Beach Bods, Mom Bods, and a New Motivation to Work Out


The last time I exercised for more than two days in a row was when I was a young teenager. I discovered that if I followed my mom’s Pilates DVD every day, I got rock hard abs — and that was incredibly motivating to me. Abs. And watching the numbers go down from 115 on the bathroom scale.

That’s what exercise was for, right? Dropping pounds and sculpting muscles for that bikini bod. Even as a skinny girl with no need to lose weight, even as a frumpy girl with shirts too baggy to reveal any abs, sculpted or otherwise, I’d internalized the way women talk about exercise: It’s about being attractive.

Pinterest is flooded with exercises that target chicken wings, cellulite, love handles, even double chins. Workout DVDs feature defined abs in bikinis and sports bras, with full-faces of perfect hair and make-up. It’s almost as if being healthy is secondary to looking attractive — attractive to beachgoers, attractive to wedding-goers, attractive to our significant others, and if we really want to be progressive, attractive to ourselves. Look great, feel great!

It’s not like I’m some paragon of feminist virtue in this regard. I did Pilates for the abs. I contemplated a bridal bootcamp in the months preceding my wedding. I looked up those cellulite-begone workouts. The only difference between me and the women who do them is not a valiant stand against the sexification of women’s workouts…it’s just laziness.

Laziness prompted by the fact that, frankly, if it’s a choice between being active and sexy versus lounging on the couch and being just average, I’d choose the latter. Plus, I was already skinny.

I had zero motivation to be sexy or skinnier, so I had zero motivation to exercise.

Then I became pregnant.

When I hit my third trimester of pregnancy, I learned that fit women generally have easier, faster, and earlier births. Sign. Me. Up. I stopped bemoaning my existence as a beached whale and started doing some YouTube pregnancy workouts. (This is my favorite series!)

You know how the instructors always call out dorky encouragement? Like, “How are you doing at home? You’re looking great!” (usually when I’m collapsed on the couch too winded to answer). Or, mostly, “We’re working on the sexy abs! We’re getting your beach body in shape!” And you know how every cardio workout is subtitled something about burning or melting or destroying calories?

Not in pregnancy workouts.

When you’re pregnant, you don’t have abs, or a beach body (unless beached whales count). You don’t have the energy to care how your glutes look in your jeans because the only jeans you wear are a hand-me-down, belly-band maternity pair a half size too big. In fact, you don’t really care how your body looks because you’re too busy complaining about how crappy your body feels.

And nobody cares about fat in the third trimester. You carry a baby around long enough, you deserve to indulge every single carb-loaded craving that comes your way. You deserve it.

In pregnancy workouts, the painfully chipper instructor doesn’t make beach body references or fat-burning comments. She talks about strength for birthing your baby or sculpting your biceps for lifting infant car seats. She praises you for doing something good for your body. She asks you to connect with your baby in utero as you breathe.

You come away feeling like your body can do anything — birth a baby, do a squat, get through this next set without fainting. It’s empowering. You come away thinking that your body is meant to do something, not just look pretty.

For the first time in my life, I felt motivated to work out, because the motivation was actually motivational. I wanted to be strong enough to lug around the infant carrier. I wanted to be fit enough to birth a baby in record time. I wanted to maintain that connection to my body — a body that wasn’t meant to be sexy so much as to be functional.

And then I gave birth. It wasn’t a spiritual, goddess-like experience that left me in awe at my body’s capabilities. It mostly just hurt like no pain I’d ever experienced, and the postpartum recovery has me too traumatized to ever want another biological baby.

But, the minute I could walk straight without my pelvic floor threatening to split open — that’s when the goddess, girl power awesomeness kicked in. It felt amazing to move — to bellyflop on the bed, to walk without pain, to kneel, to bend, to run (since when did I ever feel joy about running?). Being deprived of basic motor function gave me a new appreciation for abilities as small as tying my shoes. This postpartum period felt like a second chance at life.

I signed up for a YMCA membership and now go to classes five times a week, first thing after work. Instead of focusing on the postpartum belly flab still jiggling over my jeans’ waistline, I’m tapping into the strength, competency, and beauty of my body’s unimpaired motion.

Each day, I feel myself getting stronger and more functional — just like a woman’s body should be.


When the Grinch Steals Christmas


Over at my apartment, it feels like the Grinch stole Christmas. Until today, just eight days before Christmas, there wasn’t a Christmas decoration in sight.

The banner over our window still read, “Happy Fall,” with a couple inches of snow clearly visible behind it. The Christmas cards were shuffled under some bills, old pay stubs, and coupons for Maternity Motherhood nursing bras.

There was one plate of just a few cut-out sugar cookies, stacked on top of a Tupperware full of unfrosted cookies, and if you looked in our fridge, you’d find baggies of colored frosting left over from a week ago when we invited my sister to decorate cookies with us. We got a late start with the cookies, and then her baby got cranky for bedtime, and she left, and with her went all motivation to finish frosting the rest of the cookies. I don’t know what I was thinking — I’ve always hated decorating cut-out cookies.

