The (parenting) S Word

There’s a word I think ought to be removed from the parenthood lexicon.  Who wants to guess what it is?

Yup, should.

When I think back on the first year of motherhood, especially, the least helpful and most stressful bits were the direct result of someone saying Silas should or shouldn’t be doing this or that.  It comes up with behavior, sleep, developmental milestones, diet, and even diapering.  The mommy wars are totally a thing, but the onslaught of motherly and grandmotherly advice (not necessarily from your mother or grandmother but more from any other female you come across at the grocery store, park, whathaveyou) is just as much a culprit of misery.

I spent a lot of the first year of Si’s life worried about whether I was doing the “right” thing as his mom and the only thing I really learned (and know to this day) is that right for my kid isn’t the same as right for yours.  Right for Silas isn’t the same as right for Maren.  He “should” be sleeping through the night, eating smaller pieces of food, using soap during baths, not using soap during baths, sitting, crawling, walking, eating every __ hours, saying “please” and “thank you”…

Should is for the birds.

The second time around I am trusting the baby above the well-meaning commentary.  I’m still a freak about nap time and the priority of sleep, but otherwise I let her do her thing and follow her lead.  It’s really liberating and enjoyable.

You’re doing a good job, mommies and daddies.  Believe me.

We’re hitting the road tomorrow (after a quick visit with my parents) to head to Illinois!  It’s the traditional Labor Day cookout with the Ballards followed by a cookout with the other side of Tim’s family on Sunday.  Lovely to see everyone in one fell swoop.

In other news, we’ve been digging into some house projects in the form of sanding, patching and painting walls (finally) so those details will be up next week with a new house tour.   It’s been a really long time since we did one!

Happy weekend, y’all.

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31 Years

Saturday I celebrated the beginning of my 31st year.  Tim was very sweet and surprised me every day last week with something unexpected.  Kait and Oliver and Mary Kay and Roger came to help us ring in the festivities.  As always, I spent much of August taking an authentic look at our life and settled on some goals for the next year.  I try to keep it to three.  Let’s not set ourselves up for failure, right?

1. Color

I wear a lot of black and gray.  It started when I lived in Italy and it never really went away.  It’s stuck around for so long because it’s what I had, it all matched, and it was slimming (and god knows I could use that).  It’s time to breathe some life into my very small, very dark wardrobe.  Wishing I weighed 20 pounds less isn’t a good excuse to look like a morbid, tired, thirty-something mom.

Speaking of monochrome, let’s talk about our house.  When we moved in, I was so frazzled from buying and selling a house at the same time that I couldn’t commit to a decor scheme for our house.  I wanted light and airy and blank canvas vibes, so I painted the whole downstairs white.  It’s been nice, but I can’t wait to get my hands on our next house so I can create a rich, colorful backdrop for our memories.  White walls.  Blegh.  You bet your tukkus I already have paint colors picked out for the next abode.

2.  Self love

It seems like self love is always part of a goal for me.  Why is it so hard? This year’s is a two part commitment.  The first part is accepting my baby belly/butt/crows feet exactly the way they are.  Then it’s finding a way to love and appreciate my comfy body for doing such hard work these last few years and giving me my two beautiful babies.  This means diligently resisting the small, belittling voice that pipes up with every tv show, Pinterest outfit, and encounter with my adorable sister.  I want to choose to see beauty in the lines in my face and the tiny stretch marks on my belly, and I want to make myself remember how beautiful the human body is when it isn’t airbrushed.  It’s beautiful because it works perfectly and because I am healthy and that should be more than enough.  But we all know sometimes it isn’t.

The other side of this goal is the health and wellness side.  When I feel yucky about my body, I feel yucky about most other things in my life.  Welcome to America.  I don’t want to weigh five pounds, I just want to feel strong and lean and attractive.  I loved teaching pilates when I was in grad school, but more than that I loved walking a mile or two a day.  That never happens anymore, and my mental and physical health are equally thirsty for a return of the habit.  I don’t know if I want to teach pilates again because my social anxiety usurps most of the joy.

