Ramblings on Motherhood

Just picked up a few things at the store
Just picked up a few things at the store
Just hanging around
Just hanging around
It's so intense when the kids are sick.
It’s so intense when the kids are sick.
Enjoying Sukkot close to Ima's heart.
Enjoying Sukkot close to Ima’s heart.
Ella learning to take big steps on her own.
Ella learning to take big steps on her own.

I go through my day, hoping for the best, trying to be present, wondering what comes next. I follow my toddler across the playground, sometimes wishing to be standing closer to my friends, so I could actually hear their conversation, and chime in. I remember to look around at the trees in the afternoon sunlight and marvel at the pure delight that is autumn in California. The sun is so warm, the breeze so cool, the leaves fall yet we stay in shirtsleeves. I feel lucky and fortunate and grateful that my kids are roaming around on a lovely safe playground surrounded by friends and trees. I wonder what’s for dinner, and know it’s up to me. I remember what feels like a million years ago walking through the market and deciding what to make at 7pm, knowing it was just for me. Now my work day is just nearing the end at that time, and I know it’s never really over. Because these heartbreakingly sweet, heartbreakingly frustrating people still need me nearby, need help to fall asleep, return to sleep, to wake up in the morning and eat. They look to me for help, advice, and information, but mostly nourishment of body and soul. This is alternately empowering and suffocating, inspiring and intimidating. What if I don’t know how to take care of myself? What if I forget for a moment how precious they are to me and tread on their trust? They always forgive me, partly because they need me so much, but I hope also because I honor their trust most of the time. I notice so many things about each of them changing every day, and I take mental notes and pictures of a million moments as they flash by. I remember moments from the time before I had kids, which somehow seems like I was only half me, or half awake, or swimming underwater maybe. Not because kids are so magical, but because the day my son was born so was I. Everyday I wake up more to life. My kids offer me the opportunity to see the world through their eyes. All I have to do is stop trying to turn them into whatever I think they should be, stop insisting on what I’m sure I have figured out and they need to know, and just really see them. Witness and listen, and just spot them as they climb, literally and figuratively.

Working it out
Working it out

Yesterday Ben and I were talking about working toward a learning goal and after I got frustrated and tried to force something with threats and incentives he said, “Ima, just let me go at my own pace.” I dropped everything, thanked him, and started over. Today he picked up the work in question and told me he would do it by himself and just check in with me if he needed help. Then tonight in bed we were laughing about something that was nothing but it felt so wonderful to just laugh and be silly. I’ve learned that often the best way for me to connect with my kids is through humor. I tend to take myself too seriously and get bogged down by the woes of the world, so it can be both difficult and so healing to just let go and laugh at nothing. It turns out I have a very similar sense of humor to a seven year old boy, at least a seven year old boy who love potty humor and any kind of pun. I’ve found the best way to respond to gross kid humor is to out gross him, which he loves. Mo thinks we’re both ridiculous. Ella tries to get in on our jokes but she hasn’t quite gotten the nuances of potty jokes yet so she mostly just says any rude words she can think of and then commands us to laugh. Which in itself is funny, so she gets her laugh after all. Even Zeecee makes jokes without words. I’m telling you, she makes us all laugh just with her eyes. She also likes to climb all over us when we are laying in bed and there really is something funny about a one year old coming and sitting on your head when you’re trying to read a bedtime story. There is a lot of humor in life if I’m willing to look for it, and stop dreading the disaster that hasn’t happened yet. The truth is that the disasters that will inevitably come, please G-d not soon and not often, are not the ones I play out in my head. They will probably be unexpected and random and my rehearsals won’t make a bit of difference. Pain is pain is pain whoever and wherever you are. My fear of the unknown is outweighed only by my courage to take each moment as it comes. I’m only learning what that means a little every day, and I have to trust that that is okay.

Ben working on a rudimentary computer kit Mo's coworker gave him to try.
Ben working on a rudimentary computer kit Mo’s coworker gave him to try.
Ella liked the rainbow colored wires.
Ella liked the rainbow colored wires.
Being silly
Being silly
I love this kid!!!
I love this kid!!!

All photos from Mo’s phone (thanks baby!)