I’m also bad at decorating in general. I said there wasn’t a Christmas decoration in sight, but that’s not entirely true. Every Christmasy thing we owned has been spread out over our table for weeks. Even though I had plenty time during the day, puttering around waiting for my baby to be born, I avoided it.

I was so much more prepared for Christmas this year than last. Joanna Gaines had come out with an inspirational holiday collection at Target. I had been pinning Christmas ideas since the summer. I had read the Christmas editions of both Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.

And then the thought of making decisions and things not looking right and me botching Christmas again…the only warm and fuzzy feeling I got at the thought of Christmas decorating was intense anxiety.

The Grinch is wrong, by the way. The true meaning of Christmas exists without presents and Who Hash, but what is Christmas without the traditions surrounding it? I’ll tell you what — just an ordinary day of reflection on family and togetherness and Jesus. All good, don’t get me wrong. But not Christmas.

Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had much luck with igniting the Christmas spirit on my own. Our first married Christmas, I thought it was simply a matter of meshing my husband’s and my favorite traditions and making them “ours.” That bombed the second we squabbled over when to open stockings — on St. Nick’s Day all the way in the beginning of December (wrong), or on Christmas morning (right).

“It wouldn’t be Christmas to me if we opened stockings at any other time than Christmas morning,” I pleaded. “That’s my favorite part of Christmas.”

Of course, opening stockings on St. Nick’s Day was one of his favorite parts of Christmas, too, and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without that.

I don’t know why we bothered arguing about it. It was a moot discussion, because Santa doesn’t visit anyone who lives without their parents.

We tried migrating over other family traditions — the Advent wreath, the canon of Christmas songs and movies, the driving around town in our pjs sipping chocolate shakes and looking at lights. Those never caught on, because I discovered something I’d never realized before as a kid — it’s not half as fun to be the adult in the situation, the one who has to hunt down those elusive purple candles at Michael’s, who has to go out and rent all the movies and CDs, who must Google the route around town and justify spending money on shakes.

And it’s no fun trying to be the sole motivation for all these things without an energetic younger sibling to support you. I learned that the hard way when I’d planned an entire St. Nick’s Day celebration only to hear the words, “I’m really tired and just want to go to bed” from my husband. It was 7:30. Party pooper.

Adrift in a Christmas season without any traditions of my own — that’s how I felt. And no matter how many nostalgic feelings I felt about Christmas, no matter how many times I scrolled through my Christmas Pinterest boards, I just couldn’t seem to make those traditions happen.

Then I realized I was doing it again — that thing I do as a young adult, trying to recreate something that no longer exists. I can never go back to being a little girl whose primary job in the kitchen is eating the cookies, not making them. I can never go back to being the recipient of Santa’s generosity, not the jolly old fellow himself. I can never go back to not being in charge of the budget or responsible for planning the day’s events or making the Christmas magic happen. Christmas wasn’t going to feel the same, because it, frankly, wasn’t the same.

Even when I go home for Christmas, it’s not the same. Someone’s always missing, off fulfilling their holiday obligations with their significant other’s family. There’s only one kid unjaded enough to get excited about Christmas cookies and decorating the tree. Some of the family traditions have stopped completely due to all the adolescent inertia in a house full of teenagers.

Christmas couldn’t be found there, either.

But the Grinch hadn’t stolen it completely.

Sure, we didn’t watch any of the holiday movies our families watched, and we didn’t get the tree up until eight days before Christmas, and we don’t have access to my dad’s complete collection of Mannheim Steamroller CDs, and, realistically, we probably won’t do a fraction of the things I wanted to do. And yeah, decorating sugar cookies doesn’t get me in the mood for Christmas anymore.

But we don’t have to do those things for it to be Christmas, and those old traditions don’t have to work magic in the way they used to. We’re our own little family, our own persons, and Christmas comes to life in different ways now.

That’s where all the anxiety and frustration was coming from — I wasn’t okay with that, with growing up, and accepting that things are different, so Christmas will be different too.

The Grinch didn’t return many of the old traditions that growing up stole — but their absence inspired some new ones. And when I look back at this Christmas season, I’m satisfied. I’m happy. I’m in the Christmas spirit — even if it’s eight days before Christmas and we only just decorate our home.

We spent a frosty day picking and cutting down our way-too-tall Christmas tree, sharing a kiss under the mistletoe at the owner’s bequest, and drinking hot cocoa with my brother-in-law who works on the tree farm.

We light two candles at every shared meal pretending that they’re Advent candles, since, after all, there were only two Sundays in Advent left by the time we set them up. We didn’t do any of the accompanying readings or prayers or songs, but there’s always next year.

My church gives us plenty of opportunities to sing Christmas carols, both in and out of service, and I love communal caroling.

I play Spotify Christmas playlists as background noise.

