Remembering how to cook

Learn to sleep sitting up. This is not unlike drifting off while flying economy on a transatlantic flight.

Remember to put water in the teapot before turning on the burner.

Remember to brush your teeth before noon.

Remember the color of Henry's soft blond hair and porcelain blue eyes.

Plan all meals around ingredients that promote lactation.

Accept that your life is lived in two to three hour intervals.

Choose sleep, followed by food, in that order.

Begin each day with no expectations.

If I’ve longed for anything this season, it’s stretches of quiet, space for my thoughts, and hot tea under cozy blankets. I'm making good on these desires, for the most part. All year I anticipated my early weeks of maternity leave, and now that I'm in it, am making efforts to embrace each day for what it offers.

Taking care of a little one is simultaneously exactly what I expected and nothing like I expected, and these are my pearls of wisdom from eight weeks of parenting. I hesitate to say we've found a routine, because each day is slightly different than the next, but we have found some semblance of normalcy. With the exception of a streak of three days when I didn't go outside at all (I didn't even know what day it was or what time it was), most days I make an effort to get dressed. I wash my face and put on tinted moisturizer and mascara and brush my hair, and it feels amazing, luxurious even, to open my closet and put on real clothes after spending the entire first two weeks home in the same few pairs of jogging pants.

In these early weeks there have been some tears and aches. I've oversalted beans, forgotten to turn off the stove, stood outside with the wind on my face, telling myself we will be ok, left clothes to become wrinkled in the dryer. I've stopped and started this post several times because Henry woke up from a nap. You never know how much time you'll get. You have to be nimble, ready, open.

I've learned to do things one handed. I've turned from a light sleeper to a heavy sleeper.  

Dinner has become an endeavor I start in the morning and don't finish until Andrew gets home from work. Cooking in small doses is the only way I can manage between the feedings, diaper changes, and taking Emma outside. But we're managing. We've stood in the kitchen eating tacos quickly before Henry wakes up. We've made roast chicken. We've eaten grilled cheese three days in a row.

We've started and finished HBO's The Newsroom. I read back issues of The New Yorker on the couch while nursing. Or browse Instagram. I remind myself constantly that he will never be this small again.

He loves to snuggle. He loves using his limbs. He kicks, he grabs, he lifts his head. I'm planning to enroll him in swimming classes as soon as possible to put his reflexes to good use. He is utterly determined in life. Already this has become apparent.

In the brief hours between feedings and naps, I've been going back to the kitchen. A few years ago, before we decided to start a family, I once feared that when a baby entered our lives I would somehow forget everything I learned about cooking because all my energy would be used to keep a tiny human alive and breathing. I'm happy to report this is not the case. In fact, I've discovered the opposite to be true. I've remembered how to cook, relying on the muscle memory of peeling and chopping and seasoning and putting meals together, gravitating to tried and true staples rather than trying new dishes with questionable outcomes. 

On the topic of feeding, there is both the necessity to feed our baby, and the necessity to feed ourselves. The freezer meals I prepared in September proved useful: Two quarts of black bean chili, jars of tomato sauce, a lasagna. But I've been doing real cooking, too. My favorite minestrone one night, pizza the next, a big salad, arugula pesto melted into a pot of hot penne. A chocolate chip cookie craving struck. Dessert most evenings is popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Or ice cream. Or squares of dark chocolate.

I have discovered an entire food category devoted to promoting lactation. The best foods include whole grains, chickpeas, nutritional yeast, oats, almonds, herbal tea. Then there are variations on lactation cookies, where all the ingredients are combined into an oatmeal-type cookie. If you search Google or Pinterest for lactation cookies, you'll find several recipes that look edible, and many more that do not. So many are promoted as "the best" or "the most amazing," but these are strong declarations. Even after two rounds of experiments I've yet to settle on a recipe I like enough to share here. Maybe one day.

Until then, we press on, sleep deprived but utterly happy. At least we are eating well, that much remains true.