Thursday, July 24, 2014

our beautiful unstructured days

I try to keep parenting in perspective by imagining the things I will someday miss about these days with very young kids.  I've written about it before and think about it often.  On days when I've answered 36,000 questions and listened to 64 stories about Bigfoot, and cheered along to 93 of the kids 'shows,' it is sometimes difficult to imagine a time when my future teenagers will walk in the door and not even speak to me.   I try to envision the days to come when I have to pry information out of them about their days and their interests.  When they make friends with parents that we don't already know.  Crushes, peer pressure, boyfriends, girlfriends, heartbreak, failed test scores, team tryouts; these things belong in a parenting world yet foreign to us.

There is one thing about our life right now that feels frighteningly numbered and that is the beauty in our unstructured life.  There are so many reasons I feel blessed to stay home with our very young kids, mainly because that means we operate within an unstructured day.   We have no clocks barking at us, no third party schedules, no practices, no due dates, no homework; we have nowhere else to be than right where we are at almost any given time.

The kids slept in yesterday until after 8:30a and while getting changed out of pajamas, the three of us laid in Gemma's bed and pretended that various animals lived in the knots in the bunk bed wood.  As they suggested various hole-dwelling animals (worms, snakes, chipmunks) and I tickled them, pretending those animals were biting them. Later, they played on the slip n' slide for over an hour...because we could.  Lunch happens when we're hungry and we do 'activities' when the kids get bored.  The only place I had to be yesterday was at the dentist for an appointment and my Mum (thank you!) came to play with them for a few hours while I ran there and then to the grocery store.

B got home from work yesterday and for a hilarious half hour wrestled and slammed the kids on the bed while they joyfully shouted; "Again!"

I spend my days caring for our house and life (bills, cleaning, cooking, etc), but also playing board games, snuggling with Gemma before her nap, reading about tree frogs, teaching Grey to fold dish towels, and being there with open arms to tiny requests of 'hold you.'

This is my main job as a parent right now.  We try to follow a loose schedule for the weekdays to keep the kids learning new stuff:
Make Something Monday
Reading Tuesday
What's Cookin' Wednesday
Thoughtful Thursday
Explore Friday

...but most of our days consist of free play; the kids decide what looks fun and that's what they do for as long as they're interested.  It's out of that kind of play that I watch my kids learn and discover on their own while I answer questions and manage arguments mostly about sharing.

But these days are numbered.  I can feel them closing in on us.

Although four years old, Grey will not be attending preschool this year.

This comes as a surprise to loads of people that ask what are plans are for the fall.  Brandon and I have talked about it and agreed since there is no free preschool available at our local public school and paying for it seems sort of outrageous considering we live on one paycheck.  We'd definitely find a way to send him if we thought he needed it; mentally, emotionally, or socially - but he's a pretty well adjusted kid as we make sure to do educational things at home (thanks Pinterest) and spend great amounts of social time with friends, family, and playground stranger kids and talking about manners.

We have purposely limited enrolling the kids in activities over the past two years too.  Our kids don't play on teams, or attend multiple classes throughout the year.  They went to vacation bible school for a week this summer and this winter we plan to enroll them in gymnastics and/or indoor soccer.  But other than that, we keep it all pretty close to home.

Because we are keenly aware that there is only a very short time that they will get to have totally unadulterated freedom to do whatever they want with no restrictions of schedules.  Sure, they'll have summers in the future that will lay before them blissfully unoccupied, but even then we will likely have practices, or summer reading packets, camps, or sleep overs scheduled.  They will also be a little older which means a little more removed from us - a little less interested in spending that unadulterated freedom with us.

This time next year, we will be staring Kindergarten in the face.  Our first baby will be preparing to step into thirteen+ years of education.  Brandon and I were both athletes and multiple club members in high school, so we know from experience how entire seasons can be swallowed whole by practices, games, and laundry alone.  School and after-school commitments will dictate our lives for most of the rest of our parenting days.  I am a planner, so I'm confident in my future ability to deal with the scheduling of pick-ups, drop offs, dinner planning, homework completing, awards ceremonies, and fundraisers.

Our kids will have their whole lives to follow schedules and be on time for things.

But all that can wait.

Because we still have at least one year of beautifully, perfect unstructured days.

