On Motherhood & the Impossible, Yet Inevitable, Pursuit of Perfection

I’ve been told many times over the course of my almost-seven-year (I say this with all of the vim and vigor of my six year old telling you she isn’t six, but six-and-a-half) career as a mother, that I am both #momgoals and also a source of ire. I’ve heard from both friends and strangers alike that I am the kind of mom they aspire to be, yet with those aspirations come a certain level of resentment because I embody the ideal of the mother you can never be: fun, seemingly tireless, put-together (ha!) and beautiful, brimming with delicious recipes and creative activities and spontaneous weekend trips and all the things they tell you die with the mundane and tiring aspects of motherhood.

Well, to all the parents- mothers, fathers, and everything in between- out there struggling to make it through another day, plagued with guilt that you aren’t enough, or just trying to find the joy in something you’re expected to love whether it was your plan or not… know this: I do not exist. Or, rather, the part of me that inspires envy or resentment or feelings of inadequacy, does not exist. That person, that version of me, is nothing more than the best parts of you projected onto the side of a building in Times Square. It’s nothing more than a well-timed photo among a Camera Roll of unused outtakes. I’m absolutely certain you have an instagram-worthy gem right this very second and if you don’t, I’d be more than happy to give you a few tips and tricks to help you get one because let me tell you, presenting a perfect life to the masses isn’t a matter of living the right reality; it’s a matter of acquiring the right skillset.

Maybe it’s a sign of my generation to care about social media at all, but I have to admit that I take pride in the fact that everything I post online is authentic to me as a person and the life that I live. Like everyone else, I post the best-looking snapshots of my life- whether out of vanity or the desire to embody a life better than my own, I don’t know. Like everyone else, I want my photo stream to be comprised of artfully captured loveliness. But because I know I have friends and potential friends and strangers who see my (fairly prolific) output and weigh their own value against it, I try really hard to paint a whole image: tantrums, bad behavior reports, and anger over self-administered haircuts among the laughs and kisses and lazy afternoons at the park.

Still, I’ve noticed that my earnest attempts at painting the picture in its entirety have made more than a few people even more uncomfortable than they would’ve been if my feed were nothing but impractical, unattainable images of perfection and I can only guess that’s because of an immense amount of privilege I experience as a person and as a parent. So, this is my attempt to acknowledge that privilege in the hopes that it’ll put all of this in perspective and end this ridiculous battle we all seem to fight in the hopes of perfection.

I’ll spare you the “I’m just like you!” BS in favor of a bit of honesty:

I’m the mom whose kid hurriedly shuffles into the classroom as the bell is ringing, slightly embarrassed because they’re technically late but the teacher is kind so it isn’t held against them. This isn’t because we spent our morning laughing at mommy’s funny faces and assembling adorably quirky outfits. It’s because I am both not a “morning person” and thus, set my alarm too late to begin with, and also someone who struggles with depression that makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, so I waste precious minutes doing the math of how many days I’ve let my kindergartener stay home from school and figuring whether we can afford another “sick day.”

I’m the mom who chaperones every field trip and brings thoughtful crafts and homemade treats to every class party, but could never ever be “room mom” because I’m unreliable and inconsistent, for reasons I haven’t yet ascertained. I show up to every school event with a perfect face of makeup (too much makeup, some would say) and a carefully selected outfit, but it’s all a feeble attempt to feel less out-of-place among the moms who didn’t have their first kid at 22 and don’t have to try to *look* put together because their lives aren’t a millisecond away from crumbling the way I feel mine is everyday.

I’m the mom who cooks five course meals on a daily basis, but doesn’t know what color her kid’s supposed to wear to her kindergarten graduation because I don’t check her weekly folder until the morning before it’s due, hastily signing behavior sheets with a colored pencil I found in the bottom of her backpack as we pull up for drop off. And it’s not because I was busy doing other important things; it’s because I’m a wishy washy person in the general sense.

