Kids, Parenting

This is an article that I wrote and was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Sacramento Parent. If you want to read it there, visit this link and go to page 12.

Let’s face it, moms, having a new baby can be tough. The constant feedings and changings, the wacky sleep schedule that you must follow, the new upside-down world you now call yours, it’s hard on the body and the spirit! Your little one is here and you love that baby more than anything, but this life change comes with a new set of challenges. Even moms who don’t have babies anymore and are accustomed to their lives with children still need downtime to unwind and recharge. Here are some tips from You Made It to Motherhood: A Guide for New Moms for those who have new babies or those with old “babies”!

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  • Make time for self-care. This one might seem obvious, but it also can be so hard to do! A new mom, especially, is often happy if she gets to take a shower, let alone anything extravagant. Sometimes, it just takes a little creativity to find little moments that are just for you. When your baby is napping, for instance, instead of doing laundry, cleaning the house, or trying to get all those thank-you notes out, take an hour just for yourself. That can mean anything that you enjoy: reading a brain-candy novel, having a special treat all to yourself, relaxing on your deck with eyes closed and drinking in the sunshine – whatever you wouldn’t normally do because “there’s never enough time.” Take that time now for you, just you. (You’re worth it!)
  • Find support – it makes all the difference. This can be very hard to do too, but if you make the effort you can find people willing to help. Often, the support is there, but we just don’t want to accept it (a mistake I made). Discard all of those ideas of “I can do this myself,” “I don’t want to bother them,” “No, really, I’m fine,” and just let people help! If someone offers to watch the baby for a half hour, and you’re comfortable with that person, do it (and go have a cup of coffee baby-free). Other means of support could be a new mom’s group (invaluable advice for free), church groups, reaching out to other new moms, or letting your aunt or moms you know with grown children have your son or daughter for a while (they love to hold a baby since they don’t get to often). Keep your mind open to different ways of finding support; it’s out there, just remember to say, “yes!”.
  • Spend time with your spouse or partner. This tip is another one that is really important and is so difficult to do once a baby enters the picture, but it’s worth making the effort. Your relationship has probably changed now that you are a family of three (or more), and it’s important to stay connected to the person who took part in creating it all with you. The two of you originally had a life together “pre-baby” and going back to that via date nights or just hanging out together without a baby constantly interrupting really lets you just be a couple for a short time. It can be tricky to find someone to help you make that happen, but if you can call upon that support system, you’re nearly there. It doesn’t need to be an expensive restaurant outininfantg, and if a movie feels too long then just go for a walk together. Re-connecting by spending alone time with your spouse or partner will improve your relationship, re-establish intimacy, and reinforce the foundation of this family you created together. (You’re both worth it!)
  • Remember that is this all temporary. Having children, young, old or in-between, has both incredible and amazing moments, and extremely difficult and want-to-give-up times too. The key is not to forget that it will all change, and then change again. Babies grow (faster than we realize) and these hard times of sleeplessness and fussiness will give way to an independent cbaby to manrawler then walker then a toddler to a kindergartner and so it goes. It probably feels like light-years away, but it’s not. So when the times are really tough (and having an infant is hard even with an “easy baby”), know that this is all temporary. It will change – you will get to sleep normally again, your world won’t always be consumed by baby concerns, and then once you get used to it, the march of time will slowly transform things yet again. This is good news (to me). Just remember to savor those wonderful moments and breathe through the hard ones!

I want to extend best wishes to all moms out there, regardless of where you are in your motherhood journey. We have the toughest job on the planet, but we still show up every day with love in our hearts and the willingness to be there for our kids – and that’s not easy, at any age!

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find You Made It to Motherhood at my website or on Amazon.

Parenting, Self-awareness, Self-improvement

phrasesIn my ripe old age of somewhere in my fourth decade, I’ve come across three phrases that can make a world of difference when dealing with your children, friends, family, argumentative adults, anyone. Lately, I’ve noticed the lack of these phrases coming from people of power (or those who think they have power), those who feel superior, or just people who feel owed (at any age). Regardless of who you are, consider these phrases and question when you last heard or said them. Here they are in no particular order:

1) “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” These synonymous statements can go far in releasing someone’s anger directed at you or anyone, and it doesn’t take much to utter them. Hopefully, they are said meaningfully, but even if you’re not truly sorry, “I’m sorry to hear that” is at least a little something that can ease a person’s angst. Whenever someone, adult or child, has a problem and tells me all about it, one of my first responses is “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I then hear, “You don’t have to be sorry; it’s not your fault,” but to me that doesn’t matter. The fact is I’m just sorry that person is going through said difficult situation. Even if my kid is starving to death after just eating dinner, my reply is usually, “I am sorry to hear that.” Mainly because I am sorry to hear that (“And why didn’t you eat all of your dinner?” but that is usually said in my head) and I’m also bit dismayed as I offer the plate of uneaten food, but it’s better than an argument. Other times, kids (or adults) just want to be heard or validated, and by saying “I hear you and I’m sorry that happened,” can go a long way in many cases.