And the kids and I have absolutely no where to be today.  So maybe we'll take a walk in the woods, or take a trip to the bank followed by a stop at the playground, or maybe we'll dig for worms in the yard. We still have left some wonderfully, yet numbered, days that I fully intend to squeeze every little giggle, hug, and smile out of it while we still got 'em.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Mom Next Door Interview Series: Margaret A.

I have been a fan of Margaret's blog for a few years now and I'm thrilled to get to introduce you all to her through our Mom Next Door interview this week.  There are so many instances in parenting that are not very funny at the time, but Margaret has a way of writing about them that makes you choke on your coffee while laughing aloud.  I sometimes find myself in an actual frustrating moment that I recall Margaret's funny wisdom from one of her posts and I'm able to approach it with a little more humor than I might have without having already read her witty insight and honest reflection in how absurd it all can be sometimes.

Aside from her hilarious posts about raising kids, I also much enjoy her more serious posts like this one from Father's Day and this one about wanting to call a 'real grown up' when the times get tough.  (I've linked up some of my favorite posts throughout her interview if you'd like to check out some of her stuff that I love most).  Please take a moment or two to learn more about Margaret and her delightful look at how to find the funny in the frustrating.


Who are you?
Margaret Ables
Age: 42
Lives: Los Angeles

Who is in your family?  I have three kiddos - a five year old boy, a four year old boy and a two year old girl. In spite of vowing that I would not let another being into my house whose poop I was responsible for we have recently taken in a stray cat named Avril. 

What do you do for work?  I am a freelance comedy writer.

Which chore is your least favorite?  Wow - this is like trying to decide on a favorite child. The chores are all so terrible in their own uniquely terrible way. I'm gonna go with laundry - so Sysiphian!

What would your pre-mom self be surprised to know about motherhood?  Oh, pre-Mom self! Nothing will prepare you for the sheer amount minutiae you are in for! Snack making! Car driving! Butt wiping! But I'll tell you - you didn't know how much you were missing in your city - pumpkin patches, the zoo, Fourth of July parades - you can't imagine how much you'll enjoy those things through your kids' eyes.

What keeps you up at night?  Bills, To-Do lists. All the standard stuff. Also currently 'Orange is the New Black' MUST. WATCH. ALL. THE. EPISODES.

How do you unwind ore re-charge?  Mostly by napping and ill-advised snacking.

What big projects, worries, or events have you busy right now?  We're in the middle of a cross-country move with three kids six and under. So I'd say that.

What do you miss most from Mom days already gone by?  Three words: New. Baby. Smell. 

What has become (at least for now) you're parenting mantra or guiding principle?  Parenting is like exercise. It's hard and a lot of time you don't feel like it and annoying people claim how much they love it all the time but at the end of the day it's worth doing and good for you and can at rare moments even feel almost ecstatically wonderful.

Friday, July 18, 2014

10 Ways to be productive at a 3hour Glucose Test

After two perfectly passed 1hour Glucose tests for my first two pregnancies, it took this third baby to finally fail it.  

I was bummed.  To say the least.

Obviously I don't want to have gestational diabetes, but more so than that - three hours of sitting at the lab seems like a huge waste of time for this pregnant mumma of two.  I can handle the 1 hour test..heck, 1 hour with an abundance of doctor office magazines and quiet - that's practically a vacation!  

But 3 full hours without kids feels like a long time of not getting things done.  Uninterrupted time is like an efficiency gold mine and I was disheartened that I'd need to commit myself to a full morning of basically waiting around.

So in an effort to make use of my full 3 hours despite the confines of the hospital's first floor - I brought along some activities to do during the time that would make me feel like I had not wasted away three hours of perfectly good kid-free time.

The key here is to make sure you have your supplies with you.  I packed up a tote with the following items to make sure I could be as productive as possible at the appointment:

  • my planner
  • a pen
  • blank paper
  • cellphone & headphones
  • thank you note cards
  • my current leisure-reading book
  • new baby preparation book
  • my creative journal

Once I had my supplies and my test got underway, I got started on using the time to get stuff accomplished.  I tried to focus on task for 20-30 minutes and ended up leaving the appointment feeling fairly productive and proud of time well spent.

1. Prepare for Baby To Do List:  Despite only having a mere 10 weeks left to go before Studerbaby #3 arrives, we have plenty still left on our To Do list.  It always helps me try to get a list together of the things that we need to get finished in the next few weeks.  Our list ranges from washing baby hand-me-down clothes, to re-assembling the crib, to completing our Cord Blood Donation paperwork.