All of this isn’t to get sympathy for my plight as a mother or to make anyone relate to me more. I am extremely privileged: I chaperone every field trip because I don’t have to work right now. (Make no mistake: we’re broke. But we’re surviving, which is privilege in  and of itself.) I cook five course meals when I should be making two simple meals with the same ingredients to make our money stretch farther (but then how would I feel accomplished?). My daughter goes to an incredible school and my son attends a ridiculously expensive daycare that is already setting him up for a lifetime of elite education. I have the ability to decide what I want to do with my career to choose between fulfillment or more money, and either choice will work out just fine for my family. I am blessed beyond measure.

This is all to say one thing: we are all doing our best, but please don’t for a second think that doing your best means doing what other people would define as “the best,” because that shit doesn’t exist.

Sometimes, your best means getting out of bed and walking your kid into school in your pajamas 45 minutes after the bell rang, riddled with guilt and embarrassment because you don’t even have a good excuse. Sometimes your best means working another series of night shifts that leave you exhausted and feeling guilty because you want to do more with your kid but you just can’t muster the energy. Sometimes your best means taking joy in your child as they flourish because you didn’t even want to be a mom in the first place. Sometimes your best means staying alive to love your baby another day as you struggle with mental health issues.”Best” is subjective, but the cool thing about that is that you get to define what it means. Please don’t ever forget that.

So, keep on keeping on. You’re not the only one who wonders whether you’re good enough. Constant self-doubt and relentless guilt are part and parcel of loving another human more than you love yourself because it’s natural to feel that your best will never be good enough. But please, try to treat yourself as kindly as you’d treat another parent who came to you wondering if they’re doing a good job. Chances are you’re doing a hell of a lot better than you give yourself credit for, and if you ever forget that but find yourself wondering how I manage to do it all, just remember that my kid was probably tardy to school today, but I held my head high as I marched her into school in my paint-splattered pajama pants and knockoff birkenstocks. Hold your head high, too. You’ve got this.

 

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Three Years Too Late: A Totally Unintentional Defense of Kim Kardashian and *That* Picture of Her Next to a Killer Whale

[This was written in late 2013.]

I am heavier now than I was before I gave birth. That’s a pretty common sense statement to make less than two months after giving birth, right? Don’t judge my hyper-awareness. Kim Kardashian had a baby two weeks ago and is already talking about losing 30 pounds in 30 days. I am not making this up. Not that Kim Kardashian is a role model of mine or anything (not by a long shot), but the fact remains that there’s a lot of pressure to lose baby weight in a ridiculously short, unhealthy amount of time. I’m tempted to say that it’s worse the younger you are, but I don’t have anything to back up that statement. I also feel like maybe there’s a little more pressure on me now because this was my second baby and people are so quick to tell you that the weight falls off after a first baby, but the second child is the one that forever alters your body for the worst, irreversibly and unforgivingly

I do, of course, want to get my body back in shape, but I’m also lucky enough to have a partner who doesn’t mind the extra weight on my frame. (He actually seems to like it quite a bit, which still baffles me.) I feel a bit of pressure because I am twenty-four, so by all accounts, this is the time in my life when I’m going to be in the best shape I’ll ever be in. I have to make every day super hot and sexy because if I don’t know, I may never have the chance to ever again. And yet.. There’s this thing about me that I just can’t help: I love food. Like, I love food.I don’t know if it’s a byproduct of growing up in New Orleans, but I have a serious passion for cooking and eating and trying new dishes and new cuisines. This, of course, is a serious hindrance to losing baby weight.

To be completely honest, I’m not focusing much on trying to lose any weight. I’m really not even all that bothered by the number I see when I step on the scale. I just need to tighten everything back up, naturally. It almost seems silly to talk about weight so soon after giving birth, but I think it’s a real issue these days. To use Kim Kardashian as an example again (Don’t fault me. She was the highest profile pregnancy in quite a while and she beat Princess Kate to the punch), she was mocked so much during her pregnancy because she gained weight like you’re supposed to do when you’re sustaining a human life inside your body. Granted, she made some terrible sartorial choices throughout her pregnancy, but still. I think it’s shameful to call negative attention to a woman’s body when she’s pregnant. Kim Kardashian got famous by having sex on camera. She has maintained fame by letting America play voyeur with the most personal aspects of her life. We know her waxing habits down there and witnessed her laughable, surely-for-profit marriage that lasted all of 72 days. I’ve never even watched the show and even I know what her infamous crying face looks life. It seems, and this is purely my judgmental opinion here, that the cornerstone of her “brand” is staying relevant, and her strategy for achieving that is by using sex appeal, so of course she’s wearing skintight, high waisted leather skirts. I believe it’s something she genuinely enjoys, but I also wholeheartedly believe that it’s a shrewd business decision. I’m sure that doesn’t make it sting any less when she sees these ugly things about her at, arguably, one of her most vulnerable times.

funny, unless you've been there.

