Monday, June 24, 2013

The Art of Accepting a Compliment

My mother was very particular in teaching me how to take a compliment when I was a kid. She explained over the years, "When someone compliments you, you smile and say thank you. That's it. Don't make a big production. Don't say it's nothing. Don't cut yourself down, saying it's not true. Don't punish the other person for enjoying something you've done or a quality you have. Celebrate with them by smiling and saying thank you. Even if you feel uncertain, even if you don't see what they see in you. Never make people feel badly for praising you, it's a kindness, and praise others genuinely as often as you can."

Now as an adult, I see people struggle with this all the time and it bums me out. Especially women, who seem to react to a compliment like a vampire to the sun, hissing and turning away.


I bet this guy accepts compliments LIKE A BOSS.

I am really grateful my Mom covered compliments in her parenting lessons. I believe it not only gave me a polite way to deal with that slightly uncomfortable "Aw, shucks" pang, but it also grew my confidence. Forcing me to accept compliments forced me to appreciate what I could do, take stock in it, and thank others for appreciating it too. It made a huge difference in my life, when you think about all the creative endeavors I pursue.

I have been thinking a lot about the lessons Mom has instilled in me, as I prepare to pass on her work to Luke. I thought I would share the one on compliments and what it has meant to me here. Especially for any creative folks following my blog. Accepting praise will be a very important exercise if you plan to show others your work. 

If you're a person who is shy about compliments, try simply thanking someone with a smile the next time you are told something nice about yourself.

"Thank you."

"Why, thank you."


"Hey! Thank you!"

Even if it feels strange at first, the greater ease of the exchange might win you over. (It's exhausting when you try to compliment someone and it turns into a 3-5 minute back and forth of "really... No really." Gritted teeth "NO REALLY.")

You deserve compliments. You deserve praise. And you should be the last person to cut yourself to pieces (ladies). And even if you don't believe that every day, no one needs to wade through your insecurities on the road to  kindness. A humble smile and a genuine thank you is as good for you as it is the other person. It forces you to accept their argument that you are good, rather than enforce your argument that you are bad. (Again... Ladies. This link is very NSFW, but hilariously illustrates my point).

But what if the compliment isn't genuine, you may ask? Don't worry. Mom had that covered too. "Smile and thank them anyway. It'll drive them nuts."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Adventure Time's Ice King

Ryan and I have been watching a lot of 'Adventure Time' lately. Yeah, I know, we're late to the party! We've never seen the show before a few weeks ago, and now we are almost on the third season. I really love it. It's funny, clever, and heart warming. Plus, full of--right?--adventure!

It's like watching Dnd for kids, but for grown ups, but for kids.

I especially adore the Ice King. He's complicated, strange, and sweet. Since I'm getting back into painting after a long break, I decided to paint whatever I want as practice. It wasn't long before I was sketching and painting him.

The Ice King, ink and watercolors

Of course, first I goofed around and made a picture of the Ice King and I hanging out as BFFs. I drew this on (gasp) printer paper (I know, I know--but the baby had just fallen asleep and I wasn't about to wake him so Mommy could draw herself chilling with cartoons). I scanned the drawing once I inked it and colored it in Photoshop to give it a "cartoony" look. Since the Ice King steals princesses and there are so many rad princesses on the show, I made myself a cat lady princess. With a cat ear crown... And my cats.....


The next step in my new obsession was to paint the Ice King in my style. So during Luke's nap times and moments with Daddy, I penciled, inked, and painted him.

I added a few "wizardly" frills.

Inked, pencil erased

First Wash

3rd or 4th-ish wash

Detail of the Ice King

Detail of his face


Oh, hai Gunter!


For years I pretty much always did character portraits this way, until professors kept yelling at me to add backgrounds and show action. However, like I said, I've been away from painting for a few months and I want to have some fun with it before I start making full pictures or tackling real projects again. It feels like slipping into an old coat. An old coat that professors used to yell at you was wrong.