I sang through Handel’s Messiah — all of it — because that’s my favorite Christmas music of all. And maybe I’ll start over and sing the alto parts now.

What’s to stop me from eating the raw cookie dough and frosting left over from our failed cookie decorating endeavors?

But my very, very favorite — we read A Christmas Carol out loud. Next up is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and, of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I hope that’s a tradition that carries on forever. But even if it doesn’t, in some other season of grown up life, I know there’s something else out there that can make Christmas feel exactly like Christmas is supposed to be.

Wives, Thank You Notes Aren’t Your Responsibility


Before I got married, I watched newlyweds struggle to send out thank you notes for every pillow and pot and pan set they received. The bridal shower occurs smack dab during wedding planning, so those notes get shoved back. Then the wedding occurs, then the honeymoon, then moving, starting that new job, processing marriage, and hunting down your car paperwork (since of course your car fell apart somewhere amid all of that). You find the paperwork in a stack of junk mail and lists of people you need to thank. All fifty to three hundred of them.

Next weekend, you say. And then the next. And some of them happen, some of them don’t, until you’re so flustered and your hand is so cramped and you start questioning the whole stupid concept of etiquette and forget about thank you notes until your second anniversary.

Before I had a baby, I watched the same thing happen — the distraction, the frustration, the exhaustion, the defeat. And by that point, the baby is born and nothing gets done until you retire.

There’s one common thread to these sad tales — wives get stuck doing all the thank you notes.

It might be because wives generally get stuck with social obligations. It might be because women get thrown the bridal showers and baby showers while the husband- and dad-to-be stays home. Those are all things I think we should challenge (desperately), but in the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty tip to get all the thank you notes done without burn out:

Wives, don’t write all the thank you notes.

Erich and I split up wedding thank yous — he responded to his family and friends, and I responded to mine. That proved especially helpful because I had no idea who Aunt and Uncle Unpronounceable Polish Name were, and they had no idea who I was — and there were lots of aunts and uncles with unpronounceable Polish names on his side of the family. There were also people who neither of us knew.

I’m not sure how that happened.

Even more importantly than splitting up thank you note writing, we split up the mental load of thank you note writing. That is, I made it clear that this was not my task that I was delegating to him. This was his task that he was solely responsible for thinking about and completing. I would not remind him, nag him, or deal with the fallout if relatives started asking where their thank you notes were — just as he was not responsible for reminding me to complete my thank you notes, even if it took me months (or a year…) to complete them.

I cannot tell you how much of a relief that was — to not feel obligated to nag. Because that’s where nagging comes from, right? The feeling that it’s ultimately your responsibility and your reputation that takes a hit, so you must badger your husband to do it your way, in your time, instead of letting go of everything — the method, the time frame, the responsibility, the consequences.

Whenever anyone asked how thank you notes were coming, it felt amazing to simply say, “Oh, Erich’s in charge of the rest of them — ask him” — instead of throwing him under the bus to deflect from my embarrassment.

This makes for a much happier marriage.

Now that baby gifts and Christmas gifts are rolling in, I’m planning on revisiting this simple tip — he writes the notes for his family and friends, I write the notes for my family and friends. Of course, his family is now my family and vice versa, and I have more time on my hands than he does since I work part-time, so that changes things more than when we both worked full-time and hardly knew each other’s families.

But if the thank you notes get overwhelming, I’m not going to hesitate to pull in my husband. After all, expressing gratitude for gifts given to both of you is not a wife’s sole responsibility.

A Newsletter of Sorts

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Well, hey. I just wanted to cave into the boring trend of explaining long blog hiatuses.

What happened was, three weeks of illness, long work hours, and the third trimester.

In other words, I did not think any coherent thoughts during the past month. Zero. I just cried randomly.

I’ve begun thinking coherent thoughts again, thoughts like, “I only have a few weeks left before my self study course is due” and “I need to finish the baby registry” and “Shoot, I’ve got to sew that crib sheet before my sister takes her sewing machine away from me.”

And lots of great blog content, too, actually, but I’m in that intellectual funk where I can talk to myself in car about it all day long but go blank when I try to write about it. You know what I mean? It’s not writers’ block; I just need lots of mental bandwidth before I can write well, before I get just the right angle that captures exactly what I want to say.

Until then, you get these little updates:

30 Rock is the best, funniest, only comedy I’ve wanted to watch in its entirety. Like all good things, it got booted off Netflix and forced me to stay one step ahead of my bingewatching by ordering it from a neighboring library. Which leads me to this existential crisis: If Netflix never has anything good, and I can get everything I want for free from the library, why am I still paying money for this? Great question, Bailey.

Nesting is an actual thing, and it’s happening in bizarre ways. Remember me, the girl who hates homemaking? I don’t know where she went. Whenever I get upset at odd hours of the night, I’m up and scrubbing dishes, vacuuming, and picking Kleenex and empty pizza boxes off the floor. I’ve currently got three different projects started — repainting the changing table, sewing a crib sheet, and sewing a lovey. And my Pinterest boards are exploding with more projects I plan to do before Baby Stegersaurus comes.

