Book buddies in-law

2012 was one of the most formative years in my life – I experienced the sorrow of losing my father and the joy of connecting with the love of my life. When I married my husband the next year, I would be walked down the aisle by my mother, and there would be no father-daughter dance. Though the day was the happiest of my life, Dad’s absence was felt. I had no idea at that point that the man who pronounced us man and wife, my husband’s father, would one day be a dear friend and father to me.

The Hubby and I were long distance until about one month before we married. We met and knew each other’s families, but had not spent significant amounts of time with them. For the first five years of our marriage, we were lucky enough to live just five minutes away from my father-in-law, Verne. Through this proximity and the almost-weekly dinners we would have together, we had a chance to get to know each other pretty well.

One day, while at our house for dinner, Verne eyed my bookshelves and asked to borrow my copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He hadn’t read it before, and felt like he didn’t read enough fiction. This is one of my very favorite books of all time. Probably top ten. I was more than excited to share it with him, and then demand he share every thought and feeling he had about it with me. Maybe if he knew what he was signing up for, he never would have asked, but I considered the whole exchange an invitation to recommend him books until the end of time.

We are both big readers, me more of fiction and Verne more of nonfiction. I happily took up the challenge of finding fiction that he would love. Five years later, and we’ve read about fifteen books together. Books and stories have a way of going to the heart and helping people connect on a deeper level, and that has definitely been true for us. We’ve had so many great conversations about the books we’ve read, and I love when I’m reading a book and start to think, “Verne has to read this.”

We recently had the chance to talk books and reading with Anne Bogel on my favorite podcast, What Should I Read Next? I sneakily submitted an application to be on the show without telling Verne and shared our story and what it’s meant to me. I’m so happy they picked us to be on the show – and not just because it’s been a dream of mine to be on it. The reason is the reaction my father-in-law had when he got a chance to read my submission. I really thought he knew everything I wrote down, but it seems like it was news to him. If we hadn’t been chosen for the show, he would not have read that and may never have known just how much I value our relationship and love sharing books with him. Thank you, Anne, for the opportunity to share.

Anne says books are “a shortcut to talking about the things that really matter in life.” I’m glad my father-in-law and I have been able to take that shortcut and forge a meaningful friendship. At my brother-in-law’s wedding last summer, and I finally got the chance for a father-daughter dance.

I don’t read to my babies.

When Bub was born, I immediately started reading him books of all sorts. I read aloud from my own books while he was nursing. I read board books, novels, and picture books. I’ve read to him almost every day of his life. In his first year, he heard Dr. Seuss, Tolkien, Beatrix Potter, E.B. White, John Klassen, and maybe even a little Jane Austen. One day I pulled out every children’s book we owned and tried reading through them one by one. I read because I loved books. I read because I knew the importance of reading to language development. I read because I knew it was a powerful bonding experience for parent and child. I would spend as much time as possible reading with my baby, and surely would with all my babies!

It’s never too early for The Lord of the Rings.

Fast-forward to baby number two, and I wasn’t. I was still reading to two-year-old Bub lots every day, but reading to Jaybird took a backseat. I had two kids to care for, which made it harder to sit down with a baby and read, what with a toddler running around tackling cats. Being a baby and all, he never brought me books himself like his older brother did, so I often didn’t even think of it. He was a very active, antsy baby. When I did sit down determined to read to him, it never went well. He’d squirm away or grab the book and throw it, or some other gesture of total disinterest.

I felt horrid. I love books. I love reading to my children. I believe in the amazing power of reading aloud to all ages. Here I was, dutifully reading to one child, while another’s reading life was woefully neglected. I worried he’d never love reading like his brother, because I wasn’t making it happen. I worried I was delaying his language development and neglecting and important bonding experience. I worried I was not being a good mom.

Jaybird not cooperating.

Then one day, around fourteen months, he started bringing me books. And then he kept bringing me books. He asked for one book after another, he asked for his favorites again and again. We went through a huge pile of books every day. I might have been annoyed at how much time it was taking if I weren’t so ecstatic that I hadn’t ruined his reading life after all. When Grama would visit, he would monopolize her whole visit with reading. When friends would visit, he would crawl into their laps with a book – even if he’d never met them before. When Dad was getting ready to go in the morning, he would insist one more book. He was a man obsessed, and he still is.

Make a home where books are part of life

A book can’t solve every problem, but it can make anything just a little better. Jaybird picked up on this without any baby reading regimen. He did not need me to force him to sit through books when what he wanted to do was move and explore. He didn’t need me to teach him to love books or feel driven to learn. He needed a home where books were part of life. He needed an environment where books were available whenever he was ready, on shelves he could reach himself. He needed an atmosphere where reading was a delight, not a chore or an item on a developmental checklist. And, of course, he needed parents who were available, so whenever he was ready, he knew he could toddler over with a book and be welcomed with open arms. Babies are always paying attention: environment, atmosphere, and availability go a long way.

