Slodge Podge

The last week or so I’ve more or less been running on fumes. Anything I’ve posted online definitely has not included my face, house, laundry pile, or choice of clothing in which I’ve been lounging around the house. Not sleeping well due to a combo of pregnancy aches and pains and a high-maintenance dog, begging my husband to take the morning toddler shift so I can scrap together a few extra zzzz’s, and living in his t-shirts (husband’s, not toddler’s – do I look like Bethenny Frankel?) – have been the common threads of this last week. I’m not looking for sympathy, as I know we all have days/weeks/seasons where we feel like we are “slodging through life.” Like our feet our constantly stuck in the mud and we just can’t find that light and easy pace we had the week before. Just keeping it real, and writing….which has happened like twice this year I think, but that could be overestimating.

Early today my sweet neighbor emailed and asked if Anderson and I would like to come over for a visit this morning or this afternoon. I thought to myself: “There is not a remote possibility I will be showered, out of my husband’s XL graphic tee and even remotely presentable to anyone outside my home until at least the mid-afternoon hours.” I said: “Later this afternoon is probably best for us.” No need to scare the woman.

On his way out the door this morning when Aaron asked me and my son, who was at the time very evenly alternating between bursting into PMS-like tears and exclaiming, “All done crying!” with a tear-streaked, semi-creepy smile on his face, what we were doing today, I said, “Surviving.” He patted me on the head like a lost puppy and told me to enjoy surviving, or good luck, or something like that. I can’t remember and/or didn’t really hear him at the time because I hadn’t had coffee yet.

On days like this, perspective is our friend. I may have almost thrown up from record-disgusting diapers, and I’m starting to stick to my clothing (OK, my husband’s clothing), I need to shower so bad – BUT –would you believe I still polished our stainless steel appliances, taught Anderson to ride a balance bike (he kept exclaiming, “I’m riding a bike! I’m riding a bike!” It was so cute I almost felt human again.), AND served both of us warm food today? I know. Please excuse me while I go find that gold star….the first place I’m looking is the shower.

PS – In addition, have I mentioned we’ve reverted to blow-outs this week? If you don’t know what this is, bless you. If you do, sorry for the TMI. But seriously, it’s like Anderson’s 6 months old again and I’ve actually lost count of how many pairs of shorts, blankets, sheets and sleep sacks I’ve had to shower with shout this week like I’ve been fighting wildfires. I guess he’s just doing his part to grease my wheels for baby #2.

PPS – Here’s a cute pic of Anderson on his bike AFTER I cleaned up approximately 700 toys…. total failure on my part.  This blog post obviously merits a “before” pic.  I would say use your imagination, but I know most of you have been there, and don’t have to.  🙂

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

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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

Higher Highs and Lower Lows

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My husband and I got into a big fight two days after finally moving into our long-awaited “dream house.”

But to be honest, I would have been more surprised if we hadn’t.

Robin Williams’ laughter and smile were larger than life. They’re still painted in my memory and ringing in my ears.

But his pain was deeper than the ocean.

And parents, especially new parents, are thrust into the greatest joy, purest bliss and calmest peace of life with a precious new child…

So why do so many of them report suffering from the deepest sadness, most severe loneliness, and isolating ineptitude they’ve ever felt in their lives?*

The common thread in each of these scenarios is something that has taken me a long time to learn about life: with higher highs come lower lows.

With the house example, I’ve learned that even good stress is stress. The overwhelming work of packing your life into boxes and unpacking it piece by piece as you get to know and operate and secure each quirk and cranny of a foreign new place is unsettling, even if it’s also exciting. Add to that exhaustion, chaos and competing opinions about priorities and I’m willing to bet many a husband and wife have “gone at it” – in a way that’s far from the christening fantasy they envisioned.

Then there’s the raw, painful story of one of the world’s most beloved comedians suffering so severely he took his own life. I’m not a psychologist but I know many mental health professionals have said in the aftermath of this shocking death, that it’s often the people who smile the brightest on the surface, that are fighting the darkest demons inside. That smile is their armor; it’s certainly not their whole truth. High highs….low lows.

Finally we have the true roller coaster that is parenting. It can lift you, windswept, to breathtaking heights you never knew existed, and then drop you so fast it leaves you spinning and wanting to throw up.

So why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Well.

One more thing I’ve learned about life is there’s a hell of a lot we have very little control over. Like where our husband puts the coffee maker. Or the unbelievable number of times in a day our little one….fill-in-the-blank (Spits up! Wakes up! Cries! Makes me cry!).

What we do have control over, friends, are the expectations we set for ourselves, as parents and as people.

When we expect things to be picture perfect, easy and happy all the time – we’re setting ourselves up for a freefall into disappointment. How can anyone live up to that bar, set as high as a trapeze artist? I’m pretty sure the only thing new parents have in common with a trapeze artist is sometimes feeling like they live at the circus.

Expect yourself to be human. Expect yourself to do some things well. And forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn to be happy in your home with dishes in the sink, and a baby with spit-up on their onesie. You’ll wash them and change them eventually, but maybe right this second you really just need to pour yourself a cup of coffee or spend 5 minutes zoning out to E! News.

And that’s OK.

Hopefully once we learn to expect that life isn’t roller coaster highs all the time, the lows might even out as well, and we’ll begin to settle into something resembling – what do the trapeze artists call it?

Oh, yeah. Balance.

