering cries have taught me patience. Her unwillingness to sleep except curled up in my arms has helped me become flexible and learn to let the tasks and expectations of the day slip to the ground. Her stubbornness has taught me to laugh instead of stew.

Through it all, I’m learning to melt myself into this role of being a mom, a role that is shaving off the prickly parts of my heart and creating in me a version of myself richer and deeper than I’d thought possible. And we’re only a year in. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of decades have in store!

In celebration of how becoming a parent can make you a better person, BlogHer has teamed up with the Dreamworks' movie, Delivery Man. In it, David (Vince Vaughn) finds out that he’s a dad and goes on a hilarious and heartwarming journey to find his long-lost children—and his true self. The movie comes out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on March 25, which you can pre-order here. (Watch the movie’s trailer or visit the Delivery Man Facebook page to learn more about the movie.)

Plus, BlogHer is offering up a $100 Visa gift card to one Life Blessons reader who comments, letting me know: “How have your kids changed you for the better?”

Sweepstakes Rules: No duplicate comments. You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods: Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry. This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winner will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected. The Official Rules are available here. This sweepstakes runs from 3/20/14 – 4/17/14. Be sure to visit the Delivery Man page on where you can read other bloggers’ reviews and find more chances to win! 

My Favorite Baby Items: Toys from Birth to Six Months

When I was building my baby registry while I was pregnant with Claire, I poured over different people's lists to see where I should spend my money as well as where I could skip. (If you want to see what made it onto my original baby registry list, check out this post.) Even now, I love seeing what other parents recommend for their children.

So, I thought, as I'm looking back over Claire's first year, I'd recap some of the items we got for Claire that have been the best hits. I'll be sharing these favorites (the things I'd buy over and over again) in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, divided up by category. (You can see all the posts in this series of my favorite baby items.)

Bright Starts Snuggle & Teethe Monkey Teether: Claire loved this little guy. We hung it on the side of her changing table and it was the first thing that made her smile. She never really played with him (especially not as a teether toy), but the fact that he was the first toy she ever took such an interest in is why he holds a special place in our toy box!

WubbaNub Pacifier: I don't know that we could have made it through the first couple of months without this. I never had any intention to use a pacifier but now I realize that as a parent, you don't really get to "choose." If your baby wants it and it's the only thing that calms them? Well then, baby gets it. The only thing I didn't like about these was how difficult they were to sanitize. In the haze of newborn-ness, I would often turn the water on to boil, only to forget about the WubbaNub draped over the side. Consequently, the stuffed animals on both her WubbaNubs have burnt tummies. Whoops. (And if you want to know why I included it in toys: Well, it has a stuffed animal attached to it. Claire's eyes would light up whenever she saw it come near!)

Fisher-Price Discover 'n Grow Kick and Play Piano Gym: This was such a fun play gym! You lay the baby down and they kick and make it play music. Even now, Claire will still sit down sometimes and pound on the keys, even though we long ago took the arch down. I also like you can detach the toys; she still plays with those sometimes, too.

Musical Bouncer: Claire was always interested in knowing what was going on around her, so using this as a booster seat made her a great deal happier. I'm not sure that she cared about the vibrating option but it was a huge help that she could entertain herself by hitting the musical components so that I could take a few breaks for myself!

Bunnies By The Bay Bye Bye Buddy Blanket: She always wanted to have something in her hand when she was falling asleep, so we used this blanket. Once she stopped using a pacifier (around 6 months), we stopped using this, too, because all she wanted to was put her thumb in her mouth. But I love how soft and cuddly this was--and it didn't have a rattle in it (surprisingly hard to find, but essential when you're talking about using it for sleep!).

What I Look For in a High Chair (And One that Fits the Bill)

Claire has been eating solid foods for the past six months. Over that time, I’ve had quite the crash course in high chairs, from ones that are expensive to those generic ones in restaurants to makeshift ones (we used the Bumbo seat for a lot of feedings when we first started out) and everything in between.

I’ve been on the search for the perfect high chair for my lifestyle, which is how I came across the Ingenuity ChairMate High Chair.

One of the things I’ve learned during this time testing and trying out different versions and attributes is that there are a couple things that are key to me:
  • I want my high chair to take up as little space as possible but be easily portable
  • It must have a washable surface that can easily be machine-washed (because Claire often loves to feed herself—which invariably makes for a huge mess that not only includes her face and hands but every other surface within reach)
  • I want it to feel safe and sturdy for my baby so that if I need to step away and grab something from the fridge, I can do so without worry that my darling is going to be in danger
All of these qualities come together in the ChairMate, which the folks at Ingenuity generously provided for this review. (Of course, as always, all opinions are my own.) Here is a run-down of some of those features this high chair offers:
  • The cover is easy to get on and off and features stain-resistant material that can easily be machine-washed. But my favorite feature is that there is a clip-on tray that you can easily pop off and rinse without having to unfasten the entire tray. It makes running it under the kitchen faucet a breeze! (It also is dishwasher-safe, but I haven’t tried that.)

  • It’s lightweight, making it so that you can easily move it around. And since it’s fastened to the chair easily with straps, it isn’t a chore to unbuckle it and move it if you need to, making it a viable option for on-the-go if you need it.

  • The high chair attaches directly to one of your own kitchen chairs. I tried it on a variety of chairs and never faced an issue. Pretty much as long as you can fasten the straps along the underside of the chair and around it’s back, you can use this high chair.

  • It was easy to put together. (I didn’t even have to reference the instruction manual it was so intuitive!) It also includes four different height positions so that it can easily accommodate almost any table or chair height. There are also two recline positions. (I do wish there was more customization for the recline position, because Claire still seems to sit back a bit further than she does in her other chairs, but that hasn’t seemed to cause a problem.)

  • Plus, it easily grows with baby by converting to a booster once they get older so that you don't have to buy something additional later one. This is an aspect that is taken into account with all of the products from Ingenuity: “When we can, we strive to save you money,” they say, “such as high chairs and floor seats that grow with baby by converting to boosters, and swings with patented technology that makes batteries last twice as long. Every product Ingenuity offers starts with one question: How can these meet babies’ needs, but make life easier for parents?”

  • While I was a little hesitant about using straps to secure the high chair at first, I haven’t had any issues with the stability or sturdiness of the chair. I’ve even picked Claire up while she’s strapped in and moved the chair (like for the photoshoot I did!) and the seat didn’t even seem to wiggle in the chair. I think as long as you’re strapping it to a sturdy chair and make sure you get the straps at tight as possible (which surprisingly is quite easy), then I don’t think there are any issues with safety.

  • The ChairMate high chair comes in a variety of designs, but the one I received is the “Emerson,” which is available exclusively at Babies ‘R’ Us. The Emerson features an adorable and gender-neutral teal and green polka-dot pattern with two smiley-faced hippos in the middle. Perfect for any baby who makes you feel like you’re feeding a hungry, hungry hippo!
All that to say, that this high chair has been a happy addition to our feeding routine and I expect it will continue to be for the years to come!

(You can find out more about the Ingenuity ChairMate High Chair, as well as other products from Ingenuity. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.)
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