I hope to update more frequently to share our journey with you!

love,

c

Change

Yup, that pretty much sums it up.
Yup, that pretty much sums up how I felt this week. Thankfully the opposite is true…

I’ve been having a hard time getting this blog post out. Last night I wrote a long story about Ben’s first full week of homeschooling classes but it didn’t feel right. Then I wrote something short about 9/11 but that seemed somehow contrived. I’m feeling a bit ambiguous about my internet writing since I wrote a piece for the HuffPost last week that received a mostly positive response, but a lot of criticism in a message board on Facebook where I posted it. I expected there to be a negative response from supporters of Attachment Parenting because I felt that I was being critical of it in the post. I didn’t expect the word “ignoring” to cause followers of the parenting method RIE to feel so misrepresented. Forty one comments later, and I felt a bit exhausted by the whole thing. I was really proud of myself because I stayed open to everyone’s ideas, and I responded with gratitude for the feedback. I had posted the link on the message board with a request for people’s thoughts, so I really was thankful to everyone for taking the time to read and respond.

It was interesting to see my writing from a different perspective and it was difficult to feel a bit misunderstood. I was really honest with everyone about where I was coming from and that I heard where they were coming from. Several people chimed in just to let me know that they appreciated how gracious I was in response to the comments, which really meant a lot to me. Some people reached out to be supportive, to say that they understood what I meant or that they had experienced a similar transition. I made a commitment to myself to stay open to the opinions and use the feedback to inform future writing, without letting it send me into a spiral of self criticism and judgment. For me this is a very difficult line to walk, so I felt pretty wrung out by the several days of back and forth on the message board. I also felt like I was generally falling down the rabbit hole of internet message boards a bit, and tried to remind myself that it’s just one private message board on Facebook, and here right in front of me are my family and friends who really matter in real time. This whole putting myself out there on the internet thing is not always easy and requires perspective and periodic evaluation of why and how I want to do it. Thankfully, as Yom Kippur’s arrival reminds me, we can always start over and do things a little or a lot differently. Change is always an option.

Ben doing some fierce engineering at the water table at an awesome museum we just discovered, Young at Art.
Ben doing some fierce engineering at the water table at an awesome museum we just discovered, Young at Art.
Queen of the Nile at the water table.
Queen of the Nile at the water table.

Today I spent the morning in super fit and fancy Miami Beach, watching the shiny luxury cars roll by. Then I spent most of the afternoon driving through endless identical ghetto suburban wastelands of wide boulevards and squat houses with high fences which are so uniquely Florida. I finally got out of the car in the early evening to sit on the beach with my husband, belatedly marking our anniversary which was a few weeks ago. I watched the sandpipers scurry up and down the edge of the waves and cormorants dive into the shallow water for fish. I had seen a fire at the Jersey shore on the news in a cafe and felt sad and somehow felled by the past few days. I usually feel this way leading up to Yom Kippur, sort of heavy, dreading the day, yet looking forward to the catharsis.

The sky tonight.
The sky tonight.
How do I want to spend it?
How do I want to spend it?

Each year I really do find myself evaluating where I stand, with myself, with my family, with the world, with G-d or God or Hashem, or whatever you like to call it. Mo and I sat watching the clouds gather and talked about our hope to find a balance between self acceptance and forgiveness, and challenging ourselves to keep growing and becoming better. I tend to focus on always looking for the next thing to work on, and sometimes skip over the important part of looking at how far I’ve come. The beautiful thing about taking the step back to see where we’ve come from, is that from there, we can also see where we want to go. So, that’s what I bless us all with on Yom Kippur, or plain old Friday and Saturday, or any day: the focus and strength to grow and change however we need to, and the space to see how far we’ve come and where we hope to go.

Perspective.
Perspective.

Homeschooling Diary #7

Readers
Readers

Today was amazing. I felt like I ran through every emotion under the sun, yet somehow kept it together. We had a busy adventurous day yesterday, so today we stayed close to home. I realized our library books were due yesterday so we gathered them all up and headed to the library in the next town over. The town where we live has a casino, a race track, and an enormous mall, but they haven’t yet rebuilt the library that was destroyed in a hurricane seven years ago. I long for the public libraries in the New York/New Jersey area, that I had taken for granted! the library in the next town is okay, the children’s section isn’t great, but it keeps us in a steady flow of picture books and graphic novels. Ella has very little patience for places where she has to act civilized. She likes to scream and squawk, walk up to everyone and say “Hi!”, pull books off the shelves and stand on them, and just generally disrupt the quiet of the library. I would say that if it weren’t for Ben I’d give her a good six months to a year before I tried the library again. Alas, my big kid loves books (thankfully!!) so we go. As I’m writing this I’m thinking that the library would be a fantastic activity for just me and Ben on the day I do a babysitting trade for Ella with a friend! I love the way solutions sometimes find us out of the blue.

