Tag Archives: parenting

turning toward joy

goals

I have this posted near my bathroom mirror. I stare at it every morning. In 2015, I’m focusing on the things that make me happier, that help me live better, the small choices that make the difference.

Staring at it every morning means these words knock around in my head.

At 7:15 last night, after work and daycare pickup and dinner, I had a kitchen full of dishes, bottles to wash, lunch containers to unpack. It was 15 minutes before we had to start Evelyn’s bedtime routine. She slid up next to my leg. “Will you play hide and seek with me now?”
I looked at the kitchen counters. Felt the weight of all the Have To Dos.

Choose joy.

“Yes, let’s play.”

“Ok! Yay! I want to hide first!” Her face lit up, she bounced up and down. (What would that face have looked like if I said no? If I turned toward the chores and away from her?)

I covered my eyes and started counting. She ran off.

Doors opening and closing. Giggles from the coat closet. (Already,I feel lighter and better. The Have To Dos fade away.)

“Ready or not, here I come!”

Stiffled giggles, rustling around.
“Hmmm, where’s Evy? Is she under the couch? Nooo….. Is she behind the chair? Nooo…”
I hunted around the house.
“Is she in the drawer? Nooo….”
The closet door pops open. A little hand darts out and pulls it shut. More giggles.

“Is she on the ceiling? Noooo… Is she in the CLOSET? YES! There she is!!”

She gasps and giggles, pops out and dances around the hallway. “I was there! You didn’t know it but I was in the closet!” Her feet barely touch the floor, the excitement bursts out of her. “Your turn to hide, Mommy! I’ll count to 22.”
I tiptoe down the hall while she lays on the couch, counting, skipping a number here and there. I scan my usual hiding places and end up standing in the bathtub, the shower curtain pulled closed.
“Ready or not, here I come!!!!”  Patrick holds the baby while they search the house for me.
“Is mommy under my bed? Nooo….”

They look everywhere. “Where haven’t we looked?” Patrick asks her.
“The guest room? No mommy there. The bathroom? I don’t see….” She pulls back the curtain and squeals with glee.
“Ahhhh! I found you! There you are! You’re in the shower?? I found you, Mommy!”

I am laughing so hard that I “have tears,” as she says. A belly laugh. I pick her up and we all laugh together. The baby joins in, drooly baby belly laughs.

Choose joy.

I did and I will do it again. The dishes got done. Instead of seeing a stressed out Mommy and hearing about all those things I “have to do” and all the reasons I can’t play, we laughed together. I turned toward the joy and had the best 15 minutes of my day.

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A new little friend joins our circle, and notes on being The Village

feetOne of my best friends in the world gave birth to a baby girl this week. I am full of joy for her and her husband, and their lucky daughter. There is so much happiness in seeing wonderful people bring a new life to a world that needs more wonderful people.

There were six months when we were pregnant together, discussing kicks and cravings and anticipation. I can’t wait for these baby girls to meet earthside, to watch them babble and then crawl and walk and talk and run together.

At first, I had this impulse to try and tell my friend everything I’ve learned in these 3.5 years of motherhood. I wanted to describe every challenge, every milestone, every answer I’ve found and problem we’ve overcome.

I wanted to spare her some of the fear, sadness, isolation, exhaustion, and difficulty that many of us go through during that transition to parenthood and life with a newborn.

I wanted to describe the amazing moments, the triumphs, the exuberant joy, the heart-bursting love.

I wanted to send links to every helpful blog post, book, website, and article that I’ve read.

I wanted to hand it all to her. A big messy stack, papers flying every which way. Here! I’ve done this! Read this and do this and don’t do that and oh, try this too!

But: no. Being a part of the village surrounding a family isn’t about that. It isn’t about shoving information and opinions at new parents, or responding with input and judgement when they’ve only made an observation. In this social media-link to articles-comment on everything world, we (I) fail at this so often.

The best village offers support, gives help willingly, listens carefully, and chimes in when asked. The village is not a chorus of people shouting out unsolicited parenting tips and advice. The best village is a gentle force, a safety net, a comfort, a chorus of “we got your back!” – I’ve at least learned that much in the little time I’ve had on this job.