Don’t freak out, but I’m considering doing a Couch to 5K program.  I vehemently despise running unless it’s in the form of fleeing a rabid animal.  I ran cross country in eighth grade.  I was the weird Catholic school kid running at the public school, and I was pretty sure I was going to die every single practice.  Misery.  I’m not nearly as adventurous as Kendra doing a half marathon, but if I did a 5K I would be downright giddy with myself.  Tim is excited that I’m even considering it (he’s a runner at heart) and we swapped jogger strollers for one with a fixed front wheel in preparation.  It might actually happen.  In any case, I went public with it just now so there’s a bit of pressure, I’ll admit.  I’m sure my old jeans would appreciate it.

3.  Setting Mom Limits

In my type A, baby mama, domineering ways, I tend to put myself last on the list.  I’m so ok with it that it’s hard for me to see.  But it seems to be taking a toll now more than ever because the time I need to stay mentally healthy is still on the “if I have time” section of my to do list.  It’s not ok.  And it’s my own fault.

When I was struggling with depression after Maren was born, my midwife said to take an hour a day, 5 days a week for myself.  Blog, shave my legs, take a walk, go have coffee, read a book…  do whatever I needed in that moment.  That was about 2 months ago and I am (still) not making it happen.  It really has to happen and I really have to commit to it.  The problem lies in the fact that Tim also has to commit to it since he would have to keep our children, and he isn’t known for committing to a routine.  And so I will ask for some back up in making this goal a reality this year.

Tim is good about asking for what he needs.  He will say “hey, I want to go to therapy” or “hey, I’d like to hang out with Jared one night this week” and we make that happen.  I don’t even consider what I need most weeks, let alone feel like I can actually leave and do it.  It feels…selfish.  The line between selfish and self preservation is a fine one, methinks.

An hour a day sounds like vacation at this point.  I think I’ll start with 30 minutes a day; baby steps.  Our days start at 7am, give or take, and Maren is colicky most nights until 10pm on the nose.  She is asleep at 8 if the stars align just right.  This is a hectic season and she will be moving out of the colic phase soon, so the evenings will become more relaxing and meaningful for me.

What kinds of things do I hope to do with an hour a day, you ask?  Paint my toenails.  Blog more.  Try new recipes.  Stock the freezer to make mornings easier (so I can actually drink my entire coffee, which hasn’t happened in months).  Use my literary inclinations to get involved in something that has nothing to do with raising babies.  Actually fold laundry when it comes out of the dryer.  Maybe (and it’s a big maybe) go running.  Gulp.  Create photo books from the last four years that I never got around to doing.  Read a murder mystery!  Alone!   The sky’s the limit.   This will be the hardest goal for me this year, but that tells me that it’s probably also the most important one.

 Cheers to 31.

Birthdays

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My dream cake

So, I’m turning thirty-one on Saturday.  I’m coming up on this birthday with really unfamiliar, less than peppy feelings.  It’s creeping me out because I usually love my birthday.  

I wouldn’t consider myself a “birthday” person in the way that I like being the center of attention or lots of presents bestowed.  Honestly, that part of birthdays kind of causes me anxiety.  It’s more that I like a reason to make pretty food and eat decadent cake and, perhaps most of all, I like the chance to feel like I have my very own New Year to re-calibrate my hopes and goals for this existence that’s unfolding in front of me.  Everybody makes New Years resolutions and doesn’t keep them, but I find doing it on my birthday makes it feel much more like mine which in turn makes me much more likely to make a serious commitment to changing the things I don’t love about my life.  