Lesson planning is my absolute favorite. I am obsessed with creating unit studies, setting up invitations to play, and reading preschool book reviews. I spent a whole weekend mapping out homeschool plans for my child’s early elementary years (because I’d already had his tot school and preschool lesson plans made months beforehand, duh). Hand in hand with that, I can’t stop reading Reggio Emilia-based blogs like An Everyday Story and The Imagination Tree.

I got into mommy Facebook groups. They are the best and the worst. Mostly the worst right now, because I have yet to desperately need support at 4 AM. There’s one mommy group that spends most of its time responding in GIFs to stupid questions. There’s another with drama queens who believe the world’s problems mostly stem from scheduled bedtimes (personally, I’m sitting here more worried about the impact of their inability to follow basic grammar and logic). Moms preface their behavior questions with, “And he doesn’t get any sugar, dyes, vaccines, or television, so I know that’s not the problem.” Nobody seems to be able to find common ground with moms who don’t agree with every tiny parenting decision she makes. And everyone’s child seems to have a sensory disorder, be autistic, or have ADHD, ADD, ODD, or other heretofore unknown combinations of letters. Oh, and everything my mom ever fed, gave, or applied to me causes cancer.

I can’t believe it took me this long to hop onto the Brené Brown bandwagon. Despite my sluggish reading of late, I breezed through her latest, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone — which was not only a fabulous book itself but addressed everything I’ve been thinking about lately. (Check out my Goodreads page if you’re curious about what books I think I’m going to be able to read before the baby comes.)

And finally, pregnancy. I am 30 weeks along. Baby is doing fabulous; mama, not so much. I dislike being pregnant. A lot. Being the more cerebral type, I’ve always wondered what to do with my physical existence, but I haven’t encountered the sort of mind/body struggle you experience in pregnancy. I cry daily over some new or rediscovered limitation my body imposes on me — I feel incapable as a teacher because I can’t pick up crying children begging for “up” or remove three children vying for a spot in my limited lap space or pick up and redirect a naughty child, because I can’t move or breathe like a normal person. It’s a herculean effort to change sleeping positions — or worse, haul myself out of bed. (Erich is now used to me yelling for assistance or using his body as leverage.) Singing in the choir, my beloved, beloved hobby, has become a struggle due to sciatic pain or passing out cold due to anemia, less lung capacity, low blood sugar, or all the above. Everything physical is a struggle of some sort.

And none of my clothes fit.

But. I am thrilled to be a mom. Yes, we’ve had some stern talks, my son and I, about not going over the due date or jabbing me in the bladder. But I am so excited to meet him, pregnancy woes notwithstanding. I feel so close to him already, what with reading books and singing lullabies and referring to him by name. Erich and I finally agreed on a beautiful medieval German name that sounds modern and means, roughly translated, “your parents really can compromise!” I can’t wait to share it with you all once little Stegersaurus makes his appearance!

I’m looking forward to having more time and energy in a couple weeks to write. In the meantime, let me know what you’re up to!

Literary-Themed Nurseries

I took a break from learning about child development and racism in America this weekend to finalize my plans for our baby’s nursery.

We’ve made great progress! So far, we’ve got a crib, a bare rocking chair, a rickety changing table in need of refinishing, limited space, piles of extra junk, and a Pinterest board.

Because we’re bookworms, we decided on a literary theme — a nursery inspired by Eric Carle’s art. (“Who’s Eric Carle?” my Erich asked. Who are you if you don’t know Eric Carle?! I’m telling you, there’s a huge literary gap between big sisters who changed their siblings’ diapers and big brothers who were in diapers at the same time as their youngest sibling.)

If you, too, didn’t grow up re-reading your favorite children’s books to younger siblings, Eric Carle is known for bright, happy tissue paper collages bringing to life The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Cute theme for a nursery, right?

The nursery powers that be did not agree. The one and only Eric Carle-themed nursery set offered on the Googleable internet is no longer available. (Thanks, Pottery Barn.) No problem, I’ll just pull together my own collection of Eric Carle stuff.

Again, a no. All canvas prints of brown bear and the very hungry caterpillar cost hundreds of dollars. Even the Etsy artist copies cost hundreds of dollars. Isn’t it so frustrating when artists want to make money?

No matter. I’d lean heavily on the inspired part of Eric Carle-inspired and find some bright, happy nursery things that look vaguely like tissue paper collages. But no. Apparently, I am way behind the nursery trends, because the hip moms only want monochromatic, muted, minimalist nurseries — unless they’re naming their daughter Vivienne, in which case, there’s an abundance of frills and pinks.

I scrolled through Pinterest for hours looking for any color that wasn’t pink or stark white or some mottled pigment that at first glance looks gray.

