on staying at home with a baby when you can barely afford it

When people hear I quit my job to stay home with my baby, most assume James makes a lot of money.

That is not the case.

He is not a doctor or a lawyer or any other career that means we have student loans the size of a mortgage. He does not make heaps of money. But he works for a good company, he's really good at what he does, so for now, it works.

I have nothing at all against working moms. Different things work for different families, and I commend working moms for doing what they feel is best for their families. We all have different values and priorities and goals. We knew the right thing for our family was for me to quit my job. It's becoming counter-cultural for a woman to quit her job and forego a nicer lifestyle to stay home with her child, but we knew this was the path we were meant to take. For many reasons it made sense, not to mention daycare and gas would eat most of my salary. We knew it was going to be extremely difficult and would require a lot of sacrifices, but that's ok. I thought it would be much harder than it is to make these sacrifices, but having a baby completely changes your priorities and perspective. There are no more concerts or weekends away, and that doesn't even make me blink anymore. Most of the time, I don't miss those things. On paper, we shouldn't be able to swing this, but somehow we do. Quitting my job was a huge act of faith, and I haven't looked back for a second. For anyone out there who needs encouragement that it's possible, I'm here to say that it is possible.

We live very small and simply. It's kind of good timing, as minimalism is trendy these days. We don't eat out. We don't go on vacations. We don't go shopping. None of these things happen. Sometimes it's hard, like when none of my clothes fit me and I cry once a week in my closet, but most of the time I don't even notice anymore. There are days where I would give anything to order a pizza instead of cook dinner, but not having a lot of money has been strangely liberating. It's empowering. It's a constant exercise in self-discipline. It's easy to say no to things I would previously have wanted. I cook and bake as much as I can from scratch, and I love it. We eat so much healthier that way, and it's forced me to get more creative. Someday I want to be that crazy person that even makes her own bread, but that won't be happening just yet. We make do with what we have. We don't spend money on anything we don't absolutely need. The only extra thing we pay for is Netflix, and if push came to shove, I would cancel it (but please don't make me!). We are learning to be content with what we have. I think that is a very important lesson to learn, and it's one we have to learn over and over. Our friends and family have been so generous with us that we often feel completely spoiled. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped and supported us.

Honestly, I've kind of become obsessed with this way of life. I love it. Everything is prioritized. Everything is very purposeful. Every penny matters. You know the tiny house movement? I love it. If we didn't have a baby, I would be all over it (let the record show that James thinks I'm a little crazy). I've fallen in love with the concept of having things you love and need and nothing else, not to the extent of the crazy KonMari lady, but I like the underlying concept. It's something that started stirring in me years ago, something I wanted to work toward, and I firmly believe it was to prepare me for our current lifestyle. When we do buy a house, we want a small one. Not TINY, but small. We want to live below our means. We want to be self-sufficient. I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking we need big houses and every new thing. Because we don't, and that is an exhausting mindset to live in. We live in a 2 bedroom townhouse, and several people have commented to me that we don't have enough room, and I completely disagree. The size of our house is the size of the average home in the 1950s. Not once have we thought we needed more room. Kids do not each need a separate bedroom and a playroom. They don't need $200 iPhone-controlled contraptions to swing and rock them. Kids do not need $40 leggings with arrows on them from Etsy. I know they're cute, but your kid will never know the difference, and those leggings will be spit up on, pooped on, and will stop fitting by next Wednesday. I have a daughter; I know how much fun it is to dress babies up in bows and cute clothes. I'm here to say it is possible to dress them in clothes not covered in pastel baby animals and to do it affordably. It's all about priorities. None of these things are wrong, but they're not necessities. Not everyone can or wants to live this way, but it works for us.

We did everything we could to prepare for this before Gracie was born. We saved and stocked up on things we knew we would need. Aside from my car which will be paid off in the not-too-distant future, we have no debt, and we are adamant about staying that way. We are still learning how to make this work. Some days I feel like we're flying by the seat of our pants while we pray for better days ahead. Some days I get frustrated I can't go buy this or that. But it's exactly where we need to be, and we both know it. Things won't be like this forever. We won't have insanely high rent and a car payment for the rest of our lives. We are planning and looking forward to having a little more breathing room, but not once have I ever regretted quitting my job. There have been times when something happens or we get an unexpected bill, and we look at each other and think "this is going to be what breaks us," but it never does. God has always provided for us. We have never lacked a single thing. Countless times we have been given exactly the thing we need exactly when we needed it. We are trying to do the best we can to be good stewards of what God has given us, because we have everything we need: nothing more and nothing less. I can think of no better lessons for Gracie to witness firsthand as she grows up. Someday I would love to find a way to contribute to our family financially, but right now I have a little baby to tickle and snuggle. And to me, that is so much better than any vacation or fancy dinner.


taking a 7 month old to lunch

"check, please!"