Each year I look at the year before and think about the year to come and it’s always a pretty motivating, positive reflection.  I love a fresh start.  I don’t get into that whole “I’m 29…again” thing.  I like aging and growing wiser and having life well lived under my belt, so this isn’t a fear of getting old or anything like that.  I don’t even mind my handful of gray hairs.  Nor is it a career (or lack thereof) panic that Tim has every. single. year. about a month before his birthday.  No, I’m just in a mood these days and maybe it just happens to coincide with the end of August.

This week last year I can remember being in full swing with parenthood and really feeling comfortable with being Si’s mommy, despite the upheaval of selling and buying and moving houses.  I remember the feelings of anticipation and excitement for living in Lafayette, for finding community here, for Tim starting his new job that we thought he’d adore.  I was in a really Positive Patty mode last year at this time.

This year, I look at the year we just survived as a family and it’s sobering.  Tim was away so much, Silas grew and changed into a little boy–so long to his babyness, I went through a perfect-turned-stressful pregnancy and ended up with sweet Maren, and we really struggled in a lot of ways that continue to impact our lives.   We made it.  I suppose that’s what counts. 

This week I feel quiet.  I feel disconnected from friends who were once close and from my family in some ways.  I feel ill at ease in this softer-than-usual body that carried and delivered two healthy babies in less than a year and a half.  I feel out of sync in our marriage after a year so full of busyness that we sort of forgot how to be calm together.  I am mourning the loss of extra energy that used to allow me some creativity (without holding it against motherhood, because shaping my babies’ hearts and minds is anything but a waste of time).  I feel stuck in the precarious balance between being the mom I’m supposed to be and clinging for dear life to the woman I so carefully chose to become over the last decade.   

On my birthday I will sit down and make some goals for the next year as I always do.  I will envision our life and what I want to see in it in the coming months.  I don’t believe in regretting things we did or can’t change, but I hope next August delivers me a reflection with an air of acceptance and love that far surpasses this year’s.   And a little more energy to throw at my sense of purpose wouldn’t be too bad, either.  

Do you have any birthday rituals?  How about other ways to make it more meaningful?  We love rituals around here.  

Three/Twenty-One

Our babies are a-growin’ and hit three and twenty-one months this week.

Maren is so funny.  She’s starting to experiment with her voice and engage in back and forth dialogue.  I love the baby noises!  She’s also bringing toys to her mouth and loves to suck on her hands.  She is still sleeping 7-9 hours in a stretch at night.  She hasn’t found her thumb yet, but I think she may eventually.   Her really crappy latch isn’t affecting her weight gain, obviously.  I love her chunky little bod.

Favorite things:  her brother, anyone gazing into her big blue eyes, music, crinkly toys, bath time
Weight: 14 pounds, 9 ounces
Clothes: 6 months already and size 2 diapers at night
Dislikes: the car seat (still), having to entertain herself for any amount of time, getting her nails clipped

Silas is such a chatterbox.  I feel like I say that every month.  But he’s saying complete sentences and repeating everything he hears.  Today he told me to “have a seat” and I cracked up.  He’s getting pretty brave these days and scaling whatever he can find.  Tim left the gate off the stairs and before we realized he had gone up, he had crawled all the way back down on his belly, head first.  I’m so glad I wasn’t there to witness it.  He loves M and is so darling with her.  He gets right down close to her face and whispers to her in toddler language and then says “I WUV you”.  My heart melts every time.  He’s stretched out again and seems tall and lanky these days.  His gappy little teeth are just darling, and, despite his lisp, inability to say R’s, and his complete avoidance of consonants, we understand most of his many, many words and ideas. This week brought about his third black eye and his first busted lip.  He’s all boy.

Favorite things: his sister, the barn and animals, bubbles, books!, wooden puzzles, any vehicle he can find
Weight: 28 pounds, 5 ounces
Clothes: 3T jammies, 2T shirts, 18-24 months pants, growing out of size 6 shoes already
Dislikes: limits of any kind, when daddy leaves, lots of new foods all of a sudden

Get a load of these two.

photo 4 (8)photo 1 (10) photo 2 (10) photo 5 (8) photo 4 (7) photo 3 (9) photo 1 (8) photo 5 (7) photo 5 (9) photo 3 (8) photo 2 (8)  photo 5 (10) photo 4 (9) photo 3 (11) photo 2 (11)

‘Sup, girl?