This will be their experience. My friend doesn’t want or need my advice or input before she even asks. I’ve let her know that I’m here. I’ll reach out to check on her often. I’ll visit with food and gifts and (if she wants) adorable baby girl hand-me-downs, ready to ease the load where I can. I’ll answer every text and phone call, and if/when I’m asked, I’ll share a thing or two I’ve learned along the way.

We’ll walk the parenthood road together.

I couldn’t help but tell her that yes, this shit can be hard. Few of us get through the early weeks without shedding tears of our own (and not just tears of joy). And it’s also so freaking awesome.

One of the best things I’ve found on my own journey has been a group of moms who listen to me, answer my questions without judgement, share their experiences, and let one another know: none of this is perfect. Very little is easy. Behind the Instagram photos and Facebook posts, things can get messy (literally and figuratively). But it is always worth it. And we’re walking this road together: our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers before us, a village that surrounds us on all sides, past and present. Your experience is yours, but it is also ours – mothers and parents and humans.

So, dear friend, feel the love. Know that you have a net to catch you if needed, friends to lift you up however they can, and all of us just bursting with joy and pride, so excited to embrace another little one within our circle.

And baby girl, good work choosing awesome people to be your parents. You have so much love and laughter in your future. In the words of one of our favorite books: We are so glad you’ve come.

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Preparing for a newborn, again: Lessons from the first time

EC3I have a vivid memory of one of our first days home with Evelyn. She was nursing, of course, as she did every 2 hours, feedings that usually lasted almost an hour. I was recovering from a c-section, operating on very little sleep, and – to be honest- feeling a bit like we’d ruined our lives with this tiny gorgeous creature. I truly couldn’t imagine why on earth anyone would ever have a second child after making it through this once.

And, alas, here we are – less than 2 months away from welcoming another tiny gorgeous creature into our family. I learned a lot in my first weeks and months of motherhood – and I’m hoping some of those lessons make this time around a little bit easier. EC1

Babies cry, and wake up all night long. It’s normal, and doesn’t last forever.
People who have gone through it forget, and others seem to believe that babies’ sleep patterns should match adults’ sleep patterns. One of the biggest sources of stress for me was the sleep thing, and mostly because other people kept asking me “How much is she waking up at night?” and “Is she sleeping all night in the bassinet?” I wish that I’d just tuned all of that out and accepted that my baby slept when and where she slept, end of story.

She slept best in our arms, in the wrap carrier, or next to me on the bed. Occasionally in the swing. This idea that she had to sleep in the bassinet was hard on all of us. She didn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time until she was 8 weeks old, and then her sleep habits changed every couple of weeks – sometimes longer stretches, sometimes less. I spent the first months keeping track of where and when she slept, scribbling notes at 3 a.m., feeling like a failure if she slept for short stretches or in my arms.  It made the whole thing far more miserable than it had to be. This time around, I’ll be more willing to accept my baby’s sleep needs, and do what works for us. I won’t keep notes, or even look at the clock.

The best advice we got on sleep was for mom and dad to divide up the night, so we could both get some sleep. I would go to bed early, and Patrick would stay up with her, bringing her to me for feedings, but taking care of diaper changes and soothing. I was able to sleep a little, and they had time to bond. Around midnight he’d bring her to me, and he’d sleep downstairs while I took on all the baby duties until morning. We will do this again (with the added complication of a 3 year old sleeping nearby), although I need to find some ways to feel less isolated during my shift – there were times when being alone and awake for hours in the middle of the night was a struggle.

Release all expectations.
Before having a newborn living in the house, most of us only see them in photos, when they are curled up and sleeping sweetly (like that photo at the top). Life with a newborn appears to be very glowy. Even those things you learn about in birth class or in books before baby arrives seem so simple.

In my experience, it wasn’t simple. Those sweet sleepy moments were real, but they were surrounded by a lot of other moments. Don’t get me wrong, new parenthood is so lovely in many ways. The soft weight of a newborn sleeping on your chest is one of the best feelings in the world. But. There’s also a fair amount of crying (from everyone), a major lifestyle adjustment, and a general sense of bewilderment. It’s impossible to imagine or prepare for in advance, really.

I found that any time I clung to expectations about how things should go, I had a much harder time when they didn’t go that way. Whether it was breastfeeding, leaving the house, doing laundry, or taking a nap – as soon as I let go of my own expectations about what would or should happen, a weight was lifted. Taking things moment by moment and adapting to whatever needed to happen was a much easier and more enjoyable way to go.   I’m hopeful that knowing and embracing that from the beginning will make the newborn months a bit easier.