Babies love to do what the family does, so when reading is something the family does, babies will join in – when they’re ready. Though baby Jaybird wasn’t sitting down with a book often, books were woven into the fabric of his daily life. He was paying attention, and what he learned is that reading is joyful, loving, and ubiquitous. He saw Mom and Dad reading for their own pleasure, he visited the library, he saw books in every room of his home, he heard countless books as we read aloud to his older brother, he got books for gifts at birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. He got the message – reading is just another part of life, and a pretty good one at that. When he was ready, of course he wanted to join the party.

Changing his tune.

I’m not saying I won’t or don’t ever read to my babies. If your baby loves to read, by all means, READ! But if your baby, like Jaybird and Pantsa-Pantsa after him, squirms away or throws the book across the room, please don’t sweat it. If you aren’t finding time to read (or even remembering to try!) amid the errands, chores, and endless tasks of motherhood, give yourself a break. Give your baby the environment, atmosphere, and availability they need to grow into reading. Your baby is paying attention. When books are valued, your baby will learn to value them too.

Pantsa-Pantsa is just over one year old now. Sometimes she’ll bring me a book, but usually after a page or two she rips it out of my hands and goes about her business. It’s okay. She’s okay. Books are part of her daily life, and she is paying attention.

Happy Belated Bubsday

At the end of December my Bub turned five. It is hard to believe it’s been five years since I became a mother. So hard to believe, in fact, that I put four candles on his birthday cake and even almost bought a number four candle. As you can see on the picture, I corrected the problem, but only because my husband noticed as I was lighting candles. (Also, Bub insisted on having a triangle cake. In the immortal words of Leonard Cohen, “I did my best, it wasn’t much.”)

To be honest, I’ve been afraid of writing this post all year. Age four has been tough. It’s not an easy age for parent or child, even if you don’t add a baby, a very emotional two-year-old, and a mom with PPD to the mix. I was afraid to write this because my relationships with my baby and toddler are so simple, those posts so easy to write. What does it say about me if it’s not as easy to write about Bub?

Benefits of being five? First library card!

But he’s growing up. As he grows, our relationship will grow, too. It will become more complex than it was at one or two. It will go through rough patches, and periods of adjustment. This is okay. It was a tough year, but we got through it. (pro-tip: Motherhood is easier when you’re not depressed. If you think you may have post-partum depression, get help – for you and for your kids.) Reflecting on this not-so-easy year, I’m seeing everything with a fresh perspective and learning some amazing things about my child.

Bub is so thirsty for knowledge. He is curious and inquisitive and wants to know the reason for everything. Or reasons, plural. (Actual conversation – Me: “You can’t go into the street, ever.” Bub: “Why?” Me: “Because a car could hit you and kill you.” Bub: “What’s the other reason?”). I couldn’t ask him to do or stop doing something without hearing, “Why?” This got very frustrating at times, but, I have no doubt that kid is going to learn a lot in his life and he’s going to love the process.

Bub is highly sensitive to his emotional environment. He is so perceptive and keyed in to those around him. Practically, this means if I’m feeling off, he’s feeling off. Of course this is challenging for me, but much more so for him. He’s too young right now to know what to do with all the emotional input he picks up on. It must feel uncomfortable to know intuitively when your mom isn’t at her best – especially when it lasts for a long time. With emotional maturity, this trait will develop kindness and empathy in him, and that is worth some temporary challenges.

Bub never does something just because everyone else is doing it. I can’t tell you how many social situations where I thought, “This would be so much easier if you would just do what the other kids are doing!” He needs to know the why, and “because everyone else is doing it” does not suffice. This may make some awkward parenting moments for me, but I’m proud. I’m making a point of giving a real answer to why, and he responds so well to getting a real, respectful answer – often one I’ve never considered before. It’s amazing how much we just do without ever questioning why. This certainly won’t be a problem for Bub, my little individual who insists on a good reason for everything.

Happy belated blog birthday to my Bub.

So, What Happened to Us?

I suppose it’s rather ominous that my last post was over a year ago and detailed how me and my family were jumping into a brand new life and starting a business with just a few month’s savings. It’s been a busy year and I’m to jump back into blogging, but should probably provide some update on where we’re at first. Bear with me because we’re going to cover a lot of ground very quickly!

Well.

Our estimate of savings needed was correct! Exactly, terrifyingly correct. Just as we were reaching the bottom of our savings, the business hit critical mass thanks to the amazing efforts of my brilliant, hard-working husband. In the past year he’s turned a fledgling solo practice into a sustainable, stable business. And as I always suspected, he’s so much happier working for himself that every sacrifice to get his business rolling was 100% worth it.

Small space, big view

We spent the last year living in a small basement apartment. Despite its flaws the price made our financial goals for the year possible, and it was in an absolutely beautiful location. We were very lucky to enjoy this beautiful view every day for a year, and it made the inconveniences of a tiny apartment much more manageable!

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Bub enjoying our back yard last fall. We were so lucky to live in such a beautiful location!

Did I mention we had a baby?

Meet Jonathan (AKA Kid or Baby J), born in March 2019. He’s been happy, healthy, and HUGE (compared to our first-percentile Bub, at least!). He even started sleeping through the night at two months! (that’s about 18 months faster than our first!) The Bub loves him and has been a wonderful big brother. This, more than anything else, is the reason I’ve been absent from blogging. Moving, starting over in a new town, starting a business, and caring for a toddler was a piece of cake – but add in morning sickness, and it became a bit much.

