Archive for December, 2014

December 30, 2014

Alexis at One Month

Dear Alexis,

How did we get here already? It feels like just yesterday we were bringing you home from the hospital. Now you’re up a size in diapers, and clothes, and mommy is already considering removing the newborn insert from your car seat. Don’t you know you’re supposed to stay a newborn forever?!

goofball
Mommy’s little goofball. Three weeks old and already so expressive!

Daddy and I agree, you are the perfect addition to our family of three. You are an incredibly mellow and patient with us. These days you mostly only cry when your hungry. I can’t tell you how many times Daddy and I have checked in on you when you were supposed to be napping, only to find you wide-eyed and exploring your world. You woke up with nary a peep! On those occasions that you do cry, you generally stop whenever we reposition you or talk to you. It’s like you understand we’re going to feed you, or change you, or fix whatever else it is that is making you unhappy. I hope we never let you down!

mobile
Exploring your world

I have been so amazed with your smiles. You started smiling pretty much as soon as you hit the outside world. We thought it was just gas, or a super strong smile reflex. And at first that’s likely all it was. But little by little it kept feeling like real smiles. You smile at us when we talk to you. You smile when your tired and we start to swaddle you. Even your pediatrician commented about your smiling at your two week appointment. I am convinced that we’ve been seeing real, honest to goodness, happy smiles.

yawn

Your sleep has been typical of someone your age, though you did bless us with an eight hour stretch a few days ago, and I couldn’t be more grateful. You really like sleeping on your side, and keep trying to get there when we put you down on your back. Every once in a while you manage it. Daddy is convinced you are going to be an early roller.

Your big sister adores her “baby necklace”, and you seem to adore her! Nicole has given you a bottle (with help) and loves to pat you and tell you “it’s okay” when you’re fussy. You smile the most for your big sister, more than for Daddy or I. You love to watch her play.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

holidayfamily
The Photo that Almost Wasn’t

Last night was rough. Alexis slept until 2 am, didn’t fall back asleep until 3:30 and was up again at 5:30. I got her back to bed the second time relatively quickly, but alas, once I’m up I’m up, regardless of how little sleep I’ve had. As I lay in bed trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep I kept thinking about how I still didn’t have a family photo and my newborn was quickly approaching her one month mark.

My one goal for today was a family photo.

It was not looking promising that I would achieve my goal when mid morning rolled around. Domingo and I have been averaging only a handful of hours of sleep the past few days, with last night being one of the worst. Nicki, too, was acting like she hadn’t slept in days. Even Alexis seemed extra grumpy. As the morning progressed things went downhill. Nicki started acting out and needed a time out right when Alexis was hysterical for her third feeding in about 90 minutes while Domingo’s discovered his sweater had a hole in it, and I still wasn’t dressed. At least three of us cried at varies points this morning. I’ll leave which three as an exercise to the reader.

Ten minutes later I snapped the above picture, which I think is a testament to how much Nicki loves photo time more than anything else.

It got me thinking about realness. A common complaint of social media and the web in general is that it’s not “real.” Take the photo above as an example. It shows a happy, smiling family. I can (and did!) post it on social media without any reference to the chaos that preceded it. Based on just this picture, one would never know of my mini melt down. Personally, I think the more apt description of social media is not “complete”. The photo is straight out of the camera, unedited. It shows just one moment, albeit the best moment, from this morning.

When we complain that social media is curated, we hold it to a higher standard than we hold our in person interactions. Even in in-person conversations we rarely share the complete picture of our lives. If I bump into someone on the street who asks how Nicole is adjusting to being a big sister I’m far more likely to share the cute story of her insisting “‘baby necklace‘ comes too” when asked if she wanted to play outside than tell the story of her testing boundaries.

Sure, part of the reason I only share the highlights is to present myself and my family in a good light, but the bigger reason is that I share the stories I want to remember. Social media is the steel trap for my memories that my sieve mind would otherwise forget. It’s my highlight reel. Incomplete, yes, but real, and the part of my life I want to remember the most. I will go back over my old photos and post posts when I’m feeling low in need of a smile. It’s a pick me up many of us share.

Some years from now I may have forgotten the grief leading up to this photo, or that it was taken on December 28th, three days after Christmas. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll remember that even the roughest of starts can have happy endings. Either way, I’ll be happy I have it.

Santa's List

I love newborns, and I love Christmas, and I especially love newborns at Christmas. I am running on adrenaline right now, averaging only a few hours of sleep a night yet somehow I finished wrapping the presents, the new glider assembled, and the crib reassembled in advance of the holiday. Now I can sit back and enjoy my favorite Holiday with the girls.