I suppose it’s funny, unless you’ve been there.

It all plays into the bigger argument about women, though. Women’s rights issues have gotten a lot of media coverage lately, thanks in part to all of the people who want to tell women what they can and can’t do in the work place, the home, and with their bodies. The media’s treatment of Kim Kardashian is just one more way that women are being force-fed a bunch of crap that shames them into being some weird, unrealistic idea of what a woman should be. A magazine cover blasting her weight gain isn’t just anti-woman, it’s dangerous. It’s cruel on a personal level and just plain shitty in the grand scheme of things.

When I was pregnant, John treated me like a goddess. I was creating a life and every pound that I gained was a reflection of that. That’s how it should be. It takes two people to make a baby, but only one of those two people can carry that baby. To do anything to detract from the beauty of that process is just sickening.

And yet, here I am. I don’t like the way my tummy rolls when I sit down. I miss my flat little stomach and long for the days when my biceps were taut and my thighs didn’t jiggle so much. I may be aware of the ridiculousness of people’s expectations when it comes to women’s bodies, before and after pregnancy, but it doesn’t change the fact that I want to have a nice, firm body. At twenty-four, I don’t want to look like I’m a mother of two when I put on a swimsuit. This is what society has done to us. I don’t want to look like a mother of two, which I am, because I’ve been inundated with “perfect post-baby body” slideshows and triumphant tales of celebrities devoting two straight months of their lives to working out for hours a day with trainers who make more money than I probably ever will, while eating restrictive diets prepared by professional chefs working closely with dietitians to restrict the caloric count as much as possible without causing said celebrity to die of malnutrition. The absurdity of it all isn’t lost on me.

 


 

I never finished this post, but just came across it in my drafts and decided to post it now.

 

Dear Black Men,

Despite what you see playing out before your eyes, despite the utter lack of compassion for your life or your humanity, despite the wanton death— relentless, unjustifiable murder— that looms over your head, you are precious and irreplaceable. You are human beings, full of strength and promise, life and hope, beauty and majesty. You are everything.

You comprise a lineage so mighty that in the face of insurmountable odds and enduring effort to suppress and oppress, you not only endure— you flourish. Your very existence is an act of rebellion so profound and impenetrable that it incites terror in the hearts of fragile men. After centuries of calculated attempts to extinguish your light, the only way to keep you down now is to kill you. You are that formidable.

You will never deserve the inhumane treatment the world is (and has been) foisting upon you. Your entirety can never be summed up by a “rap sheet,” nor will you be defined by your final moments. They don’t get to define you. You are not perfect— no one is— but you are as deserving of individuality, opportunity, and life as any one else. Your lives matter. Your deaths matter.

Please don’t let the fear and ignorance of others become a cage for you to beat your head against in rage or fear or defeat. I am scared for each and every one of you— not just my father who is grandfather to my children, brother, grandfather, uncles, cousins, friends, lovers— men and boys alike. I’m terrified of not the if, but the when of another of our brothers being taken from us too soon. My heart is heavy with weight of all the names of men gone too soon, TAKEN too soon.

I wish I knew how to make the world give you the respect you deserve, to see you as I do. I don’t know how to end this senseless depravity, but I do promise you this: I will love you. I will see you. I will celebrate you. I will exalt you. And I will never stop. Unconditionally, radically, and ceaselessly. Because you matter now and always will.

An overload of recent cuteness

So many things have happened to the FNE krewe in the past couple of months.