Since I know we have a limited time of patience at the library, and we got there twenty minutes before it opened (oops) once they unlocked the doors I was like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. “Ben! Take this basket and fill it up with books!” He looked at me like, “Geez what’s the rush?” But walked down the aisle to the children’s section while I returned the books at the counter. The women who work at this library are not overly friendly, nor are they enamored by children. Ella was unstacking the baskets in a corner and someone came by and said “Whose baby is this??” I was standing nearby so I said she was mine and the woman said, “Someone could come and trip over these!” I wanted to say, “Yes, but this is keeping her from screaming!” Instead I just picked up the baskets and scooped Ella up, who let out a high pitched squeal of displeasure. We found Ben perusing the small children’s area stacking books into his basket. Normally I try to choose books carefully but this time I just grabbed a handful, tossed them in the basket and checked out. We got home just in time for Ella to actually take a nap in bed, instead of the car where she has been catching most of her daytime sleep lately.

Skypers
Skypers

While Ella was sleeping Ben looked at his books and I did some writing. Library day is a treat for both of us because Ben loves looking at books so much that he will spend literally hours poring over the illustrations. Graphic novels are especially exciting for him because he can really follow along with the story. Once Ella woke up I suggested going out but Ben was so committed to his library treasure that he didn’t want to go anywhere. He never really wants to go anywhere but is always happy when we do go out, but today I relented and we spent the afternoon just hanging around. We made buckwheat crust mini pizzas, kale chips, and strawberry banana “ice cream” out of frozen fruit and coconut milk in the Vitamix. We eventually went downstairs for a swim and I forced myself to take deep breaths, look around at the beautiful scenery and enjoy the feeling of the sun on my skin. I reminded myself that people travel from all over to vacation in Miami, and I enjoyed the feeling of being on vacation at my building’s pool. We came inside, the kids took a bath, I put them in their pajamas and we went to pick Mo up from work. He was happy that we came out even though it was close to bedtime, and the kids were so happy to see him as always. I felt satisfied with the day even though I had moments of uneasiness and lost my patience a few times. I was proud of myself for feeling like I chose to go with the flow, enjoy the sweet moments, and let the frustrations pass without sinking into a bad mood. The kids were also very affectionate with each other and played together for a while today which brings me so much satisfaction. Seeing them hug or do something together is the sweetest thing in the world.

Huggers
Huggers

When bedtime came Ben decided that he wanted to sleep next to Ella and she let him wrap his arms around her for a few minutes. The more time they spend together the more I feel like they are on the same team rather than rivals. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to homeschool this year, to bring our family closer together. Little by little, we’re finding our way.

More soon!

Love,

c

Homeschooling Diary Day 6

Kids getting ready to play tug of war at Phys Ed for homeschoolers class.
Kids getting ready to play tug of war at Phys Ed for homeschoolers class.

I’m going to stop counting the days because it seems a little dramatic, but I would like to continue to chronicle our adventures. I am making a commitment to myself to sit down every week day and write out the day’s experience.

Yesterday was the first day of school in South Florida, including the high school where my husband Mo is a teacher. Because it was the first day of school for the rest of the world down here it felt like a certain excitement was in the air. Over the summer I did a lot of internet research on homeschooling, and felt like I had a general picture of what was available in this area. I found a group on Meetup.com that gets together at a park about half an hour north of here every Monday morning. No one else had RSVP’d to the event, but I figured at the very least we would spend the morning in a park that was new to us.

We got lost on the way but still arrived at Treetops park a few minutes early. It was gorgeous, lush, green all around, with three different playground areas, a horse barn, and a butterfly garden. This place was pretty epic! It was also empty, and I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach of being the first one at the party. Homeschooling is bringing so many new social interactions into my life, which feels pretty intense, especially considering the level of social anxiety I used to deal with. Thankfully having kids means being forced to meet strangers constantly, so I have gotten over a lot of the stress I used to feel about meeting new people. Lately I think I have been coping pretty well. About six months ago I was really struggling with anxiety again and found some herbal supplements that sort of helped (I sometimes use the Stress Relief formula from Simplers). I think what has helped, and continues to help the most is talking openly with Mo and friends about my feelings, working on the roots of my issues with my therapist, and writing this blog.

