Katie Dohman

Mama Break

I hope you’re settling back into “life-after-holiday-weekend.” If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a little something to read whether you’re soaking in the rays or back to the daily grind. Here are a few recent ones that piqued my interest.

1 / The headline says it all on this one: When Parents have a Favorite Child, via The New York Times

2 / Been on the fence about CIO or other sleep training methods? A new study says you shouldn’t feel guilty about sleep training. via The New York Times

3 / Piggybacking on that sleep training…. New sleep guidelines for kids have been released (as parents either laugh or cry in horror and/or disbelief). Via CBS News.

4 / The Happiness Gap in the U.S. for Parents. Spoiler alert: It involves having a tight-knit village.

5 / We often say we want our kids ot be happy. But sometimes happiness springs from knowing how to rebound from tough or disappointing circumstances. How Kids Learn Resilience, via The Atlantic

6 / Struggling to understand the Terrible Twos or Threes, or Fearsome Fours? The Science Behind Kids and Tantrums, via Fatherly

7 / Not necessarily parenting related, but word nerds will enjoy this discussion of all how different cultures explain different types of “happy.” There maybe should be a word in English for that feeling you get when your baby sleeps through the night, or meets an exciting milestone. The Glossary of Happiness, via the New Yorker.

 

By Katie Dohman // Katie Dohman is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and Blooma mama of Ruby, 3, and Remy, 1. A former style editor, her work has appeared in Minnesota Monthly, the Star Tribune, Experience Life, Midwest Home, and Naturally, Danny Seo, among other publications and works. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @katiedohman

Building a Fort

For months, maybe even years, my husband and I have kicked around the idea of setting up a modern outbuilding in our backyard. A studio or workspace or a sauna. A big garden, a little escape.

But, as we’ve been busy having children, and I was busy for an inordinate amount of months with “morning sickness”—clearly, someone who never experienced morning sickness named that—I was either puking outright and/or completely revolted by the smell of herbs, flowers, or a simple spring breeze, which meant many of those plans fell by the wayside.

Last summer, we had pulled up a gnarled old Charlie-Brown tree that was the unfortunate centerpiece to our front yard. In the back, we broke up a weird old cement slab. My mother-in-law gave us some of her lovingly tended, Jurassic-Park-sized hostas. The foundation was there. In the fall, we planted 200-some coral-colored tulip bulbs along with about 50 multicolor hyacinth bulbs.

When the coral tulips rose out of the ground (we had a daily watch) and the hyacinth cast their hypnotic, heady smell in our front yard, we were completely inspired. (As were some of the passersby, who asked to take photos.) So William dug a new flowerbed opposite the tulips, leading to our front door. We went to town, planting and planting and planting boxwoods and shrub roses, hydrangea bushes and irises, and a beautiful magnolia tree. We transplanted other plants and pulled weeds.

And then my husband lucked across some pallet racking and some beautiful cedar, and he put his design skills to work. Two solid weekends of sweat equity formed the skeleton for a two-story fort. Yeah, you read that right. A modern fort. For the kids.

Ruby knows what it’s for, but Remy, who I think doesn’t, seems to have the same magnetic pull toward it each time we go in the backyard to play.

The beautiful thing is watching Ruby’s wonder as each step is completed, her complete enthusiasm for the process, and the clear case of twitterpation that she has come down with as she watches her dad construct it.

In the last couple of weeks, Ruby’s conversations revolve around such gems as: “Daddy is the hardest working Daddy and the cutest.” Or “Daddy is the strongest Daddy.” Yesterday, as some servicemen were here working on our air conditioner, Ruby asked me: “Can I tell them about the fort Daddy is building in the backyard?” She is also acting out elaborate pretend scenarios, cooking breakfast in the area that will become a little play kitchen and inviting Daddy to have a sleepover in her “second bedroom.”

This weekend, William let Ruby wield a drill and screw some boards together with help. Exhilarated, she said, “I want to do that again and again! And when I get more bigger, I want my own drill just like Daddy’s!”

And she doesn’t even know about the twisty slide yet.

To be honest, I’m not sure who’s more excited about it.

By Katie Dohman // Katie Dohman is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and Blooma mama of Ruby, 3, and Remy, 1. A former style editor, her work has appeared in Minnesota Monthly, the Star Tribune, Experience Life, Midwest Home, and Naturally, Danny Seo, among other publications and works. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @katiedohman

Lessons I Hope My Kids Learn From Prince

I can’t imagine this headline is what most parents were considering back in 1978 when Prince made his debut with “Soft and Wet.” Or maybe even what they envisioned in ’91 when Prince performed at the American Music Awards with yellow brocade buttless pants. Maybe a few just keeled over reading it today.