Before you ask, absolutely I have other Adventure Time paintings planned! I'm either going to do Princess Bubble Gum with Lady Rainicorn, Peppermint Butler, and Science next or a painting of Lumpy Space Princess. (BECAUSE I LUMPING LOVE HER, GLOB!) And I may do the forest wizard that pops up sometimes or that weird Lich guy. Maybe! We'll see!

I also have plans to start a series of alphabet paintings, with an alligator in an apron for A, a bear in a bandana for B, etc all the way until I get stuck on Q! (A quail in a quilt! Yes! ONTO X!) I'm trying to plan a lot of "nap time" projects. Which reminds me....

Luke will be two months old tomorrow! I cannot believe it. No one is joking when they say time starts to fly when you have a child. I feel like we just brought him home.

My seriously handsome serious little man.

Luke, chilling with Fox.

Oh hello, Raccoon, we were just talking about you!

Look at this left arm I found!

He was super proud of that left arm. He discovered it a few nights ago and waved it in the air for about a half an hour.

Luke just woke up again, so I'm going to go hang out with him. Hope you enjoyed my update on what I've been up to this week!



Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Luke's Birth Story

As you may have guessed, our son has finally arrived!

And he's awesome.

So what happened? How did it go? What is labor like? Well, I'll tell you!

My due date came and went with no baby. I had believed morning sickness would be the worst bit of my otherwise easy pregnancy, but I was wrong. Tom Petty was right: The waiting was the hardest part.

That song was stuck in my head for days. Six days, to be exact. Six days crawled by while I waddled the hallways of our home, a swollen ball of nerves. It was a lot like being five years old and having to endure Christmas morning at 4am for an entire week.

Our Aunt Joanie flew out from Rhode Island five days before the due date, to help us and be there in case the baby came early. We passed the time laughing, talking, and watching reality cooking shows.

It's a good thing Gordon Ramsay has like 45,
because the baby was in no hurry to join us.

She was an amazing support to have, and optimistic every night that we'd all be waking up to go to the hospital in a few hours. I hoped so too, for eleven nights....

I hoped--and I worried. I worried I would mistake false labor for the real thing and be sent home. I worried I would never go into labor and have to be induced. I worried I would never go into labor at all and die with a 45 year old man living in my uterus.

To make it so much worse, everyone I had ever met in my entire life was calling, texting, emailing, and blowing up my Facebook to ask, "DID YOU HAVE THE BABY YET?" Family members would call, and be obviously disappointed to hear me pick up, having phoned only to hope I'd be too busy pushing out a baby to answer. If I didn't post on Facebook for more than 3-4 hours, texts and emails would begin. "I SAW YOU WEREN'T ON FACEBOOK THIS MORNING. ARE YOU IN THE HOSPITAL?" Twice people began posting well wishes, assuming I was in labor just because I wasn't online. I began to have sick fantasies that I would die in labor, and Ryan would have to tell everyone, our baby in his arms, "I told her to hang on... But she... She just hated you all too much to go on living."

Not that I really hated everyone. I knew people were just really excited and had good intentions. I would tell myself that as I silently sobbed in the shower like a scene in a Lifetime movie ('No one would leave her alone' This Sunday at 8pm Eastern time).

In the meantime, at least I had a really cool portable table.

 Midnight rolled over to April 22nd, and Ryan and I went to sleep around 1 am. We had stayed up to watch 'Game of Thrones' (because it's not like I was gonna miss 'Game of Thrones'). I turned off my bedside lamp and pulled the covers over my shoulder with a heavy heart. My doctor had instructed us to call in the morning if I had not gone into labor over the weekend, so we could schedule me to be induced. That was the last thing I wanted, and so I felt pretty glum as I nodded off.

Just after 3:30 am, my eyes snapped open. There was the memory of a soft pain echoing in my center. I wasn't certain if it was real and happened when I was sleeping, or if I had just dreamed it. Something didn't feel quite right. When I sat up, I realized what. I gasped and shook Ryan, "I think my water broke!"

Ryan was awake. Actually, he had never fallen asleep. He had been staying up late, wondering and worrying most nights himself. "Are you sure?" He asked. We waited a few moments. I wasn't entirely sure. When your water breaks it can burst or it can leak, and I was suspecting a leak. I called the hospital, and they told us to come in right away. MY HEART SOARED!