*PS –  I recognize and respect that sometimes these “lows,” when related to mental health are beyond our control and require the help of a trained professional, and/or treatment such as medication. If you are experiencing something you suspect could be a postpartum mood disorder, please know you are not alone, and you deserve to find the support you need. Here are a couple of resources available to you:

*Postpartum Support International of Washington:
http://www.ppmdsupport.com** has info on PPMD, list of recommended resources and Support Groups
*Peer Support Phone Line (a “warm-line” not a crisis “hotline” – support from women who have recovered from PPMD – if you leave a message, someone will call back within 24 hours). 1-888-404-PPMD

This essay was originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows.

*photo credit

The More the Merrier?

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Four Moms Talk Family Size, Sibling Dynamics,  and Why Timing is Everything

Did you always dream of having a family big enough to fill up a minivan or your own basketball roster? Or maybe you had a baby and quickly realized one is more than enough, thank you very much? While some parents struggle to conceive at all, others are graced by a surprise(!) second, third or fourth baby, just when they thought they were “done.” When it comes to family planning and family size, there is only so much we can, in fact, “plan”. One thing that’s guaranteed – every parent’s story is uniquely personal, and each family took its own set of twists and turns along the way.

As someone who has always been open to, yet unsure about, having a “larger” family (more than the average two kids), I love hearing about other parents’ experiences in planning for (or not…), and raising, families of various sizes.

To get the real scoop on what it’s like to have two, three, or four kids, I interviewed four mothers of varying family sizes about growing their brood, the story on siblings, their ideal age spacing between kids, and how each new addition has changed them as parents and their family’s dynamic. I hope you will enjoy their candid, insightful words and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as baby has made three…then four…then five…then six! I am indebted to these women for contributing to my first collaborative, interview-based blog post.

First, a bit about how I know each of these moms:

Shawna and I have been friends since high school, were in each other’s weddings, and bonded even more as belly buddies while simultaneously pregnant with our sons (her second, my first), both born in March, 2013. Shawna lives in a suburb of Spokane, WA with her husband and two sons, Kiptyn (3) and Brody (1).

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Becka and I led Young Life together when I was in college and though we have not seen each other in years, it has been a joy to follow her life and the growth of her family remotely, through emails and Facebook. She resides in a suburb north of Seattle where she and her husband are raising their four children – Jordan (7 ½), Kalum (6), Addison (4) and Lincoln (1 ½).

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Kalimar and I were in a book club together a few years ago, and I will never forget the gathering at my house where she stunned us all with the news that she was expecting her (surprise!) third child and first son, Anthony (2). He joined big sisters, Kadence (6) and Kohyn (3). Kalimar and her husband reside in a Seattle suburb.

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Vanessa was my PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) group leader when Aaron and I joined our first group with our son, Anderson, and has served as a support and example to me as I have gone on to lead PEPS groups myself. She and her husband are raising their three kids – 10-year-old Luke, 7-year-old Vivian and 4-year-old Soren…and have a fourth on the way! – in Seattle.

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It goes without saying there are wonderful mothers of 1 and of 5+ I also could have interviewed for this project. And if you are one of those moms – I welcome your unique insights, so please comment and share! Alas, these are the moms I invited on board to share their greatest struggles (the diapers! the whining! the sleep!) and what keeps them smiling (the giggle fests!) no matter how zombie-tired they are… as their families have grown… and grown… and grown. Read on!

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“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” – Woody Allen

 

“I never grew up wanting to get married, or thought about being a mom,” shares Vanessa, who is currently expecting her fourth child.

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“We had not really discussed children before our first. When we got married I didn’t even think about kids, really – hadn’t given it a thought.” Vanessa says that it wasn’t until after having children she knew she wanted to have four. “Everyone always tells me that the woman knows when she is done having babies…literally just having given birth the mom will know – she will still have that feeling for one more or she will feel complete and done, and it’s so true with me! I never felt done with each of my kids. I’m currently pregnant with #4, and I feel done. I’m ready after this one to be finished (my husband is so happy about that!).”

For Shawna, “two” was always that ideal number – before and after becoming a mom. She says that even in discussions she and her husband had before getting married, having two kids someday “seemed natural for us.” Now, with two toddlers at home, they certainly have their hands full, but Shawna admits, “Now, we partially joke that we would like a third child.” She is quick to add that is not an option for them, however (“They make surgeries for that sort of thing”).

Kalimar also had her feet firmly planted in the “two kids” camp, until a life-changing positive pregnancy test came along that turned her plans – and life as she knew it – upside down. Her son, Anthony, was born when her youngest daughter was just 16 months old – an experience she wouldn’t recommend to anyone. “I was in survival mode for his entire first year and can barely remember any of it,” she shares, adding that the timing of having two babies so close together was “extremely challenging” and – quite simply – “horrible.”

Becka, who gave birth to four children within six years, says she and her husband “always talked about having four kids close in age.” But those plans didn’t come to fruition without some serious doubts along the way. “Our talks/plans did not change until I was eight months pregnant with our third child,” she says. “After having two boys I had mentally assumed our third was also going to be a boy and if I was lucky I would get a girl for our fourth. (Finding out we were having a girl) threw a wrench in my mental picture of my family.” As a very tired pregnant mother of two, Becka says she “began to think I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t be pregnant again and wake up to take care of three children.” After some serious thought and prayer, and experiencing 19 months as a mother of three, Becka says at that point she finally knew that she truly wanted a fourth child.

How Close is Too Close? The Age Gap Debate

As any mother of twins will tell you, taking care of two babies is at least twice as much work as taking care of one – twice the diapers, twice the feedings, twice the tantrums… you get the idea. Much of these same consequences hit parents of closely-spaced kids. While many parents intentionally wait until older children are potty-trained, sleeping through the night – even in school – to lessen the impact of adding another baby to the mix, other parents deeply desire for their kids to grow up very close in age, and some even find it easier to get through the “diaper days” all at once, however daunting that task may be.