2. Scheduling the plan of attack for Baby To Do List:  I have a bit of a love affair with my planner, so it was no big surprise that it accompanied me to my 3hour glucose test.  After putting down most of my Baby To Do List (#1), I then flipped through my planner to pencil in weeks/days that I can start working on the list to make sure I get it all done.  It's first important to make the list and then even more critical to set a due date (or start date).  So, next week I penciled in to have the hubs bring down and reassemble the crib and finish setting up the nursery (move my daughter's clothes out of the changing table/dresser, etc).

3. Meal Plan (or Post-baby Freezer Meal Plan):  I organize our meal plan at the beginning of each month, so that was already taken care of for our regularly scheduled meals.  However, I have been thinking about post-baby freezer meals and how insanely grateful I was after my daughter was born that I had already prepped a good 13 meals before she arrived.  I've decided this needs to happen again to keep my family's bellies full, so I took some time during my appointment to jot down meals I remember we enjoyed last time - as well as do some pinsearching of new ones that we can try for this time around.  (I scheduled the making of these meals to start in 3 weeks from now - so I'll have until then to finalize a list and get to shopping!)

4. Baby Preparation Reading:  I may have already been through newborn raising twice, but I could still use a little refresher course on how those first few weeks will go; especially since on top of the rotten eight tiredness, I'll also still be in charge of maintaining life for my other two kids.  One of our favorite parenthood books is On Becoming Baby Wise.  Since I've read it twice before for my other two, this was a good chance to sweep through the highlighted sections and refresh my mind for another sweet little tiny baby.

5. Thank You note writing:  We are so lucky to have people that send us little gifts and surprises for our upcoming new baby, even though it's our third.  I believe wholeheartedly that thank you notes are a beautiful and important part of life.  And yet, in the busyness of life, somehow they get pushed to the back burner constantly.  I took a little while to finish out some thank you notes I've been meaning to write while I had some peace and quiet and no laundry staring at me (within sight anyway).

6. Take a Walk:  I was requested to stay on the first floor of the hospital, but after talking to a nurse about the hallways - I made a couple loops around the floor and racked up another 1.2 miles for the month of July.  While walking, I like to listen to audible books (right now I'm listening to The Husband's Secret) so it's like two birds with one stone!  Getting a quick walk in for the day and getting some pleasure 'reading' in at the same time!

7. TED Talks:  Maybe everyone doesn't classify this as particularly productive - but watching TED talks always pumps creative and energy into my brain - so I count it!  I watched this awesome video about our kids and grandkids being a different species (!) at my appointment (with headphones, obviously).  Some of my other favorite TED talks include:  Birth of a Word, How Schools Kill Creativity, I'm not your Inspiration Thank You Very Much,and  If I Should Have a Daughter

8. Creative journal doodling:  I brought along my creative journal and got some blog post thoughts down that have been bouncing around in my brain for the past few days.  I read back over the last notes of my novels in an attempt to ignite the writing fire again (I did!).  And I looked over the list of upcoming interviews scheduled for The Mom Next Door Series.

9.  Leisure Reading:  Most of my leisure reading happens just as I get into bed at the end of a long day.  I find myself reading for no more than five or ten minutes before falling asleep (sometimes with the book falling right onto my face, hah!)  I took my current read, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and got some solid pleasure reading time in while sitting in the waiting room.

10.  Nap:  Okay, fine.  Guilty as charged.  I totally took a quick 15 minute cat nap.  I didn't initially mean to do it, but I sort of just drifted off with my head in my hand and it was kind of wonderful.  Like a tiny little battery recharge for the day.

How else do you productively pass the time during long, unavoidable appointments?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

happiness vs. wholeness

I recently read an excerpt from the book The Good Life by Hugh McKay (of which I plan to add to my reading list!) that had me nodding in agreement and reflecting on throughout the last few days.
"I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is."
For most of my young life, my Mum used the adjective 'bubbly,' to describe me to new people.  It is an adjective that I am proud of (thank you, Mum!) because it means light-hearted, animated, and lively.  I believe these are all accurate pictures of my personality, but not because I'm innately a 'happy person.'

Just like everyone on the planet, I'm not always happy; I experience regularly (daily...sometimes hourly!) frustration, anger, sadness, guilt, worry.  Instead of scolding myself for being unhappy though, I use these emotions to filter my feelings and then focus on gratitude.  It is important to preserve my bubbliness by having all of the emotions on a regular basis.  In that way, I am not surprised or caught off-guard by the regular unpleasantness of life, which allows me to experience it and then move on to the next one.