Unless you’re really trying to be happy on purpose, it doesn’t happen.  Doesn’t it seem like it’s supposed to be a natural state?  One that comes easily?  It’s weird.  But then again you probably already know how I feel about the word happy.  

One of my favorite alternatives to the H word is creative.  Creativity makes me feel alive and motivated and dare I even say happy.  Creative+Happy=Crappy.  Wait, what?  Back to the point.  Imagine my delight in realizing how to make my past experiences and education(s) totally relevant in the present moment.  People have repeatedly suggested writing and photography as careers since I dabbled in both creatively in the past and really enjoyed them.  Both options really do feel downright crappy (in the classic way).

I consistently come up short when asked why I don’t want to work on my hobbies and pursue them professionally (but the pit of doom that appears in my gut is certain it’s not an option).  Until recently, that is.  Now I recognize it’s too much pressure, which turns into a fear that I will either fail miserably or be robbed of any smattering of creative energy I have left with babies running around.  It’s damn hard to come by creative time these days, even in the form of a fancier-than-usual dinner or (god forbid) time to paint my toenails.  

Anyway.  There’s immense relief in discovering something that brings the rest of your past “things” together.  It’s an elusive feat for people like Tim and me; the experiences in our back pockets are diverse and seemingly disconnected.  It’s been a constant, decade long struggle for Tim to find work in which he feels like his passions and experiences overlap and he finally found that niche working with the migrant student population.  It saved him, in a way, because it made his time and energy long ago spent seem valuable and significant today.  It’s so important to feel like what has been invested wasn’t wasted.  

So what’s my thing?  Well, I haven’t made it happen yet, so I won’t get the cart ahead of the horse, but I met a vendor at an Arts Fair last year who does brilliant, beautiful work with meaningful literary tidbits and I’m dying to get my hands on any part of it.  She and I hit it off immediately and I’m sure she doesn’t remember me, but I won’t let a little thing like a faded memory get in the way of doing something that makes me feel like I’m awesome.  Puh-lease.  Stay tuned.

In other revealing news, Tim and I are down to baby clothes totes to complete the entire house pare down project.  We learned some pretty awesome things about ourselves along the way, namely the emotions behind the things we hold dear and the reasons we keep them.  We also learned that we want a smaller house (so un-American, right?) and more land OR walkability to be able to cut to one car, so we will be listing the house this Fall after a few more projects are wrapped up. It may sell, it may not.  We’re not really in a hurry since Tim is teaching all semester and maybe beyond that.  But we’re putting it out there, which is our usual M.O. when we want a change.

I know, some all of you are making exasperated faces about the thought of us moving again.  Except maybe my cousin, Kylie.  Parents, don’t worry, we won’t ask for your help again.  If we do buy another fixer upper, we will do it ourselves or hire it out.  We have a lot more faith in ourselves and what we can handle these days.  I mean, just last weekend Tim took off the toilet, fished out a travel shampoo bottle that was stuck inside the tank (thanks, Silas), replaced the flange and wax ring and had it working again in no time.  BY HIMSELF.  I was super impressed.  I think he was, too.  Needless to say the toilet now has a lock on it, so if you have to pee when you come over, just remember to allow an extra thirty seconds to try to figure out how to get the lid open like we do every. single. time.

Tim is loving 2nd grade life!  He goes 2 days a week for the rest of the month and then takes over full time until November.  He already made a girl cry and he’s only been there three days.  It’s been nice having him home before five every night, I must say.  Maren is still colicky in the evening, although she’s hinting that she might be down with an 8 o’clock bedtime the last few nights.  Woop woop!  It’s been nice having a wingman to play with Silas and help with bedtime every night.  

