Lessons from leading a PEPS Group

Highs and Lows

the Happy Film Company-28© The Happy Film Company

By Beth Morris

This spring I had the privilege of being a PEPS Newborn Group Leader for the first time.  As I gear up to lead my second group this summer, I’m reflecting on the lessons that shaped me and made me a better leader (I hope) the first time around…

  1.  Don’t Be a Know-It-All

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

-Wendy Mass

When I first read those words years ago, they struck a deep chord in me, and I’ve tried to return to them often over the years.  Surely I know that as much as there is that people don’t know about me, there is just as much I don’t know about them…right?

Never is this truer than in parenting.  Parenting is so, so personal, yet so, so universal at the same time.  Though millions…

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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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What Goes Up Must Come Down

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Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching Anderson fall.  He is a brave and optimistic little boy, determined to learn to stand even when his little legs wobble, learning to tackle the world while towering above his normally assumed position of “army crawl.”

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I’ve watched as he’s become more confident standing on his own two feet.  I’ve been there to catch him when he’s collapsed.  But now, I’m finding, there are simply times he needs to fall. And I can’t always be there to catch him.  Even if I could, I would be keeping him from learning an important life lesson:  how to fall gracefully.

 

I too, have taken my share of falls these last few months – some not as graceful as I would have liked.   2013 was a good year for me, one I will always cherish.  I grew so much as a new mother, entered what felt like a whole new universe of love and purpose, bonded so deeply with my husband and son, and  was really at peace with and proud of myself.

2014, on the other hand, has not been so buoyant.  It feels like the helium has been slowly leaking out of my joy, pride and peace balloons, and I can’t figure out how to get them back to full floating strength.  Like most people, I believe we have seasons of life when we are “up” and seasons when we are “down,” relatively speaking.  This spectrum may vary drastically for some, and much more mildly for others.  Even when we don’t think we’ve done anything to intentionally change the core of who we are or the general life course we’re charting, sometimes life just seems to drift a bit off track. 

I have felt that way often thus far this year.  I have just felt “off.”  Unsettled, off-balance, distracted, insecure.  I share these things, though personal, because I think everyone can relate to these feelings at some point in their life, and to the frustration of not being able to fully identify or remedy them. 

This is a year I wouldn’t mind starting over.  From the physical and emotional upheaval of moving to a new house, hormonal changes and mood swings, the bittersweet goodbye to babyhood as my son turns one, and additional “mixed bag” relational entanglements – this year has been a doozy.   I’ve been more argumentative than normal, more easily hurt and defensive, and extremely critical of myself.  I’ve lashed out at people I love and let others I barely know affect me way too much.  In short, I’ve lost my groove and my grace.  And I desperately want them back.

I haven’t even wanted to write in over a month, because I’ve felt so uninspired, insular and misunderstood.  But I drug myself to my keyboard this weekend because this is important to me.  It’s something I do for me, and it’s good for me.  And sometimes you have to do those things, whether you feel like it or not. 

When Anderson falls, he often cries, even if it’s only for a second.  Sometimes he cries because he’s scared, like “Whoa! I didn’t know my butt could hit the ground that fast and that hard!”  Sometimes he cries because he’s hurt.  But sometimes, I think he cries, most of all, because he’s just embarrassed.  Because life is just hard.  And frustrating.  And so awkwardly ungraceful sometimes.  I think he cries because he just can’t believe he hasn’t figured this out by now.  I think it boggles his little mind how he can keep falling in the same spot, in the same way, over and over again. 

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Don’t we all cry once in a while out of that same frustration and shame?  Why do I keep falling? Haven’t I learned my lesson?  I’m so embarrassed.  I wish I could just pretend that day/decision/conversation never happened.

That has been my cry much of this winter.  Wishing I could have lots of little do-overs, and a few big ones. 

They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  I look forward to that turning point.  I could use a little less lion and a little more lamb in my life. 

PS – One of the big upsides of this rollercoaster of a season – Anderson turned ONE on March 6th!  This is my favorite picture from his party, as I think it captures the love, closeness and clumsiness that is family .

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And here is what he looked like when he realized he was done with his new favorite food:  cake

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PPS – For those of you who are wondering, I didn’t buy the cake, but I didn’t make one either.  I found a middle ground and made cupcakes instead. I sort of feel like I copped out by not copping out, if that makes sense (and if you’re totally confused, see:

https://writeasrainblog.com/2013/09/24/sometimes-you-just-have-to-buy-the-cake/).

But they were yummy and cute and I’m glad I found the time to bake them, this time… Next year, with a toddler to chase around, you just might catch me swinging by the store. 

