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The Present of Presence in Motherhood

22 Jan

motherhood-post

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Earlier this morning, I was re-reading some posts about Emilia at 4 and 5 months, and as my heart twinged a bit that her (and Caroline’s) infancy is long over, it was a nice reminder of how time alters perspective. As I read about her developments, I almost forgot the impatience I felt back then for the next thing she’d do. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to charge through her childhood, or rush her learning to walk and talk, but I remember feeling so incredibly excited for it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that in the moment, a lot of the baby milestones can seem so inconsequential almost — observing a baby studying a pattern for example. Or learning just one sign, like “milk” in ASL (American Sign Language.) It’s only later when you realize you have a toddler who can recreate a pattern with blocks and utilizes sign language to emphasize her point as she speaks that you become more aware of how foundational and BIG those seemingly small achievements were when that girl was only months old.

Something else I’ve realized on reflection of those early newborn months is that it can feel difficult, frustrating even, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Days and nights blur together, particularly if you’re breastfeeding, and those first 12 weeks especially, can feel like a monotonous eternity regardless of whether you’re napping when the baby naps. What I want to say to myself back then, with my first, is to savor each and every second and to be assured that it won’t always be like this. For good and for bad. Babies must be so cute and endearing because taking care of one takes such a great amount of effort that accomplishing any other daily tasks seems impossible. A reminder, (or for the first time moms, simply sharing this insight), that these long, difficult, all-consuming, exhausting baby days have a finish line, is something I wish more women verbalized in discussions of motherhood. We hear (and see) all about the parenting highs on Facebook and Instagram, but the low moments are less discussed. It’s one legacy I’ve taken upon myself to share loudly and often to absolutely anyone who will listen.

That said, if anyone except ME (a future self?) had advised me in this way, I’d have probably screamed — or cried— depending on how Emilia had slept that night. Even now, as a mom of two with almost four years of parenting in the rearview, it is nails on a chalkboard to me whenever I’m casually advised to “Enjoy it, it goes by so quickly!” 

I’m finding myself creeping into that territory though; of all those well-intentioned, seasoned moms and grandmothers whose kids are in high school now, and college. Whose children are getting married and having their own babies. The ones who pause as I struggle through the grocery store juggling and entertaining two girls, but who only see two sweet little girls with their mother and lean in to say: What beautiful little girls, enjoy it! It goes by in a blink.

Just reading that post I referenced before, about Emilia at 4 months old, rocketed me back to those intense “new baby” months when Brian and I would just sit together on the couch, Emilia in my arms, just staring at her in utter wonder. She can track us with her eyes! Is that a smile? That’s her ‘milk drunk’ face. Wait, no, that’s her ‘poop’ face!, as we’d both peal with laughter. It’s amazing how time has tempered my memory of the intensity of this period of time.

For example, in my walk down memory lane, my absolutely brutal experience learning to breastfeed didn’t even factor. I certainly documented it with blog posts and it colored so much of my first weeks and months home with Emilia — yet, somehow, time has softened how difficult that experience seemed. I had a tongue-tied baby who couldn’t latch so each and every 45 minute nursing session every 2-3 hours found me sobbing hysterically, bleeding, and unsure I’d be able to withstand the pain of the next feeding. Nursing for as long as I did made me feel stronger, better. It reinforced what I’d known long before I’d even gotten pregnant: that there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t endure for my children.

So here I am, with the 4th birthday of my eldest on the horizon and I’m reminiscing about when she was just months old. It’s made me pause in those trying, day-to-day, “grind” moments with young kids, and realize that these moments, right now, are what I’ll be fondly remembering before long. A year from now, I’ll miss the way Emilia mispronounces “dumpling” (ducklings) and “earmuffs” (earmops). And how Caroline puts her hands to her mouth to mock shout “Nya Nya” (Emilia) whenever we arrive at preschool pickup.

If nothing else, longing for the sweet newborn smell of my girls’ and how completely they’d relax into me while they chest-napped reminds me — today — to be present and to savor every single second with them, for better or worse. Because I know I’ll blink and they’ll be in highschool. And then college. And then getting married. And then, hopefully, if their own, (ideally) joy-filled childhoods have inspired them as I hope they will, having their own babies.