Okay. I get it. Nobody likes primary colors anymore.

But I’m determined to have my Eric Carle-inspired nursery — even if it means sewing my own colorful crib sheet.

So here we go. My mood board for the perfect Eric Carle-inspired nursery.

Eric Carle Inspiration

As you can see, we still can’t escape the gray trend. Basically, we’re incorporating his art style and colors — squiggly wallpaper as a statement behind the crib, Carle-esque bison for a changing pad cover (“They look demonic,” Erich says), a stripey green crib sheet (“No, seriously, Bailey, they look demonic“), and a cheery red paint for the changing table. Since we can’t afford real Eric Carle canvases, we’re going to try our hand at making our own animal pictures in his collage style.

Pray for us.

You all know how not crafty I am. I’d rather write a dissertation on what it says about our culture that we no longer value primary colors in nurseries than sew a crib sheet or make collages.

But instead of writing a dissertation, I made another mood board for our nonexistent second child’s nursery (which s/he won’t actually have, because we’ll have run out of rooms at that point, and the two kids will be sharing the Eric Carle-inspired nursery forever, because making the first nursery will have exhausted my decorative enthusiasm).

Ta-da! Another literary nursery theme — The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.

Beekle Mood Board

(You’ve got to be really up on your children’s literature game to know and love Beekle enough to turn him into a nursery theme. Really up. As in, “I read to the unborn child in my womb as an excuse to procrastinate on sewing that Eric Carle-inspired crib sheet” up.)

An Important Life Update


I am approaching the last frontiers of womanhood, the last few “big life announcements” that garner hundreds of likes on Facebook and make blissfully easy small talk among people whose names you once knew.

I’ve ticked off graduating high school, getting into college, graduating college, getting into a relationship, getting engaged, and getting married. As I am not an ambitious person I took the life route that skipped the subsequent accomplishments of getting into and graduating grad school, etc. or earning a promotion, etc. or becoming president, etc.

The only interesting, noteworthy things left for me on the Normal Life Track are having a baby and writing a book. Once those things happen, unless I am charismatic and funny and popular or ambitious (see alternate life route above), I shall recede into life as one of those people who report only their children’s accomplishments and/or their book sales.

Can I get a moment of silence for the impending death of my personal interesting-ness?

Thank you.

Without further ado, I am crossing off another noteworthy thing on the Normal Life Track.

Meet Baby Stegersaurus!

He’s healthy, perfect, and twenty-weeks-old, due December 27. (He’s sending salutatory kicks delivered to my abdomen as I write.) I am pretty dead confident he’s going to look exactly like his daddy, which hopefully means my genes for horrific teen acne and flat feet get cancelled out.

He came into existence around the time I was laughingly brushing off my friend’s inquiry as to when we were planning on having kids. “Oh, not for another year, at least,” I said. “Erich and I just talked about it. Another year with just us, and then we’ll think about adding a baby to the mix.”

It was a great plan. We were buying a house, we needed my second income, we’d spend the year fixing up the house, I’d further my career as an elementary teacher, we’d maybe even save up for a spa getaway for our first anniversary.

Then a few weeks later, I was following the directions on a 99 cent pregnancy test from Walmart, at my sister’s request. Sure, my period was late. But it was late once before, a few months into marriage. I’d stared at the test line for the full recommended three minutes (and counting), only to see nothing else show up.

It was the exact same situation this time, I told myself. No pregnancy symptoms whatsoever, just a tardy period. I prepared for the three minute and counting wait for the nonexistent second line to show up.

There was the test line. The wet traveled further down. A second line. A thick, full, undeniable second line. All within two seconds of each other.

I had always planned on being the cute little wife who takes a pregnancy test early in the morning after hubby leaves for work, comes up with an elaborate scavenger hunt in his absence, and surprises him with the amazing good news that he’s going to be a daddy. We’d kiss and giggle and curl up on the couch to dream of our upcoming life with baby, and we wouldn’t have to rearrange our finances.

Instead I was the wife who yelled hubby’s name from the bathroom and walked out, shellshocked, to announce through tears that I was pregnant. No kisses, no giggles, no scavenger hunts. Just one new mama caught off guard and wading through the remnants of her shattered two-year life plan.

Erich was researching bridesmaid dresses for an upcoming wedding. He looked up at his distraught wife and said what any happy father says: “That’s nice. What do you think of this dress?”

It was exactly how I hadn’t imagined our first pregnancy going down.

We both wandered the apartment, processing our horror and happiness in our separate ways, and then Erich said something about baby names, and I said something about was he mad at me for being pregnant and ruining our life plans?!, as if it was my fault. And he said he already knew I was pregnant, and why would he be mad?

That was significant, you see. We are both emotional people — things hit us squarely in the gut and take a while to travel up to our brains. When Erich is overwhelmed, he is silent, changes the subject, and/or says the wrong thing (always). When I am overwhelmed, I cry and tell Erich he always says the wrong thing.