I was feeling adventurous and I didn’t feel too worried even as we wandered around the park looking for the group. Ben was wearing a cape made of his favorite blanket and carrying his lovey toy George the monkey under his arm. I had a wave of self consciousness wash over me, “I’m the homeschooling lady with the kid in the cape!” but I laughed at myself for caring and thought with love how brave Ben was being joining a new group, facing the unknown, and he needed some support from his accessories. We finally found the rest of the meetup group and as the morning went on, I was amazed at how much the playground filled up. There were about fifty kids of all ages from all different backgrounds. I got the impression that most of the families were Christian, but the group was very loosely organized so I didn’t actually speak with too many people. The highlight of the morning was watching a herd of kids from age three to ten walk into a wooded area, pick up sticks which they slung over their shoulders like wild adventurers, and hike around pretending to be all sorts of things. There was a Han Solo, a Ninja Turtle, an Indiana Jones, and more. They came across a wild armadillo (for real!) in the woods and even more kids trooped in to see the outrageously cute little creature. His face was so sweet, with his funny armored body and skinny tail…I couldn’t believe it was real. Ben was impressed!

Overall I was really amazed by the level of imaginative, creative play, as well as the cooperation and general lack of conflict. As I listened to kids introduce themselves and as I introduced myself to several moms, I realized that most of the other people there were also new to the group, and many were new to homeschooling. It really felt like we were at the first day of school, yet it was so nice that we were not at school at all. It was almost an anti-milestone: today, we don’t send, we don’t separate, we get together and move forward with the integration of our kids into our everyday lives and learning.

I really don’t want to offend anyone who happily sends their kids to school. I know that what works for every family is different. I do want to freely share my opinion about why I have decided homeschool and what I like and don’t like about it. I hope that you will share your opinion in the comments and we can learn from each other.

While I was at the park I chatted with a few moms who shared all sorts of local homeschooling support and activities that I hadn’t heard about. There is a nature class on Thursday mornings, a part time “unschooling” project-based school nearby, and a parent support group that organizes field trips all over (Fan boat tour! Chocolate factory! Legoland! None of the above with a 15 month old, but sounds cool). I started to realize that a challenge of this homeschooling adventure is not going to be finding things to do, but rather choosing what to do from all the options. I will also have to decide which groups to be a part of.

After we left the park, feeling encouraged, Ella fell asleep in the car. I debated where to go. It was still pretty early in the day so we drove to another park where I figured the kids could play when Ella woke up. As we pulled up to the playground I saw a group of kids gathered under a huge tree across the way and thought that they seemed older than preschool age. It dawned on me that maybe I had accidentally happened upon the homeschooling phys ed class that I had read about months ago without even remotely realizing the day or time. I literally pulled up just as the class was gathering, walked over and asked if it was the class I thought it was. By luck or fate, it was! Ben joined in and spent the next two hours in the class led by a coach, running around with a group of about fifteen kids, who were mostly Jewish. This was exciting because at the other group we seemed to be the only Jewish family. I grew up Christian and now my family is observant Jewish (part of my story is here) so I feel like it is important for my kids to spend time with all different people. I don’t want Ben and Ella to feel like they need to only be around people just like them, although I’m pretty sure not so many people are JUST like us! I also want them to have a sense of belonging and community, especially spiritually. We haven’t really found a synagogue nearby that we like to go to, and now that Ben isn’t in Jewish day school I want to make sure he learns about the holidays and Hebrew, etc. This phys ed group, funny enough, with all the boys with kippot and tzitzit, seems like a good place to start!

The moms there told me about another entire set of playgroups, classes, and resources in the area. I felt like our homeschooling fortune was overflowing! It was great to sit and chat with the women at the phys ed class. They were from all different backgrounds, lived totally different lifestyles, and were all very intelligent and clearly committed. We talked about why we had decided to homeschool and the overwhelming response was that “school was taking over our life” and “with school we had no true family life.” These were not parents with fundamentalist religious views, nor were they super crunchy granola anti-establishment folks. They were just people who had seen something in their lives that wasn’t working, and decided to take a leap and find a way to change it. Some said that the main deciding factor was simply not being able to afford to outsource the kind of education they hoped for for their kids. I can relate to all of these reasons, and it was very empowering not to feel alone. I don’t know about you, but some sort of outdated stereotype of very socially awkward, religious fanatic homeschoolers lingered in my mind. I was relieved that at both groups everyone seemed truly overwhelmingly “normal.” Let me say that I truly love “weird,” I used to be entirely socially awkward, and some of my closest friends would be considered religious fanatics. What I really mean is that I was thankful to see that homeschooling has actually become a bit more mainstream and all sorts of people are doing it.