Happiness is not my end goal (although I enjoy quite a lot of happiness); but rather, as explained by McKay, I strive for wholeness.  Wholeness for me represents the ability to experience all of life's emotions while recognizing that each of those are contained within the same bucket of Gratitude.  I want to recognize that life is hard - for every person in different degrees and ways - and that no matter my current situation- gratitude is hidden in the moments that accompany every emotion; the pleasant and unpleasant ones equally.  When I am frustrated, I can be grateful for a lesson a learned for next time.  When I am disappointed, I can be grateful to have the extra boost to go for it again.  At the end of even the very worst days, at the very bottom of the barrel, gratitude still sits for all the small pleasures that we take for granted; a warm drink, a friendly smile, the chance to try again better tomorrow.

This description of striving for wholeness also describes the way that I feel about my role of parenting.  It is not my job as their mother to make sure my kids are always happy.  First, that's unrealistic and impossible, (you already know this if you've ever spent time with a two year old who whines about a cookie that broke in half).  Secondly, there will be endless amounts of time that my kids will be unhappy in their lives and that is something that they need to continue to learn how to overcome and experience again and again.

happy to be visiting puppies; disappointed to not keep any
My job as a parent is to make sure that my kids have experience in a full range of emotions and feelings so that when they encounter them in varying degrees as they grow up, they are not unfamiliar and scary.  They will recognize that feeling of a deep pit in their stomach when they are worried about a loved one and know how to respond in a way that doesn't derail their whole day.  They will flinch a little less with the pang of disappointment when the outcome isn't exactly what they expected.

I stand firmly in the parenting thought that being a little uncomfortable is good for the soul and for growing into a whole person.  We are lucky and acknowledge that we have a life in which our versions of being uncomfortable are chosen instead of endured out of necessity.  We regularly remind family, friends, and ourselves that it's perfectly fine for our kids to want and to not be perfectly comfortable all the time.   I love the line from The Descendants in which the father said you should "give your kids enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing."  We try, as parents, to apply this concept to not only money, but all sorts of aspects; activities, parties, everyday life.  We look at our job as their parent to not give them everything they want to be happy all the time, but rather give them enough to experience, learn, and grow creatively and confidently;  and to support them emotionally through the all the feelings that come along with life and to help them see the gratitude that lies hidden in each of those moments.

Our strongest desire in parenting is to raise kids who are grateful and kind.  As their parents, that is the foundation we want to lay; all the other stuff can be dumped into it.  As they grow up, we and and other people (it takes a village, right?) will help teach and encourage them to be all the other things a person can be; imaginative, competitive, knowledgeable, curious...all that other stuff.  But we believe wholeheartedly that without the gratitude and kindness - everything else is too easily wasted.

Gratitude (thankfulness, appreciation, acknowledgement) is not the same as happiness (pleasure, contentment, satisfaction). Perhaps the issue with creating a fear of sadness (or other unpleasant emotions) in today's world actually comes from a misuse of the word happiness; that when people focus or list the things that made them happy - they actually mean the things that they were grateful for throughout the day.

I think a shift from focusing on happiness to gratitude could do a lot of good in a world that sometimes feels overly sad, scary, and frustrating.  A world where happiness appears to not reign supreme does not mean that it is a world where gratitude does not exist.  On the contrary, from the gratitude that we can recognize out of the unpleasantness that surrounds us, it creates abundant opportunities to imagine, envision, and dream about how each of us can grow, learn, and create a world in which we find a balance for both the pleasant and unpleasant emotions.  A world in which wholeness and gratitude shower each of us and the whole world in kindness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Mom Next Door Series: Lindsey M

I'm honored to include our Mom Next Door this week, Lindsey M, in my interview series.  I was first introduced to Lindsey through her blog after I stumbled upon her review of my 25 Rules for Moms with Sons post.  I have been a regular reader of hers ever since and I get nearly daily inspiration from the gorgeous way she strings together words and ideas.  Her writing about the passing of time in particular, stop me in my tracks and stay on my mind for hours, days, weeks later.  

