“We Did That So Perfectly,” Said No Parent Ever

 IMG_4425

I remember it clearly. I was in the last stretch of pregnancy, feeling pretty prepared for our little guy’s arrival. I had taken all the classes at the hospital, built the crib and stocked the nursery, and was all but twiddling my thumbs as I read books and watched movies “for fun” – something I had been told I should really take advantage of before finishing a film at home became akin to passing a law through congress – so long and drawn out and diverted by tangents that the whole point is forgotten by the time the credits roll.

So I was feeling pretty ready for this baby to arrive and to get this party started (Oh, if I only knew how I’d come to mock that thumb twiddling), when I realized – we don’t have a thing. You know, a schedule-y, routine-y, “I will religiously follow this book or that blog or this pediatrician’s methods” THING. I didn’t have a child-rearing, sleep-training, milk-producing Bible, and suddenly – when I would talk to other parents I knew who did – a wave of “how could I have missed this?” insecurity washed over me.

One particular parent who comes to mind is a neighbor I like and respect, who praised the Baby Wise method of parenting. It includes a book that’s sold millions of copies, a blog fervent followers appear to read daily, a movement of parents and pediatricians who passionately oppose its methods, and a whole new language that the unindoctrinated must learn (PDF is no longer a file you save on your computer, but parent-directed feeding, and Eat, Play, Sleep is NOT a sequel to a Julia Roberts movie).

“Aaron!” my third trimester self said, semi-panicked, to my husband one still winter afternoon, “Has it occurred to you we don’t have a thing? Like, a schedule for the baby? I mean, what are we doing and how are we going to know when and how much our baby needs to do important things, like eat and sleep? What is OUR PLAN???”

A few deep breaths and blank stares from my husband later, I did what I usually do to re-center myself when this whole parenting thing starts to feel like a contest – remind myself that parents have been doing this for thousands of years without books or blogs or PDFs of either variety.

I will be my baby’s mother.

I will get to know his needs.

I will be OK.

As you may guess, I never did catch on to the Baby Wise method. I spent a few minutes skimming my neighbor’s copy of the book once, and tried Eat, Play, Sleep due to an open mind and love for Elizabeth Gilbert. But in the end, I realized my baby was just fine – his needs were being more than met – and trying to force a popular bestselling “infant management” program (Wikipedia’s term, not mine) was – for us – like trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. I gave myself the grace to truly trust that as long as parents are within the parameters of lovingly sustaining their child’s basic eating and sleeping needs, there is no one right way to parent.

Now of course this story is just one of a bazillion examples of the ways we may feel pressured, left out, or judged in our society as parents striving to be educated yet flexible, “a natural at it” while sometimes scared as hell, present yet always planning the next naptime, return from maternity leave or college fund.

I’ve learned to trust that, for me, it’s OK if my child hangs out with us while we watch football (he’s usually way more interested in the books in his lap, anyway), even though other parents cringe at the thought of even a passing glance of “screen time.” It’s OK if my son starts preschool at age 2, or age 5. And that baby food maker I never got around to using (sincere apologies to my mother-in-law — I will use it with the next baby)? Think of all the extra time I got back by simply clicking the “add to cart” button on Amazon Fresh instead.

The reason I am so passionate about leading PEPS groups is because I want to encourage other parents to trust themselves. Don’t let yourself be bullied by a book, or intoxicated by a trend, at the expense of being the exact parent your baby needs.

There is no perfect. There is no magic wand. There is no fool-proof guide book for baby-raising and if there were you’d go broke buying the next edition and the newest revision tomorrow and the next day, and the next.

Your gut feelings exist for a reason.

I’m certainly not against books, and I’m happy for whatever works for you, but I am against anything that makes good, well-meaning parents feel bad – whether it’s an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest, or the woman in Starbucks who told me on a particularly rainy day that “You know, they make rain covers for the BOB stroller” and “Really, you should get one.” She actually repeated “You should get one” as if the existing massive stroller canopy covering all but a few inches of my child’s blanketed legs would surely lead to immediate pneumonia.

But I digress and, as usual, I’m over my word count. Be kind to yourself and savor those books and blogs and DIY projects in responsible doses, like a good glass of wine. And if you find yourself putting down Eat, Play, Sleep in favor of Eat, Pray, Love – you won’t find any judgment here.

**Originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows

The “D” Word

The “D” Word

Sometimes I feel depressed.

Readership of this blog is now divided into exactly two categories: people who understand exactly what I just said, and people who don’t (lucky you).

Like today, and about every third day for the last few weeks, I have just felt “blah,” and sluggishly tired, unmotivated and illogically unexcitable. When I’m feeling like this, I use fewer exclamation marks and smiley faces in my texts, and wear my least favorite t-shirts while dragging around the house. So as not to alarm anyone – this, for me, is not extreme depression. It is mainly annoying, and tiring, and I’m sick of feeling like I shouldn’t talk about it. So I am. I think it’s one of the healthiest things I can do.