Your mom and you have a hankering for Italian, so off you go to the local Italian establishment. It requires driving through the sketchy, heroin-riddled part of town that causes you to shrink back in the driver's seat while gesturing the sign of the cross even though you aren't Catholic. But it's worth it for the crusty bread. You walk through the parking lot, hugging your baby close to you to protect her from the chilly November wind, commenting to your mom how grateful you are that the chances of running into an acquaintance here on a Thursday afternoon are slim, which is good, because you're rocking a college hoodie, windblown hair, and pre-baby jeans that will fit like a sausage casing after one bite of food.

You walk inside the restaurant and immediately and accidentally make eye contact with the dad of one of your high school friends. You weren't close friends, but she woke you up at show choir camp from her hysterical crying over the news of Steve Irwin's death, and it's impossible not to bond in an awkward situation like that. Does he remember you from years of choir concerts, high school musicals, and show choir performances? Hopefully not. You put your head down and fiddle with the baby while you wait for the hostess to grab a highchair. The hostess takes you to your table, and you hand the baby to your mom so you can wrestle the cart cover onto the highchair, and then wrestle the baby into the highchair. You know lugging that cover screams first-time mom, but it's cold and flu season and after having a baby, you suddenly find yourself thinking about germs more than you think about coffee. The baby wails from being manhandled into a wooden chair, and you look up to find half the restaurant staring at you. Suddenly, your nursing bra is soaked in sweat.

You sit down and reach into the bag for the wet wipes to wipe down the table, but not before the baby gives the edge of the table a juicy lick. You mutter a comment about building up her immune system while wiping down everything else. The bread comes, and it's better than you remember. You give some to the baby to keep her calm, but she throws it on the floor. She fusses, so you give her a toy. She throws it on the floor. You hook another toy onto the highchair, but she manages to unhook it and throw it on the floor. She scrunches her nose and sticks her tongue out at everyone who walks by, and she once again charms her way back into your good graces. You look around and wonder how people can continue their conversations when there's a completely adorable baby right in from them. Your eyes widen as you realize you've become that mom who thinks everyone should be as in love with your child as you are. You tuck the thought away and reassure yourself no one has to know you think things like that. Until you come home and blog about them the next day, of course.

You turn to your mother to tell her about a book you're reading. You turn back to the baby 5 seconds later to see that she has somehow managed to ninja-grab a roll of silverware from the opposite side of the table (I still would like to see security camera footage to know exactly how this happened), and is excitedly reaching for the fork while suspiciously eyeing the knife. With lightening speed, you move everything as far away as you can and hand her another toy. Which she throws on the floor. Does the 5 second rule apply here?

You look around the room and think about the memories you have in here. You ate here before either freshman or sophomore homecoming, and now you're scanning the room for a secluded area to breastfeed should the need arise. Your table is only a block away from the old theater where you sang and danced and played the piano on the same stage Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra once crooned on. You smile at the memory while you eat your salad. The balsamic vinaigrette is much zippier than normal, and your eyes water like you're cutting an onion. You worry the taste will bother the baby next time she nurses, because these are the things you think about now. Your thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a panda rattle hitting the floor.

Your food arrives, and right on cue, the baby will no longer tolerate the highchair. You pick her up and notice she's not wearing her shoes. You knew they were a little too big, but you put them on her anyway because you want people to know you care about the warmth of your baby's feet, and also because they look ridiculously cute with her fair isle leggings. Priorities. You look for the shoes and find them on the floor, next to the graveyard of crusty bread and dirty toys.

You try to twirl your spaghetti on your fork while bouncing the baby on you leg, but it's hard. Keeping a baby arm-length away from the table while eating one-handed feels a little like when you were a kid and you would pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. It takes practice and a coordination you're still working on. Your mom takes the baby so you can eat a hot meal for once. She effortlessly holds the baby away from the table while eating her eggplant parmesan, and you watch in awe. She tells you it's like a bicycle; it took lots of practice to learn, but the skill comes right back. She gives you the knowing look and half smirk of a mother who once ate every meal that way to keep her colicky baby calm, and once again you realize just how much your mother did for you. The baby gives you a smile and you start to miss her, so you grab her and spend the next fives minutes trying to keep her hands out of your iced tea. You walk her around the room while mom pays for lunch, and everything she has ever done is forgiven when you look in a mirror and she excitedly exclaims "mama!"