Let’s talk diapers.

It’s something every one of the mothers I interviewed mentioned – without even being asked. For some it plays into their ideals for age spacing, for others not so much.

Becka loves the age spacing between her kids (“They are each other’s best friends”), though she can see the benefits of spacing kids out even more.

“It is hard because I am in the ‘trenches’ for quite a few years in a row,” she says, “but once I get out I will be able to stay out. As opposed to my parents who had four kids with a four-year age gap between each, so my oldest brother was 12 when my baby brother was born. That’s 14 years of never really getting out of diapers!”

For Kalimar, most everything was easier with her first two children (daughters spaced 2.5 years apart) than with her youngest two children who have only a 16-month gap in age.

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“My first two are 2.5 years apart and it’s wonderful. My first was daytime potty-trained when my second was born…could ask questions and understand my answers.” The short spacing between her two youngest was another story entirely – both were in diapers full-time, and Kalimar was still nursing nearly halfway through her third pregnancy, which hindered her own (and, she suspects, her baby’s) weight gain. When the new baby arrived, her 16-month-old daughter was confused to see Mom holding a new baby and not her. “The lack of communication and understanding of my 16-month-old was heartbreaking. There were so many times daddy had to pull her away crying and screaming because she wanted to snuggle while I was nursing the newborn and she couldn’t.”

For Vanessa, diapers were no big deal and weren’t one of the reasons she spaced her kids further apart, at three years apart each. Though she says diapers never bothered her, getting each child to sleep through the night, be more independent, and into a bigger car seat were some practical aspects to her choice. Most importantly though, she just wanted more time to be their mom, one at a time. “The best thing to me about my kids’ age gap (three years each) is that I had time with each one – to take care of each of them in the baby stage when they need you the most.” She also mentions that her kids are still “incredibly close” even with the larger age gap.

Shawna also had her sights set on a three-year age gap, but plans changed when Kiptyn was 15 months old and she and her husband found themselves trying for baby #2. Like Becka, Shawna and her husband had grown up with their own siblings spaced further apart, and felt the impact of not being as close. With her boys almost exactly two years apart, the double diaper duty can be taxing, but she loves that they are “close enough to experience life together, go to the same schools at the same time, and grow up as buddies.” Playing referee to their wrestling matches is a small price to pay.

Growing Pains…and Growing Joys

I asked the moms what the hardest transition was for them – going from 0 to 1 kid, 1 to 2, 2 to 3, or 3 to 4. Three out of four said the first baby was the hardest, followed by going from 2 to 3 (although Vanessa felt that by the time they had their third, it was a “piece of cake!”).

“Everything is much easier with two,” says Kalimar. “Once you have three or more you are in the market for a bigger car, bigger house etc…”

Becka seconds the car considerations, adding, “I don’t want a car bigger than a minivan!”

Across the board, one of the biggest rewards the moms have felt as their families have grown, is watching the bond their children form with each other.

“There is a lot more fighting and yelling happening, but also so much more giggling and silliness,” says Vanessa. “The giggles are priceless,” adds Becka. Shawna agrees, “Pure joy is seeing my boys interact and laugh together. The belly laughs I find myself listening to these days make me smile from ear to ear.”

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Whining toddlers and older kids wanting to roughhouse with the fragile younger babes was a top challenge mentioned by the moms. But on the flip side, the older, more independent kids are also able to help out with little siblings. Girls tended to take right to “mothering” their new baby brother or sister.

Words of Advice for Undecided Parents

I asked the moms what advice they would give other parents who are undecided about how many kids to have, and when to have them. Here are their pearls of wisdom:

From Kalimar: “Age spacing is crucial! I highly recommend not having kids closer in age than 2 ½ years if your first is a girl, and at least three years if your first is a boy. The reason for this is that girls are natural little mothers…they understand and want to help with baby at an earlier age than boys….even the most sensitive boy loves to crash and bang, and yes he will crash and bang into the newborn.”

From Becka: “Talk about it, pray about it and think about what you can handle. There are hard days that seem to last an eternity, but in the scheme of things a year flies by!”

From Shawna: “Consider how much time you’ll be able to spend with each child, teaching them, learning alongside them. (As for spacing), go with what feels right. Whether planned or unplanned, children enrich lives, turn life upside down in the most perfect of ways. Life is amazingly crazy with kids in it, and it is the best, most challenging thing I may ever do.”

From Vanessa: “There is so much pressure on parents to have their second child…I felt like right after we had our first, people were already asking us when we were going to have our next one! Now that I’m pregnant with baby #4, people can’t believe that either and I get a lot of weird looks and people asking if we are having it on purpose, and ‘Why?’ which no one would ask with baby #1 or #2. There is no pleasing everyone… If you are content with having one child, then just have one. Do what you want, and have your babies when you want. You don’t have to please anyone but yourselves.”

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As for Me….

Aaron and I are expecting…..to hopefully be pregnant again sometime next year! God willing. I SO relate to Vanessa’s comment about a mother just knowing when she is done, or not done, having children. Throughout my pregnancy with Anderson and even early on with him as a newborn, I already genuinely looked forward to someday, I hope, getting to do it all over again.

The insight I have gained from these mothers is invaluable to me as one of the hardest things about making any parenting decisions is the many “unknowns.” I so appreciate the “reality check” these moms have given me and their experience-based wisdom makes me feel more informed as to what I need to take into consideration – what’s best for Anderson and what’s best for Aaron and me as parents – before heading down the road toward additional children. As much as my heart tells me I would love to be pregnant again right now, my head tells me there are good reasons to wait just a little bit longer.