2) “That was my fault.” (Or, even, “Oops! My fault!”) Why is it that people have such a hard time assuming fault? This one goes hand-in-hand with “I’m sorry,” such as “That was my fault; I’m sorry.” It’s not going to kill your ego and it is truly okay to admit self-blame. You’re still a good person, and not perfect (because who wants to hang out with the person who never makes a mistake?). Once you admit fault, the pressure is often faultrelieved. This applies to situations with your kids or in a meeting, just assume the blame if it truly is your fault, remedy the problem, and move on. I’ve been in multiple situations lately where the same person doesn’t ever accept fault or blame, but instead turns it around and puts it on someone else. That not only makes everyone upset (and infuriates me), it also reveals that this person cannot be trusted because who knows who will be wrongly blamed next? It could be you; it could be me.  It also seems to say that this person never does anything wrong, and how is that possible? We’re human, we make mistakes, own up to it, learn, and keep going. It’s that simple.

3) “Thank you.” This very easy two-word acknowledgment can go miles in someone’s life. Just saying “thank you” makes people feel like the effort they put into something was worth it. Expressing gratitude can be applied to adults or children. They all appreciate it because no matter who it is, thank-youpeople like to be recognized for their work, and saying “thank you” (or even “thanks!”) is so easy. When my kids finally put their shoes away instead of kicking them off and leaving them on the floor, I say thank you. If someone goes out of his way and holds the door open, tells you that your gas cap is not screwed on, or whatever small token it might be, just say “thank you.” Express your gratitude for those big or small things and everyone wins.

So there you have it, three phrases that can make a world of difference; try them out (if you don’t use them already) and see the results for yourself. (And thanks for reading! :) )

Health & Diet, Self-awareness

According to Tony Robbins, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” (I went down an internet rabbit hole and ended up watching Tony Robbins videos.) He then gave examples of people who earn lots of money, achieve big goals, or overcome obstacles onlywoman-570883_640 to think, “now what?” Many of us have experienced this thought. We had a problem or a challenge, set a goal, succeed, then felt a little…empty, sad, or possibly depressed.

After listening to an episode of podcast I like, Zen Parenting Radio, they quoted five things that “Tony says” leads to a fulfilling life. None of these include overcoming some type of hardship or setting goals. They are tasks, some daily, that would ultimately lead to a practice and fulfill you on a regular basis. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Feed your mind (20 minutes/day). I assume this means reading, watching, or listening to something that involves new learning, instead of the regular habit scrolling through social media or filtering through email. I have the intention to read on a daily basis; that often doesn’t happen. Twenty minutes a day seems possible, even if it’s broken up into two ten-minute intervals. That can be done while eating lunch or during some people’s bathroom breaks!

2)  Strengthen your body (20 minutes/day). This is another one that we have to set aside the time for, or else we’ll never do it. Fortunately, I have two dogs that get very lethargic then annoyingly antsy if I don’t walk them. This past summer, however, I slacked off due to ferrying kids to swim practice, intense summer temps, or really bad air quality (from wildfires). The effects showed. I put on a few pounds, my dogs did too. The incentive here is not just keeping weight off, though. Using your body and making it work not only makes you feel good; it also contributes to its longevity. I see countless older people who can’t do many of the basic things they used to because they simply don’t do them anymore. It’s worth it just to keep our bags of bones strong and moving!

3)  Find a mission bigger than yourself. This one can be tough. As a culture we’re not often taught to think bigger than ourselves. Instead it’s: work hard, earn as much as you can, and keep it for yourself. But that mindset usually leads to selfishness, jealousy, and a sense of lack (because you always need more). Many people focus on their families and raising their kids to be good humans (I try to anyway), but we can think even bigger. Are there any national or global problems that bother you? Are there any small ways you can help? (No one is suggesting that you get on a plane and help needy people across the world.) What do you think would help make a better society or planet? How can you do something about it in a way that works for you?

4)  Have a role model. This one is also difficult I think, especially for adults, but it’s possible. I have never been one to have role models or think I should, but maybe there is something to it. We can aspire to be like someone we admire, and that could, in turn, make us better. I don’t think that the chosen role model needs to be someone you know, or would ever even meet. It is a person who demonstrates qualities or has achieved things that you would want too. It’s worth thinking about.

5)  Always know that there is someone worse off than you, and that person has overcome their own obstacles. I find thahip-hop-1209499_640t it isn’t always helpful think about other people and their bigger problems because it makes me feel petty and small about my own (i.e. my “first world” problems). But, good or bad, we all have problems; that is the nature of life. And maybe giving ourselves the perspective of knowing that other people have faced problems, similar or even worse, and they got through them, therefore, I can too. It might just be the little lift we need to feel better.