My funk/depression tends to come on when I have a ton in my life to be happy about and thankful for. And for no particular reason, though I am determined to keep guessing. Hormones, weather changes, and lack of vegetables are the frontrunners today.

Personally, I tend to use the phrase “in a funk” to describe these feelings that come unannounced and uninvited, often in the midst of an otherwise good week/year/month.  But I think that’s mainly because it just sounds safer, with the stigma attached to “depression” and all.   I went through a bad bout of these feelings about 9 months ago, which my therapist and I agreed was probably hormonal (I was weaning off of breastfeeding).

Today, while lying in bed at 4 in the afternoon with a blotchy dried out face, the 1100th episode of Grey’s Anatomy on pause, and Lena Dunham’s memoir (which IS kind of depressing…frontrunner #4?) – I had this thought:

“I try so hard to come across as so put together, and I have a hunch that a lot of people have that general impression of me, and of my life. But really, sometimes all I want is someone I can call and say, ‘I feel like shit right now.’” But just the thought of calling someone and saying that, followed by no logical explanation always sounds way too exhausting to my already exhausted self, so I never do. But maybe I should sometime. I would want people in my life to feel like I could handle – even welcome – that call from them.

I am aware that my last post here was about channeling Martha Stewart via baskets and striving for the perfectly organized home, which may make this depression diatribe seem a bit out of left field.

One thing I’ve learned about depression, is it’s REAL. It’s valid. It deserves respect, and understanding, and patience. You can have a great life – even be at a particularly great place and point in time IN your life – and it can just hit you, out of nowhere. Like a really unexpected foul ball that leaves a kid in the stands with a black eye.

So I’m choosing to write about it, in hopes that maybe I’ll open a little window for someone else to feel a little less ashamed or confused or shunned from appropriate public chatter, when they too are “in a funk.”

Here are 5 things that help me move past the numbing, heavy waves when they strike:

  1. A change of scenery. Some of the best advice I’ve received about how to get “unstuck” from a mood is this: If you’re lying down, get up. If you’re inside, go outside. If the curtains are drawn, open a window and let the sunlight in. It’s amazing how little changes of scenery can shake us up, in a good way. Seriously you guys, try it even if you don’t think it could possibly make a difference.
  2. Eat healthier food – I think eating like crap or realizing you’ve perhaps neglected an entire food group like vegetables, for days, can help turn things around. OR –
  3. Eat whatever the hell you want. Aaron recently brought me back a box of fudge from a work trip he was on. He was relieved that I liked the gift, and told me that one of his co-workers had mentioned maybe I would prefer a toy for Anderson, or something more wife-ly, other than…fudge. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Solidified butter and chocolate is a salve for the mildly depressed. Just don’t forget to have Brussels sprouts for dessert (yes, I really ate those things in that order. Red wine was the tie that bound).
  4. Ask someone to touch you. OK this sounds weird, especially if that someone is a stranger on the bus instead of your significant other (Revise accordingly based on your immediate surroundings). I read today that a good solid lingering hug has been proven to be a natural antidepressant. Snuggling, massage, having your partner play with your hair – it’s good, under-rated stuff. We should all do it more.
  5. Talk about it (or in my case, write about it). Many, many people feel some degree of situational and/or random depression. I already feel better simply stating the obvious and knowing, it too, will pass. I’m not writing this so that friends of mine will follow up with a private text asking if I’m OK. I am, and I will be, especially after more fudge.

I’m writing this because I’ve spent at least as much time feeling like this as I’ve spent feeling giddy about home organizational systems, and I simply thought my funk deserved an honorable mention as an uninvited, yet real and valid, part of my life – and perhaps it’s a part of yours, too.

Like that bazillionth Grey’s Anatomy episode said today, “The carousel never stops turning.” Tomorrow is another day, and I’m betting it’s a better one. We’re all in this together and we all have these hidden, unflattering parts of us that make up our moments, and our lives, whether we want them to or not. I continue to be surprised that the more I just take the leap and talk about or write about hard stuff – there is always an overwhelming majority of people who say, “I’ve been there, too.”

Baskets, Baskets Everywhere

Since moving to a larger house this summer and spending the last three months learning the ropes of our new home base with more space to spread out, store things and lose things, I can’t help but call to mind wise words from Uncle Ben in Spiderman:  “Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.”

I don’t know if I’d call it “power,” but I do feel that making the most of my home is a privilege, and one that comes with the responsibility of creating some semblance of order, and not losing my stuff or my mind.

I love for my things to be organized and look good while doing it.  Too much clutter drives me crazy, but bland and boring storage solutions drive me almost equally as crazy.  So here are a few organizing tips and tricks that help keep me sane and that I actually enjoy looking at, too:

BOOKSHELVES & BASKETS

These two items can hold a lot of stuff, and be made to look cohesive and attractive in any room of your house.  I tend to use the same type of basket in any given area, but have all different colors and textures of baskets (and bookshelves) throughout my house.  They can hold books, cards, photos and crafting supplies:

IMG_4392 IMG_4391

A few more of my favorites uses……

Toys, extra bedding, shoes and bedside clutter (be gone!)