Just Keep Swimming…

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One thing I’ve learned about “mom & tot” swim lessons: they are a logistical nightmare for people like me.

OK, so maybe “nightmare” is too harsh a term.  But let’s just say it’s the most challenging activity I have ever had to wade through with a baby — harder than navigating airports and airplanes, trickier than changing his diaper while he rolls around in circles and threatens to take a flying leap off his changing table, way tougher than teaching him to walk.

When I signed Anderson up to begin “swim lessons” (i.e. “splash sessions”) this week, I immediately began strategizing my every move:

Where would I put him while I showered? What if I had to pee? How would I keep my stuff safe yet accessible while we’re in the pool?  What if the swim diaper doesn’t do its job? Do I apply his head-to-toe sunscreen again after the (annoying) mandatory shower?

The idea of baby’s first swim lessons is soooo cute, right?  Slathering your chubby little babe in a totally responsible amount of sunscreen (then washing it off in the mandatory shower…), donning him in his first pair of swim trunks and Little Nemo swim diaper, and having dad stand by, camera phone in hand, as if his life depends on capturing every moment of this momentous occasion. 

And yes friends,  of course there were ridiculously cute moments to be had.  Anderson loves the water and it is a joy experiencing it with him, even as I unsuccessfully teach him our first “skill,” kicking:

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Even though Aaron was there to cheer us on and take pictures, I was on my own when it came to keeping our son afloat (basically 30 minutes straight of thigh-burning endurance with me squatting while partially underwater), and handling anything dressing room/bathroom/shower related.

Rinsing off before lessons was easy.  We had both come dressed in our swim suits, sunscreen on.  I held him under the shower and quickly rinsed us both off.  Here is our proud, pre-lesson photo:

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Here’s one more cute one for good measure:

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It was after the lesson that things got dicey.

I tried to pretend that Aaron wasn’t there since I’ll be doing most of these lessons on my own.  So after the lesson – baby and I both soaking wet, naturally – I was thrilled to find the Family Restroom was unoccupied.  A whole giant room with a shower and changing bench all to ourselves(!), for me to awkwardly navigate how this post-pool routine should unfold.  We rinsed off with me holding him again, but then I realized I needed to somehow set him down so I could change out of my suit, into something dry to drive home in.  A stroller might have been helpful here, even though he was dripping wet..

Plan B: I laid him on a towel on the changing bench in front of me, but he immediately began to scream and squirm around.  I quickly realized this wasn’t going to work and gave up on the Family Restroom idea. 

Plan C.

I made my way back outside to Aaron, and to casually spy on what the more “together” looking moms were doing to get themselves and their babies dry and on their way.  I was especially tuned into a perky trio of moms who had babies about half Anderson’s age and acted like this was the 100th swim class they’d all taken together.  They comprised the type of clique you’d read about in a yoga class scene from a Jennifer Weiner novel: fit, trendy, beautiful moms who never seemed in a hurry, always looked effortlessly dressed in the latest yoga/swimwear/towel fashions (apparently neon, polka dot and giraffe print are in this year, FYI). 

These moms had casually strolled into class mere minutes before it began (while I arrived, sweating, almost half hour early).  They spoke casually of being up since 4am and getting a full day of work in before heading home for swim class, and at least one of their babies (clearly BFFs from the womb) flawlessly mastered the kicking “skill” that Anderson (many months their senior!) was totally clueless about..

So back to after swim class, once I emerged from the failed Family Restroom experiment, I found the three moms effortlessly drying themselves off (apparently they were driving home in swimsuit and towel?), laughing as they changed their obliging babies out of swim diapers (trendy patterned CLOTH swim diapers by the way), into regular diapers on the lounge chairs, and saying their goodbyes until they met again for swim lesson 101.

Meanwhile, Anderson’s lips were quivering and turning maybe just the slightest tinge of blue.  We had also just witnessed a stream of pee falling out of his “swim diaper” onto the patio, and his little hooded towel had gotten too wet to keep him warm any longer.

Plan C needed to work, so I called in reinforcements.  I asked Aaron to change him into a dry diaper and clothes on the outdoor bench, while I pulled some dry pants and a tank top over my drenched swimsuit (I had given up on the idea of driving home in dry clothes).  I realized I had forgotten to bring any sort of a plastic bag, so I rolled all the wet clothes and suit into a towel and used the other towel as a seat cushion so I didn’t ruin my car’s leather seats. 

I drove home with running mascara, uncomfortably dry skin (there was definitely no time for lotion…) and an adjusted wet t-shirt look (mine was a 90% soaked gray tank top, thank you very much). 

And this was the one time Aaron WAS there!!

So….. tomorrow I will be going it alone at the pool.  Aaahh!! I will bring some things with me that I forgot the first time around, like a spare swim diaper and plastic bags.  But the most important thing I’ll bring with me is lowered expectations.  I will probably once again drive home wet, and this time will have to wait another half hour until Aaron gets home so I can shower.  Anderson might pee on the ground again (but hopefully not in the pool…), and I probably won’t feel quite as graceful as the yoga moms. 

Like Dory says in Finding Nemo, it may not be pretty, but we’ll just keep swimming and one way or another, we’ll learn how to float.