By the time we left our second play extravaganza of the day, the kids were filthy, shirtless, sweaty, and buzzing with excitement. I was feeling so grateful to have found both groups, and looking forward to fleshing out our weeks with all the classes and get togethers we had learned about. I am feeling really happy and satisfied with our decision to homeschool this year, and I am proud of us for following our intuition. It felt like we were going against the grain in a certain way, but really following our hearts. Now that the “first day of school” is behind us, I’m looking forward to an interesting year full of love, growth, and learning!

Homeschooling Diary Day 3

Running at the science museum yesterday.
Running at the science museum yesterday.

Today was great. We started out at a playground with Mo super early, then met my friend Blair and her daughter at a favorite coffee shop and played in her garden nearby. We haven’t seen most of our friends here in Miami since before our trip so it feels great to reconnect with everyone. Seeing this friend was especially nice because she homeschools her two kids, and in terms of being unconventional, Blair is an amazing trailblazer. Her family lives in a school bus converted to a mobile sustainable living demonstration. It is cozy and beautiful, and she welcomes us to her home and her garden in midtown Miami. Ben and Ella were excited to be back at the garden where we had been going to a weekly playdate for many months. Ella went for a naked swim in the baby pool while Ben played with a dollhouse on the bus. Blair and I collected mangoes from their tree to bring home and talked about our hopes for homeschooling this year. Visiting the garden always leaves me feeling more hopeful and whole.

Ella in the swing
Ella in the swing

We made it home with no major screaming in the car (Ella has never been a fan of car trips) and Ben was super excited to watch a DVD and eat a strawberry coconut milk ice pop while I put Ella down for a nap. We are very sparing with screen time, partly because of ideology, but mostly because of behavior. Ben does best with under an hour of screen time per day, always followed by direct interaction. If he is cut off from the screen and told to go play or do whatever it always ends badly. When Ella is sleeping I sometimes want to just eat chocolate and surf celebrity blogs, but instead I sat with Ben and read his new book and some old comics that our friend in Vancouver gave him (don’t worry I had a chance to do the chocolate/blog thing after the kids went to bed). I do always enjoy the quiet time alone with Ben, I feel like we get to connect and actually build our relationship. Daily life can get so busy and distracting, especially with two kids. The activities that actually nourish us and build the connection between us sometimes get swept away in the tide. That is another huge reason I wanted to homeschool this year. I feel like the past few years have created a distance between us, and I miss the special connection that we once had. Ben is such a unique person, a sensitive soul, and has been through so many changes in the past three years since I was home with him full time. I think being at school for full days since he was two, and all the moving have really taken a toll on him. Since Ella was born Mo and Ben have really bonded in a special way, but Ben and I have grown further apart. I consider this year a gift to both of us, to take the space to really reconnect.

Ben in Wynwood. Hipster.
Ben in Wynwood. Hipster.

After Ella’s nap we went to Whole Foods to get groceries to last through the weekend. Ben was pretty wired and asked me for just about everything in the store. I realized that I hadn’t been as clear with him as I could have been at the outset. In the end I bought him a yogurt and he was quite happy. Ella rode in the Ergo on my back and was pretty content. I felt kind of badly for taking them on another errand, but I know it’s just part of life sometimes. Mo is always willing to go shopping and he is much better at sticking to the list, so I will try and let him do it more in the coming weeks.

We picked Mo up at school, and seeing the kids’ faces when he walks up to the car is always one of the best parts of my day. The big smiles just for him, the expectation and surprise, because they know we are there to get him, but then his face just appears in the window. It’s the best. They love him so much and he gives them such great attention even though he’s had a long day at work. I feel so lucky to have a partner who shares my priorities. None of this homeschooling or holistic healing or organic food eating would be possible without Mo and his hard work in and out of the home. So I guess that’s a shout out, Thanks Mo! I love you.