So there you have it, five things to help us feel fulfilled. I’m going to try them, or at least keep them in mind, and see if it makes a difference in my little life. A couple seem easy (like #1 and #2), a couple seem a little more challenging (like #3 and #4). I welcome you to try it too. If you do, you tell me your role model and I’ll tell you mine.  😊

 

Kids, Self-awareness, Technology

A couple years ago, I went on my kindergartner son’s field trip to the local fire station. The firemen explained what they do and why, showed the kids their living quarters, their kitchen, and most importantly, the fire engines. They opened the many compartments revealing axes, oxygen tanks, yards of hoses, and firetruck2much more. Most of the kids were very interested, watching with gleaming eyes. Then we got to the part which the fireman boasted was the most fun – he opened the door to the passenger side of the truck revealing the “Captain’s seat.” He explained that this is a very important seat, and said that all of the cool tools and technology were used in that spot. Then he asked, “would you like to sit in this seat?” Yes!” they all cried excitedly.

Brief chaos ensued as he asked all of the kindergartners to get in one line. After much pushing, shoving, cutting, and complaining, they were all single file and waiting to get a chance to see the Captain’s seat close-up. The first child was helped up, but as soon as she started to look around, one of the parents called out her name, told her to smile, and took her picture. “Her mom will love this,” the parent said. Then, without even thirty seconds to get a glance at the famed seat, the girl was taken down and the next kid was put in it. Again, the child was asked to look at the camera and smile, then removed from the seat. And this is how it went. None of the kids got to really sit in the seat, feel what it was like to be up there, look out the front window, or explore the various interesting knobs and buttons. I was dismayed to see that the field trip had turned from experiencing the moment to taking a picture of it.

And the fake picworst part was that the kids knew exactly what to do – get in the seat, turn to the camera, fake smile, picture taken, get down for the next kid.  Only one boy out in the whole group insisted on sitting in the seat and asking questions about everything around him, and he was quickly encouraged to “get down so someone else can have a turn!” A turn at what? I thought. The kids will see their pictures and probably like them, and being five years old they probably won’t remember the field trip too much, but how much more valuable would it have been for them and their little working brains to sit in the Captain’s seat and pretend they really were the captain of the fire truck? Something could have sparked inside one of them as they explored and examined all of the new things they saw there. But instead, we take a picture of the moment and we rush them off for next kid’s photo opp.

How often does that happen? I see it all of the time. Parents telling their kids, “Okay now I need a picture” right when the kids are in the middle of something fun, thereby ending the fun and spontaneity of that moment. Trying to pick it up again sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s not just our kids we do it to, we also do it to ourselves. Think about a recent time where you went somewhere new and exciting – a trip to the Eiffel Tower or standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Did you stand there and take in the sight? Breathing the air and marveling at the height and scenery around you? Or did you get there, quickly look around, make a few comments, say “come on, let’s take a picture”? The typical scenario of what happens next is the person stands there looking down at his phone blocking the way for everyone as he uploads it to show everyone his moment that he wasn’t experiencing because he was too busy taking a picture of it and posting it.

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The famed “Captain’s seat” picture that came out blurry and not worth the photo opp.

A friend of mine said, “it’s all about instant gratification, they want everyone to know they are having fun in their perfect lives so they can feel good and be reinforced about their experience.” Is this true? I hope not. I’m also not bagging on every picture taken in a special place. I love taking pictures and I do it often. I torture my kids mostly because I just enjoy photography and I like looking back on pictures.  My computer always has some type of slideshow running and I even take out those old fashioned photo albums occasionally.

More than likely, we will look back on the picture of my son in the Captain’s seat and enjoy it, even though he won’t remember it. Still, we would benefit from occasionally just being in the moment and feeling it; and we need to let our kids do it too, especially them, because they are watching and learning how to take a picture of the moment like we do.

So next time, if we need to take the picture, maybe do it while they are looking in wonder at something or laughing hysterically at something they just saw, experiencing this brief moment in time for all it’s worth.

Grief, Illness, Self-awareness

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Old Ginger – when he was nice.

Last week, the vet put our old goat down. He had reached the point where no food interested him, his arthritic bones ached him to the point of limping, and he was ready to move on to the next plane. We weren’t sure of his age, but the vet commented that he outlived his teeth (he only had about two left). We got him about six years ago with his buddy, Maggie, who has passed on last winter. And yet, Ginger kept hanging in there. He had a severe liver infection over the winter that nearly killed him, but he recuperated on antibiotics and kept going, despite his body continuing to deteriorate.

When we first got Ginger he was generally a jerk. He would threaten to head butt my husband (a sign of dominance) and would lean over the fence if my son was nearby and pull his hair with his teeth! My son learned to fear Ginger and my husband mostly disliked him (especially when he severely sprained his ankle because of the goat).

I’ve generally had an okay relationship with the grouchy goat. I tried to treat him kindly and in the end, he usually just wanted pets (some goats are just like dogs who want attention). Of course, I didn’t appreciate him pulling my son’s hair and I always warned my kids and their friends to stay out of the pasture with the goats, but generally, he was an “okay goat” in my mind (think of a family pet that you weren’t very close to, but tolerated well enough).