PS – Thank God, there was someone arguably more awkward than me at swim class.  One of the few dads there, he had these big, blurry, indistinguishable tattoos, a very confusing accent (I swear it was like some bizarre cross between Texan and German) and who was, to borrow Aaron’s raised eyebrows analogy, body-slamming his very confused yet somehow happy one-year-old daughter into the water as if it was the closest he’d get to WWF glory.  Compared to him, I felt totally composed.  Not that I’ve sunk to the level of comparisons, or anything.  ; ) 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying Solo

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Earlier this month I took a big leap outside of my stay-at-home mom bubble and hopped a plane – alone! – to Chicago for three days. My old college roommate, Catherine, was about to turn 30 and graduate from med school and I thought it was the perfect time to plan a trip to celebrate. I also selfishly was ready to spread my wings a bit and prove that I could do this – be apart overnight from my 14-month-old for the first time ever!
I eagerly awaited this trip for weeks and weeks and dreamed of it being this relaxing, rejuvenating and luxurious time where I could stretch my legs walking the big city, read for four uninterrupted hours on the plane, indulge in bubble baths in my OWN hotel room…. You get the idea.

In some ways the trip was exactly what I had felt I needed and hoped for, and in some ways it wasn’t.

First, the flight:
The last four flights I had been on included Anderson, so it was quite the change not having to juggle a diaper bag, nurse, change diapers, or get a baby to nap on my lap while on the plane. It almost seemed too easy, like I was cheating or something, to board the plane with just myself, a small bag and a book. It was nice to be able to listen to music and zone out, to get lost in a book and not be accountable to anyone else on the plane. But I also got nostalgic and a bit homesick every time I heard a baby cry. It never annoyed me in the slightest, in fact I actually found the sound comforting. I sort of missed the sweet soft skin and warmth of a baby’s body against mine on the flight, of shuffling through board books and watching the hustle and bustle of an airport and flight through a baby’s eyes. There were things that were nice about flying alone – don’t get me wrong – but I was reminded that the extra baggage required to take a baby on board was ultimately pretty priceless.

The hotel:
Yes, it was nice to have a bed to hog and a TV to watch whatever I wanted, but I was also loneliest at night all alone, towering above this foreign place. I had the hardest time sleeping and tossed and turned until well into the early morning hours both nights. It was almost as if things were too quiet, too sterile, too simplified. I missed my own hastily made bed, the hum of Anderson’s monitor beside me, the random knocking sound of our quirky refrigerator. A hotel, no matter how nice, doesn’t hold a candle to home (and mine wasn’t THAT nice…. Here’s looking at you tiny square pillows made for a guinnea pig).

The celebrating:
It was good to see my longtime friend. We had a lot of catching up to do on our very different lives. She introduced me to three amazing restaurants and made sure I was well-fed and well-acquainted with where I was going (I would have been lost without her…). I was reminded that emails and texts can’t replace the ground you can cover catching up in person. I’m glad we made the time for each other, and that I got to walk with her in her home city of the last four years before she moves across the country yet again. I find it fascinating to witness a life path so different than mine, and am so proud of all she has accomplished!
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The city:
It was a bizarre sensation to be so completely untethered to the identity I wear like clothing every day here in Seattle – that of a mother. I have typically one or two small blocks of time on my own each week at home, to run errands, do my appointments and so on. But having an ENTIRE WEEKEND devoid of my mom hat entirely was a strange and almost disorienting feeling. As I walked for miles through the city, smelled the food and crossed over the river, window shopped, and got coffee, I figured I probably could have passed for a single, local woman about town. I did things I never ever do by myself or at home.

Like spend two blissfully quiet, meditative hours meandering through an art museum:
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Or spontaneously attend an Aretha Franklin (yes, seriously – Aretha Franklin!!) concert at the famous Chicago Theatre:
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I had a good time in Chicago. But undoubtedly and by a mile, the BEST part of my trip, was coming home to this:
back home with baby
I did not fully realize how much I had missed him until he was in my arms again. We were glued to each other for about an hour; I didn’t want to let him go. My coming home again to Anderson was one of the sweetest moments of my life. He made these sweet cooing sounds and showed me smiles I’d never seen before at the sheer joy of our reunion. I knew in that moment there was no place in the world better than this.

The Pillow Test – My Messy Beautiful

The Pillow Test – My Messy Beautiful

**This essay is part of the Momastery Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. 

For more info:  http://momastery.com/carry-on-warrior

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The Pillow Test

Far more often than I’d like to admit, when my tired head finally hits the pillow at night, my mind morphs into a jukebox stuck on an endless loop of the Ray LaMontagne song, “Trouble:”

Trouble
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble been doggin’ my soul
Since the day I was born

Worry
Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave
My mind alone

When the lights go out and I am still and all is quiet for the first time All. Day. Long., I usually experience about a millisecond of relaxation and relief as I settle into bed.

And then, it begins.

My mind. The worrisome, stressed out, analytical-as-hell part of my mind thinks it’s time to PARTY.

I don’t know what it is, but when it’s just me and that pillow and my thoughts and my dear husband has long since drifted off to sleep, my mind starts going a thousand miles an hour. I agonize about everything I could have done better, said better, cleaned better, cooked better, explained better, written better – All. Day. Long.

I then move on to worrying about all the things I must do better tomorrow, all the things I must make right, or fix, or adjust, or be sure not to forget.

The time of day when I finally get to lie down and rest, is often my most exhausting hour of all. One thing I know for sure – this is not good, friends!!

I recently asked my husband, “What do you think about when you’re just lying there, before you fall asleep?”

He replied, “I think about things I’m grateful for, and things I’m looking forward to about the next day.”

Huh. Right. Of course.

So I’ve tried doing this – I’ve TRIED silencing the Ray LaMontagne record and replacing it with “Happy Days” or something – really, I have – but there’s only one way this works for me.

Enter, The Pillow Test.