Loving Prince is like breathing to me. He has been around my entire life, simultaneously mystifying and thrilling me, like millions of others. He was such a fixture in my house that we had Purple Rain on 8-Track AND vinyl. My mom tried so hard to keep me from seeing and listening to things I shouldn't before my time. This is the peril of having teenage kids (my siblings) and a tot (me): Trying to keep your baby from growing up too fast. "No Friday Night Videos!" she'd warn when she left my brother or sister in charge—but it was moth to flame. Tone E. Fly recorded my first radio spot when I called up and asked him to spin “7” for me.

Ruby already knows “Raspberry Beret,” “Purple Rain,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” and “Little Red Corvette” because I sing them to her at naptime and bedtime. “Mama, sing the hat song,” she asks.

Behind some of the lusty, lascivious lyrics and beats were some other moral imperatives that I learned, and that I hope my kids learn, from Minneapolis’s most enigmatic son:

The things that make you different make you awesome and interesting. Nothing in the mainstream handbook about sex appeal or masculinity suggested Prince could become a worldwide sex symbol, but he did it anyway. Warner Brothers didn’t want to release “Kiss” as a single. It became a number-one hit and won Grammy awards. His proprietary musical blend crossed lines and blurred lines and, at least in the case of Purple Rain, created a diamond record. In life as in writing—the more specific and honest you are, the more people can relate.

It’s OK to nurture your mystique. Always leave them wanting more. Prince left his heart wide open in his music and performances, but he didn’t let us inspect his medicine cabinet. We wanted to, but he said no, and he meant it. He also didn’t offer much in the way of explanation. Let ’em wonder a little.

If you love something, pursue it doggedly. Prince didn’t become a guitar virtuoso or lyrical wizard by scrolling Facebook for hours at a crack. “They” say it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at a task. Prince was way beyond that. If you’re serious about a craft, you better get to work.

It might be mainstream to be X, but you can be a superstar if you do Y. Prince stayed in Minneapolis, mostly. He wrote what he wanted. He refused interviews and photo shoots and record-label commandments. He carved his own way. You can be non-traditional, different, unexpected—and still do something interesting or feel fulfilled. It doesn’t mean you are entitled to worldwide fame and fortune. But you can make a big difference, change the way people think, and even disrupt the powers that be for the powers that should be.

When in doubt, wear purple. If you’re feeling it, add lace. Eyeliner. Heels. A motorcycle. I take that back, no motorcycles. Moto jacket is A-OK though.

Work hard, then let it go, and let it speak for itself. If you really want to be a badass, be strict about not letting anyone dictate those terms to you. It might make waves. People might say you’re a jerk. They might say you’re weird. But you will be creating your life’s work—so who should have final authorship?

Living the life of a true creative spirit isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Do it your way. The right people will respond.

Do good works. You don’t have to take credit for it, either. Share what you have. Even if you don’t own the masters to a wildly successful Warner Brothers catalog, you probably have a wealth of other things: knowledge, kindness, time. When you give generously, you will feel filled up. Abundance is limitless. Empower those who need the extra lift that your privilege provides.

When it feels like the apocalypse is coming, get your butt up and dance. All night long, if you have to. Life is a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.

 

By Katie Dohman // Katie Dohman is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and Blooma mama of Ruby, 3, and Remy, 1. A former style editor, her work has appeared in Minnesota Monthly, the Star Tribune, Experience Life, Midwest Home, and Naturally, Danny Seo, among other publications and works. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @katiedohman

Baby Turns One!

How did we get here already? You are one.

When I found out I was pregnant with you—a combination of absolute elation and complete terror—I also thought, “I got this.”

But it is the role of a baby to flip expectations on their heads, isn’t it?

My pregnancy with you almost broke me. Every day I would think, OK OK, tomorrow will be the day I won’t puke. This has to get better soon.

Spoiler alert: It never did. You made me work really hard for you. Such was the prodigiousness of the morning sickness that Ruby used to announce, “I’m Mama!” and then put her face over the toilet, making retching sounds. I had volcanic heartburn. Sciatic pain sometimes rendered me completely incapacitated in the midst of my repeated march between the bathroom and the bed.

The only thing that sounded remotely appetizing were spicy chicken sandwiches from Wendy’s. Baby, that is all I fed you for a good few weeks, and every night I would say to William, “You know what we should have for dinner? Buffalo chicken!” like it was a brand-new idea. Seriously, though, I think Wendy’s may have sustained me when the winter was long and dark and I would drive the icy freeway to my midwife. St. Wendy was right on the way.

And then after a brief bedrest, you announced your arrival, one sharp contraction after another, very quickly and urgently—and this reaffirms my stance that babies arrive in the way of their personalities. Though I’d been through this before, still I thought, like a big dummy, This is probably not really happening right now.