Recently, in his elderly years, he became much nicer, to people anyway. Maybe he didn’t have the energy or the will to try and be dominant, maybe he realized that it doesn’t really matter, or possibly he knew that he was old and vulnerable and just couldn’t be on top anymore. Whatever the reason, Ginger had softened. Almost anyone could approach him in the last few months and he would just look to see what you might have in your pocket for a snack, or an ear scratch would often suffice.

Do we all soften like Ginger with age? I watch my father interact with my own children. He is a much more gentle and understanding grandfather to them than he was as father to my siblings and me. He watched his own father do the same thing. My own grandfather was sweet and kind, and always nice to us grandkids. My dad has different memories, which is probably typical of any parent dealing with his own children versus grandchildren. Maybe, as we age, we realize how fleeting it all is, and that kids will be kids for a relatively short time.

Enjoying apples.
Enjoying the moment – with apples.

Still, it seems like a choice for most people as they get older. Will someone realize that all of the worries they once had aren’t as important as they thought and just living each day peacefully and contentedly is the path to be on, or, as we all have seen, do they choose to be angry, cursing any new trend, and repeating how good “things used to be,” and generally being, well, a jerk like the younger Ginger was?

I’m hoping to take my lesson from the old Ginger, regardless of why he became nicer and realized that the fight isn’t worth it, he changed from an “ornery old goat” to a “relatively nice old goat.” I’ll go with that description for myself, human or otherwise.

Fear, Kids, Parenting, Technology

My oldest is ten – a “tween” she has told me numerous times. I cringe at the word. There is something about it that bothers me, but what else do we call this enormous group of kids ages nine to twelve? (My mom used to call me a “pre-teen” and that would really bug me). Regardless of what my daughter is called, she is growing up in a time very different from mine in ways I never noticed until recently. Part of what helped me see this is the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s about girls – from those starting puberty all the way to high school and what they face on a daily basis in their “girl world,” from the pressures to look and act certain ways to the cattiness to navigating the sometimes frightening on-line world. These issues aren’t limited to just girls, however, boys must deal with them too. Here are three that I noticed that both genders face:

1) Privacy or lack thereof – In today’s world of social media, YouTube, and other ways to post ontween-line, there is a price to pay for being able to see anyone you know on the Internet – our privacy. Our kids today have been born into a time in which pictures are constantly taken then uploaded for the world to see. In turn, they will do the same, and it’s not always the super cute pictures of them as babies with a sleeping kitten, they’re pictures that can be humiliating or shameful – pictures they wouldn’t want anyone seeing, and now almost anyone can. Wiseman points out, “When you were a teen, your most embarrassing and humiliating moments weren’t up for public discussion and entertainment….She’s living that moment in public. There’s no protection. There’s no privacy. This is her regular, ever-present reality. Your daughter is growing up with a different definition of what’s public and what’s private.”

Even if you block your child from any social media platforms (and right now we can because tweens are technically not old enough), that can’t stop others from posting images of your kid. You can do your best, but it probably won’t work 100% of the time. And children probably won’t want to be blocked from it either; they want to participate. They want to be part of the group, but in doing so they are giving up the right to having a private life. Right now I have three more years until I must deal with the onslaught of social media and raising a girl – phew!

2) Media definitions of the “right” image. This idea isn’t new. Ever since ads of any kind could be viewed (from early newspapers to full color magazines), we are told what looks good and right. For quite some time it’s been blond, blue-eyed, skinny, and tan – that’s the definition of female beauty that has been touted (think Barbie). For boys/men: tall, muscular, tan, and naked of body hair. Now take whatever the prevailing image is and multiply it by 1,000 because our kids don’t just see these images on television or magazines, they see it in on-line ads, on YouTube videos, even games. Then they try to replicate it or feel bad about themselves because they just don’t physically fit the bill (who does?!), and as they get older their appearance matters more and more.

3) Ads and more ads. We’ve all seen countless commercials from childhood to adulthood. How many times did you see a commerciadigital makeupl when you were a kid and need that toy (I’m thinking Barbie again or He-Man in my brother’s case). This isn’t new either. But kids who play on-line, get free apps, or just use mom’s phone while in line at the grocery store, see double that, usually for other games (my eight-year-old son thinks he wants every game he sees advertised in other games). According to APA.org, “advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year.” Think about all those opportunities for “I gotta have that,” “I need that,” “I’m not good enough or cool enough unless I get that.”  It’s overwhelming! Again, if your tween is going to be a “normal” kid (and yes, he or she probably really wants to be) then an on-line world is inevitable – thus, so are the ads.

So what can we do about this new  digital landscape that feels like a place to prey on our kids?