We’re having a low key Christmas this year, after the big family event last year. My parents visited us for almost a month leading up to and after Alexis’ birth, so it really didn’t make sense for them to return for Christmas. My in-laws were going to spend the day with us, but have a little cold, so we opted to celebrate Christmas again with them as soon as they feel better. As fun as it would be for another large family affair, there’s something very special about spending the day with just our new family of four, especially given how tired Domingo and I have been.

Nicole has been very excited about Christmas this year. We were surprised in October when, while walking through Target, Nicole pointed out Santa Clause in the holiday decorations section. On a whim, Domingo asked her if she knew what Santa brought. Without skipping a beat she exclaimed “TOYS!” We’re in trouble.

I made the mistake of putting some presents under the tree a week ago. Nicole wanted to open them right away. We told her she had to wait until Christmas/Santa comes. She went and got her chair, put it down next to the tree and exclaimed “I’ll wait!” She notices when new presents arrive, and even when we put a few more balls up on the tree. She knows which stocking is hers and which is Alexis’, and will happily point them out if you ask.

As much as I have been looking forward to this Christmas as a new family of four, I am really hoping to get back into baking next year. And craft projects. And sleep.

December 22, 2014

Surviving Two

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

Having two small children has simultaneously been easier and harder than I expected.

Nicki has been great with Alexis. She’s been very accepting of her little sister “necklace” (seriously cutest nickname ever!), and also a little intimidated by her. When we first brought Alexis home from the hospital, Nicki was very curious about her and asked lots of questions. She liked saying goodbye/goodnight whenever she’d leave for daycare or go to bed, and showed Alexis her toys. She’ll also talk to Alexis, but she rarely wanted to get close on her own. This past week she’s been getting a little braver, offering hugs and kisses. Last night she insisted that her teddy bear give Alexis a goodnight hug. I’m very grateful Nicole has been adjusting so well.

sisterkisses
Bonding this past weekend.

Alexis, for her part, has been an extremely mellow baby. She cries during diaper changes (although not as often any more), and when she’s hungry. She’s very content to be put down in her bouncy seat or the rock and play. After putting her down I’ve checked in on her only to discover she’s wide eyed, studying the blinds, quiet as a mouse.

Domingo and I got extremely lucky with both girls. I don’t think we could have asked for anything more from either of them.

One of the challenges right now is our living situation. We already felt cramped in our apartment before, but now it feels almost unbearable. There’s no out of the way place for Alexis to sleep where she won’t be woken up by the typical sounds of toddlers playing, and no easy place for me to rock her. Alexis’ crying will also just as easily wake up Nicki, which means we’ve had some rocky nights where it felt like the girls were tag teaming against Domingo and I.

Alexis is currently sleeping in our room, but in a few months will move to the office which will then become her room. Her future room is right next to Nicole’s. If the rocking chair was in her room, we’d have to walk a crying, hungry newborn right past Nicole’s door multiple times per night. We avoided that problem by having the rocking chair in the living room, but then there’s no way to shut the door and have a quite space for trying to get Alexis to nap in the middle of the day. We finally caved and decided to buy a second rocker (a stork craft glider). Pros: it was easy to assemble. Cons: it’s not as nice as our previous rocking chair (which cost 3x as much so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.) Now we have a rocker in both locations. It seems a little over kill to have two rockers, but if I can get even just 30 minutes more sleep a day, it’ll be worth it.

Another life savor has been our toy closet. We keep all manor of special toys there: play-doh, one of those pop up tunnels with towers, a bubble gun, etc. We started keeping these toys separate because they required more adult supervision. The fact that they’re not freely available adds to their appeal, and so they work wonders at keeping Nicki occupied before we had the second rocker.

The last thing that seems to have helped is making sure we have special Mommy/Nicole only time. Last Sunday I made sure to wake up early enough to pump before Nicole. We spent the morning together while Domingo and Alexis slept in, and in the afternoon Nicole and I visited Santa. Before our special day, Nicole was acting out and testing boundaries a little more than usual. Afterwards she was back to her usual well mannered self. I’m sure it will be a balancing act. Nicole has always had a very special bond with Domingo, so she’ll want special daddy time as well. We’re thinking Domingo may take her out to a pancake dinner after daycare someday soon.

The last thing that I think helped was the big sister books, especially this one by Joanna Cole. We’ve been emphasizing all the fun things Nicki can do that Alexis can’t do yet by reciting the verse about the baby being too little. It helps keep a positive spin on things when Alexis needs extra attention.

When I first picked up my camera to take newborn photographs of Nicole, I was convinced I had missed my chance. It was already well passed the golden 10 day mark, and I had never done it before. I was worried I wouldn’t get her to fall asleep, or ball up so nicely in that quintessential newborn pose. As luck would have it, I’d continue to be able to get “newborn” photos all the way up to 6 weeks.

This time around I was determined to start early, so that I could film Alexis in that golden period that photographers rave about. And boy did I start early – at just 3 days old!