But it was. Thank god for my mom, because when I called her to casually mention that maybe I was in labor and it might be time for Ruby to go to Susie’s but maybe we didn’t have time to wait for Susie, but I didn’t think I could really be in labor, oh hang on a second, this really hurts, she interrupted my stream of thoughts and firmly said/yelled: “KATIE! Hang up the phone, bring Ruby up here, and get to the hospital,” in the way only a mom can. Otherwise you may have come into this world on my bedroom floor. We left our Thai food waiting for us on a restaurant counter, and I begged your dad to please drive faster because laboring is bad enough, but laboring in a moving car is whole other level of torture.

My sweet, you arrived 45 minutes after we got to the hospital. I felt like I wasn’t going to make it even to check in, that you might arrive in the parking lot. But we made it inside, and suddenly, you were there, in my arms, just the most beautiful newborn I have ever laid eyes on (sorry, Ruby, you were beautiful, too). You have porcelain skin—look, I’m sorry, I tried, I married an olive-skinned guy— and the halo of dark hair you were born with turned sandy blonde. Your eyes started out the deepest ocean blue, mysterious in their depths, but have since marbled into green, gold, and brown, like your daddy’s.

You smiled in your fourth week Earthside, while I sang “At Last” with Pandora and Etta James as I folded laundry with you in the Rock and Play. On subsequent serenades, you would smile so wide it was almost as though your face would crack, and tears pooled in your eyes. You have just one cartoony itty-bitty tooth at 12 months and I am in no hurry for the rest, even though I can see them coming—in fact, your own pediatrician told me to give up on sleep for a while because this is going to be a wild ride. Good thing you have already given me so much practice in the no-sleep realm, right? Please for the love of all that’s good and holy, would you sleep already?

You are one of the great loves of my life, dumpling, even though you have pushed me to the absolute brink of sanity—by which I mean I could actually envision myself hanging on the cliff by my fingernails some days—with your tenacious preference for me. I mean sometimes I cannot even look in a different direction, or you primal scream as though I am ripping you limb from limb.

But you run to me in your uneven, unpredictable gait and when I scoop you into my arms, you press your cheek to mine, sometimes turning my face with your hands to yours, to better give me a good, long kiss on the mouth.

Rem, I worried about how I could replicate the intensity of the love I feel for Ruby. But like so many experienced parents promised me, I took one look at you and even if I didn’t fully know you yet, it still felt like you were always meant to be here. As time has worn on, the initial jolt of love and surprise I felt coalesced into intense devotion.

Remy James, you have pushed me beyond what I thought were my parental limits. I have never felt so tired. I have moments where I feel like my life isn’t my own. I have “eyebrow frowns, “ as Ruby says, and I have discovered more than a few white hairs. But then I have coffee with a friend, or tap out a story in the office while your dad takes over, and I think to myself: “I wonder what my teddy bear is doing right now?”

That’s some magic, baby.


By Katie Dohman // Katie Dohman is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and Blooma mama of Ruby, 3, and Remy, 1. A former style editor, her work has appeared in Minnesota Monthly, the Star Tribune, Experience Life, Midwest Home, and Naturally, Danny Seo, among other publications and works. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @katiedohman

Twosday: Three

Ruby Susanne, it is the week of your birthday. You are three. Your hair is a perfectly highlighted blonde with no discernible part, which make your hairstyles wild and unpredictable. Your eyes are wide, deep cerulean seas, framed by the darkest, thickest lashes. You are a long-lean-string-bean with skin as porcelain as your mama’s—“I have tender little skin,” you say. But that’s not all, of course. The electricity in your brain is practically visible as a corona around your head as you learn and practice new skills—jigsaw puzzles are your new favorite and you are shockingly adept at them—and your heart has been forged to a high-polish gold, from your fiery and passionate personality.

You are bold and unafraid in ways I couldn’t have conceived of when I was a child. I was scared of everything. Not you. You confidently stride up to kids at the park or library and introduce yourself and ask them to play. You can be shy with adults but warm up eventually and share your colorful world with them, too. You are a mix of spicy and sweet, my favorite combination.

Darling, you are everything I dreamed of, and then some. You recite from heart all of your books, plus any of the library books we have in rotation at our house. You love to help bake or cook, or have tickle fights after dinner. You love to inhabit the worlds of Tumble Leaf and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and you love to pretend that you are Ryder from Paw Patrol and I am SuperWhy. You tell your dad and I once when we ask why few girls inhabit your imaginary world: “I love boys because they can be awfully fun!” You are not afraid to ever say you can save the day. You told your dad the other day that every girl needs tools, and that you can fix stuff.

At night, after you are supposed to be asleep, you stand in your crib and talk to your animals by the light of your Twilight Turtle. The other night your dad reminded you that it was time to lie down and close your eyes and go to sleep. “Sometimes I have to talk about it,” you responded. And how could we argue with that? You are already therapy-ing your way through life, laying out all the ways in which we have told you no during the day, but also hitting some of high notes, and explaining your way through big concepts that you are struggling to understand. (A recent favorite: “It’s hard to wait, when you are waiting for morning.” Truth, girlfriend.) It’s a fascinating look inside your brain as I strain to hear you while I am rocking your brother to sleep in the other room.