Don’t be alarmed. Everything goes up to our brains eventually, and Erich starts saying on-topic things (like baby names — very on-topic for a man who just found out he’s a daddy), and I start expressing my emotions in a more coherent, accessible way.

We’ve spent the past twenty weeks rearranging our finances and life plans, adjusting to pregnancy (yes, both of us), and mistaking bowel movements for baby kicks. (It was a very precious time of family bonding, nonetheless.)

All of that to say, we are extremely excited for this little one. This blog will, most likely, be flooded with mother-related posts for a while, until other interesting, personal things happen — like writing a book.

But right now, I can’t think of anything more interesting than this little guy.

Fighting Your Own Home Maintenance Battles


Even as a passionate feminist, I must admit — when it comes to physical labor, I do greatly enjoy playing the helpless damsel in distress.

“Oh, honey, can you open this jar for me? I tried halfheartedly for three seconds and already permanently injured my hand.”

“Oh, baby, can you go get that thing on the top shelf in the closet so I don’t have to get off my rear end, find a stepstool, and get it myself? It’s so heavy.”

“Yes, I’ll definitely let you change the car battery in negative winter temps.”

“Babe, the sink is clogged again.”

“And so is the shower.”

“And I can’t figure out how to turn on this appliance. Again.”

It’s been burned into my brain that men are more naturally gifted at figuring out user manuals and things with random screws. Some of that I get from my upbringing. Boys took out the trash, girls did dishes. Boys held open doors and carried boxes, girls walked through doors and sat around while men worked.

I’m also not at all dexterous with my hands (ask my sister who taught me to crochet three times), blessed with spatial awareness (ask my husband who watched me crash into a wall while trying to plug in my phone), or gifted with any muscles in my upper body (ask anybody). Plus, I’m short. And cute. And sometimes I paint my nails and can’t have them ruined by manual labor.

Once, my dad took the time to teach me how to change a tire. I tried very hard to pay attention and ask intelligent questions — or rather, I tried very hard to ask intelligent questions so that I looked like I was paying attention. I wouldn’t remember this anyway, right? There was a manual for this somewhere in the glovebox, right? And wouldn’t I just be calling my dad and having him come out and change the tire for me, anyway?

It didn’t occur to me that I could learn and master a mechanical challenge.

I don’t think it occurred to my dad, either, because at the end of his presentation, as he crawled out from under my Ford Escape, he said, “And if you forget any of this, Erich will know what to do.”

Which, actually, he would not, come to find out. My husband is surprisingly unlearned in all the skills my dad possesses. He doesn’t memorize the timetable of when all the cars need oil changes. He doesn’t know where I misplaced important documentation. He can’t answer any of my questions about insurance. He doesn’t immediately start taking things apart when I complain about them not working.

In fact, there’s not even much effort on his part to fight my material battles. More often than not, he’ll start tinkering with whatever problem I face, hit a roadblock, shrug, and say, “I don’t know.”

I don’t know? A live, flesh-and-blood man, saying I don’t know as if he doesn’t possess innate knowledge of the home maintenance world?

Clearly, this is not a real man.

(I spend a lot of time on the phone with my dad trying to solve problems my husband can’t fix.)

Even more shocking, I discovered this pseudo-man I married, this impostor of a knight in shining tool bet, isn’t skilled in anything particular other than knowing how to Google WikiHow articles.

And he has patience. Immense patience. Patience far longer than the three seconds it takes me to give up unscrewing a pickle jar.

I guess he didn’t grow up with the assumption that someone of the opposite sex would always be around to fix his problems, so he had to figure them out himself.

I began to feel bad about this whole situation. If solving all the problems I didn’t care to fix was an issue of Googling and patience rather than natural male prowess, did I really have an excuse not to fight my own home maintenance battles — myself?

We recently moved into a new apartment. Being unemployed, I got stuck at home with a menagerie of strange objects — unfamiliar blinds, a dishwasher without a start button. And I got stuck with a menagerie of strange tasks — figuring out how to forward our mail, changing our address on everything, setting up the internet.

It started with the internet. No, it actually started with the blinds.

The night before, Erich showed me the particular way I needed to close and open the blinds without breaking them. Like a typical damsel in distress, I nodded absentmindedly, knowing my dashing knight would be just around the corner to help me. (In other words, I wasn’t at all paying attention.)

But then my dashing knight went to work that morning, and I wanted the blinds open. I ended up jamming the whole system and breaking off two panels. Fearful of breaking something else, and being short, I left the panels on the floor for my knight to wrangle upon his return home.

Then I set about starting up the internet. “Just plug in the modem,” the nice lady at Spectrum told me. So I plugged in the modem. And waited. And unplugged it. And replugged it. And restarted my computer and my phone. And tried to connect the ethernet cable somehow. And sent a bunch of flustered and desperate texts to my husband, which convinced him to skip lunch break soccer to come fight this dragon for me.