Babies just want to be held.
Probably every new parent is made to feel guilty at some point for how much their baby is held, and how much their baby wants to be held – especially in the arms of mom or dad.  Whether the ‘spoiled’ word is used outright or implied, most of us hear it at some point.

Too bad for the guilt-trippers. I don’t regret a single moment of holding my baby. There were times when I wished she were more okay with being put down, but I learned how to use a couple baby carriers, which freed up my hands and helped immensely. I also learned that we’d all be ok if I put her in the crib for a few minutes while I used the bathroom. She never “learned to like it” – but I became more okay with it when I was ready.

Those comments I got about putting my baby down just made me anxious. I wanted to hold her. It physically hurt to hear her cry. And 3 years later, she loves hugs and snuggles but is certainly not addicted to being held – so I don’t think any permanent damage was done.

EC2Accept help.
I read a genius piece of advice about having a list of things that people could help with. I never did that, and we only accepted help when it was forced on us. Silly, silly new parents.

Lots of people will say “let me know if I can help” — be ready to take them seriously. Accepting help isn’t a sign of weakness or incompetence! When Evy was a newborn, one grandma cleaned our floors and vacuumed, both grandmas brought us meals, a friend visited from out of town and cleaned the house, friends stopped by with fruit and bagels and ice cream and juice. It was all a big help, and I am so thankful for what they did without being asked.

This time around, I might be a little more direct with asking for help, so get ready. This myth that we can care for a newborn and also keep the house clean, the yard maintained, laundry done, ourselves fed – it’s just not true.  It’s one of the many reasons we all need our village.

Communicate my own needs.
Most new parents are so focused on the baby that they let their own needs go untended.  It’s nearly impossible to avoid this for the first few weeks. But this time around I want to be better about recognizing my needs, and talking to Pat about how to meet those (the same goes for his needs too, of course).

When Evy was a month old or so, Pat was outside doing yard work. I was so jealous that he was outside, doing something that wasn’t childcare. I was at that point where I felt like all I did was nurse, change diapers, walk around the house, and I was ready for a break. Turns out, he didn’t really want to be out there – he was back to work at that point and wanted to be with the baby as much as he could.

After a (probably tearful) conversation where we both revealed what we needed, he stayed inside with the baby until the next feeding while I raked and cleaned up the garden beds. It was amazing how rejuvenating that hour was.

One of the hardest parts of parenthood is finding time for self-care and interests outside of parenting and work. It’s  something we still struggle with. But we’re at least aware that we both need time for ourselves, and we work with each other to make it happen when we can. I’m hoping we can keep that up during our transition to a family of four.

Breastfeeding is hard, but it gets easier – especially with the right help.
You can (and should) learn about breastfeeding in advance, but it’s impossible to really prepare for. We took a 3-hour class on breastfeeding and I still felt blindsided by the actual experience. I didn’t think it would be so emotional, or challenging, or take so much effort. I’m lucky that I had a good friend who had recently gone through learning to breastfeed, and helped me to understand that it would be hard in the beginning, and then get easier. I’m lucky that a new mom friend encouraged me to go to a La Leche League meeting. I’m grateful that Patrick was so incredibly supportive (even though we were both unprepared for this physical division of labor – after running a pretty equal household for years, that was hard to adjust to).

I really had no idea how all-consuming breastfeeding would be for the first couple of months. But I’m grateful I was able to do it (and continued to do it for 2.5 years). This time I’m feeling prepared to accept whatever the experience brings.

Get outside.
My sanity-saver during my first maternity leave was outside time: walks, time in the yard, sitting on the patio to nurse or eat lunch.  It was one of the great things about having a spring baby (except for the weeks after she was born when it rained non-stop).  We were both happier with some fresh air, and the exercise helped me through some of the tougher moments.

Be with other moms and babies. Talk to other moms, even if their children are older.
One of the major differences between this pregnancy and my first is the community of moms I’m a part of now. These are moms I met through La Leche meetings three years ago, moms I met through daycare, friends who have also become parents, and moms I’ve met through a wonderful local moms group that began on Facebook.