  • I went back to work at my old job.
  • We started hardcore potty training. Let’s just say there were many days that didn’t include pants.
  • We moved furniture around- big time. The junky front room became a proper living room. The den became a large dining room. The former (tiny) dining room/eat-in kitchen became a temporary catch-all until it becomes a playroom. The catch-all third bedroom caught more stuff.
  • I got a job as a writer.
  • The kids started daycare.
  • I turned 25. (the horror!)
  • I did a large-scale re-arrangement and re-decoration of the living room, complete with fun DIYs (which included an engineer print of Andy Warhol and the Clash and a faux-snakeskin lamp with a custom shade).
  • I decorated the outside of the house for Halloween
  • Elliott turned 3 and had a Princesses & Pirates-themed party to celebrate
  • Grayson turned 6 months old (three days later)
  • It got super cold in Houston

So much stuff to talk about! But since I’m WAAAY overdue for my bedtime, I’ll just leave you with some pictures of all the cuteness that’s been going on.

Sibling portrait

Sibling portrait

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Elliott helping Grayson perfect his dishwashing technique

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Post-bath smiles

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Ready for school

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My mini me and her birthday balloon

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Ellie hanging out in her favorite station in her classroom

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Grayson & my sister, Aunt “Pizza”

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a Pirate and a birthday Princess (and part of Aunt Lysa)

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Ellie and her bodyguards go night night.
(This was earlier tonight.)

For those about to complain about me breastfeeding in public, I salute you: A sarcastic open letter

Are you the kind of person who feels uncomfortable when you see a woman breastfeeding in public? Don’t you wish she’d just go home- where she belongs, AMIRIGHT?- and handle that icky stuff in private like a rational human being? Never mind the hungry, probably wailing baby she has with her. You’re just trying to finish your Big Mac over here and I get that.

Well, I am guilty of breastfeeding in public because I’ve got this crazy idea in my head that when my baby has a need, I should meet it. I’m sure you’re sympathetic to the fact that I’d rather my son not grow up to be a woman hating sociopath because he never felt like his mother cared about him, but also I mean, at what cost? Y’know?

I’m so sorry that you can’t handle knowing that my boobs are exposed under this floral print Eddie Bauer privacy cover that I paid twenty bucks for just in case I needed to hide my shameful milk bags from the innocent gaze of a supposedly mature adult. I know it must be traumatic for you: I’m over here with these big, luscious, fleshy mammaries that you’d typically be more than happy to stare at, but they’re practically bursting at the seams with milk and existing for a purpose other than your sexual enjoyment. This baby gets to pop a nipple in his mouth on demand but you’ve got to stand behind the counter here at Smoothie King with your eyes focused somewhere other than my amazing, massive cleavage or else you’re considered rude. What’s up with that?

Look, I know where you’re coming from. It’s downright un-American for boobs to do anything other than fill out white ribbed tank tops that become see-through when sprayed down with the same hose you use to rinse off your Dodge Challenger right before you coat that bad boy in Turtle Wax and drive on down to the beach for an epic game of ultimate frisbee with your bros. I can appreciate that. Why should I be over here sustaining life in the same public space as you? Perhaps it IS bad etiquette for me to expect a little bit of common courtesy when I just want to discreetly feed my son while carrying him around the zoo in a Baby Bjorn. You’re totally justified in telling me how gross it is.

I also understand how unfair it is that I chose to go and get myself knocked up but then expect special treatment when I need a fifteen minute break at work to pump so I can relieve the excruciating pressure and discomfort when my breasts get engorged with milk. It’s definitely not your problem. If you can’t get fifteen minutes to sit in your car, listen to Nickelback, and smoke a joint, why should I be able to sit somewhere other than a broom closet and kick my feet up, jam my boobs into suction cups, and express milk? It’s just ridiculous.

There are so many compelling arguments about why breastfeeding in public is disgusting, weird, and just plain wrong. In fact, the more I think about it, maybe we should just outlaw breastfeeding altogether. I mean, it’s not like it’s a beneficial, magical practice that provides babies with awesome developmental advantages or anything. It’s not like it’s the most natural thing a mother can do and it definitely isn’t as though it makes it easier for moms to accomplish tasks while out and about that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to leave the house to do. We aren’t talking about something important here; we’re just taking about breastfeeding.

Boobs are for fun, not for food.

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Just shameful.

The Great Foreskin Debate

I’m in a bunch of Facebook groups dedicated to parenting. From cloth diapering to natural parenting and even just parenting in general, the groups are a great place to share funny stories and advice and ask questions and get real life answers from other mamas and just kind of come together to appreciate all of the wonderful and frustrating and rewarding and often comical experiences that go along with being a parent.