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Mom Hack: Block Scheduling

4 Nov

As the stay-at-home parent for our family, some days can seem like a slog if I’m not proactive about planning out our time. There was a period in early September when Emilia wasn’t feeling well, so she was unexpectedly home from school for most of the week. It turned out to be very bad allergies (ragweed for fall hit us hard – ugh!) and a bit of disillusionment with the whole “school” routine (hah!) but, paired with the cold, rainy weather, it kept us house-bound for a lot of the week. And we got a little stir crazy!

I’m constantly proactively searching for ways to improve myself and better manage my time, just for my own personal development, and especially at home. It’s a difficult task when you don’t have any true “parameters” for your time — no 9 AM meetings of 2 PM conference calls the way you might at a 9-5. I don’t often feel any urgency during my day.

I’ve been testing out “block scheduling,” similar to what a lot of people will remember from their middle and high school years. In my high school for example, we had a set number of periods that were say, an hour; then we had long period, which was 90-minutes, and then lunch.

Before I implemented a block schedule system, my days looked like this:

7-7:30 -9:30 AM: Wake with the kids + consume as much coffee over two hours as it requires to feel awake.

Possibly head to the gym, but usually I chose to keep naptime (SACRED!) instead of risking a skipped nap if we were out too late into the morning.

9:30-11:30: Caroline would nap, so we’d be stuck at home for the morning

Lunch – could fall anywhere between 11:30 and 2

Often, this is the time when I’d try to get out of the house with both kids — to run errands, grocery shop, or just go out for a walk with the stroller.

2-4 PM: Nap #2 for Caroline, and the solo nap of the day for E

This is our old schedule, like I mentioned. In mid-August, Caroline transitioned to ONE nap and Emilia kissed her nap goodbye. Waaaa. We’ve all been a little cranky since.

4 PM – on: This is usually a mad rush to get whatever else we need to get done wrapped up. The kids were usually slow to wake and get moving so we usually read, clean up around the house, and I prep for dinner or whatever is planned for the evening.

With block scheduling, here’s what our days look like now:

Working backwards from bedtime, I set alarms for 3-hour blocks of time on my phone. Since I have E’s time in school and C’s nap to account for (and you don’t ever mess with nap time, for everyone’s sanity):

7:30 AM -10:30 AM: Morning Block

During this block I try to make sure we fully complete the following tasks: breakfast, getting everyone and myself dressed and ready for the day, I get my “Pages” done in my Bullet Journal, I make sure the kids spend some reading, and playing, and then we clean up as a family before Caroline naps (usually going down to sleep between 9:30 and 10). If Emilia has school, we do drop off and then head home. I also try to start a load of laundry during this block. This is also the block I’d go to the gym or try to sneak in an early morning walk, pre-naptime.

10:30 AM – 1:30 PM: Early Afternoon Block

This is our lunch + “Out of the House” block. Caroline is usually up from her nap by this time, we all have lunch, and then I get any errands outside of the house accomplished. This could mean grocery shopping, a trip to the library to pick up new books, running to Target (a weekly ritual), or going out for coffee just to get out and have a change of scenery. Since I’m usually already out of the house to pickup Emilia from preschool, it makes sense to just continue on in the car to whatever we have planned for the day.

1:30 PM – 4:30 PM: Late Afternoon Block

During this block, we’re usually are a little worn out and ready for a little time at home to relax. The girls might watch a favorite movie, like Sing or Beauty and the Beast or a few episodes of Daniel Tiger. I’ll wrap up any laundry that needs to be finished, prepare some snacks to tide the kids over until dinner, prep for dinner, and do a spin through the house to clean-up any really bad toy explosions and other messes while encouraging the girls to work together with me. If they’re self-entertaining well, this is also when I might try to get through some daily or weekly cleaning tasks, like cleaning the bathroom, sweeping, vacuuming or doing a quick sort through the volumes of art Emilia produces. At some point in this block, we might start a walk, for a bit more fresh air before the next block, which is chaos. If they’re not self-entertaining and seem like they need more one-on-one time with me, we’ll do something together, like play on the Gonge mountaintops, set-up an obstacle course in the house or the yard, or play “picnic” together.

4:30 – 7:30 PM: Bedtime Block

This is definitely the toughest block of the day. The kids are usually really overtired and starting to get crabby by about 4:00, so it’s usually just a waiting game until Dad gets home and can lend a hand. We might still be out for a walk during the start of this block, then spend the pre-“dad’s home” time straightening up, preparing for the next day of school, and the kid’s will join me in the kitchen to get the dishwasher loaded and the kitchen cleaned up so dinner prep will go smoothly. Once dad’s home, it’s a bit of playtime, dinner, bath (every other night) — usually we do a “sister tub,” which the girls love), and then PJs, brush teeth, reading, and bed. If all goes well, we might both be out of the room by 7:30 or 8.