My early parenthood experience was made better by the women I met in LLL meetings. Those women helped me with breastfeeding, commiserated over life with a newborn, and welcomed me when I felt like I couldn’t even speak a complete sentence. The moms I know now help me feel less alone when I’m overwhelmed, reveal that we all struggle, help me focus on the joy even when it’s easier to feel stressed, and bring humor to this crazy thing we’re all doing.

I’ve also become more open to the experiences of our own moms and aunts and grandmother. Being a mom is a powerful connection. Baby showers used to be about passing on wisdom and knowledge of motherhood, welcoming a woman into that fold, reminding her that she’s not alone. We’ve lost that a bit as the focus has shifted to gifts and themes. It took me years to recognize that this community of women and mothers is an important thing.

With this pregnancy, I love hearing Pat’s grandmother talk about her pregnancies, I love having our moms feel the baby kick, I welcome their (non-judgmental) input on things we struggle with, and I love feeling like I’m a part of this incredible lineage of moms who have walked this road before me (even if they think some of my parenting choices are nuts)!

It might be one of the most important things a new mom does for herself: connecting with other new moms, as well as other experienced moms. We aren’t alone, but the village isn’t as available as it used to be – we have to go out and build it.

It’s all worth it.
This lesson isn’t hard to remember. Everyone says it, and it’s true: For all the difficult parts of parenthood, the boundless love and joy is unlike any other. I’m full of gratitude for this life, and I can’t wait to bring another little one into our family, to grow this love, to see Pat become a dad again, to see Evy as a big sister – I’m full of anticipation for all of it. Just don’t ask me if the baby is sleeping through the night and we’ll be just fine.

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Are we over-Pinteresting childhood?

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Pinterest is running amok with ideas for activities to do with and for kids: projects for every season, instructions on how to play outside, toys to make  from cardboard boxes, rainy day fun with masking tape, sick day activities, how to build magical forts of twinkling lights and reclaimed barn wood, crafts to make with/for kids for every holiday – from Easter to Bacon Day, 100 Things To Do Instead of Watching TV,  instructions for making school lunches that look like van Gogh’s flowers, paint made from basically anything plus food coloring, and on and on and on.

I think we’ve made this childhood thing a bit too complicated, and a heck of a lot of work. Let’s all step back, put down the glue guns, quit making play sand out of organic free range corn starch.

Because kids are really excellent at childhood, if we just let them at it. Really – they don’t need us to be cruise directors.

My 3-year-old makes up worlds of her own without my help sewing props or creating sets or giving her animal masks I commissioned on Etsy. She makes intricate houses and cities out of blocks without me showing her a single blog post.

She is thrilled to do simple things like help me cook, clean, and fold laundry. Seriously – the kid loves to match socks. There’s really no need for me to craft elaborate matching games featuring foxes wearing washi tape mustaches. I know that some people enjoy all the crafting, but a toddler will be happy whether they’re matching a fox or a sock.

To be honest, my 3-year-old is usually plenty busy without me entertaining her. Seriously – Evy has so much to DO! I don’t mean structured activities or anything I’ve orchestrated – I mean just plain playtime. There are dolls to care for, play food to prepare, towers to build and destroy, pictures to draw, songs to sing, books to read, running and jumping to do – we’re not parenting geniuses, but the kid has no problem entertaining herself, and I have no plans to mess with that by rolling out an activity schedule.

And all the posts about “Things to Do With Kids Outside” and “100 Ideas for Outside Play”? Oy. I loved playing outside as a kid. Most of us have memories of endless afternoons spent in backyards, making up games, building forts, playing kickball – parents (maybe) watching from afar, but certainly not involved. I’m guessing our kids know how to play outside without referring to a Pinterest list. Really, they know what to do. No need to create hula hoop obstacle courses or make sidewalk chalk out of ice cubes.

We’ve gone and made it all too stressful and complicated. Childhood doesn’t need to be stage-managed. There are days when I read blogs and get pangs of mom guilt because I haven’t crafted 14 different sensory play experiences for my child. But she’s fine. The world is a sensory experience, especially for a little one. A kid’s imagination is more magical and more real than anything any blogger has come up with, believe me. There’s a lot our kids need us for, but when it comes to play let’s just take our seasonal handprint crafts and get out of the way.

Apparently I’m not alone in these thoughts – this post is great: I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.

Great thoughts on this from Janet Lansbury, whose perspective on parenting has been very helpful to me:  Stop Entertaining Your Toddler (In 3 Steps).

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Filed under evy, parenting, toddler