1) Accept it and try to manage it. You don’t have to like it, but know that this is our current world and it won’t be changing any time soon. (Otherwise, you’re spending too much energy fighting something that cannot be changed, and that’s exhausting.) Unless you plan to live in the mountains of Tibet, facing the digital world is inevitable, so accept that it is a part of all of our lives, regardless of age.

2) Try to teach your child to be empathetic, to show him or her what it feels like to put up embarrassing photos, and to be resilient if it happens to them (let time pass and the hype will die down). According to Wiseman, that also means not posting pictures of your kids that they might interpret as embarrassing, even if everyone else would think they’re cute.

3) Teach them to be accepting of his or her looks and body regardless of whether it fits the “norm” or not (and that often starts with parents liking their own body image).

4) Help them to see what they have, so they don’t think they need every product or game that is advertised over and over again.

Unfortunately, none of the above is easy! But I keep trying and I’ll be sure to share any tips I learn along the way.  Just because the world our kids live in is different from ours doesn’t mean it’s all bad or terrible; it’s just that, different.

Fear, Kids, Parenting

Lockdown drills aren’t really new, unfortunately. Students have been doing them for a few years now, but what kids havelementary-schoole to know and what to do in a shooter situation is becoming more real and more of a possibility.

As a person who grew up pre-Columbine, before anyone even thought or had any notion of shooting up a school or other places (besides the sniper at University of Texas before my time, which seemed like an anomaly), the practicing of drills to protect children from someone wanting to take out people in numbers seems unbelievable. How can that happen? I question. How does it happen? And then, my denial side says, It wouldn’t happen here.

And that’s the statement most of us use to block out the horrifying idea of such an event occurring at our kids’ school. That denial, and even naiveté (because we live in such a nice, safe, little community I like to believe) is unrealistic and possibly detrimental. We can’t live thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to our kids (at school or otherwise), but we also can dwell in the fear of bad things happening all the time. We brain-heart balanceneed a balance.

Unfortunately, right now that balance means teaching our kids to barricade the doors if there is a lockdown, hide out of sight, and practice these drills until they know it well so that, hopefully, no one gets hurt in a real situation. And yet the protective mother in me can’t help but tell my children when they ask, “what do we do if we’re walking from another room and the classroom door is locked?” “Get the hell out of there,” I say, “Run off the campus and keep running.”

They’re astounded by my use of a “curse word” (yes, they’re young), but I couldn’t help it. It was my gut response to try and keep them safe when I can’t. Because more than likely, if anything were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be there. Most of wouldn’t. And that’s probably the hardest part. We’re reliant on our own children and the school’s staff to perform what they learned correctly, under stress with the rush of adrenaline,  and hopefully escape the fire (in this case, gunfire). So all we can do is teach them the best we can, have hope that such a terrible event never happens to them in their lifetimes, and have faith that we will get through whatever might happen (or not happen). Oh, and just breathe.

Some third graders’ responses to doing a lockdown:
“It’s scary.”
“What if that really happens here?”
“I don’t want to do a lockdown!”

“I take thirty seconds to use the bathroom so I know I’m safe!”

Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

From Part One: Bringing Home Baby

“I think society really does not let the world know how hard it is to be a mom. We are all supposed to act like it is this wonderful thing all the time … I don’t think moms want people to know if they are not enjoying being a mom, because how dare you even think it? The truth is that it is a hard job, and society does not show that.” -Nancy

I read the populaRodgers6r pregnancy books before I gave birth to my daughter. My husband and I took the classes on delivery (which I found scary instead of comforting). I went to the breastfeeding class. I talked to mothers with both young and older children. Few, if any, of these sources could prepare me for the life transformation that a baby actually brings. What was more frustrating was that no one warned me that this was a complete life change. Having babies and entering motherhood is so commonplace in our society that few people stop to think about how our lives are transformed by a baby. One reason for this might be that the women who have experienced motherhood, like grandmothers or mothers with grown children, quickly forget what it was like that first year. In the time span of your child’s life there is so much that will happen, from his first steps across the living room floor to his stride across the stage at high school graduation, it is easy to forget what that first year was like. There are also those moms who blend into motherhood so easily that it appears they do not have the same experiences or feelings that many of us do. I am confident in my belief that these mothers are part of a very small minority, and even they have difficult times coping with the responsibilities of motherhood sometimes. There are some of us, too, who do not want to admit or accept this permanent change that happens in our lives. I wanted to have a baby, but I was afraid of the idea at the same time, and I did not want to believe that a baby would change me, my husband, or our marriage. My thoughts were: What if this is not what I expect? What will happen? I cannot go back…right?

For the majority of us, experiencing motherhood and a new baby is both amazing and shocking. Here is a human life that you and your partner made. She spent nearly ten months inside of you growing and developing, and here she is in your arms. The process of life is breathtaking and miraculous. It does not matter that humans and animals have been doing this for millions of years; when you are the one who has actively participated in the process, it is astounding. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I marveled at the idea. I simply could not believe that 1) we created this baby who is here with us now, and 2) that she really came out of me! Right in front of me was a real baby who had swelled in my belly with her heart beating, her body moving around and showing up on the ultrasound. While I was pregnant I understood that she was there, but could not quite grasp it. Then, once she was out in the world, a tangible live human being, I was astonished. The change seemed to be instantaneous: one minute you are pregnant and the next you are a mom. I did not know what to make of it.