Babies change so incredibly fast! I mean, “duh!”, but I didn’t see it before because I wasn’t taking as many photos. This time I have some photos of Alexis in nearly the same pose from different days and I see it!

Alexis at 1 week
One Week

Alexis at 2 weeks
Two Weeks

Look at that head growth! And to think, she started out in the 96th percentile for head size, just like her big sister did.

As fast as they grow, you can still make an older baby look tiny

I couldn’t figure it out with Nicki. I had photos of her as a sleeping “newborn” at 6 weeks were she looked smaller than at 2 weeks.

Perception of size is influenced by relative head size to body size. Newborn heads are about 1/3rd their body. How the head is positioned next to the body can make it seem larger or smaller. In this pose Nicki’s body is turned away from the camera, making her body look smaller relative to her head. When her body is parallel to the camera, it looks the longest, making her appear like an older baby.

Props are also incredibly helpful for size comparisons, especially when shooting against a simplified background.

Just because they’re young, sleepy and flexible doesn’t mean they’ll pose the way you want them to! As much as Alexis likes to have her arms swaddled, she likes to stretch those legs. I have tried time and time again to get her to curl up for a photo. No dice if she’s awake, and even asleep she’ll stretch out those legs and stick her butt up in the air.

While I have yet to get her in my favorite balled up pose, she has rewarded my patience with some incredible expressions. I’m getting so many smiles that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not just the smile reflex or gas, but actual smiles. Crazy talk, I know.

newborngiggles
6 days old going on 3 months?

As much as I’d love to have a balled up baby pose, I do enjoy having different photos of the girls to put on my wall. They are, after all, different people.

Lesson learned: shoot early, shoot often, but don’t sweat it if you miss some days or even a week or two. They are darn cute at any age!

I have often read that the biggest difference between an average photographer and one that can go pro is the ability to critique one’s own work. Once you cross that barrier and can identify the flaws in a photo, you’re one step closer to eliminating them from your work. So in that spirit, I’ve been trying to take a more critical eye with my own photography. I find a few small details can really distinguish the Pros from the Average Joes.

The Eyes

The face, and especially the eyes, need to be visible and clear. If there’s one thing all pros can do it’s a perfectly in focus eye where you easily identify the eye color. This is partially because professionals tend to get in close with the subject, so the eye is bigger in the frame. The biggest factor, however, is proper lighting. Professionals tend to be masters of lighting. They can shoot in natural light, but also often have the right equipment: reflectors, external lighting, diffuses, etc.

pumpkin1
A very determined Nicki at the pumpkin patch
Verdict: Average Joe

The problem here is the direct, bright sunlight from above (it’s early afternoon). Direct sun tends to have harsh shadows. In this case you see a very harsh shadow under the chin, arm, pumpkin skin, and under the brow bridge. Either a flash or a catch light could have helped lesson the shadows and could have brought out the eyes.

Of course, that’s a lot of camera equipment for a simple trip to a pumpkin patch, and my primary philosophy is not let the camera interfere in the activity or Nicki’s fun, least she lose interest in the camera.

pumpkin2
Pensive Nicki with better eye focus.
Verdict: Passable Pro (at least for the eyes)

This one was taken in the shadow of the check out tent, out of the harsh direct sunlight. Nicki’s eyes are more open, which certainly helps. Since the light is more diffused you also don’t get those harsh brow ridge shadows hiding her eyes!

Hands and Feet

Artistic blur is awesome, but blur can also be a sign of improper settings. Many professional photographers like the effects of prime lenses, which often have shallow depth of fields. Background blur, like that caused by a shallow depth of field) is great for emphasizing the subject. Blur can also occur when the subject moves fast enough for the motion to be caught on frame. This is called motion blur.

Sure motion blur can be artistic. Just like with brightness there are times when the rules are meant to be broken. In these cases it’s often obvious that the professional intended to break the rule, by the effect the broken rule has on the photo.

babysmiles
Baby Smiles! What’s with that fist near the bottom of the frame – depth of field issue or motion blur?
Verdict: Average Joe
I have multiple frames thanks to continuous mode shooting, so I can confirm that Alexis is not moving and this is shallow depth of field, however, you cannot tell that from this photograph alone, so it gets a sub par rating for photographer skill.

When looking at photographs of kids I always go to the hands and the feet. Kids always seem to have their limbs in constant motion, even when sitting. If there’s blur in the extremities, I tend to lean towards Average Joe.

babytoes
Adorable baby foot
Verdict: Passable Pro
Sure much of the foot isn’t in focus, but not in a way that can be explained by motion blur. Thus this blur appears intentional.
December 12, 2014

Newborn Hand Prints

How many adults does it take to get hand prints of a newborn?

collectinghandprints
Sorry Alexis, you were born into a crazy crafting, keep sake loving family!