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Photo credit goes to my amazing doula, Kara Jo Prestrud of Birth Made Beautiful

Where are we now?

We moved to a house in May (renting), and are pretty settled in after a few hiccups (turns out a new baby and a move are a bit hard for a toddler). We’ve been enjoying having a home office for The Husband, a proper kitchen for me, and lots more space for kiddos to roam inside and out!

What’s with the new name?

I’m back and hoping to continue blogging more regularly. I’ll be making a few changes to the blog – still writing a lot about frugality and simple living, but broadening my subject matter to include more on motherhood, books, and other interests. I’ve named it Very Good Mom Blog because I wanted to convey the quality of my work without seeming flashy (also because I love Parks and Rec).

I’m excited to be back!

(I know I covered a lot of BIG things very quickly here! So, if you’re interested in more details on anything or curious about some things I didn’t touch on, please feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!)

A Peaceful December

Saving for our move has made this December a bit different for us. The Husband wrote last weekend about spending less during the holidays and how it’s reduced stress, and I whole-heartedly agree (also in his post, you’ll see an adorable pic of Little Guy with our Christmas tree). Besides the reduced stress, living frugally this holiday season has made Christmas shopping more thoughtful–and thus more enjoyable.

Our gifting budget is smaller than usual, especially for each other (I’m normally ready to spend our entire savings showering The Husband with gifts). Knowing this, we started thinking about gifts really early. We wrote down everyone we would get gifts for and started brainstorming ideas. I followed items on Amazon to await a good deal and checked out used options like Facebook resale groups and Abe Books.

I love giving gifts so I generally just get everything I think someone might enjoy and end up with a heaping heap of disposable novelties. Fun stuff, but with little lasting value. Do you know what it’s like to buy someone a million gifts and still feel it’s not enough? This year, the limited budget and advanced planning forced me to put careful thought into each gift and make sure it was just right. As a result, I feel great about every gift and am so excited to give them. 

I shopped the local baby resale for Little Guy’s gift, an activity cube which is about $60+ new. I lost out to someone quicker several times, but with patience and some haggling I snagged one for $30. It is in like new condition, and Little Guy will never know the difference! I’m bad at hiding so he’s found it several times, but at least I know he likes it! 

With all this forethought, I am actually nearly done with Christmas shopping. I know, I hate me too. Unlike past years, I got there not only early, but also without anxiety and stress. I only went out shopping  twice, and got most everything online. I do not miss my usual last minute shopping frenzy.

The frugalized Christmas shopping experience made the whole process about doing something kind for the people we love, not about consuming. Our focus has been on the people we’re giving to–what they want, what they need, what would put smiles on their faces–not on spending X-amount of dollars, and it has reignited the joy of the season.

(Oh, and another auxiliary benefit of a frugal holiday season? I’m baking ridiculous amounts of homemade cookies! They’re cheaper than holiday-themed Oreos, and baking is a fun Christmas-y activity that doesn’t require going out. Plus firing up the oven warms up the house, which is great since I now keep our thermostat at approximately Siberia° most of the time. WIN-WIN-WIN!)

The Master Plan

I’ve mentioned some “major life goals” that inspired our newfound financial outlook. One of these goals I covered in my first post–my staying home with Little Guy. Now we’re finally in a place to share our Master Plan more broadly, so here you go!

Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have really wanted to be closer to my family and friends in Minnesota. I’ve missed them over the years, obviously, but when I finished working I felt their absence more than ever. We didn’t want Little Guy to grow up without these people and their support, company, and general awesomeness in his everyday life.

At the same time, The Husband has always been ready to practice law on his own. He worked for himself by necessity in the past and did amazing, despite having no experience and being unsure what practice area to focus on. Since starting at his current firm, he has really discovered a great fit in elder law and estate planning. He even writes an awesome Medicaid blog that you should check out!

One day we were talking about our life, and we realized we weren’t quite satisfied with it. Where both of us wanted to be long-term was not where our current life was taking us. We wanted to live our life more deliberately, and really thought about what we wanted out of our future. We devised our Master Plan–move to the Twin Cities area (Wisconsin-side) by July of 2018. There, The Husband will start a solo practice as an estate planning and Medicaid attorney.

What The Husband wants, and what I want for him, is a solo practice of his own. We love the personal and professional freedom this will give him, and the opportunity is ripe right now. Little Guy is a very little guy, so we’re not taking him away from friends or switching schools; our expenses and space needs aren’t much right now, and will only grow as time goes on. The risks are smaller now than they will be at any time in the future, and the payoff for those risks is the life we want.

Because we’ll be plunging into the unknown (and unsalaried), we set a major savings goal: three months’ expenses, moving expenses, and Minnesota bar exam fees in the bank in one year or less. Through constant efforts at frugalizing our lifestyle and getting less stupid about money, we are well on our way to that goal after just three months.

We’re very excited about this (somewhat crazy) dream of ours. And I’m excited to share with all of you the strange and sundry ways we’re making it happen.