So that’s about it for our thoughts on life these days.  I intend to take some pictures of our babies tomorrow since they are three and twenty-one weeks this week.  We nearly have a 2 year old.  It’s freaking me out.  

 

A Whole New Woooorld

Please tell me you got that Aladdin reference. 

You know how they say you have a completely new body every seven years thanks to cell regeneration?  Well, we are staring into the face of a completely different life and it feels pretty daunting but happy. 

Let’s flash back to last Thursday.  Mary Kay came over to help me tag team kiddos and Project Pare Down and we got a lot done!  It’s remarkable how much I can get done with an extra set of hands on stand by.  By the time Tim got home Friday, the house was freakin’ spotless and we were braced for a weekend chock full of socialization, beautiful weather and minimizing. 

Tim finished his job on Friday, which means he is home the month of August (!) and also that he doesn’t have a paycheck until he is done student teaching. It’s going to take some adjusting, having him here all the time, but it’s going to be awesome for Silas who is a huge daddy fan these days.  At this point Silas is having a hard time figuring out what’s going on, which results in 20 minutes of panic every time Tim opens the door to go somewhere. Yuck.

Anyway.  We are looking forward to having a “normal” life where he works in the same town in which we live and we get to see him every night.  We went out Friday night to celebrate (La Scala–our fave) with our favorite friends here and it was marvelous.  Great conversation, amazing food, and the fastest two hours that have ever passed.  Thanks to MK for keeping their kiddo and Silas for boy time!  We took the baby girls.  Emmeline snacked the whole time and Maren slept like a champ!  It was awesome.

Saturday morning we were super productive.  We’re downsizing all of our belongings and it feels really liberating.  Tim and I went through the entire master bedroom, including every piece of clothing in both of our wardrobes, and the linens for all bedrooms in the morning.  It was awesome!  You have to do that stuff when you’re feeling decisive, you know.  We donated a Subaru Outback FULL of stuff.  Like I had to take out the car seats to fit it in there. 

After a donation drop and two car washes, we headed to Indy for a day full of dates.  First up was Goose the Market, which we adore for its European feel and super espresso.  We met Bloomington friends Matt and Alyssa there and, as always, had a great chat about why we’re all here and what we’re doing.  They’re such cathartic company. 

After Goose, we stepped it up a notch and went to St. Elmo’s Steak House with two other couples.  Such ambiance!  It was nice to have a mostly quiet meal (we ran into M’s fussy time a bit) and talk about baby stuff since Robyn has three and Aubrey’s prego with her first.  It’s so nice how our friendships all morph over time.  We met as young teenagers and have moved into married, house fixing, family making lives.  I’m glad to have them in my life after all this time.

Sunday brought rain, which was poor timing since we picked that day to go through the storage room out back and the entire garage!  We did it anyway and put out a curb alert for a ton of crap at the end of our driveway.  One of the (five) good things about living in Lafayette is that the trash guys pick up ANYthing.  Couches, giant anythings, they’ll take it.  So what wasn’t hauled off was picked up the next day (which wasn’t much). 

Monday morning we got up and tackled the kitchen, getting rid of two more totes of stuff.  We also sold our giant entertainment center on craigslist and downsized to our white trunk, which feels better.  We are feeling pretty good about our lack of belongings these days.  Monday was also the start of my new nanny babe coming full time.  It’s interesting having a 3, 8 and 20 month old all day.  We’re adjusting. Tim is going to be here this month to help except on Wednesdays.  Speaking of, today is his first day with 30 second graders!  Too cute.

We have done the equivalent of three Minimalist Challenge months in this house.  Where does all the stuff come from??  We have simplified the entire house except for the baby clothes and children’s books.  Literally every inch of the other rooms has been ravaged for donation piles.  And can I just say my plan worked!  We are spending way less time cleaning up messes and tidying the house.  Less mess=more happy. 