7:30 – 10:30 PM: Relax + Life Catch-up

I tend to get a surge of energy around the time we start to put the kids to bed, until about 10 PM, so I try not to crash on the couch with a glass of wine until I’ve accomplished at least a few “Must Do” items from my weekly task list. This usually means finishing some straightening up, finally opening mail, cleaning something in our house, and getting through more laundry or clothing sorting in my on-going effort to minimize and simplify our lives. (I dream of capsule wardrobes for all of us.) Usually, there is prep for the following day, some TV, showering, working in my Bullet Journal, or if I can settle myself down enough to focus instead of flitting from room to room getting things put away and organized, maybe some time to check email, respond to texts, edit photos taken on the “real” camera, and possibly spend some time writing — my favorite part of the evening.

10:30 – Midnight: Bedtime

Definitely the area we most need to work on. We go to sleep FAR too late. But… this is life with young kids and I remind myself that it won’t be like this forever — both the good, and the exhausting! I squeeze so much in when they’re asleep so I can be fully present for them when they’re awake.

Anyways, during this pre-bed time, I might have a cup of tea, read, or listen to a podcast while I (still) sort through more clothes, put stuff away like the mess of makeup all over my bureau or whatever clothes I’ve changes in and out of during the day, and get into bed and catch up on Instagram. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, but if anything cute happened during the day with the kids, I’ll share it to Facebook straight from my iPhone camera roll after a bit of editing right from my phone using the Photoshop Express app. I’m not great about staying on top of sharing things in real time, as I’ve mentioned before (because I hate staring at my phone and missing moments with my family), but I’m really particular about not falling too far behind with my Instagram feed which I’ll explain in another post.

I hope this recap of how our days used to be organized, versus how they’re organized now was useful. I know it has totally changed how I tackle all the things I try to accomplish in my family, home, personal and professional life. It’s a very careful balancing act to be sure, and some days, our blocks meld together a bit, but simply having the parameter there as a goal (plus an alarm set on my phone) really helps kick my butt into gear.

I’d love to hear how you motivate and manage your time if you’re home, whether it’s full-time, part-time, or some other combination.

How to Get Out the Door with a Toddler and Baby

22 Oct

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I’m absolutely worn out from solo parenting while the hubs is away on a work trip and C isn’t sleeping well AT ALL at night, but when a reader emails asking for advice on how I do this or that, I can’t usually tear myself away from responding. After all, I’ve done my share of desperate, 4 AM Google-ing  “why won’t my baby sleep!” So, in spite of my current utter exhaustion, I’m going to share a very quick response post about how I have managed to consistently get my toddler and my 1-year out the door on time each morning since E started pre-school.

Note: In the beginning, it was REALLY F*ING HARD.

Also please note: The image of my girls above was very purposely selected to accompany this post. I studied Media Communication in college and have a very different perspective on screen time than many parents today. My girls don’t have their own tablets, but they do watch specific programs, often together because, like anything else I purposefully expose them to or encourage them to experience, I think they gain from it. And in the context of this post, screen time is an absolute ace in the hole for emergency “get out the door” on time moments, like when we were furiously packing for a family vacation and needed entertainment while we loaded the car. And finally, let me just say this: never judge another parent.

Now to answer my reader question:

My maternity leave is ending soon and my 2.5 year old runs wild around the house when it’s time to get dressed and get ready to head right down the street to day care in the morning. Do you have any tips to help get out the door in a timely manner? I have a newborn too.

My daughters are three and a half and my “baby” is now 16 months, respectively, but I was there too, and it doesn’t feel so long ago. A lot of these “tricks” I came to intuitively through trial and error, but have to credit what I learned of child development from reading Maria Montessori, Fred Rogers, and a book I read just before I had Caroline, Bringing up BebeHere are some of the tips and trips that worked for me to help get my toddler and baby out the door in the AM.