You take her home and put her down for a nap. Even though your body is allergic to naps, you curl up on the couch and immediately fall into a dream. You groggily pull yourself toward the Keurig 20 minutes later and fall into your mother's arms while she smiles and says "taking care of a baby is exhausting work." The baby wakes up cranky, but she has reindeer on her pants and a crooked bow in her hair, so you forgive her, rock her, and hand her another toy to throw on the floor.


things get better

Last week was so terribly hard. A string of bad days can send you into a funk, and that's definitely where I was Friday night. I just couldn't shake the mood. And then the Paris attacks. I was so upset as I sat in front of the tv, watching live coverage. I've always wanted to go to Paris. I've made plans several times, and each time they fell through. It's been very clear that those trips just weren't meant to happen. It's ok, though. There's always someday. I've had a strange love for France since I can remember. I remember my 4th grade teacher teaching us a few French words, and it woke up something in me. I fell in love with French and studied it from 8th grade through college, where I minored in French. I loved my French classes more than my writing classes. I felt most like myself when I was studying the language and literature and culture than I did anywhere else. Even though I've never been there, I feel such a kinship for the French. I feel like I know them. I was, am, so sad, and it completely shook me out of the fog I'd been walking around in all week. Not that what happened discredited anything I had dealt with; it just put everything in its proper perspective and helped me realized I was dwelling on things I couldn't change.

James was finally off all weekend, and we had such a good weekend as a family. It was so good for my soul. Simple togetherness. Exactly what we all needed after last week. Gracie is about a half a second from outgrowing her infant seat, so James installed the big girl carseat in my car, and it was all I could do to keep from crying. I never thought I would be the mom crying over a polka-dotted carseat, but here we are. We brought her home from the hospital in that! She looked like she was going to be swallowed whole in it when she was born, but now when we try to strap her in it, she resembles me trying to wear my pre-pregnancy jeans.

After we put her in the new carseat, we went on a family trip to Target, where we wound up buying G her first Christmas ornament. James and I watched the OSU football game while Gracie napped (she took slightly longer naps!!!). And when I say we watched the game, I mean he did while I read a book. But I snacked like I was watching a football game. I spent lots of time in the kitchen this weekend making pad thai, pumpkin spice waffles, and shepherd's pie. I started a new knitting project. I left Gracie at home with James and went to the library and walked through the nonfiction section, hitting each aisle twice. I picked up books, flipped through them, looked them up on Goodreads to see if they were worth my time, stayed until closing, and walked out with many more than I had planned to get. I will never not be excited about the library. I felt my world turn right-side up again as I browsed the racks. Never underestimate the healing power of words. I put peppermint mocha creamer in my coffee, and life as I know it has changed for the better. After putting Gracie down Saturday night, James and I put our pajamas on, ate some fish sticks (we discovered we were both craving them?) and started The Office again for probably the 7th time. For the first time ever, the toys and blankets all over the floor and the messy rooms didn't bother me at all. It was just so fun to be happy together.

And now it's Monday. And disGracie gave me a hangry 5am wake-up call. Which means I've gotten even more acquainted with my peppermint mocha creamer. But that's not exactly a bad thing.


scenes from a hard day

There are some weeks where I wonder if I'm being filmed, because everything just goes so terribly wrong. I can't seem to hold a good mood longer than 5 minutes before disaster strikes again. This week has been one of those weeks. Every day has been so awful, to the point that spilling my dinner all over the floor tonight led to me crying in the laundry room. There were high wind warnings, and all day long it was as dark as 5pm. It was cold, wet, blustery, and a day straight from Wuthering Heights. Most days like this I would stay home and hunker down, but I've skipped too many social functions and hunkered down enough this week, so my mom came and we went out to lunch. It has been such a terrible week for us both that we desperately wanted, nay, needed a fun day. I just wanted to have a day to get my mind off all the stressful, crappy things going on. We ate at one of our favorite places; it's where we took Gracie on her first lunch outing, and today she sat in a high chair there for the first time. I felt myself slowly unwind as we sat in a quiet spot by the fireplace and ate our tomato soup and sandwiches while Gracie played with a rattle and chewed on some sourdough. 

A few minutes into our meal, a group of five or six boisterous women took the table next to us. They were dressed in stilettos and pant suits and had very important opinions on very important things. They shouted and ranted and raved about Donald Trump and immigration and George Bush. They made fun of ex-husbands and their fathers' trophy wives. They quoted books and each one thought they had the answer to fix the world's problems. Mom and I tried to talk, but we couldn't even hear each other over the Democratic Convention next to us, and the heat from the fireplace started to make me feel feverish. They finally left, and they took what little energy I had with them. I felt as drained and exhausted as if I had been a part of the conversation. On top of it, I had been fighting a massive headache like I've never had before. It wasn't quite a migraine, but the lights were bothering me and I started to feel queasy. Mom had to run a quick errand on the way home, and I felt too awful to go in with her, so I sat in the car with the baby trying to keep my head from spontaneously combusting. 