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Wake Me When it’s Over: The February Funk

I did not have a particularly good Valentine’s Day. 

Once Big Valentine got home from work, the sliver of the day AFTER we put Little Valentine to bed was mildly redeemed by an undeservedly large bouquet of flowers, a big juicy burger and an adorable display of mini desserts.  Thank you, Aaron.  You’re a good husband, even and especially on my bad days.  But pre-6pm was pretty rough. 

You see, Little Valentine did not get the memo about being a SWEETHEART to his mama on Valentine’s Day.  His memo somehow got lost in translation and HE THOUGHT it said to spend the day setting a record for whiniest, crankiest, pinchy-est, hair pulling-est (mine; he doesn’t have any) day ever.   With virtually no naps.  I love him dearly, but it was tough. 

 To quote my husband when he once famously exclaimed on a particularly maddening day at the office:  

 “I felt like Britney Spears the day she decided to shave her head.”

 I was REALLY tested.  And REALLY emotional.  And REALLY cabin-feverish due to a canceled date night and the squall outside my window preventing me from clearing my head with a nice soothing stroller walk. 

When Aaron got home I did The Hand-Off as if I were trying to permanently extend my arm length by a solid inch, and sprinted up the stairs to take my second shower in about as many hours.  Just for the alone time. 

February is a hard month for me. I’m guessing it might be for a lot of you other Northwesterners, too. The welcome wintry buzz of the holidays is long gone, the festive lights have been long packed away, and I swear everything is just…QUIETER. And at times a little funeral-like in tone.
 
I find myself deep in the trenches of the endless gray days of winter, each year remembering that while the calendar says it’s spring in March, boots and sweaters will remain in steady rotation easily into May.

Unfortunately, for most of us in the U.S., every day in February cannot look like this:
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I felt like I won the lottery just to have TWO days that did.  I’ll bet if they did a poll of the one day of the year dedicated Seattleites were most likely to privately fantasize about jumping ship for Hawaii, Florida or Arizona, it would be right around February 15th.  
 
It’s hard you guys!!
Pass me the tissues and pull out the violins, please.
 
It’s not just the weather, of course. The weather is just the ‘safe’ thing to talk about in a crowd.
People simply aren’t as likely to say out loud:

 “I really need to up my anti-depressants this time of year”

OR

 “I feel like crying every time I see the bachelorettes prancing around in bikinis with perfect abs Every. Monday. Night.”  In FEBRUARY.
 
If one were to do a “Facebook cleanse,” I would advocate February is the best month to do it.  For one thing it’s the shortest, and I’m all about attainable goals. I think it may also be the rainiest month, even though it’s the shortest. Which means we have way too much time trapped inside being antisocial on our laptops, comparing ourselves to other people, which just isn’t healthy.
 
And if you’re single, you can totally bypass all the outrageously romantic things people did for each other then posted on Facebook on Valentine’s Day.   You can just watch The Bachelor instead. 
 
I’m not really sure what to do to make February feel better, aside from refusing to leave Arizona next time. Make more time with friends who also have the February Blues? Run like hell when the rain gives way to a 30 minute sun break? Remember that feeling in late August  with no AC when it was too hot to fall asleep and I was SO ready for summer to be over?
 
Blah blah blah. That is how I feel about those ideas.   I need some new ones. 
 
How do you beat the winter blues???

My pedicure is falling short of the sunshine-in-a-bottle hopes I had for it.  19 puddles in to my walk back to the car I was chillingly reminded:

It’s still February 15th

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Why Concerts are Important

For how LOUD they are, a good live show sure does have a magical way of drowning out all the “noise” in life and reminding us what’s really important.

That was my experience last night at the Justin Timberlake concert in Seattle. 

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There was a lot to be excited about at this show – from JT’s dance moves and dapper tux, to an unexpected cover of “Poison,” from cameos by Macklemore and Seahawks, to the killer seats my husband scored for us where we soaked it all in one row from the floor. 

But the real magic came at the end of the concert, as I suspected it would, when Justin closed his show with an arena-rattling rendition of his monster hit “Mirrors” – the biggest single from the biggest album of 2013.

I was watching JT dance and sing and smile and clap his hands above his head, but more than that I was watching other people watching him.  The PEOPLE who were packed into this arena at midnight after a three-hour show.  The PEOPLE who were swaying and bouncing and rocking out and closing their eyes as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  The PEOPLE who had surely had hard weeks, exhausting weeks, heartbreaking weeks, even – and who didn’t know where they found the energy to feel so alive at this late hour on a Friday night.  I was watching THEM.  I was watching all of them sing this song as if it was all that mattered.  And I was singing right along with them, feeling the same way.

