Family Forward by Jen Colletta

We’re just about in the thick of the holiday shopping season, meaning many of us are running ragged looking for the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. If you’re anything like me, that’s a stressful proposition that may have you eventually giving up and just opting for the best-smelling candle you can find or the ever-reliable Wawa gift card. But if your list includes any parents of little ones, there may be a few gift ideas you didn’t think of (and that they don’t want to vocalize) but that would perfectly hit the spot. Here are a few suggestions from a weary parent of a 15-month-old:

Before I became a parent, I had heard the cheeky hashtag #MomFail thrown around on social media, interpreting it as a sort of self-deprecating coping mechanism for parents under pressure. Now, I appreciate not only how needed that brand of humor is but also how empowering it can be.

Months ago, I came across a Facebook post a friend shared that was written by a parent who had lost a child. In the message, she implored fellow parents to embrace gratitude every day — to reshape thinking about the many chores and challenges they face in raising their children instead as opportunities others only wish for. I squirreled this away into the unwritten list of possible column ideas I stash in my brain and, unfortunately, its relevance is all too real today.

At 6:36 p.m. Aug. 7, 2018, Jackson Anthony Colletta burst his way into the world. He was screaming, covered in gook and perfect. While Ashlee lay on the operating table with who knows what going on under the blue sheet that covered her from the neck down, we gave him his first kisses, cried and tried awkwardly to figure out the best way to hold a newborn, simultaneously terrified of how tiny his 5-pound, 4-ounce body seemed — all while marveling that someone so small could command the attention of the entire room. It was surreal and a moment neither of us will ever forget.

Before Ashlee and I took Jackson on his first family vacation earlier this summer, she shared a bit of advice a friend had mentioned: “Once you have a child, it’s not ‘vacation,’ it’s ‘making memories.’” That became a mantra we repeated many times throughout the weekend trip to Cape May, as we frantically covered our dog’s eyes so she wouldn’t bark at passing motorcyclists and wake the baby on our drive down, as Jackson peed all over my entire chest on the beach and as he had his first accidental dunking in a pool. Making memories, making memories!

Though we were only gone for 72 hours, we left with tons of memories and just as many photos — and also a few lessons:

Though we might try to protest it, Ashlee and I technically are in the millennial age group — a population known for its technology obsession. Thankfully, we’re on the older side of this demographic and can remember a time in our youth before cell phones made connectivity ubiquitous; however, we’ve admittedly found ourselves swept up in the social-media culture spawned by this digital age, which adds an interesting dimension to modern parenting.

About a month ago, I was sitting in stop-and-go traffic on Route 611, wending my way from Montgomery County toward Jackson’s dermatologist appointment in Fairmount. It was 8 a.m., rush-hour traffic was starting to build and so was my anxiety. It was my first time taking him to a doctor’s appointment alone, and I needed every detail to work perfectly —nap in the car, be pleasant in the waiting room, short wait, quick visit, no traffic on our way to daycare —to make it to my office for my 10 a.m. meeting. Piece of cake.

A few weeks ago, Jackson dipped his toe into the “testing Mommy” waters for the first time. While I was feeding him some concoction of mushed-up vegetables in his high chair, he discovered he could make a fun mess by blowing the puree out of his mouth — followed with a squeal of delight which I tried unsuccessfully tempering with a firm “No.” After about 10 bouts of this, he took the fun to the next level by trying to reach for his bowl of veggies and throw it on the floor — prompting a swift and loud reaction from me. Immediately, his face crumpled, his eyes got big, and then he welled with tears, lapsing into a pathetic little cry that persisted for some time. As did my guilt at losing my temper at a then-7-month-old baby.

Jackson is now 7 months old and has hit many of the milestones we were so looking forward to. He (mostly) consistently sleeps through the night, has two teeth and can successfully eat a laundry list of fruits and vegetables, sometimes even holding the spoon himself.

While we’ve gleefully jotted down all these firsts with their dates in his baby book, his sleeping, teething and eating accomplishments were nowhere near one-day events. Instead, each win he’s had was after a series of fits and starts (sometimes actual fits!) and trial and error. Yet, with each checkbox we’ve hit, those frustrations quickly became a muted memory as our pride in his accomplishments swelled.

    When Ashlee and I moved out of our first apartment into our first house three years ago, we were overjoyed that we finally had a kitchen we could cook in, let alone turn around in. Our first night in the house, our moving crew of friends deemed the kitchen the perpetual hangout spot in our house, christening it with a rousing beer-pong game. From date nights to holiday dinners to raucous parties, our kitchen has seen it all.

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