We came home and I cooked dinner while intermittently picking Ella up because she was squawking at my feet. I tried to nurse her in the Ergo while cooking but I couldn’t see past her head, which was bad for chopping veggies. She’s too big to cook while wearing nowadays! Dinner finally materialized, then Ben read books with my mom on Skype, Mo had a phone appointment, and I took some time alone to connect with Ella. The same thing I said before about getting distracted by life and not spending enough time investing in relationship building goes for Ella too. When my kids were small babies I was always connected to them through sheer proximity. When they are bigger I have to take the time and effort to step back, look them in the eyes, sit down on the floor, and actually play. Ella and I had a girls only dinner, then sat out on the balcony. Ella dug through a box of Ben’s toys and intermittently brought one over to sit on my lap and show me. She sings and chatters to herself when she is engaged in play, which I absolutely love listening to. I really enjoyed feeling the evening breeze off the beach (we are mile or two away) and just watching her, making eye contact, feeling her sit on my lap. It’s really cool to see her grow and change as she is in the transition between baby and little kid. Exciting stuff.

Since we came back from our nature filled adventure on Vancouver Island Ella is all about playing with rocks and sticks and digging in any dirt she can find. That's my girl!
Since we came back from our nature filled adventure on Vancouver Island Ella is all about playing with rocks and sticks and digging in any dirt she can find. That’s my girl!

Mo took Ben to the pool for a late swim and Ella and I watched him tread water and swim a lap from the balcony. He is so big now! Amazing. I put Ella to bed while Mo read Ben books in the living room. Then Mo went to visit a friend and I got to snuggle Ben to sleep again. I had all kinds of things on my mind but I tried to quiet down and focus on being in the moment. Ben was fidgeting and I started to get a little impatient. I almost told him to just pick a spot and hold still, then I realized that I fidget the exact same way when I fall asleep. Honestly, I think what we all want is someone to be patient with us while we get comfortable.

Lot’s of love and looking forward to tomorrow!

c

 

Homeschooling Diary Day 2

Little scientist
Little scientist

I am writing before tackling the day’s dishes because I think it will afford me more optimism. Today in general seemed more optimistic than yesterday, maybe it was not going to the doctor and not arguing over tiny plastic toys. Either way, today was nice. I prepared for the day last night, or at least I thought I did, but somehow it still took me an hour to get ready this morning, I’m not even sure why. I need to create some kind of routine for unpacking and washing, then cooking and repacking for the next day. It takes a lot of time and work to eat almost everything homemade from scratch! Add in grain and sugar free and there are only so many smoothies and bean creations I can make! Time to look at the Paleo kids blogs for some ideas.

We drove Mo to work, then headed down to the Miami Science Museum where Ben went to summer camp last month. We always have a great time there with all the hands on exhibits and space to roam. I found it challenging today because Ben and Ella wanted to look at different things. There were a few “OHMYGOSH where is s/he!?” split seconds until one of their blondie noggins popped back into view. Ben seemed wound up, constantly urging us to “Come on!” and scanning past most of the exhibits. He has spent enough time there that he has a few favorites and is unimpressed by others. He isn’t as interested in peering into glass cases with branches and greenery trying to decipher which creature is hiding under the fake rock. He is more interested in the touch screens and in making me lift him with the giant lever outside. I can’t blame him. Ella still looks into the turtle terrarium with awed eyes and an “Ooohh…” so we all had to make some compromises in our wandering preferences.

Totally over the terrariums.
Totally over the terrariums.

We left the museum around 1pm which is past Ella’s naptime, or whatever I guess it is now that we are somewhat recovered from jet lag. She cried half the way home, I talked to her sympathetically, Ben offered some creative suggestions for how to get her to stop crying that shall not be shared here. She finally fell asleep so Ben and I had some quiet time to chat. I opted to go to Target to wait out the nap in the parking lot rather than go straight home. Target with both kids was a risky bet, could have gone either way. I try to give Ben clear expectations before we go into any store, along the lines of “You can get a book but no snacks.” or “One snack, no toys.” If I plan not to get him anything at all, I try to at least offer him a piece of gum from my purse so he feels like he’s getting something special out of the temptation and boredom of a shopping trip. Today I said Ben could get a book at Target, partly because I love books and I never feel like buying books is spoiling, and also because he was very agreeable when I gave him my usual no toys from the museum gift shop answer earlier. The trip through Target was successful, I got everything on my list, plus a few extra things (Why Target, why!? How do you beguile me even when I am set against it?), we picked Mo up and headed home.