It sounds super obvious – but I’ve simply learned (and re-learned, and re-learned), that how I conduct myself during the day is directly correlated to how I feel about myself at night.

There are things I can do or not do, and principles I can abide by or not, that ultimately pass or fail what I like to call “The Pillow Test” – how my mind and my spirit feels – at peace or wreaking havoc – when I come face to fluff with that pillow each night.

Here’s what works for me. I’m sure your pillow test parameters would be different than mine, but these are the things and values I have found I need to do and live by in order to be holding my head high when I lay it down each night. When I do these things, I rest well, I check my burdens at the bedroom door, and I unplug my mind from that scheming soundtrack telling me to worry, worry, worry.

Here’s my list. I encourage you to experiment with your own.

 

1. Be Authentic – to me this just means presenting my true self to the world, and standing behind who I am, where I’m at and communicating that honestly as I go throughout my day. Examples of not being authentic, for me, is pretty much anything that makes me feel like I’m “playing a part” – speaking or acting in a way that feels expected, but not real – be it at church, at the playground or chatting with neighbors.

2. Mind my own business and refrain from gossip – I define gossip as this: anything I say about someone else that a) is not my immediate business, directly impacting my life, and b) serves to neither compliment them nor express sincere concern. For example, “Did you see what Lauren was wearing at the party? It just looked so awkward” is neither a compliment, nor a serious concern, nor does it impact me in any way. It is simply sport and entertainment at someone else’s expense. Gossip is a huge shame trigger for me. It can feel so satisfying at the time, yet so rotten and empty at the end of the day when that head hits the pillow.

3. Live at peace with others, as far as it depends on me – Life and relationships are messy and I’m pretty sure there’s no lifelong cure for awkward situations, fights with friends and family, or stressful encounters. Unfortunately they just seem to crop up once in a while, some very much by our doing, and some in ways we could never control. I’m not one of those people who says I live life “with no regrets.” I have regrets, you bet I do. They mostly involve ways I’ve let down myself or other people, or caused someone else pain. Feeling unsettled about a stress in a relationship is another major pillow test fail for me. But, I’m learning, I can only do my part to make things right. I can’t control other people, make them like me, talk to me, or see things my way. I believe it is my responsibility to be a peacemaker as far as it depends on me. Beyond that, you HAVE TO let it go, friends. Let it go, let it go.  

4. Be Productive – As a “stay-at-home mom,” I sleep easiest on days when I’ve honored my roles as a mother, wife and homemaker to an extent that feels honorable to me. Again, this is a different measuring stick for everyone. For me, I feel better on days that have structure, tasks accomplished, exercise incorporated, and a clean home and nice meal for my husband to come home to. No this most certainly does not always happen, but it’s a nice pillow test perk when it does. My roles in my home and my family bring balance and fulfillment to my identity.

5. Explore my passions – In addition to my roles in my family life, it is important I continue cultivating my personal identity through passions and purposes that I hold important, independent of who I am to other people. For me those are things like reading and writing and running. When I do these things I honor my mind, my body, and my spirit – and I sleep easier knowing I made myself a priority, too.

6. Be present – I’m currently reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain (partially to decide whether I’m an introvert, partially to better understand those in my life who are). In it she argues that scientists have proven multi-tasking really doesn’t work. The other day my babysitter was over and I was trying to simultaneously carry on a conversation with her, and pay her. After signing my name on both the memo line and the signature line of the check, I discovered once again that I suck at multi-tasking and needed to do one thing at a time – talk OR write a check.

Similarly, it is so much simpler and fulfilling to look at my husband while I’m talking to him, rather than sort of talk to him and sort of watch the news. Or to play with my son with my hands on the book we’re reading or toys on the floor instead of sort of play with him while staring at my phone texting someone. I feel better about myself at the end of the day when I truly make an effort to be present.

“Trouble” has been playing less often in the silence that comes with bedtime lately. I haven’t found another song to replace it, either. I’m learning that when I’m more OK with myself, I’m more OK with the quiet. Those are nights, I sleep like a baby.

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And the good news is, on the days when I fail the pillow test, I’m all the more motivated to do better by myself the next day. And knowing I always have that chance for a “do-over” helps me sleep a little better.

His mercies are new every morning.   -Lamentations 3:23

Things I’m Learning from my 13-Month-Old

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I used to be a little skeptical when I would hear parents say that their children teach them more than they teach their children. Really? I would think. But surely you are teaching your kids SO MUCH STUFF! I mean, they rely on you for EVERYTHING! How could you be learning even more from them??

But I’m learning that old adage just might be true – when it comes to the important stuff, anyway. Sure, we teach our children many practical things – like how to tie their shoes and chew their food and use the potty. And we hope we model love and trust and kindness. But the stuff they teach us, I’m learning, can’t be taught in a class or spelled out in a curriculum. What they teach us are primal, instinctual, JOYFUL lessons about humanity in its purest form. And whether you have an 8th grade reading level or a PhD, their lessons are sure to sharpen your mind and awaken your senses.

 Here are 10 things that my (almost) 13-month-old has been teaching me lately:

 1. Be content with what you have.

In a world of “bigger, better, faster, louder,” my son has helped me re-discover the magic of small pleasures, quiet moments, and slow rhythms. He doesn’t care about the size of his bedroom or our house, where his clothes come from or if the books on his shelf are on the bestsellers list. He is so happy with exactly what he has – books old and tattered or shiny and new, a gourmet meal or a jar of peas, a dapper suit or hand-me-down pjs. He seems to be in on a secret many of us grown ups have forgotten long, long ago – we have everything we need, and more.