As we were waiting, I heard the telltale sounds of a diaper being filled. I debated changing her in the car, but we were so close to home and mom was almost done. When we got home, I rushed Gracie to her room to survey the damage, and it was the worst I've ever seen. I think it might have even been in her hair? Short of renting a power washer, I had no choice but to put her in the bath tub, which she did not tolerate. I was holding her with both hands, but she flung herself so violently she bonked her head on the tub. I panicked and scooped her up. She was more scared and tired than hurt, but she couldn't calm down, and the only thing to do was wrap her in a towel, rock her, and let her nurse. I didn't even have a chance to put a diaper on her before she peed all over me. Twice. 

During all of this, my mom had gone downstairs to look for medicine to keep her from throwing up, since she was feeling sick as well. She came upstairs a little later to find one of us naked, one of us stripped down to her underwear, and both of us crying. She gave me a smile, hugged me, and we laughed, because sometimes there is nothing else you can do. But, on the bright side, I temporarily forgot about my headache.


let's take bets on what I'll destroy next

Yesterday morning I dressed myself in my best flannel, put a bow in Gracie's hair, and hauled us off the library. On the way, I decided to use my Starbucks gift card and grab something to drink. As I pulled away from the drive-through window, I looked down for a split second to change the music, when I heard a screeeeeeeeching sound that made me slam on the breaks. I looked up to see I had driven the passenger side mirror straight into a brick pillar. I had driven MAYBE 6 inches. The car had barely been rolling. I thought it was going completely straight, but evidently the wheel had been slightly turned. In true Michelle fashion, I froze and panicked and stared at the brick pillar before me, until I realized I needed to back up in order to leave. I put the car in reverse and realized the car wouldn't move. I panicked some more. I was stuck! Sweat was pouring off me and I tried to reassure Gracie that everything would be ok, even though she was perfectly calm and I was the one hyperventilating. Worse than hitting the pillar was the fact that there was a line of cars behind me and a full parking lot around me. I was not short on an audience. I looked at the dash and realized the car had been in neutral, hence my inability to move it. The line of cars behind me backed up one by one to give me room, and I backed up, and very, very carefully drove away and parked far from prying eyes to inspect the damage. The mirror is a little scuffed, but that's it. My pride and dignity are far more injured than the car.

We grabbed a book at the library and headed home. About thirty minutes after we got home, I got an email that Mindy's new book, which I've been waiting on for months, was ready to be picked up. Of course! The thought of carrying the baby out to the car and buckling her in the carseat, taking her out of the carseat, carrying her through the library, putting her back in the carseat, taking her out, and carrying her up the flight of stairs to the front door all over again was just not going to happen. Also, I wasn't sure I trusted myself to drive again. Instead, I put G down for a nap.

Thirty minutes later, as I was making a sandwich, she woke up hollering. And she continued to cry and fuss for the rest of the day. My happy baby has been refusing to nap for more than 30 minutes for at least a week. The longest nap I've gotten from her lately has been 45 minutes. I don't think I need to explain that I've been starting to lose my mind, and lose it badly. The lack of sleep was catching up with her, and nothing would make her happy. My mom was in town for an appointment and brought a coffee over. I handed the baby to her and begged her to please take her home for the night. I need the opportunity to miss her again. I'm burned out. I can't listen to that high-pitched whine for one more second without flinging myself out the window, especially since I can't recharge during her naptimes since they aren't happening. If she would take a darn bottle, I would've sent G off for her first sleepover. Thankfully, she took a little power nap and woke up a completely different baby. She was smiling and giggling as I got her up, and was completely charming and wonderful until bedtime. I rocked her before bed and sang her Amazing Grace and Silent Night as she smiled and ripped my glasses off my face. It was wonderful.

Once the baby was asleep, I curled up on the couch with a bowl of soup to watch Nick Carter on Dancing with the Stars, and I have no shame in admitting this. I ended up spilling my drink all over the couch, me, and a book. I sighed in frustration as I didn't realize the full extent of the situation until I tried to turn up the volume only to realize the remote had been soaked and was no longer functioning. All but the volume buttons seem to be functioning this morning, even though I accidentally hit the remote off the coffee table, causing it to flip through the air and nosedive straight into my plate of scrambled eggs. On top of that, I was flipping through a book I just finished, looking for a specific paragraph, when I thought "I need to hit Control + F to find this," until I realized I was holding a physical book and not on a computer. Let's all hope and pray Gracie starts napping again soon, because I think it's clear I could use one too.