On our chilly walk to find a cab after the concert let out, I turned to Aaron and said, “At the end of the day, all any human being wants is to sing ‘Mirrors’ so loudly that they forget about all the shit in their life for four minutes.”  Those four minutes are pure redemption, pure oxygen, pure freedom from all the stuff that gets in the way of us having those four minutes of joy and connection a hell of a lot more often.

Any good concert has its anthem.  I’ve ridden this euphoric wave before – during Coldplay’s “Fix You,” Tim McGraw’s “Where the Green Grass Grows,” Incubus’s “Drive.” I would imagine at a Paul McCartney show it’s “Hey Jude,” “Free Fallin’” in the presence of Tom Petty, and that for Katy Perry it’s “Roar.”  Everyone has That Song that gets the crowd on their feet, screaming the lyrics, forgetting about EVERYTHING else for those few precious minutes surrounded by strangers.  We humans need that.  We crave that. We don’t get that nearly enough. 

Why is that?  I don’t know.  Probably for a long list of technical and psychologically-rooted very sound reasons.  But that’s for another blog.  All I want to write about today is about the importance of musicMusic in the midst of thousands of other pulsing, screaming, sweating, singing humans.  And how it is to the soul what an oil change is to a sputtering car, what a “not guilty” verdict is to a desperate defendant, what a fresh snowfall is to a garden that hasn’t felt its touch in years.  Cleansing.  Liberating.  Sacred. 

So go get yourself to a loud, rowdy concert in 2014.  It just may be the best money you’ve spent in a long time.

Next up for us?  Lady Gaga in May. Full report to follow, but I think it’s safe to predict that I haven’t experienced people watching until I’ve experienced it at a Lady Gaga concert.  Until then…keep it loud.

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EVER GREEN: Why My Native Seattle Won’t Let Me Leave

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While stumbling through life at the cringe-worthy age that is female adolescence, I used to parade around the house proudly in an oversized, second-hand Stanford University sweatshirt.  It was white (or, as white as second-hand and worn regularly by an 11-year-old can be) with an evergreen tree and the mascot red cardinal, if I do recall.  My mother bought me two of my favorite sweatshirts at that age – one said YALE, the other STANFORD.  Yet when push came to shove my mother mostly campaigned for me to attend Shoreline Community College.  I am still working that all out in my head, but I think what it mostly boils down to is that Stanford University sweatshirts and Shoreline Community College tuition are about the same price. 

Back to the sweatshirt.  In conjunction with my parading, I swore – SWORE – that I was moving to California THE. DAY. I. TURNED. EIGHTEEN.  PERIOD.  I was a passionate pre-teen who also spent the days immediately following rural summer camp circling livestock classified ads, pleading with my parents that our urban backyard could totally support a horse. 

The stable-in-the-city ambition died a fairly swift death, but I was all California, all the time for YEARS.   You see, I watched  A LOT of Beverly Hills, 90210 and thought that palm trees and beach cabanas were Where It’s At.  Seattle didn’t have cabanas, or Stanford, or Dylan McKay.  California was my destiny. 

No one ever explained to me the subtle differences between the Bay Area and Beverly Hills – that one was known for nerds and one for narcissists.  Perhaps my precocious, smarty pants sweatshirt-wearing self was a little bit of both.  

Well, I never moved to California. Fast-forward six years later and I was applying and accepted to the state university 20 minutes from my parents’ house, and nowhere else.  Fast-forward four years after that and I came thisclose to moving to Hawaii, which was the early 20s love affair equivalent to my 12-year-old intoxication with all things Beverly Hills.  I mean, I came really, really close to moving to Hawaii.  Sold my car, quit my job, emailed the moving announcement to everyone I knew, CLOSE.  People got me sunscreen and ‘So you want to live in Hawaii?’ books for Christmas.  I’m not kidding. 

I’m 30 now and somehow, all the palm trees and convertibles in the world have never quite been able to lure me away from my seductively soggy city.  So what is it about Seattle that has made me what I am increasingly coming to realize is quite the minority – a third generation Seattle native who’s never lived anywhere else?

Well for starters, I am blessed to have all of my family here.  My husband’s family, too.  And I don’t feel the need to spend as many hours baking in the sun as I did at age 12 or 22.  And I actually drink coffee on a regular basis now, so I have found somewhere to spend my money on every corner.  Beat that!