But, as we all soon learn with our babies’ cries of hunger or discontent, they are here and they mean business. Feed me, rock me, change me, hold me…wait, I don’t know what I want! my daughter seemed to say. And quite honestly, I had no idea what she wanted either. I felt like I was thrown into a play already in progress. I did not know my lines or where I supposed to stand on-stage. I did not even know what character I was playing. But everyone else did. I was “the new mom.” And I felt like I was going to receive some bad reviews for my performance. I struggled to keep up with the needs of my new baby during the first few weeks. Was she hungry? Did she have a dirty diaper? Was she hot or cold? Did she need to be swaddled or maybe have her blankets loosened? Sometimes none of the answers applied. Sometimes it was just walking outside and seeing something new that calmed her down (or worked her back up into tears). There were no consistent answers, and I had a very hard time accepting that.

“I felt overwhelmed by the gravity of it [having a new baby]. I had never been in a role before that was a never-ending, twenty-four hours a day, and that was entirely mine, even with my husband’s support. I still feel there’s never a real sense of utter relaxation, I mean in the way there was before I had another life to protect.” -Kelley

I attended college and worked in an industry where there was almost always a right or a wrong way to do things. In school it is fairly straightforward: you perform the tasks asked of you and receive a grade for your effort. At work it is similar, you show up, do the duties of your job description, and receive a paycheck. It all makes sense. A new baby is quite different. We try to interpret what this little life needs when he may not know himsbaby2elf. The adjustment of just coming into the world must be overwhelming for a baby. He is nestled in a confined, warm, dark place listening to the steady sound of a heartbeat and other bodily noises. Then, probably without warning, muscles around him contract and he is pushed out into the world of bright lights, loud sounds, and a place that makes his body feel cold. Just learning what these new sensations are must be exhausting. (There is a reason we have no memory of our births, afterall; it is probably too traumatic for us.) So we care for him. We hold him, we love him, we offer him a breast or bottle, we try to make him as comfortable as possible in this new and strange world. But in the end, we really do not know what is going through his new and functioning mind. We do our best, but it might not be right. And if it isn’t, then we often hear about it, very loudly. It is extremely frustrating to make blind guesses and not know whether it is the correct answer. Yes, the crying may stop, but does that mean the problem is fixed? Maybe, temporarily, this time. Grasping this understanding that the right solution doesn’t always exist was extremely hard for me to take. Why can’t I plug in the correct number and get a solid answer? Because, I realized after many months, this little being is human and she possesses the complexities that all of us have: emotions, feelings, needs, and wants. And she is just now learning what all of these things are, and who exactly I am, that person who holds her, feeds her, and tries to console her. Sometimes she might have been crying to release all those emotions that she did not understand. In the end, I felt just as confused as she probably did.

A therapist I know describes becoming a mother as a “growth process.” We, as new mothers, are growing and changing almost as fast as our babies are as we accept this new role in our lives. The more we resist this change, the harder it becomes. It might seem unbelievable that you and your spouse were released from the hospital in charge of a brand-new baby, but you were. You are now parents. As we left the hospital, I sat in the backseat with our new daughter (yes, the paranoid new mom in the backseat) while my husband drove. It was a warm day for late October and the sun seemed especially bright. As we drove away, I cried. And cried, and cried. I blamed it on an influx of hormones and exhaustion. My husband looked nervously in the rearview mirror, “Uh…are you okay?” he asked. I assured him that I was fine, but the tears needed to come out. I suppose it was just a release after a very long labor, and the actual realization that this baby was coming home with us, ready or not. Our lives had changed.

“I was so worn out [after labor] I wasn’t thinking much beyond ‘get me out of this bed.’ Then curiosity about the baby set in, followed closely by terror. I had never been around little kids before, let alone infants, and now I was responsible for this little thing?!” -Leisel

Health & Diet

Starting out the new year, I decided to cut out dairy (I found out that I am intolerant to it) and wheat (in support of my daughter who is intolerant to that). While I was in this mode of banishing foods, I decided to do Arbonne’s 30-day cleanse.  Foods cut out on this cleanse are: wheat, green-juice-769129_1920dairy, corn, soy, sugar (including nearly all fruits), caffeine, and alcohol. I figured “why not? I’m already cutting out a lot anyhow. It shouldn’t be that difficult” (“ha, ha, you fool!” my future self thought).  I also wanted to see if there was a link between food and my all-too-frequent migraines and this would be a good way to find out. Haze, my husband, graciously agreed to support me and do it too. Here is my take on the four weeks and two days.