“I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong,” I whined, trailing him into the office. “I plugged in the modem.”

“That’s not the modem, Bailey. That’s the router.”

Well, how was I supposed to know? I’m not a man!

Then I tried to start the dishwasher, but like I said, there was no start button. I rotated the knob several times. I pushed it in. I pulled it right off the dishwasher. Nothing.


He walked over. Rotated the knob. Pushed it in. Pulled it right off the dishwasher. (See, I was catching on to the male intuition.) Then he flipped the outlet switch and the dishwasher roared to life.

“Weren’t you wondering what that switch did?” he asked incredulously.

“Not particularly,” I grumbled. Again, obvious point: I was a helpless female.

I was beginning to feel frustrated with my own incompetence. It wasn’t convenient or empowering to wait for my husband to put out these little fires that made my life so difficult. It wasn’t productive to put off all the work until 4:30 PM when he could unstick all the projects that got stuck during the day.

So when the plastic white band on the frozen orange juice can snapped and I couldn’t dig it out or pry the lid off, I stabbed it open with a kitchen knife.

And when the dishwasher sprayed bits of food onto the dishes that got cleaned and didn’t clean the other dishes, I Googled how to unscrew bits and pieces, clean out the gunk, and run a cycle of vinegar and baking soda.

I emerged from the dishwasher after about an hour, sweaty and gunky and oh-so-proud.

It felt good. I hope I never have to do that again, but it felt good — to try something new, to not give up, to challenge myself, and to come out victorious over my home maintenance battles.

Plus, my husband was overjoyed that he didn’t have to stick his head in a disgusting dishwasher. A fairytale ending for both Prince Charming and his damsel in distress.

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

An Egalitarian Approach to Chores


Since I’ve heard many complaints lately about husbands who don’t pull their weight in the chores department, I thought I’d talk a bit about our egalitarian way to split up the chores.

Here’s the key to an egalitarian sharing of the chores: it’s not just about who does what. It’s about whose responsibility it is to care about the housekeeping.

Even though I work full-time, I feel the emotional responsibility of household upkeep more than my husband. This is not because I am innately a homemaker, as some have tried to tell me. It is because some have tried to tell me that I am innately a homemaker — that I, as a woman, am uniquely suited to exert emotional energy towards my home.

Well, I certainly do exert a uniquely feminine emotional energy towards my home. When my husband walks into a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, he thinks, “Great — the kitchen’s dirty again.” When I walk in to a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, I think, “I am a total and utter failure of a human being and should not have been allowed into adulthood at this young of an age.”

In other words, guilt. Guilt is that special feminine ingredient to housekeeping.

On top of it all, I am a Type B cleaning personality raised in a Type A cleaning home. This means that my mom and my sister, the women closest to me, could not stand clutter or dirtiness at any point during the day. They cleaned as they went. I’d get up from a cozy blanket on the couch for a cup of cocoa, only to find, on my return, the blanket folded neatly over the couch top.

It’s humorous, actually. On one of Erich’s first visits to my parents’ home, somebody put his empty cup in the dishwasher before he was finished with it. He now finds inventive ways to hide his cups from prowling cleaners — like hanging them from light fixtures in the kitchen.

So I have these examples and expectations of housecleaning perfection before me, and none of the energy or interest to meet them. (Read: more guilt.) Erich and I have an extremely high tolerance for clutter and filth. An unhealthily high tolerance, I should say.

It’s frightening how long you can handle counters-full of dishes when you don’t have a dishwasher.

As I thought more intentionally about an egalitarian way to split up chores, I realized that this mindset, this mindset that it’s more my responsibility than his because I’m a woman, has got to go. The cleaning and upkeep of our home is our responsibility, equally. I have to care. He has to care.

While we don’t have children yet, I think this is a crucial component to happy households even if a wife quits her full-time job to stay home. I used to think that I would take over all housecleaning once I stayed home with our baby. After all, I would have eight hours that my husband didn’t to do laundry and wash some dishes.

But after listening to moms with kids underfoot, moms who were drowning with childcare, I realized that I might not have the time — or the energy — after all.

I work in childcare. It is a full-time job that encompasses every spiritual, psychological, and physical inch of your soul and body. Just because stay-at-home moms don’t get paid for their labor doesn’t mean motherhood is any less all-encompassing.

That’s where couples get in trouble, I’ve noticed. Stay-at-home moms run themselves weary keeping up with the kids and still feel obligated to keep up with the onslaught of daily chores too. Meanwhile, Daddy comes home feeling entitled to a break because he worked all day.

Well, Mama worked all day too. So instead of getting into a battle over who’s more exhausted at the end of the day (something my husband and I row about even without kids), it seems more reasonable to assign equal emotional responsibility over household upkeep.

What does this look like practically in our home?