Joanie and I met each other in the hall. She had heard the commotion and hoped for the best. We hugged and cheered and bounced side to side. This was it! This was the night we'd hoped for! We were going to the hospital!

Ryan pulled a shirt on. We hugged in passing. I got out the clothes I had set aside for the hospital. I pulled on my pants, rolled up my socks, stepped into my shoes, and IMMEDIATELY MY WATER BROKE FOR REAL.

Pretty much.

"WHOA! OH! WHOA--WEIRD!" I exclaimed. Ryan jolted back into the room and found me doubled over laughing. It doesn't hurt, it doesn't feel like anything actually. It's just like suddenly someone dumped a bucket of warm water down your legs. And then they dump one more just for good measure.

I changed my clothes. As I grabbed our bag for the hospital, the first real deal contraction washed over me. It was a little stronger than the rounds of Braxton Hicks I'd been through, but totally manageable. I thought back to all the classes we took, and calmly, patiently breathed through the pain. I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly through my nose, letting the breath out through my mouth. As I breathed in, I imagined I was drawing the contractions closer together. As I breathed out, I imagined the pain leaving my body.

Turns out there was no need to imagine drawing the contractions closer together. Four minutes later a second contraction hit me as I walked across our bedroom and my knees buckled like a cow in a 1930s cartoon.

You know the one.

I pitched toward the bed, wondering in that moment why none of the baby books mentioned how difficult it is to stand during a real contraction.

But never mind that, we had our bags, Ryan had the car keys, and we were out the door before the next one hit. It was a mild night. The world was swaddled in that deep, starry quiet that only comes on the wings of 4 am. We got into the car, turned on the radio, and I swear to God this song was on, immediately blasting through the speakers.

"I... can'," I breathed with the next contraction.

The moon was a glorious waxing gibbous that morning, and I'm not sure I have ever seen the moon that big. It was so gigantic Ryan was certain it was a near by neon sign when Joanie pointed it out. And then suddenly there it was, hanging large and luminous just beyond the trees as Ryan swiftly navigated the car down the empty streets. It looked like the cover of an 80s fantasy paperback. I took it as a good omen.

Ryan got us to the hospital just in time for my contractions to begin to ramp up.

The first really heavy contraction hit as the nurses took my blood pressure and checked me in. Until then, they had been uncomfortable but bearable. This one dug down deep and sort of ground through my insides. I breathed in deeply, silently, but when I breathed out I had a hard time keeping myself together. My voice cracked, and I shouted a little through it. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," I panted later. Everyone told me I didn't have to apologize. "I know. I know. Sorry, sorry... Sorry." I replied.

What I didn't know was I was dilating very quickly, and our baby had shifted so I was experiencing back labor. The nurses had suspected all of this from the sound of my voice, (how good are they?) and were working quickly to admit us.

"Would you like an epidural?" One nurse asked.

"Yup. Absolutely, yes. Yes. Let's do that as soon as possible," I chanted in a mantra of surrender. I had wanted to wait until I was at least 4-6 cm dilated, but instead I folded like a steel chair at Wrestlemania. (Again, remember I did not know I was dilating quickly, so I felt like a wuss).

Another contraction rolled over me like primal thunder, and this time I began to panic. I breathed in, lost it, and shouted through the exhale. Ryan gripped my hand and rubbed my back. One of the nurses placed her palm on my shoulder and said solemnly, "Breath as deeply as you can; breathe in your power. You're a tiger. You're a powerful tiger, you can do this."

The dam broke in my head and thoughts surged forth, frenzied. 'I am not a tiger,' I thought desperately. 'A tiger has 300 pounds on me. I am a human. I'm not even a very strong human. I couldn't walk up four flights of stairs without getting winded before I was pregnant....'

The contraction peeled back, I relaxed. The nurses got me upstairs to a birthing suite. Almost immediately a man met us and prepared me for an epidural. He had me sit up and wrap my arms around Ryan's neck, and I had one last moment of panic as I told the man, "I'm about to have another contraction." And the man replied, "Okay, just don't move."