Earlier this evening while my older sister Liz and I were on our way to dinner [at Fadi’s. yum!], we got to talking and breastfeeding came up. I admitted that I have judgmental thoughts about women who don’t breastfeed their babies, but I would never want to make someone feel bad about their decision. While I don’t agree with it, every woman has the right to decide what she does for her children (as long as she isn’t harming them) and I do understand that breastfeeding isn’t the easiest thing for everyone. I was lucky enough to have a pretty easy time with it, or rather, as easy a time as you can have with something that leaves you with tugged-on, chapped, achy nipples and leftover stretch marks from your breasts inflating and deflating every few hours. (I went from a B cup to a D cup and back down to an A cup with my first pregnancy. I’m somewhere in the vicinity of a D cup now after my second.) I know it’s a personal decision and that’s why I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel bad about it, though if someone is weighing the pros and cons, I’m happy to deliver my most compelling argument in favor of sharing their precious mommy milk.

That particular conversation made me reflect on one of the groups I’m in on Facebook and a post that has since been deleted. A cloth diapering mama posted a question about having to switch to disposable diapers because her son’s circumcision wasn’t healing properly and she needed to put vaseline on it to keep the skin from fusing together and, as most veteran cloth diapering mamas know, petroleum is not cloth diaper friendly. A few of the responses to the question were very opinionated mamas shaming her for circumcising her son. It was pretty disheartening, not because those mamas were so strongly anti-circumcision, but because the group was supposed to be a safe place for mamas to ask questions and get honest, real life answers from people with experience. It kind of felt like a betrayal of the entire idea of a support group, which is essentially what these groups are. Not all support groups have to be about negative things. I love the idea of a group of women having a forum for their positive and negative experiences. One of my favorite things to talk about is my children and parenting in general. I like listening to other people talk about the way they choose to raise their children and the conscious decisions they make to maintain a certain lifestyle that they believe in. Whether it’s “crunchy” mamas or their “silky” counterparts who take advantage of all the modern-day conveniences that are available to the public, I like to hear their stories because it helps me realize what I feel strongly about and develop the opinions and convictions that shape my own lifestyle and parenting philosophies. How can mamas share freely and honestly when they’re afraid of the backlash of other mamas who don’t agree?

I can understand both sides of the circumcision coin. It is a pretty gruesome procedure when you think about it. You’re electing to have part of your newborn baby’s body sliced and it isn’t a particularly necessary thing to do. You are making a decision on your child’s behalf that is irreversible. In the context of females, circumcision is horrific and, in the United States, illegal.

The arguments on the flip side are just as compelling. The procedure itself is quick and isn’t traumatic. It’s a completely unnecessary flap of skin that will not be missed. It makes personal hygiene much easier for boys and, according to some studies, makes the likelihood of transmitting HIV much lower. Unlike its female counterpart, male circumcision doesn’t effect the quality of sex. And then there’s the religious aspect.

All of these factors played a role in my decision to have my son circumcised. In the end, it came down to a simple comparison. My dad isn’t circumcised and adamantly recommended that I have my son circumcised. My step-dad, who’s Jewish, is and was also on board with my decision. I don’t know a single circumcised man who laments the loss of his foreskin, but I do know a few uncircumcised men who wish their parents had made that decision for them and had it done and saved them the hassel of dealing with it. If my son ends up disappointed because he doesn’t have it, he can make the decision not to have his own sons circumcised and chock my decision up to the inevitable mistakes that parents will make throughout a child’s lifetime. I let my two year old eat mac and cheese even though I know it has artificial coloring in it. I had my son circumcised. I am not a perfect mother.

I guess that’s part of why I felt so strongly about the people who responded by shaming the mama who posted the question. None of us are perfect as parents. No matter what decisions a parent makes, there will always be an argument against it and in favor of something else. There is no such thing as the right answer when it comes to choosing how to parent your child. All we can do is our best to raise happy, healthy children who become positive additions to the world. At least, that’s my two cents.