Up next:  using the rest of the month to do some finishing work on the house, which includes painting, flooring and who knows what else.  I’m trying to be excited. 

August: Back on the Goal Bandwagon

The whole mishegas of life with babies, old houses that need fixing, and marriages that need attention are nothing new, but they can take a toll, man.  August has been declared as the month to get back on the goal bandwagon. 

1.  Wrap up and wind down.

Tim is finishing work this week, which means we will be living on love and a nanny salary for the rest of the Fall and into winter.  Yikes.  The good news is we love a challenge.  The other good news is we’re recovering minimalists and we don’t like a lot of stuff anyway.  The last good news is we will have SO MUCH family time with Tim swapping his work-out-of-town job for a 15 minute commute.

In an effort to remember how to enjoy our grown up time and our family time, we’re making some intentional choices. This past weekend we took a walk to the Farmers Market for the first time since moving here (and after 11 months of talking about it).  It was refreshing and enjoyable and everything we thought it would be, so we vowed to do it more often while the weather holds.  The babies both napped in the stroller (!) and we got to talk and drink strong iced coffee and eat fancy pastries at the market.  Happy family time! 

2.  Simplify our crap.

Tim and I both read Hands Free Mama last week and it has had a major impact on our lives.  Since then, we have invested a lot of energy into conversation about what we want out of life at this point.  We both come back to a shared and passionate goal of simple living.  I feel like I spend my days split between juggling babies and navigating a raging sea of stuff that accumulates on counters, tables, floors, dressers, the piano… Where did it all come from? 

I spent last week focusing on the bathrooms and got down to one organized basket of stuff in each bathroom.  That’s it!  Empty vanities, clean counters.  We worked on the office the last few days and are almost done after purging tons of books, lamps, cords, and random electronics.  This weekend we will go through the storage room, garage, master bedroom, and kitchen in an effort to get rid of the clutter and reclaim some of our free time for things that really matter.  The other thing we realized is our house is too big.  But that’s a revelation for another day.  I didn’t finish the minimalist challenge from last month, but we’re certainly finishing it now and it feels AWESOME.

We are adjusting this week as we welcome a nanny babe of 8 months to the daytime brood.  It’s no joke around here and occasionally seems like a three alarm fire is breaking out, but we are making it work and Silas loves having playful company!  I like having someone here for Si’s socialization and it’s really his first chance to be the big kid, which has come with interesting dynamics.  So far, so good. 

This is going to help us pay the bills while Tim student teaches this Fall, and it also will help us simplify our habits and spending, which has been a goal but hasn’t happened in any impressive way.  I’ve learned it’s hard to change spending habits without the pressure of duress or a big change in circumstances.  We’re there.

Tomorrow Mary Kay comes to stay and I am eager for her help and company!  Tim’s last two days away will allow me time to furiously pare down our belongings in time to have a rummage on Saturday morning. An extra set of hands is such a gift.

3.  Love each other.

If Hands Free Mama taught us anything, it’s that the mess and they busy lives are no excuse not to stop and pay attention to the people we love.  I can practically hear Silas growing if I get quite enough to listen.  Maren is changing by the minute and growing right out of her 3 month clothes.  Our marriage has taken the back burner (and necessarily so) while we adjusted to two babyness, but we are reclaiming our relationship amid the mishegas because it’s important and because no one else will do it for us. 

We have a double date on Friday night with Melissa and Jared, a double date midday Saturday with Matt and Alyssa, and a meetup with my favorite high school faces (Dan, Aubrey and spouses) Saturday evening for dinner in Indy.  It’s like we’re trying to make up for lost date time in a single 24 hour period, apparently.  But the point is we’re putting our very limited spare energy into it because it’s worth it.

That’s all we know around here.  Anybody else read Hands Free Mama?  Tim loved it even though it’s written for the female perspective.