'Don't move?' I thought as the contraction built, broke, and washed a wave of pain from my guts to the floor. 'Aren't you putting a needle in my spine? What happens if I move?'

Thoroughly psyched out, I hid my face in Ryan's chest and wept silently, pitifully for several undignified moments. But--I was fine. The epidural? The numbing shot felt a little like a bee sting. Not that bad at all. And the actual epidural did not hurt one bit. It just felt weird. Really weird, like a piece of dry spaghetti slipping through two funny bones. But only weird, beautifully, deliciously weird. Not painful. It was such a relief. It was okay; I was okay.

Spoiler alert: That was the worst of it. Those few intense contractions and being scared of the not at all scary epidural. That was the worst of my labor, and it wasn't even that bad. And it all took place in less than an hour! Before I could even really register fear, panic, or pain the epidural took hold and it was all just a memory.

The epidural was like settling into a warm pile of blankets. I had worried there would be tingling or pins and needles in my legs, but I felt exactly the same. I could still move my legs a little bit, but I couldn't feel them if anyone touched them. The nurses checked me, and let me know why my contractions had suddenly gotten so intense. I had dilated from 1cm to 4cm in a half an hour. They told me the baby was causing back labor, and enlisted Ryan to help them crunch me into a Picasso-esque position to encourage the baby to turn.

Kinda like that, only with more right angles.

When the nurses checked me 45 minutes later I had dilated to 5 centimeters. My doctor came on shift and was very happy to find me in labor. "I knew you wouldn't have to be induced!" She cheered. She examined me, told us to rest, and promised to return at 12:30 to check my progression. It was a little after 8:30.

The epidural kept away the pain and allowed only a soft pressure from each contraction. It didn't hurt, but around 9 am it started to get a little uncomfortable. I'm talking real mild discomfort here, like sore muscles or a foot falling asleep. Nothing bad. I told my nurse and she responded, "Your contractions are getting much stronger. I can see them getting bigger on the monitor."

And so the nurses decided to check me again just after 9:30. The baby had turned, and my body had responded by dilating to 9.5 centimeters! "You have a very efficient uterus!" The nurse joked, and after all I have been through, I laughed through a tear or two. I wished Gracie and Amy were there to hear it, because I knew they would be laughing with me.

At 10 am the nurses had me try a couple of "practice pushes," and that's when my doctor was paged. The baby had waited long enough, and he was finally ready to arrive! The nurses began my labor until my doctor was found. Ryan--who remember had not been to sleep yet--was woken up by Joanie ten minutes after he settled in for a nap and told it was time, the baby was coming. Joanie left to give us some privacy, and the labor began.

Ryan came to my side, absolutely giddy with smiles. I have seen him many different shades of happy, but this one was particularly beautiful. His eyes were bright and excited, his expression was anxious and elated. He looked fantastic for someone who had only slept a few minutes in 24 hours. He held my hand tightly, making sure I was alright, offering encouragement, and supporting me through each push.

Since I felt pressure each time a contraction started, I could easily bear down and push when I needed to. There are so many options for child birth, and every woman needs to decide for herself, because every woman and every labor is different. However, if you're curious about an epidural, here is my biggest praise for that route: The epidural gave me back control over my body. Without the pain and fear, I had no hesitation or trouble pushing. Between contractions I chatted with the nurses and cracked jokes with Ryan. I gathered my thoughts. I took deep breaths. I prepared myself for the next round of pushes. I wasn't a tiger, but I felt human.

Shortly after my doctor arrived, I had to be put on oxygen. Ryan looked worried for the first time. As they slipped the oxygen mask down over my nose and mouth I turned to him and said in a deep, gravelly voice, "I'm Bane."

Ryan grinned and replied in a soft, gruff voice, "I'm Batman." And that's how we dealt with the oxygen mask.

It was almost as romantic as this.