This is not a project for people who prefer not to get messy.

My mom is holding Alexis. We found laying Alexis in my mom’s arm worked the best. It helped keep her calm and my mom could hold her hand out. My dad is holding the binky in her mouth. We’re using the binky primarily as a mouth guard. Just because the finger paint is non-toxic, doesn’t mean it’s good to ingest – especially for one so small! The binky blocks access to the mouth, so if we let go of her hand for a second there’s no way she can inadvertently eat any paint.

My job was to actually get the hand print. As before, I found it easier to bring the paper to the baby, rather than try and maneuver the baby onto the paper. I used a small piece of cardboard to back the paper and keep it from flopping about.

I started by trying to place Alexis’ hand in the finger paint. That was a huge mistake, and made for a huge mess! Newborns like their balled fists. Instead it worked better to get a little paint on my index finger, and rub it around on Alexis’ hand. I was also able to open her fist a little. After a few iterations I got the timing pretty down so I could quickly press the paper against her palm while her fist was still opened.

alexishandprint
Done! (Although still a bit messy…)

Next order of business: Bath Time!

December 8, 2014

Two of a Kind

I still can’t get over how I’m now a mom of two. In some ways they are carbon copies, in others as different as night and day.

comparison
Nicole at 2 weeks old, Alexis at 4 days old

That hair!

At the hospital I saw so much of Nicole in Alexis. Same jet black hair and purposeful, focused gaze. Newborns don’t tend to have either!

Initially Alexis completion seemed so darker than Nicole’s, but both skin tone and hair color seemed to start changing instantly. A few days in and Alexis’ hair is already lightening up, though in certain lighting Alexis’ hair is still the same jet black color as Nicole’s was for months. Her eyes are a shade bluer than Nicki’s but it’s only noticeable in sdie by side comparisons. I expect her complexion to change with time, just as Nicole’s did. Whether it gets darker or lighter is anyone’s guess. Like Nicole, I was born with jet black hair that lightened. Domingo was blond as a child and now sports black hair.

Just like Nicole, Alexis has amazingly good newborn eye sight. Nicole was able to focus on the ceiling fan over the stair case at just a few weeks old. Alexis appears to be able to see things at a distance, but more surprisingly is capable of tracking things with her eyes. This afternoon Domingo was talking to her and she was staring up at him. I walked over and started talking to Domingo. Alexis’ gaze slowly shifted from him to me! I hope this means girls got Domingo’s eyesight, as mine is pretty terrible.

Both kids even needed the same minor procedure for their belly buttons a week after birth, which is supposed to not be hereditary and only needed for 1 in 400 babies.

Two peas from the same pod… err belly, just two years apart.

sisters
Our (most likely) Christmas card photo

Nicole is doing well adjusting to Alexis’ presence. Nicole says goodnight every night to Alexis, and always asks where she is when Alexis is out of eye sight. She has even “helped” change a diaper by sitting by Alexis’ side and telling her it will be okay when Alexis was crying. As tiring as it is chasing after a toddler all day, and trying to coax a newborn back to sleep at night, I will miss this stage when it’s over.

December 4, 2014

Hello Alexis!

alexisbirth
Meeting my little girl

Alexis is here! Like her big sister, she seemed like she was going to stay in my belly forever. Labor started with Nicki just after midnight on the day I was to be induced. I was convinced Alexis would be that way too, but she was even more stubborn. When I arrived for my induction I learned I was contracting every 2 to 5 minutes, they just weren’t strong enough to do anything or for me to feel them. The induction itself took a little longer than expected, given that labor had technically already started. Alexis must have been holding onto the walls.

Domingo and I have now been joking no more kids until we can figure out how to explain to them that it’s not a contest to see who can stay in my belly the longest!

alexissleeping
At the hospital. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I cannot get over how much she looks like her big sister, right down to the same amount of hair.

I can already see a lot of similarities between the two and a lot of differences. Alexis has many of her older sister’s expressions. She’s had some phenomenal sleeping stretches (and some not so great ones.) Unlike her sister, she chooses sleeping over eating, and seems happier in the swaddle so far than Nicole ever did.

The girls had a great first meeting. Nicki kept saying “baby came out!?” while alternating pointing at Alexis and my stomach. We had been telling her for weeks that the baby would come out of my tummy soon, and then when we were going to the doctor to help the baby come out. I don’t think it was real to her until she saw Alexis in person for the first time. We gave Nicole a special Big Sister present, and Nicole enjoyed showing it to Alexis.

Nicole is having troubles pronoucing ‘Alexis’. So far we’ve had a ‘Lex’, ‘Lexus’, and (my personal favorite) ‘Necklace’. I was thinking Alexis’ nickname would be ‘Alex’, but I think ‘Lexi’ is going to win out.