IMG_4410

And of course, the old standard – the bathroom magazine basket.

IMG_4409

Even though I have a home office space at our new house, where I find myself spending the lion’s share of my time doing desk work, filing, bill paying and computer time is at this 2×5 ft. (?) desk, in my kitchen.  It is where bills and mail come in and are filed, where I write my grocery lists and scribble out way too many post-it notes each day.  It’s where I even get FUN mail, and post it on this pretty linen board.  This wall system from Pottery Barn is where I sort my mail (To File/To Respond), pin photos and cards, keep keys, checkbooks, stamps and envelopes.  Knowing my needs and organizing accordingly has been key in crafting a space that is fun and functional.  It’s where I usually write this blog, plan my PEPS meetings, and even chip away at a novel that’s been in the works forever.  I love this space.

IMG_4405 IMG_4407

IMG_4406IMG_4387

Did I mention FUN file folders (see above).  I keep a lot more files in our actual home office, but invested in a dozen with fun designs that I actually want to look at and use every day.  MY TIP:  Let mail pile up for a week or two (not that I ever do this, ever), and sort what accumulates into piles like “banking,” “utilities,” “receipts,” etc… make your folders accordingly and keep them in the place where you’re actually most likely to receive and sort mail.

MEALS & KITCHEN:

Another place where I really try to make organizing fun is in the kitchen and with grocery shopping and meal planning.  Some things that get me more excited about these everyday tasks include:

FUN SHOPPING LIST/TO DO LIST PAPER (so much more enjoyable than scribbling your grocery list on the back of an envelope!):

FullSizeRender(1)

A CHALKBOARD MENU:

IMG_4408

I also raided Fred Meyer for big baskets for my kitchen pantry, to keep stuff like aprons, paper plates, and seasonal cookie cutters out of sight.

IMG_4385

THE BATHROOM:

A couple of years ago, one of my big “nesting” projects while pregnant was doing a complete organizational overhaul of my linen closet.  I learned only two things are really needed for permanent bathroom storage sanity:  a label maker and matching see-through bins.  Gone are the days of digging through mounds of shampoo bottles to find a razor or a band aid.  It’s the simple things like this that make me happy and keep my blood pressure in check.

IMG_4390(1)

Oh, and Aaron really appreciates these non-see-through cubbies in our bathroom (another Fred Meyer find) that keep my feminine “unmentionables” out of sight.  Husbands everywhere, you’re welcome.

IMG_4395

I hope this blog post has been of some entertainment, inspiration or motivation to other home-keepers out there!  If you really get on board with this whole organizing thing – this blog and woman are so organized and fun it’s scary.

Oh and a shredder.  Everyone needs a paper shredder at home.  It just feels good to clear clutter and simultaneously operate a semi-power-tool.

Until next time,

Beth

Headlights

6348242371_1ed1211d1f_o

Earlier this year, I read a great book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s full of helpful encouragement and sanity-saving strategies for those of us who aspire to be better writers, but it’s also full of good tips for being better humans. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite “nuggets” that I took away from that book. It goes like this:

“E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

This past Tuesday I attended the women’s Bible study at my church. Since my family isn’t winning any awards for church attendance these days, it’s my own little way to stay plugged in to my church, my faith, and others on that journey. These past few years haven’t been the clearest for me in my faith. I could write a whole blog about that, but faith is a very personal thing and I will just leave it at that.

But the headlight approach is so true when it comes to the “big picture” of life, whether you choose to frame that through a faith in God, and/or science, and/or your own role in your personal destiny/fate/purpose. As much as I sometimes long to know how it’s all going to “turn out,” life is and forever will be taken one patch of headlight-bathed road at a time – nothing more.

In my mind there are two probable responses to this: frustration, or relief. I could choose to be frustrated that I don’t know how many kids I’m going to have and how safe/healthy/successful they’ll be, or if I’ll ever publish that novel or die trying, or if I’ll get to all my “bucket list” travel destinations around the globe, and if certain friendships will last and if I’ll stay on the path I want to stay on….and and and…

OR

I could choose to feel relieved that I only have to focus on a few feet of life at a time – just as far as my headlights allow me to see. That right now, today, and every day – I’m only responsible for what I can see, for what I can control.

And the biggest blessing of my week as this thought has been swirling around in my mind – is that I’ve been feeling actually really at peace with that. With the letting go of knowing where I’ll be in x,y, or z section of my life next month, year or decade. I know that my life is productive and full – and that it is full of things, people, tasks, responsibilities and roles that I love. How lucky am I? I’m just feeling truly grateful that I get to wake up each morning and build my life, nurture my family, develop my talents and impact my community in ways that are important to me.

And as long as any of us are living with purpose and making the best turns and exits and merges we know how along the way, I really do trust that – in the warmth of those headlights – we can make the whole trip that way.

***

photo credit