Start to finish, I pushed for about 45 minutes. Ryan and I laughed again when I misheard a news story about a coal train fight as a "Cool train fight". When I felt anxious toward the end, I drew my arms up to my sides and pretended to be a T-Rex, like I always did when I was a child and had to take a test or walk home alone. I remembered one particularly indulgent elementary school teacher who used to let me fill out my quizzes with my elbows tucked up into my tee shirts, one tiny T-Rex arm teetering over the paper with a pencil. It's funny the things you think about when your life is about to change forever.

"There's his head!" My doctor exclaimed.

Ryan looked at me, beaming, positively radiant. "I can see him! He's right there!"

"Would you like to touch your baby's head?" My doctor offered with a joyous smile.

"Nope." I said. "No, thank you, I'm good." I'm going to be honest with you, the idea of reaching into my vagina to pat another human's head was too much for me to handle right then (plus I had T-Rex arms). I needed to keep myself together and in the moment. I couldn't risk losing it at the last minute and falling apart. "But I'm sure it's a miracle," I awkwardly added. Making conversation while giving birth.

Ryan totally touched the baby's head. In fact Ryan, who had promised me he would not look during the birth, was practically handing the doctor her tools. Call me shallow, but Ryan's not just my husband. He's my number one all time big crush. I didn't want him to see me blow apart like John Carpenter's 'The Thing'. Yet, there he was, completely fascinated by the process, asking questions, pointing out bodily functions I could only have nightmares about. I was not surprised, and his excitement was infectious--Just not his curiosity.

And then it came, that 'one more' push. It wasn't the first 'one more', it was the second or third. Since I'd begun, I had pushed maybe 15-16 times. I was only just beginning to really get the hang of it. I looked forward to each push, not for the bearing down, not for the holding my breath, but for the unexpected thrill of "Is this it?" So much was going through my head. I was going to meet our child, I was going to hold my baby, I wasn't going to be pregnant anymore. Would our baby like me? Would he be okay?

And just like that, all the pushing, all the pressure, all the questions I'd had for 9 months, burst forward in the most relieving, incredible rush I have ever felt. It's hard to describe, exactly.

Actually, it's a lot like that.

A startled tiny voice began crying in the room, and everyone started cheering. It was 11:14 am, April 22, 2013 and Luke Charles had been born, 7 lbs, 9 oz, and 20 inches long. I fell back laughing, crying, watching my baby hoisted up and into a blanket. It was amazing, it was confusing, it was surreal, it was beautiful. They rubbed him down quickly and gently laid him on my chest. He was still screaming, through good, healthy lungs, and I said a few dozen prayers of thanks as I wrapped my arms around him and held him close. I held him a few minutes, until the nurses noticed his feet were blue and brought him to be warmed under a lamp. (But don't start to worry like I did--he was fine!)

Ryan cut the umbilical cord, hung out to see the placenta delivered, and watched my doctor stitch everything back together while I tried to catch his eye and hiss, "Shoo! Git!" I longed for a broom.

Then nurses brought Luke back and we watched him in awe.

There's no real way to explain what it feels like, meeting someone who has just arrived from the inside of your body. It's incredible. For 9 months he was just a gentle tapping in my belly. A flurry of hiccups in the middle of the night. And now there he was. He was tiny and funny shaped, but perfect. Purple, but beautiful. Crying and nervous, but relaxed by our voices. This tiny, lovely stranger felt like he had been a part of my life for centuries, since before I was born myself. Tied to me somewhere in the starry expanses of space before I was a person or he was a person. The only words that came to mind, and kept coming to mind that enchanting day, were from a song Gonzo sings in 'The Muppet Movie'.

'There's not a word yet, for old friends, who've just met.' 

Whatever that word is, I felt it looking into Luke's blue eyes that morning. His face was familiar, patched together from pieces of Ryan and mine's hearts. We recognized his sister's chin, and my sister's brow. He has Ryan's ears, hands, and feet, and possibly my nose. At first we thought he had Ryan's eyes, but as days have gone by they look like mine. Time will tell.

Our first hour together flew by. Joanie returned to meet her new nephew and we were all moved to our recovery room to get to know each other.

Luke and I, still both a little beaten up from labor.