We tried chore lists, but I never did mine, and Erich kept reassigning hated chores to me. So right now, when we see something that needs to be done (i.e., when we max out on our tolerance for filth), we do it ourselves and ask the other spouse to chip in with it or with another chore.

If Erich starts a load of laundry, he might ask me to fold the laundry or point out that I still haven’t done my dishes. If I notice the carpet needs vacuuming, I’ll grab the vacuum and ask Erich to tackle the urine stains on the toilet. And of course, we take personal responsibility for our own stuff.

The only thing we specifically assign are dishes and cooking: whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes. (Because we hate dishes.)

This works for us, because we (usually) respond well to the other person’s initiative. And by “works for us,” I don’t mean “keeps our home in immaculate order.” (We’re working on that.) I mean it keeps our marriage unclogged with cleaning resentment. It helps us feel like a team.

I don’t expect this to change much when we have kids and I stay home with them — except that I’ll have more opportunity to do chores than he will. If I have time and energy during the work day, I’ll do the necessary chores. There’s no point in putting off chores just to make it “fair.” It’s still partially my responsibility, after all, and I would want my husband to tackle the dirty work if he had the opportunity instead of leaving it all for me.

But if I can’t get to chores, or if I’m absolutely sick of doing chores, I won’t feel guilty either.

After all, it’s not wholly my responsibility.

What Introverts Really Do at Farmer’s Markets


My husband and I are the worst combination on some things, and it’s our similarities, not our differences, that get us into the most trouble.

For instance, we are both introverted, boring, low-energy homebodies whose favorite hobbies involve the internet. And we’re cheap. And we’re poor. Well, not poor, but we might as well be, for all the fun and tasty things we can’t be doing and buying this summer because we’re buying a house.

This means, in short, that we never go out.

But we finally did, this Sunday. We went to the local farmer’s market. And we did what we always do: casually meandered past each booth, avoided eye contact, and didn’t buy a single thing.

We came and went within ten minutes.

I don’t know what is wrong with us. Well, I do — we’re introverted, boring, low-energy homebodies. But for real, I don’t know what is wrong with us. How hard is it to make eye contact, do some small talk, and sample some of that homemade salsa? (Really hard, it turns out.)

It’s a respect thing, actually, as well as self-preservation. It feels socially awful to wander up to a booth all smiles and small talk, knowing that the intent in your heart is only to squander the nice lady’s supply of samples and never hand over any cash for it. Heartless.

Right? Or am I the only one who feels this moral compulsion to not give false hope to vendors that their soap is worth the price of that Wonder Woman ticket I’m giving up in order to buy a new dryer?

So we keep our heads down and talk about what we would buy if we had the money, and what we could make ourselves for cheaper after spending a fortune on gardening and/or canning equipment. And we don’t support the local economy, and I don’t get to sample that yummy salsa, and we come home to a carton of eggs that aren’t organic or cage-free or $5 (!!!).

But, on the bright side, we fulfilled our seasonal expectation to get out and do something on our own volition — and that’s really, for us introverts, what these social outings are all about…are they not?

What do you do at farmer’s markets? Extroverts, please. Teach me your ways.

Future Daddy

Marrying a man who liked kids was a must.

I adore children. I’ve got big plans to teach them, work with them, foster them, and/or raise five or six of them (both biological and adopted). Erich’s not quite there yet with all of those plans, but he finds children generally agreeable. He didn’t grow up changing younger siblings’ diapers or teaching preschool at the age of seventeen, so much of his baby love is theoretical.

We talk a bunch about future mommy- and daddy-hood. Hopefully, our first child will be a girl, because we already fought a tooth-and-nail battle over what to name her, and called a truce over a beautiful name that I won’t share with you in case we never have a girl. But we talk about her, as both a specific future child we’re excited to meet and as a catchall for future Stegersauruses. We talk about how we’re going to raise her, what we want her to know, what we’ll read to her, and what hobbies we’ll introduce her to.

Baby Stegersaurus is a long way from coming into existence, but already, I’m trying to consciously let go of the Psycho Control Freak belief that I, as the mother, as the person who has worked with children literally my whole and read all the parenting articles, am the Primary Caretaker Who Knows Best. I’m starting right now to make space in my thinking for Erich’s unique take on parenting and interacting with children.

So it’s been fun to watch him get to know our niece, the sweet and screaming Ella. At first, Erich declined to hold her and commented mostly on her projectile vomiting skills. (In his defense, she aimed one squarely for his open mouth.)

But this past Easter weekend, he shocked me by asking to hold the baby while her parents took a much-needed break. When thirty minutes passed, I hunted them down. I discovered Erich walking around in the spring weather and murmuring the tiny bit of Spanish he’d learned from his Mexican coworkers. “Es un horno,” he repeated (a lot).

Ella was fast asleep.

Context: This child gets cranky real quick and real permanent. But that whole weekend, she was quite content in Uncle Erich’s arms, listening to his broken Spanish and enjoying the great outdoors.

Fingers crossed that same magic works with all future children.