I feel jolts of deep sadness at the sight of my daughter's cheeks after a nap when they look somehow; impossibly so, less like a baby and more like a toddler- surely a change imperceptible to anyone but me.  I occasionally find myself mourning moments that have yet to happen, knowing that it will be one of my child's lasts; this fall will be Greyson's last fall before school starts, these next few weeks will be Gemma's last time as the baby of our family.   Lindsey's writing encourages me to reflect and recognize the beauty and pain of noticing the passing of time, as she writes about them in a much more beautiful way than they are stored in my own heart. I have linked up some of her writing below in her interview as a way to share some of my favorite posts of hers with all of you.  

Please carve out a little time this morning to sip some coffee and read more about both a mom and writer that I much admire.  


Who are you?  My name is Lindsey Mead, I’m about to turn 40 (eek!) in August.  I live outside of Boston and I write regularly at A Design So Vast and for other publications. 

Who is in your family?  I live with my husband, daughter (11) and son (9)

What do you do for work?  I work full-time in financial services.

What has become (at least for now) you're parenting mantra or guiding principle?  Be here now.  It’s frankly my life principle as well. In the last few years I've become incredibly aware – keenly, painfully, sometimes suffocatingly so – of how numbered are these days, with the four of us living together under one roof, of my children wanting my company, of this particular season of my life.  Sure, there are things that aggravate me – every day! – but I want so fiercely to live in these days, to really be here, while I can.

What would your pre-mom self be surprised to know about motherhood?  I think my pre-mom self would be surprised at how completely motherhood has redefined my sense of self.  I never really thought about being a mother – I never babysat, I never daydreamed about babies, for example. And my introduction to motherhood was complicated – I suffered from severe postpartum depression that I've written about a lot.  Motherhood wasn't as obvious or intuitive as I imagined it would be.  But now, deep in it, after almost a dozen years as a mother, I can say unequivocally that being a mother brings me joy I could never have imagined.

What would your pre-mom self be proud to know about you in motherhood?  I am not, by nature, a hugely relaxed or go-with-the-flow person, but in motherhood I’m more that way than in any other aspect of my life.  I think my pre-mom self would be proud to see that.

Which chore is your least favorite?  I hate vacuuming.  I’m not entirely sure why but I really don’t like it!

How do you unwind ore re-charge?  I read.  Most days end with me in my pajamas reading in bed for at least an hour.  I get up early, so I go to bed early, which means this pajama-reading usually starts around 8 or 8:30.  Often my children join me, which is probably my favorite thing in the entire world.  I read memoir, fiction, poetry, non-fiction, magazines, everything.  I also unwind by going for walks in my neighborhood on which I often take pictures of the sky. This practice – being outside, noticing the world – is hugely calming to me.

What do you feel like you wish you were better at being a mom?  I wish I was more outgoing and a more natural den mother.  My own mother is a voracious extrovert who never met a party she didn't want to join or a person she didn't want to get to know better.  Our childhood home was an open-door place defined by a bright swirl of friends, family, and activity.  I’m much more closed and quiet and I wish I could create more of that loving chaos for my children, knit a wide web of friends and acquaintances.

What do you feel like you are really good at as a mom?  There’s no question my family is sacred and I’m pretty sure that my children know that without a doubt.  I am pretty good at creating opportunities for us to all be together, whether it’s visiting our favorite beach or picking out a Christmas tree or simply walking around the neighborhood.  We have rituals, big and small, which I think of as the scaffolding on which our family life hangs. 

Who are the moms you look up to?  My own mother.  We’re very different in a lot of ways but one of the primary surprises of my own adulthood has been the ways in which I am, as a mother, like her.  Not on the outgoing dimension I discussed above, but on others.  She’s relaxed and competent and calm, and while I don’t come anywhere near her example I aspire to them.

What are the small joys of being a Mom that you treasure most right now?  Sitting in my bed, with Grace on one side and Whit on the other, all reading our books.  Walking around the neighborhood that we know so well and feeling one child slip their hand into mine.  Admiring the fledgling independence that I see in each child while also knowing they will come back.  Bedtime, which remains a magic time of day, in many ways my favorite of all.  They talk to me, they want hugs, the bedrooms are dusky and faint lullabies play.  I love bedtime.

What do you miss most from Mom days already gone by?  I miss the time when whole days seemed to unspool in front of us, empty, unstructured.  Before school and sports practices and homework.  When all we had to do was hang out.  I miss holding my children, carrying them.  I miss their gap-toothed smiles when their front teeth fell out.   I miss picking a post-nap sleepy baby up out of a crib.  Oh, I miss so much!