On her terms
I found that the more I could allow my older daughter to do and on her own terms and in her own time frame, the better. Like getting dressed, fed and any last minute playing done. It might simply take starting her, or “priming” her a little sooner than I’d expect a task to take. By priming, I just mean letting her know what is expected next in her day. We sometimes use a timer if she’s really dawdling and I turn it into a challenge — like, “there is NO WAY you win this race and get dressed before I get your sister ready.” There is a lot of horrible stage whispering-type talking happening on my part here. But little things also go along way, like making what she will wear for the day her choice — nevermind that I’m the one offering the choices. (I always wonder how long before she catches on to this one.)

Respect the Play
I also employ a “take it with you in the car” backpack trick and a “five minute before we leave, last call for play,” trick, so she can prioritize what she most wants to do and knows we are transitioning to another part of the day/activity (heading out the door) and can prepare her mind for it. Think of how many times you’re running out the door and your toddler tells you he or she just needs to color one quick picture. EVERY. TIME for us. Simply prompting her to choose: What is the last thing you want to do before we leave? helps her to prioritize, but it is important to really give this one a good five minutes or you can cause needless stress! A lot of what I do is just intuitive and respecting that her play is her world. A lot of meltdowns are avoided by not trying to enforce on her. I don’t expect her to obey me with a capital “O,” rather, I am a pretty lenient parent and make a fuss about things when they’re truly important, like holding a hand in parking lots and near streets and not ever hitting or hurting others.

Make her your ally
Another huge strategy for me is to make my daughter my “get out the door ally.” She loves to be my helper and everything she does is to “role model and teach” the baby. Imagine me stage talking — this is how I talk to the baby but I know my three year old is tuning in! She really loves it and it’s really effective. She helps me change diapers, gets my shoes ready for me and sometimes even packs a bag of toys for the baby (if I need to entertain her for a few as I make trips out to load the car up or whatnot.)

Minimize “Friction”
I also find that setting her up for success in the AM is huge. I’ve worked hard to re-work my girls’ wardrobe into what I’d call a “loose, “capsule-like mix and match, mostly neutral kids wardrobe for her complete with basic shoes she can slip on herself with Velcro.  And all her socks are exactly the same. Being able to tell her “put your shoes on please” and knowing she can, is huge. We have also practiced getting ourselves dressed to the point she can do it on her own, though I did see a bit of a backslide with this since school started.

Reward System
I made our system up and call it “marks.” For ex; I’ll say to her, “you were the best listener today — you just got three marks!” Or if she’s particularly nice to her sister and shares without prompting, I’ll call her attention to the fact that I noticed. And she’ll go add them to a small white board in the kitchen. It’s not overwrought, it gets the job done. The reward for merely filling up the board to a point we thought was good, initially was a trip to Target to choose a toy she had been wanting which worked to marvelous effect — she still talks about that day! —but more recently, I changed the reward to be that she gets to choose a date with me, her dad or one of her grandparents but she’s only ever cashed in once. I think the system in and of itself just appeals to her.

One on one time
No matter what, even if it’s only a moment or two, I make sure to have a solo few moments with my daughter in the morning. Sometimes, it’s in the bathroom (sorry! TMI). Often, it’s while I do her hair. But every morning, before the chaos of running out the door, I make sure I look into my daughter’s eyes, tell her how much I loved being with her that morning and how much I appreciate what a great helper she was to me, remind her about something from the day she was born, or something silly we laughed about the day before, and tell her that I love her. A little attention focused right on her goes a long way.

Talk About It
And finally, and often at the heart of the “get-out-the-door-in-the-AM issue, sometimes we have to directly address the fact that she doesn’t like where we’re headed. Recently, it was the doctor’s office. For weeks, it’s been school — flat out — just a hard NO on school! In talking it out, I figured out that she was terrified she was going to have shots and a finger prick at the doctor, since we’d recently had a terrible experience at an Urgent Care clinic. As far as school, NOT focusing on the negatives and completely ignoring her pleas that she doesn’t want to go or is sick, I instead focused on the pickup. I assured her I’d be the first one in line to get her — that I’d be knocking down the door embarrassing her and that she needed to make sure she gave me a HUGE hug when she saw me. Immediately, changing the subject to what hat to wear with her coat for recess and keeping her talking, and we’re out the door. Finally, some sort of treat in the car console helps too (ours are gummy worms). Not ideal, but like I said at the beginning — never judge another parent!

I hope some of this helps. It’s one of the more stress-inducing tasks for us, for sure, but front-loading as much as you can by helping your toddler to do as much as possible himself will go a long way. And having endless, endless patience. Good luck!