The DIY that started it all

John asked me to move in with him at IKEA. It probably doesn’t sound very romantic to anyone but me, but we were there picking up a few items that any functioning human being should have in their home which, of course, Bachelor John did not have. I don’t remember if he said he’d ever been there or not.  Possibly not. We were walking around the showroom when he casually mentioned that since my lease was about to expire and I didn’t want to renew at my current apartment, Ellie and I could move in with him– y’know, if we wanted to. To me, this nonchalant suggestion in the midst of all of those reasonably priced, stylish yet functional housewares was aptly romantic. My daughter and I spent a considerable amount of time at his house anyway. He and I were spending pretty much all of our free time together. It was practical and yet romantic because it meant he wanted me around all the time and he was okay with the fact that my daughter was part of the package deal. I was totally okay with waking up to his face every morning.

Glidden “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” from Home Depot something like $25 per gallon

We moved into his three bedroom, two bathroom house. In true bachelor pad fashion, he had the two areas where he did his living burrowed out and the rest of the house was essentially a big storage unit. After clearing out one of the two spare bedrooms, I started setting up a nursery for Ellie, my then-18 month old daughter. I used a color called “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” for the walls that I had used in the living room of my old apartment, which had a bamboo tree in front of the windows that kept the room shaded and made the wall color look like a gorgeous jewel-toned chartreuse. I loved that color so much in my old apartment, but thanks to the big window that let lots of natural light into her new nursery, it looked like a bright banana yellow and drove me insane. It didn’t help that the accent wall I painted that looked like a nice shade of tan while wet in the can dried into the ugliest, weird shade of light brown that I’ve ever seen. Her nursery reminded me of a soft pretzel with mustard on it. The jungle safari-themed decor she had from her last nursery went with it, though, so I just went along with it. (Mainly because I didn’t want to buy paint and start over right after moving in and doing all that.) So, yellow and brown the nursery remained. (Because apparently I’m Yoda now.)

Ellie lived in the yellow and brown nursery for about six months before I decided to redo it. By that time, I was pregnant with her little brother and getting into nesting mode. John and I had decided to combine both kids into one nursery, turn the den into a nice, spacious dining room, and turn the small dining room into a playroom so we could keep the third bedroom for guests and his drum set. That meant that I got to design and decorate these new rooms completely from scratch, which is more than fine with me. I set about making the nursery first. As an avid lover follower of Apartment Therapy, I went there first for inspiration. I love looking at the nurseries and playrooms that readers have shared and found what ended up influencing the direction of our nursery’s decor. I wanted this chest of drawers. I loved contrast of the dark wood and the white, the clean lines, and the way it all looked against the light tan wallpaper. It would be the perfect opportunity to makeover a “Rast” from IKEA. Those things are $35, real pine, and begging to be someone’s next DIY project. They’re so easily customizable that I’m surprised I haven’t hacked one for every room of the house. As it is, I’m already planning to do another in the exact same style so each of the kids can have their own.

So, I bought my “Rast,” a gallon of white paint, and a quart of walnut stain, cleared out space in my garage, and got to work. I painted the outer frame crisp, ultra white. It was a flat paint, which wasn’t the best idea. Whenever I make the second one, I plan on doing them both with a semi-gloss to make it easier to wipe down for the inevitable tiny fingerprints that will end up all over them. I painted the insides of the drawers with orange paint as a little surprise when you open them. I stained the drawers with walnut Minwax, front and back. It was a pretty simple project. I think the most difficult part was waiting for it to dry so I could get it in the room. I was so excited to have a project to work on that brought the room one step closer to being the fun space I had envisioned.

I added bigger wood knobs than the ones that came with it, which I spray painted silver. I’m still not completely in love with the knobs, but I haven’t found anything that I like better. Once the chest had a place in the room, I got so inspired. I really started to figure out exactly how I was going to piece together the nursery and it jumpstarted a ton of projects that I am really proud of. I’ve always liked DIY projects. My mom spent the first five years of her marriage to my pop renovating and decorating the house we moved into, so I grew up watching her roll up her sleeves and create an amazing, well decorated, well loved home on her own. She really instilled that same spirit in me. Having an amazing living space is as simple as figuring out how to make what you want and doing it. The toughest part for me is reigning myself in when I start working on twenty projects at once. I’d love to hear about some reader DIY projects in the comments!