Speaking of your brother: He is 19 pounds of delicious, sweet, juicy baby, and on that we agree. Thank God. He is made of Velcro and is glommed on to me at all hours if he has his way, which means that sometimes you have to be extra independent or extra understanding that you have to share me. You rise to the occasion, mostly magnanimously, certainly far more than I think can be asked of a 2-now-3-year-old.

You rose to the occasion of becoming a big sister so dang beautifully that sometimes it makes me weep. You hand your brother toys and Puffs. You sing to him when he cries, an off-tune, off-kilter rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle” that brings down the house. One day without prompting, you wrap your arm about his shoulders and say, “Remy, I’m going to keep you forev-oh.” You hug him so hard you grit your teeth. You don’t pronounce your Rs or Ls , but much of your toddler talk has evaporated into the ether.

In fact, the other day you asked me to arrange Cooey, your favorite doll, which you named, underneath your shirt. You stepped back and admired the belly, rubbing it, then getting up on the couch next to me and crossing your legs, hiding a shy smile.

“Mama, I have to talk to you about something. I am growing a baby in my belly and you are going to be a big sister soon. I have a book you can read about it,” she says. I struggle to keep a straight face and play along. I feel like I see you imitating me and also being 30-year-old you, all at once. I wish that you can always come to me, sit down on the couch, and tell me what is in your heart.

The passage of time makes me ache. I tearfully pack all your too-small clothes every time we need to sort them out of your dresser drawers, even though I know that each stage of your life has brought me immeasurable joy. You can put on your boots and feed the dogs their dinners and wipe off the coffee table when you spill. And yet, you will still sometimes fall asleep in my arms, on my lap, in the rocking chair at naptime. I take a photo each time you do, because I wonder if it will be the last time you want to do that with me.

Ruby, it is my greatest hope that no one ever dims your light, dulls your sparkle, makes you doubt yourself. You are capable already of so much. I see so much of your dad in you—problem solver, industrious worker, fed by some unending spring of energy that actually makes you hop in place all day long, always thinking and thoughtful. It has been a delight to see parts of me, too. But to see you come into your own personality—you are not me, or your dad, and I never get that confused—has been a thrill and a privilege.

You came flying into life, confident in many ways and independent and loving, and helped me realize so many things about myself—primarily, how much I loved being your mom. That’s why January 17 is your birthday, but I’m the one who got the greatest gift. Happy three, my baby-baby.

Twosday: Resolutions

Last year, I had one word for my New Year’s resolution: Survive. I was can't-tie-shoes pregnant with Remy. By February, I was on bedrest. With a toddler. Both my husband and I run our own businesses, so we had those to attend to. Ruby was in for a big shock—that baby we’d been talking so much about? He didn’t go “back to his home” in March, when he arrived Earthside. He stayed.

When I think about life a year ago, it’s like an alternate reality.

Now I look around and I have a nearly three-year-old who can recite the words in her library books after the second or third reading. She is looking less and less like a baby every day, stretching out, exploding with skills. I have a nine-month-old who went from being a blinky, cuddly little blob to a long-and-lean mover and shaker—from rolling over to sitting up to pulling himself to standing in what was perhaps a week’s time. He loves his sister, biting my face, and trying new food, as evidenced by his purposeful use of the sign “more.”

Last year kicked my butt. Going from one to two is…exponential, not double. Delicious, but also all-consuming.

There are glimmers that some of the life I had cobbled together before Remy’s birth are re-emerging. The day after Christmas—and that was SOME input for my noise-averse son—he woke at his usual time, then fell back asleep in my arms. My husband tiptoed out of bed, retrieved Ruby, made espresso downstairs, and tiptoed back up, leaving a steaming coffee on my nightstand. Talk about love. It was the first thing I saw when Rem and I re-woke, at 10:30. The kids played together on the living room floor while I drank it and listened to my new Johnny Cash record.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s basically nothing I love more than tiny babies. But there was something so incredible about those minutes, watching my two babies build their friendship, worshipful Remy at his sweet sister’s feet, game for anything she’d allow him to participate in, while I enjoyed my country and caffeination on the couch.

It made me think: What’s this year’s resolution? I’m still not quite sure I’ve nailed it. But I do know that whatever it is, I want to be present every day. Mindful. Grounded. (A little organization wouldn’t hurt, either.) I want to write more, because memories get hazy, or completely discarded so quickly—baby brain is real and it’s even worse the second time around, people—and I don’t want to forget anything.

I want to lead this merry band of babies into a year of love, patience, and peace. Make sure this home is a sane, safe, sweet corner of the planet.