Seriously though, I’ve been struck recently by how rare it is to meet people my age who have lived in Seattle their whole life.  This has become especially apparent in the new mom world.  Throughout my pregnancy prep classes, my PEPS group and local mom Facebook groups, it is truly a rare occurrence to meet another mom (or dad) who was born and raised here and has never left.  Seattle is increasingly a city of transplants – a melting pot of burned out New Yorkers, snowed out Midwesterners, techies from San Francisco and hipsters from Austin.  Some come for jobs (we do have Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks to name a few…), some for the culture (it’s a great place to write, research, be outdoorsy or dive into your dearest political cause), and some for reasons unbeknownst to me.  But they keep on comin’. 

I think I valued Seattle the least when I hadn’t really been anywhere else.  I didn’t travel beyond the three West Coast states until my early twenties.  Between ages 20 and 30, largely due to traveling with my husband for the small business we own, I’ve boosted my “states seen” roster to about 25.  Not bad for a sheltered West Coast girl. 

Here are some of the things I now know to be true about Seattle, now that I know what I’m missing in much of the rest of the country…

 

1.  THE AIR

The air truly is not crisper, cleaner or fresher anywhere else in the country.  Except probably Alaska.  But seriously, I am NEVER moving to Alaska.  I always savor those first deep breaths of Seattle air waiting outside for the shuttle bus after coming home on a flight. I’ve been a lot of places and there really is nothing like coming home to that air.

2. THE NEIGHBORHOODS

 No other city I’ve experienced has such a rich, diverse and welcoming mosaic of neighborhoods.  I am convinced there is a pocket of this city tailor made to suit just about anyone’s tastes.  From the rowdy bars and funky fashion of Capitol Hill, to the patchwork of parks covering Magnolia; from the sunny stretches of California-esque Alki Beach to the Craftsmans and coffee houses of quaint Queen Anne – Seattle’s got it covered. 

3.  THE FOOD

We do not mess around when it comes to our food.  What did Virginia Woolf say?  “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  Mine has been quite the era in which to grow up here, and witness our food scene explode.  I was educated on truly good food at a young age, working at a landmark Seattle fine dining restaurant from my mid-teens to early twenties. It was there I learned about wild salmon, tried my first of many crab cakes, learned about the art of cheese, and developed an appreciation for wine.  I’ve spent many a lazy afternoon wandering one of our many farmers markets, have eaten at bakeries that transport me to a hybrid of Heaven and Paris, and shopped at grocery stores more beautiful than my house.  We love our food and our food loves us.

4. THE PEOPLE 

Our people are passionate AND polite.  One of the most literate and liberal cities in the country, our residents may read you (no pun intended…) the riot act for voting Republican or failing to recycle, but chances are they’ll follow it up with a smile and invitation to sushi.  Though I’ve heard it can be hard to break into Seattle’s dating scene, most out-of-towners I’ve talked to remark on how NICE people are here – whether it’s the guy who made your coffee, the valet who parked your car, or the neighbor who lent you a cup of sugar (the last two places I’ve lived I really have been blessed with neighbors who have come through for me in a baking pinch – it’s a priceless trait). 

5.  THE WEATHER

There, I said it.  The older and wiser I get, I actually appreciate our weather.  Between the low sun ratio and high education ratio, I’m willing to bet our city has one of the lower rates of both skin and lung cancer.  By the end of winter I AM itching for a week in Hawaii, but other than that our weather is pretty darn tolerable.  It almost never gets REALLY hot or REALLY cold.  The rest just depends on how creative you are with your fashion choices and indoor activities. 

6.  THE BEAUTY

This is the blue, green and city-lights-sparkly icing on the cake, you guys.  Puget Sound, the FERRIES, Lake Washington, Lake Union, The Olympics, The Cascades, The Locks, Green Lake, Alki Beach, Golden Gardens, Kerry Park.  NO WHERE else I’ve been has a laundry list of scenic selling points like that. 

And that’s my list.  It took me 30 years and two almost-moves to make it, but there it is.  For the foreseeable future, anyway, I think it’s safe to say you’re stuck with me, Seattle.  It’s pretty cool to be raising my son here.  Maybe he’ll go to the same Ballard elementary school as me and my grandma, or touch the mermaid tile I made in 4th grade, still embedded in the sidewalk at Golden Gardens Park.  Maybe he’ll be a Husky, too, or one day get engaged on the dock at Green Lake like his dad and I did.  I’m realizing the fact that all of these things are even possibilities is a pretty cool legacy that I’m passing on to him.  I’m lucky to have gotten to know this one place so well.