2. Nap when you’re cranky.

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Another habit many of us adults long ago abandoned – the healing balm of a mid-day nap. Now I am the first to admit I am an almost nonexistent napper – I could probably count on one hand the number of naps I’ve taken since Anderson was born. To my own detriment, I’m sure. Anderson reminds me of the renewal of sleep, in any increment – it does wonders for our mood, energy, body and mind. We could all use more naps. Even if you don’t fall asleep, just to embrace some stillness and calm in the middle of a busy day can really help to refocus ones perspective.

3. Find joy in sharing.

No matter how excited Anderson is about whatever food he is eating, he is always even MORE excited to share it with our dog, Izzy (who is, in turn, even MORE excited to be eating something other than her dog food of the last seven years). Though half of me knows I should discourage our son from feeding his overpriced baby food to our dog, the other half of me can’t help but smile when I see how giddy with joy he becomes from making her giddy with joy. Am I that excited to share and bring joy to people in my life?

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4. Comparing leads to pride or pain.

I just finished reading a fantastic, inspiring book I would recommend to anyone, called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. In it, she explains that our society teaches us from a young age to “compare and compete.” She explains it is a paradox in that we are taught to be like others, but a little bit better. Often we feel just fine – or even great!- about ourselves until we see what our neighbor/relative/friend has. Babies, on the other hand, couldn’t care less if they’re the best sleeper among their baby friends, or the slowest to walk, or the pickiest eater, or the friendliest. They just are who they are and they haven’t yet been taught to be anything but OK with that.

5. Crawl before you walk.

I love observing the joy Anderson has in crawling. While some babies his age are walking, he is content right where he is, army crawling with the best of ‘em. This mode of transportation works for him right now, and he’ll get to the next step when he’s ready. It reminds me to be present. Whether I’m training for a race, or writing a novel, or decorating a house – crawl before you walk. And don’t just suffer through crawling, embrace it – those first miles or pages or picture frames will surely roll into more. Enjoy the journey.

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6. Messiness is liberating.

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Ever notice how babies seem to be having the most fun eating when they are making the biggest mess? I think it’s because they’re going all in, fully committing to prioritize their pleasure over all else – a clean face, stain-free clothes or a full plate of food actually in their mouth. They’re going all in and making a mess of it. Go big or go home. It makes me think about how some of the most rewarding experiences in my life involve “going all in” and making a mess. Like working up a big sweat on a hard run, or baking up a storm until my counters are covered in flour. There’s a freedom in letting go of the need to be clean and in control All. The. Time. And babies will tell you it just plain makes life more fun.

7. There is comfort in routine.

Just as there’s a time to make a big old mess, there is also a time (many times a day, typically), to find comfort in the normalizing rhythm and predictability of daily life. Seeing how much Anderson depends on his routine – whether it’s a book before bed or a warm bottle of milk – has made me reconsider and reprioritize components of my own routine. Like Anderson, I feel better and more grounded when I have people I can depend on and earmarked things I can look forward to every day. Molding his routine has challenged me to remake elements of my own.

8. There are too many good books out there to not be reading every day.

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For someone who lists two of her highest passions as reading and writing, I can really suck at making time for either/both. I get busy, and I get tired, and I think I’d rather be: (watching TV, making small talk, checking Facebook, fill-in-the-blank…), but more often than not, I’d really rather be reading. I am thrilled that my son loves books. I find joy in building his library, reading to him, and watching him pensively study the pages himself. There is not a day that goes by when his eyes and hands are not all over a book, or ten. It has reconnected me with the sweet pleasure of reading and heightened my commitment to making more time to read.

9. Enjoy your own company.

There is a time to enjoy the company of your friends/family/colleagues/spouse, and there is a time to be totally cool chillin’ on your own. Sometimes I catch Anderson in his playpen, deeply engrossed in his books, toys, socks…. Whatever it is he’s doing, he is perfectly fine spending some time alone figuring it out. I think so often we’re afraid of “missing out” or “slowing down” that we neglect valuable time spent alone, by ourselves, reconnecting with our thoughts and our spirit and our dreams. I am going to Chicago next month, alone. I will be spending some time with a friend who lives there, and I can’t wait for that “girl time,” out on the town indulging in brunches and having one too many margaritas. But I’ll also be spending some of the trip alone and, to be honest, I can’t wait for that, either. As moms, I think we often feel guilt about desiring time for ourselves, away from our children and our spouse. But that time – whether it’s an hour away or a weekend away – is so important. It renews us, and refocuses us, and sharpens our appreciation for home when we return there. So I am excited to be on my own for a bit. For the 4-hour flight to get lost in a novel, for the luxury of taking baths and watching whatever TV I want in my own hotel room, for the stillness and quiet of wandering an art gallery for hours. I know I will miss my family, but I also believe I am worthy of this time to recharge my batteries, and I think we’ll ALL be better for it. I can’t wait.

10. Let love in.

This picture was taken when Anderson was sick, which made him more dependent, lethargic, clingy and cuddly than normal. This picture reminds me that we all need, and desire to be needed. Babies just love, and just let you love them. Who in your life could use your love? Who could you allow to love you more? Sounds simple, but I think sometimes we suppress this most primal need, and Anderson has taught me how sweet it is to just sit back and let love in.

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Sometimes You Just Have to Buy the Cake

Sometimes You Just Have to Buy the Cake

Earlier this month, I paid a visit to my doctor because I was a ball of stress – though I didn’t know it at the time. 

I had been experiencing tightness in my chest and some occasional labored breathing for a few weeks – symptoms I had experienced off and on in the past but always chalked up to some “logical” excuse:

“Oh my bra is just too tight because I’m pregnant.”