Week one: It’s been painful. I won’t lie. I’m not a big food person, and being a vegetarian I am used to not having three-quarters of any menu, but cutting out so much is tough. I am personally surprised that I made it the whole week. I kept counting each day. “Day 3, make it through day 3. Okay, day 4, I can get through this day…” and so on; and then, boom, one week is down. Making it to day 30 now seems possible, but let’s be honest, I’m not there yet.

I noticed that I am hungry A LOT. I am tired. I depended on my morning coffee more than I realized and there were a couple of times that I had a cup of green tea (with nothing in it, mind you) because I needed SOMETHING, or at least I thought I did. However, part of my reasoning for embarking on this is to see if there is any pattern to my migraines. Besides the caffeine-withdrawal-dull-ache at the back of my skull that I had for two days, no migraines. In fact, without coffee, my head feels better: no tense jaw muscle or tight neck, and when I get hungry and should have eaten an hour ago, no oncoming signals of a migraine or shakiness. Could my greatest love, the java, be part of problem? Sigh, I hope not.

Side note: I also learned during this first week that you cannot substitute cayenne pepper for chili powder. And eating that incredibly hot chili makes your stomach burn, however you will not feel hungry for quite awhile (until the stomach lining is not on fire any more). I failed at some other recipes too, but all learning experiences.

Week two: The first part of the week went by fast and I was on the path, then by Friday I wanted “flavor” (that’s what I thought to myself). In the end, I think I wanted to sugar or possibly carbs. This continued, with a cranky mood to boot, until Sunday when I thought I might be getting the flu so I laid in bed and felt sorry for myself instead (but the craving went away!). I also woke up that morning with a headache that felt like a pounding sinus headache and would surely lead to a migraine (but didn’t!). Up until this point I haven’t had any other migraine symptoms, to my surprise, which makes me wonder why I’m on the verge of one now. I do keep waking up in the five o’clock hour, so I’m tired, which is always a contributing factor. And the weather has changed from warm to cold with rain which never helps the noggin.

Week three: During week three, a cleanse is added to the cleanse (because we just can’t get enough) with a detox liquid that is diluted in 32 oz of water (tastes like a weak tea) then it’s recommended to drink another 32 oz of water to really flush everything out. Drinking that much fluid, with it constantly going through my body, gave me the added distraction of feeling full from liquid and running to the bathroom to void that liquid. However, by day six, I was tired of drinking so much. I felt a little like Dumbledore  drinking out of the basin for Voldemort’s horcrux (“No Harry, no, please, no more!”). But I got through it. The other added difficulty was overwhelming sugar cravings (due to hormones I learned) that I usually give into, but didn’t this time so I was slightly cranky about that, however I managed to stay the course.

Week four + 2 days: This last week feels triumphant, “Nearly there!” I think to myself on Monday, but the week drags on. On Thursday I woke up convinced that my husband was brewing coffee, and it smelled so good! Then I was angry, “Why is he brewing coffee? We can’t have that!” Once I actually got out of bed, woke up a bit, and went out into the kitchen, I realized that no coffee was brewing. In fact, a skunk had sprayed near the house during the night and that’s what I was smelling. “I’m hurtin,” I think to myself. The week continued on slowly. I had to cover my nose in a meeting because someone made microwave popcorn and it smelled delicious. By Sunday, when I think it should be over and it’s not, I’m ready to give up, but I don’t. The success of not having headaches is obvious. To give in now, to gorge on pizza, beer, chocolate, and coffee (yes, all at once) would be to sacrifice all I’ve worked for this last month. So I don’t. I eat another green apple and carry on.

Final Day: It seems like twenty-nine days was so long ago. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done it! I’m glad and weirdly, somewhat sad. I’m also nervous to go back to “regular food” for fear of bringing migraines back. I’ve decided to make a detailed food log each day to track what might be the culprit.

To end, here is my list of pluses and minuses and Haze’s pro/con list for this uplifting and sometimes anguishing 30-day cleanse:

Jen’s Plus and Minuses:
Pluses
– My migraines diminished significantly.
– I was forced to plan out meals and be organized about it (which I’m usually terrible about).
– We tried new recipes that I would otherwise not make because it didn’t sound appetizing or I was too lazy.
– I knew exactly what I was putting in my body; no questions about ingredients I can’t pronounce or lab-created chemicals.
– Feeling good – I’m not sure if this was due to just eating better or not feeling guilty or shameful for having overindulged in sweets, caffeine, or alcohol. When you can’t have anything, there isn’t much to feel bad about. It also taught me that I can persevere; and if the world ends, I have a Granny Smith apple tree and a pistachio tree that I can live off of.