Are you bored yet? Here’s where the day gets really good. Mo took Ben for a swim, I hung out with Ella, then Mo took BOTH KIDS for a walk outside and I had a phone appointment with my therapist. He says I should accept myself as a work in progress. I’m working on it. Then we ate dinner, I gave the kids a bath, they ran around like maniacs, Mo read Ben’s new book to us in bed in an epic movie narrator voice, and  we tried to snuggle the kids to sleep. The sleeping arrangement is new so the bedtime routine is still shaking out. In the past, I would take Ella into what was ostensibly Mo’s and my room (grammar help with that one please!?), and Mo would take Ben into what was Ben’s room, then we would both end up staying there for the night. I got tired of the boys vs. girls sleeping arrangements so we moved both beds into our room. At first I had wanted to move both kids into Ben’s room but Ella is still nursing during the night so this is the best option for now. The immediate goal is to get both kids into the same bed. Cosleeping is amazing and totally worth it, but it had started to feel like we were all a bit distant from each other. Tonight was the first time I felt like my idea to put the beds together is paying off. I nursed Ella in one bed, Mo snuggled with Ben in the other bed. Mo left, Ella rolled over and eventually dozed off, and Ben snuggled into bed next to me, then I left and he fell asleep next to Ella. The time spent snuggling nose to nose with Ben is the sweetest moment I’ve had in a long time. His soft face, his hand in mine, he is still my little one. It can be so hard with a littler one around to treasure how small he still is and that he still wants me to cuddle with him. I lay there thinking that if I had to choose between this and anything else, I choose this. Peace, in a bed. sandwiched between my sleeping kids.

I’ll try not to get my hopes up for tomorrow! Ha.

Love,

c

5 Ways Sensitive Parenting Goes Wrong

Being a sensitive, attentive parent takes a lot of work. When I focus so intently on my kids, other important things can fade into the background and other not so nice things come up as a side effect. Since I became a mom I have been through phases of experiencing each of these difficulties, sometimes all at once. I have avoided admitting these struggles to myself and certainly to others. Since I have been reading Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame resilience, I feel more than ever that it is incredibly important to share our struggles and how they make us feel. Through conversations with other moms, a therapist, and my husband, I have learned to be on the look out for these 5 ways sensitive parenting can go wrong.

1. Not taking care of myself  My friend and labor coach Judy said that one baby can take up the energy of an entire room full of people. I have absolutely found this to be true. Caring for my family is a never ending cycle of repetitive action and generosity, so if I wait for the work to be “finished” before I take care of myself, I never will. When I’m so busy physically, mentally, and emotionally taking care of my children’s needs and our home, I often forget to consider what I might need. The funny thing is that when I don’t acknowledge my own needs, I’m much less able to take care of others. My friend and midwife Leigh says, “When a woman takes care of herself, everything else gets taken care of.” I am still trying to understand that this is really true, and how to integrate it into my life.

2. Not giving attention to my marriage Did you notice in that last part how I said, “taking care of my children and our home”? I didn’t mention my marriage. When Mo and I are engaged in what I like to call sensitive, attentive parenting, we are on call around the clock. Days melt into nights and with a baby in the bed it is difficult to get any decent sleep, let alone intimate quiet time. When Ben was a baby I remember wishing for some advice or support about how to deal with the burnout, exhaustion, and lack of intimacy that came along with the sweetness of breastfeeding and co-sleeping. 

I have found that takes a totally separate effort to extricate ourselves from the pressures of day to day life and give full attention to each other. If we don’t make sure to do this it can feel like we are coworkers more than partners. The good news is that paying attention to our relationship happens in small moments interspersed with the rest of life. A simple hug and kiss every time one of us leaves or comes home, trading shoulder massages or back scratches while we watch a show, and actually facing each other and looking in each others’ eyes while we talk (when I pay attention I am surprised how little this happens!). I also try to give Mo alone time at moments when it means the most to him, not necessarily when it is easiest for me, and vice-versa. These are some of my favorite ways to connect and show each other that our relationship is a priority. When we are connected we feel like we are on the same team and that helps us weather the inevitable storms of parenthood and life. 