 Or

“It’s bad posture – I just need to do those ‘chest wall’ stretches my doctor recommended.”

Or

“Breastfeeding is just taking a toll on my body – it must be what’s literally ‘weighing me down.’”

Nope. 

Several sleepless nights, a few mini panic attacks, some crying in a hospital gown, one chest x-ray and one EKG later, all signs pointed to a classic case of STRESS.  It’s like that feeling when you have a lump in your throat and are trying not to cry, but that “lump” was in my chest.  Both my primary physician and my therapist seemed not at all surprised by this diagnosis –a textbook manifestation of mental and emotional stress through physical symptoms. 

Huh.  This was not what I was expecting.  I mean, I’m thrilled I’m not on the brink of a heart attack and all, but a diagnosis of STRESS??  How on Earth do I treat that??  And how did I get it?  After all, I’ve GOT this motherhood thing down, right??  Not perfect by any means, but sooo much better than my worst fears of chronic sleep deprivation, utter isolation or post-partum depression.  I really, truly thought I had been doing pretty darn swell! 

But as many have now gently reminded me – no matter how good or how hard things may seem – a new baby is a new baby.  A HUGE life change, period.  Even good stress is STRESS.  And even good change, is CHANGE.  And many things have taken a backseat to prioritize being a good mom – my personal relationships, exercise, sleeping and eating as much and as well as I should.  It’s all worth it, right??

Well, it is until it’s not.  It’s not worth it to skimp on sleep and exercise and processing my emotions in a productive way, because more than anything, my child needs a HEALTHY MOM.  Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually HEALTHY.  So for him and for me I am following my doctor’s orders:  running until I break a sweat, continuing to talk through life with my therapist, eating better, sleeping better, and most of all – NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!  Or trying not to, anyway….

I’m even trying to not sweat the BIG stuff.  Not as much as I usually do, at least.  Compounding the change and the stress of my current “new mom” life, we just almost bought a house, then didn’t buy a house, then found out we need to find another house to buy.  Soon.  Like probably right-around -Christmas soon.  And there’s no inventory!  And it’s a cruel seller’s market!  And we love our neighborhood and don’t want to leave!  The schools are so great here and we can walk to everything!  And! And! And!

Stress. 

Even if it’s positive and life is exciting, stress creeps into the need to constantly fight for the BEST for my life and my family – the BEST house, the BEST school, the BEST homemade cakes for his future birthday parties. 

Going along with the cake example, this recently struck me as the perfect analogy.  Maybe you can’t always have your cake and make it, too.  Maybe I can’t have an immaculate, organized home all the time AND be rested.  Maybe I can’t spend hours on a from-scratch home-cooked dinner every night AND have the energy left to actually ENJOY a conversation with my husband.  Maybe I can’t stay up until midnight watching TV AND have the energy to run the next morning. 

Maybe I CAN have all these things, but more likely, I just can’t. 

As anyone who follows my writing knows, this little health scare came on the heels of my 30th birthday resolutions, which included goals to “Learn to sew and make my kids’ Halloween costumes,” “Make my kids’ birthday cakes” and “Grow a vegetable garden.”

Life is all about choices.  Priorities.  Making the most of the time we have.  For me, right now, I need to train myself to let go of perfectionism and embrace the GOOD.  I want a GOOD home for my family.  I want my son to go to a GOOD school.  I want my family to have GOOD meals.  GOOD seems doable.  I can do GOOD, and still find time to run, smile, and chill the heck out. 

So listen to your inner sanity.  It’s telling you, in its little lumpy, pesky voice, “If you want to live the sweet life, and really have the presence of mind to ENJOY the moments that matter – sometimes – just sometimes – you have to put away the apron and Just. Buy. The. Cake.” 

By the grace of God, I have managed to remain blissfully clueless about Pinterest to this day.   

And for the record, I totally bought Anderson’s Halloween costume this year. 

30 for my Thirties

30 for my Thirties

Feeling grateful to be 30!  Had a great birthday with little A and big A, and scribbled together this list of a few of the things I hope to fill my days with over the NEXT decade…my goal is to have ALL of these outings, accomplishments and quirky experiences (like milking a cow) proudly crossed off my list by the big 4-0….wish me luck!

30 FOR MY THIRTIES…

1.  Write a novel

2.  Buy a house

3.  Grow a vegetable garden

4.  See Zac Brown Band live

5.  Get a short, sophisticated haircut

6.  Volunteer to lead a PEPS group

7.  Give Anderson a sibling

8.  Read 100 new books

9.  Camp on a beach

10.  Ski and stay in a quaint little Colorado ski town

11.  Travel internationally – it’s been too long!!

12.  Learn how to cook with shellfish

13.  Make my kids’ birthday cakes

14.  Learn to sew and make my kids’ Halloween costumes

15.  Get caught up on photo albums

16.  Run a half marathon (extra points for a full one ; )

17.  Do some sort of home improvement task on my own, like tiling a bathroom or a kitchen back splash

18.  Become a published writer again

19.  Family vacation to Yellowstone National Park

20.  Become certified to teach childbirth/parenting prep classes through Swedish – and teach!

21.  See more sunrises

22.  Go to a Seahawks game

23.  Take a road trip spanning at least 5 states

24.  Milk a cow

25.  Adopt a puppy

26.  Have a really, really organized home

27.  Create a piece of art I’m really proud of, to hang in our house

28.  Join a book club again

29.  Be more intentional about visiting out-of-town friends

30.  Love others as I want to be loved, and never be too serious to laugh with my kids.