Minuses
– The same old foods get boring after awhile. This mainly pertains to snacks. I’m pretty tired of those nuts and green apples. My husband would rather feed his daily lunch salad to the goats or throw it out the window of his office. There are a variety of recipes to make, but we’re ready to take a break from beans for awhile (in taste and their digestive payback).
– Planning every meal can be difficult. Grabbing something and going is not an easy option with this cleanse. Traveling for work made it difficult for Haze at times; being in a meeting when they serve sandwiches for lunch is hard (he looks a little weird picking the entire thing apart and munching on the lettuce while scraping off the mayo).
– Going out to eat or to parties is prohibitive. The majority of restaurants have nearly NOTHING that would satisfy all the elements of this cleanse, even a salad would have dressings that we couldn’t eat (and then what’s the point?). Bringing food to parties is an option, but who wants to hang around a bunch of people stuffing their happy faces only to look on forlornly? Not me. We stayed home and had another green apple.man-pumpkin
– Being hungry. The first one to two weeks are hard. I was hungry, really hungry. That is pretty typical when a diet is changed so drastically, but for me it would still come back at times and I was ravenous. Eating more carrots and nuts just didn’t cut it. After awhile it would go away, but sometimes it would be back, my mind tempting me with all sorts of contraband. Haze and I dealt with it (he better than me because he didn’t feel hungry all that often). Knowing there would be other options out there (after it’s over) was helpful to my mind and body.

Haze’s Pro/Con List:
Pros
– Lost weight without feeling really hungry like a regular “diet” usually does (he lost 18lbs and 2.5 inches around the middle; I lost 4lbs and an inch).
– Feeling better (according to Haze, he doesn’t feel “outstanding,” but “feels better” in general).
– Digestion also feels better (again, no real elaboration, but he does think things are going more smoothly than before).

Cons:
– Food limitations – he missed having a nice cup of coffee in the morning (and bread).
– The inconvenience of making every meal (no easy take-out options).
– Lots of gas (no need for elaboration here).

My take-away from this whole experience is that it’s worth doing. Even though it was tough at times, the benefits outweighed the pain. When I asked Haze, “Do you have any real take-away from all of this?” His answer was, “I do feel better than I did before and weigh less, which is good, but you have to get used to farting a lot.”

Oookay, enough said.

Kids, Parenting, Self-awareness

Recently, my husband discovered that he will move-up to the next level in his engineering firm. It is a big promotion and one that is not offered to everyone. He deserves it. He works hard and is a careful engineer. I am happy for him as he is not always acknowledged in his job.

Although I truly am happy for him and his success, I can’t help but think of the lack of awards for mom and dads who don’t work in typical industries. There are no promotions for parents. No one comes up to me after a difficult phase and says, “You did a great job handling the incessant whining and constant tantrums for the last two months, you get a promotion and a raise!” or, “You limited your child’s screen time everyday despite the battle it causes, congratulations! Here is a certificate of appreciation and a free pizza.”

If anything, most of us are grading our own performances and we don’t think it stacks up to “CEO of Parenting.” Who makes it to that stage anyway? Maybe once your kids are grown and lead somewhat respectable lives? That is a long time to wait to find out about your job performance.

So what can we do?

1) Accept that this unique and important job does not come with the traditional accolades or acknowledgements of a job well domother-childne. If your children are relatively content in their lives, even with the frequent complaints about life in general, assume that your parenting is up to par. All kids, all people, typically want something they don’t have, so if you child’s biggest complaint is that he wants his own tablet and doesn’t want to share with his brother, then you’re doing fine.

2) Look within to judge your performance, but be truly honest. The reality is that sometimes we could all do a better job with anything: your mechanic could have cleaned up the grease splatters after working on your car, the sales clerk could have gone and checked to see if she had your size instead of giving a flat-out no, high-ranking officials get no forgiveness no matter what they do. Sometimes we could have done better, but just try to do your best on any given day. And be careful not to get caught up in the trap of perfectionism. Perfection in parenting does not exist. Children and their parents are too unique and everyone needs something different. One day your daughter would have been soothed by some encouraging words and a hug, the next time she wants her space and shuts her bedroom door instead. We cannot know; we can only go with what we think is the right thing to do in the moment, and not condemn ourselves if it was not the best choice.

3) If you really want feedback, ask others. It is beneficial occasionally to ask other people, “Do you think I did okay there?” “Are there any other ways I could have handled that situation?” That can pertain to parenting your children or dealing with an unhelpful representative from the phone company. Be sure that you truly want feedback, however, and not validation for the wrong you felt you received. And ask people who would really think about the situation and give helpful feedback, not someone who is quick to point out what you did wrong, or quick to placate you.

I think we can all agree that parenting is not an easy job, especially if we want to do it well and have children who are ideally kind, respectful, and interested kids (I deliberately left out “happy” there because happy is a subjective feeling that comes and goes – in my opinion. If we wanted to keep our kids happy, we would hand them a bag of candy and an iPad, in most cases).

Most of us just do our best, try to be good examples, and attempt to understand the world from their limited child’s view (which can be a freeing way to look at the world sometimes!).  As far as our own performance review, we must accept that this job does not come with them, and possibly stop looking for them. That is difficult for me, as I said, watching my husband excel while I try to think up more interesting lunch possibilities, but I know deep down that I am doing the best job that I can.