3. Feeling resentful When I am overwhelmed and I haven’t taken the time (I didn’t say found the time, because I will never find it, I have to take it!) to care for myself by 1. eating well (for me to feel my best I need to get a lot of protein and greens and not a lot of sugar), 2. sleeping as much as possible (so difficult) and 3. spending time doing and thinking about what I like, rather than what everyone else needs (also difficult), I start to feel resentful. Resentment is sneaky. I start to think, “Why are they so needy? Whey can’t they just go to sleep by themselves? Why do I have to make dinner every night? Why do I have to sweep the floor again?”….The list goes on. The thought that comes next is the worst part, “They don’t appreciate all I do for them.” This last part indicates that I am looking outside of myself for validation of the hard work that I do. Of course we all need to hear praise and encouragement to keep going when we are working hard! But when our tank is empty, no amount of appreciation will make us feel better.

The way I have found to stop resentment in its tracks is to reevaluate what I’m doing and change priorities for a little while. Sometimes Mo notices me going down the path of being overwhelmed and resentful and reminds me to remove anything that is stressing me out and isn’t absolutely necessary from my to-do list (no bread baking, no re-organizing, no deep cleaning, no errand running) and try to chill out a little. Even just taking the time to take a walk with a friend or sit down and eat a proper meal can be enough. No one can “do it all” and trying to is a recipe for resentment. Resentment is a fun sucker! When I take myself too seriously or start to feel bitter about how hard I’m working, how can I enjoy myself? I try to remind myself to tune in to the innate fun loving nature of kids and laugh more. When I’m laughing and being silly I’m too busy having fun to be resentful!

4. Feeling guilty For me, resentment often travels along with guilt. As soon as I run through the script of resentful thoughts, I feel awful for even thinking them. Here comes the guilt, “How could I be so selfish? They need me. I should just work harder.” As I mentioned above, this does nothing to help with resentment, because what I need to do in those moments is NOT work harder! I need to give myself a break, and remind myself that I am enough, It’s not about what I do, it’s about who I am. Trust me, I’m still working on this one!

The other way that guilt finds its way into sensitive parenting is a sense of all-or-nothing within a value system. If I value “attachment parenting” then I have to adhere to all of its tenets and every choice I make has to be selfless and giving and loving and ethical and ecological and…nope! Not possible. All I can do is consider my true values when I make decisions, and use common sense and self-kindness to decide what is actually possible in the moment.

Managing expectations also helps turn off the guilt. The work of motherhood does not follow a business model of input and output. I can work extremely hard, offering all my love, and my children will still push my buttons and my floors will still be covered in oatmeal (yup, they are right now). When my expectation is “If I work hard at this, my kids will be awesome and my house will be clean and I will have healthy homemade on the food ready all the time” I am setting myself up for disappointment. Then I feel guilty and tell myself if I could only work harder I would do “better.” This is not a true equation. No matter how they are acting, my kids ARE awesome, and I can find satisfaction in the five minutes when the floor is clean if that does it for me. I just have to look elsewhere for satisfaction for the other 1435 minutes of the day.

5. Feeling superior This is where “Mommy wars” come in. When I’m working so hard and doing my best for my kids, I have to think that what I’m doing IS the best for my kids. Otherwise why would I make such an effort? The problem comes when what is best for me and my kids becomes what is best for everyone and all kids. Sure, I think that some of the things I do should be universal standards of childcare. I have also met mothers with totally different parenting styles with beautiful, happy children, so what does that mean? It means we are all on our own trip with our own beliefs, baggage, and abilities. When I compare what I do to what anyone else does, I start sliding down a slippery slope of self-judgment, judgment of others, and feeling either bad about myself or superior, depending how things measure up. I choose to get off that ride, learn what I can from the people I meet, support those who want it, and focus on myself. I believe that is the way my work makes the most difference.

 

When I read this article “Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother” a while back I reacted quite strongly. Something about it didn’t sit well with me. I don’t disagree with anything she is saying, but I feel that the message is just not enough. I don’t want to feel better about my parenting because no one has done it like this before and I don’t have the support previous generations had. I want to feel better about my parenting because I feel better about myself. What I have explained above is part of my journey to feeling good in my life.

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Sometimes kids crawl all over us
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…and make us want to do this…
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…and sometimes parenting looks like this.

I’m learning to enjoy the ride.