Ryan holding his son for the first time....

...And the second time.

Luke was born with gigantic feet. The nurses couldn't believe it, ha!

Day 2: Watching the sunrise with my new best friend.

Luke, lost in a morning nap.

Day 3: Not a fan of clothes.

It's hard to believe Luke was born six weeks ago yesterday! Already he has grown and changed so much. Some days he looks just like Ryan, and other days he looks so much like me. He'll laugh, or cry, and a shadow of a familiar family face will pass over him. Glimmers of a personality are emerging, but right now he is mostly a serious watcher who enjoys silly songs and rhymes. It will be so exciting to watch him evolve into his own person!

Our first few days home can best be described as peaceful chaos. There were many quiet moments with a tiny baby sleeping in our arms, broken by bursts of scrambling for diapers, onesies, blankets, and burp clothes when he would wake. Joanie was an incredible help, bringing tea, cooking meals, and walking Luke around the house when Mommy and Daddy just needed an hour or so of sleep. I don't know how we would have made it through the first week without her!

Though the loss of sleep seemed like a fair trade.

There's nothing like a swarthy, handsome man and his tiny baby.

A lazy Sunday morning.
Multi-tasking with Mommy!

A few days old. Over the next six weeks, Luke would grow fast.

His serious face.

Those shoes....

Napping with Daddy!

A hero emerges!

He's crying because his parents are nerds.

Making make believe friends.

Sleepy little guy.

Someone did not want to be a bear.

Puck and Lupin already adore Luke.
Elvis not so much yet....

Big stretch! Right into Lupin.

Bright eyes.

Getting the hang of smiles....

Happy boy!

Relaxing in the little hammock Daddy's legs make in the bed sheets.

Sometimes he sleeps like this.

Our beautiful, healthy baby boy.

It's funny, I feel like I have written so much but any parent will tell you I've barely scratched the surface. Since Luke was born so much has happened. We've spent nearly every day nursing, cradling, burping, falling asleep sitting up, and grabbing showers when we can. (Dry shampoo is your friend, new parents. Write it down, expectant Moms). I've learned so much, not just about caring for a baby, but about myself, about family, about marriage, about cooking lamb chops....

We've been watching so much Gordon Ramsay that I had a nightmare he was my swimming coach
and yelled at me that I was pathetic and going to drown.

It's not all easy and it's not all fun--but it's a lot easier than you think and a lot of fun too. I think the books, articles, and forums are way too negative. I heard so many nightmare stories about the first few weeks. There isn't enough talk about the tiny feet and the cries that break into a sigh when you pick them up. I've loved these past six weeks. The pregnancy, the morning sickness, anxiety, the labor--the smallest price to pay. Nothing at all.

I can't believe how lucky I got. My water broke at 3:30 am, I was admitted to the hospital at 5:00, and Luke was born at 11:14. He is a sweet, mellow little baby and the new center of our universe.

Right up until I gave birth, I had this weird fear that I was not going to be able to do it. It just seemed so impossible, I was convinced I would need a C-Section. But I did it! And I didn't even poop myself! (YEAH OF COURSE I WORRIED ABOUT THAT). I did, however, throw up four times (WHAT? NO ONE'S PERFECT). That didn't even matter though, neither did the intense contractions. It's true what people say; instinct just takes over.

You get through it. You know how to do it; somehow you have always known. The millions of women that bore new women to bear you weave this intangible fabric of instinct behind you, centuries long. You go into labor, and it all just makes sense. It's hard to describe, but if you're ever pregnant and scared, and someone is telling you a horrific birth story, remember this one instead. I did it, and it was great! I felt out-of-this-world fantastic! Relieved, proud, accomplished, and protective of our little bundle.

In the past six weeks I've barely left our house, and yet somehow I have experienced an entire new world I never expected or imagined. A world I think I knew a long time ago, where all the words rhyme and itsy bitsy spiders go up the water spout. Where cuddly things have silly voices, and blankets roll out into vast, unknown landscapes. It moves at a slower pace and it's much smaller, but I am already in love with it.

Even the bears are friendly.