Lately, little Leo has been obsessed with dumping things on the ground. Cheerios are good. But water/milk/juice/daddy's beer is even better. Fortunately we have dogs that make the clean-up of the food items a lot easier. They love Leo, if only for the reason that they get lots of treats when he is around.
But after I while, I was getting frustrated with the constant wiping up of puddles. After each spill I would enlist Leo's help in cleaning it up. But he seemed to love that part just as much as the pouring itself. So there was no curbing his enthusiasm with manual labor.
Finally I smacked myself on the head for not thinking of it sooner, and supplied the little man with a giant bowl of water and a bunch of little cups and bowls. Outside. And he has been asking to do some "pouring" every day for the last couple of weeks. I can see him from the kitchen window as I clean. He is happy. I am happy. Nobody has to clean it up. Hooray for pouring. Outside.
|Is there any water left?|
|What I really need is more rocks.|
|Beatrice, that water looks refreshing!|
|I think I better give it a try.|
Happy day-after-Memorial-Day! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. We sure did.
My best friend since junior high school recently moved back to the same area of Sacramento that we grew up in. Our family loves visiting hers for many reasons. First, because being with her is like being with a sister - someone who knows me so well I don't have to be anyone but myself.
Second, her son and my older son are buddies. Third, her husband and my husband are buddies. Fourth, her house is awesome. Especially in the summer.
She has everything I miss about growing up in Sacramento. A big backyard with grass-you-can-play-on.
And of course, weather warm enough to enjoy it all.
Suffice to say, we ate and drank and played like kids all day long. And when it was time for bed we slept like babies (you know, the mythological kind of baby that sleeps really well). I haven't had so much fun in a long time.
LESSON: Play like a kid! With your kids. Preferably with other adults and kids.
My 5.5 year old is not real keen on having his photo taken these days. I've tried all the tips people have offered - giving him his own camera (which he loves!), never asking him to stop what he is doing to pose, and waiting patiently for a natural smile. But this guy, he's got his own ideas about funny. As soon as he sees the camera come out he starts in with his best silly faces, waiting for me to get riled up.
In the past I've always stopped with the photos, trying to reason with him before getting flustered and saying forget it.
I just kept shooting, and started giggling, asking for more and more silly faces. And when I was done, I showed him the pictures and laughingly asked him which one he wanted to go in the family photo album. He picked the one below.
I realized that this age is all about knock-knock jokes and potty talk and silly faces. And as much as I want beautiful portraits of my children, I want to capture the silly too. And not be too caught up in my own agenda to recognize when we're having fun.
LESSON: Recognize the funny.
One of the things I struggle with as a mom is the feeling like I do all of the work. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that feeling. An at-home-parent's day is filled with kitchen cleaning, bottom wiping, laundry folding, spill wiping, toilet scrubbing, toy wrangling, and grocery shopping. There's no way around it. Kids are a lot of work.
I recall reading somewhere that the only way to get things done around the house was to include your children in the work. And that is what I do. At first it was just as a distraction so I could get a bit more work done. "Could you please wipe this perfectly clean table with a sponge while I finish loading the dishwasher?" "Could you please
But as my older son reached three, and started to reliably put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher without being asked, I realized that I was training actual helpers. That the entire burden of keeping our home in order would not fall to my husband and I. And that, my friends, was a real lesson in happiness.
Here are the things I now expect my 5-and-a-half year old to do.
1) get himself dressed/undressed and brush his teeth
2) feed the dogs
3) tidy up toys
4) tidy up art supplies
5) clear his place at the table and wipe it with a sponge
6) help unload the dishwasher
6) make his lunch for school
LESSON: The kids really can help, if you take the time to teach them.
When little Leo was 10 months old I found myself at an all-time low. My health was failing, and I was unable to cope with the day-to-day stresses that come with being an at-home mom. As I lay in bed I knew that some changes were going to have to be made, if only I could find my way through the thick fog in my brain to figure out what those changes were
My first step, obviously, was addressing my health issues (I'll save that story for another post). But once I began to recover physically, I began to question why it was that I felt so joyless about my life. On paper I had an amazing life - wonderful husband, family and friends. A nice house and the opportunity to stay home and raise my children. And yet somehow I just felt trapped and bitter. Yet there was nothing else I'd rather be doing. Kind of a mess, you see?
So I turned to my beloved sefl-help section at the library and brought home Change Your Life in 30 Days. It was just what I needed to get me moving in the right direction. Like most self-help books, there were parts that didn't seem to apply, but the one part that really hit home described the importance of gratitude. One of the exercises in the book involved a commitment to a daily gratitude practice - a simple list written every night before bed of 5 things I was grateful for that day. I have been keeping my lists ever since. Sometimes written down, sometimes in my head as I drift off to sleep, but always in one form or another. And slowly since then I have noticed a change in my thoughts and attitude toward mothering. And for that, I am truly grateful.
LESSON: Gratitude is key.
A little confession time here. I still love Grey's Anatomy. My husband won't watch it with me anymore, so its a show that I record and binge on when he is out of town. Last weekend he went to a bachelor party in Las Vegas, leaving me home with the boys, a pint of ice cream, and the season finale of Grey's Anatomy.
I find watching cathartic. Especially the season finales which usually have so much drama I end up crying my way through the show. This season was no exception. With a half dozen of the show's featured characters involved in a plane crash there is drama aplenty. At one point Meredith is stumbling around with a head wound. Her sister has just died and she is searching for her husband terrified that he may be dead as well. Her best friend Christina, who is also injured, tells her to "keep it together anyway."
I feel like that whole scenario relates perfectly to parenting. Some days there are so many crazy things happening, you are an emotional wreck. Your older child is home sick. There is puke all over the floor. Your toddler is drawing on the dog with sharpie. There is someone on the phone who needs to clarify a few items for your mortgage re-fi. You have to bake 4 dozen cookies for the school bake sale. You just want to curl up in a ball and cry.
But somewhere inside you a voice tells you to "keep it together anyway" and somehow you get through the day. The questions get answered. The floor gets mopped. The dog gets bathed, and you call your best friend and ask her to pick up some frozen cookies for you at the store. That counts as baking, right? And at the end of the day you collapse hoping tomorrow will be a better day.
There's no question that parenting can be difficult and overwhelming. And some days we just keep it together anyway.
Before I had kids I used to spend a lot of my time creating. Drawing, painting, and baking as a hobby, and web design and floral design as careers. Once I had my children my time to be creative diminished. The little time that I had when the kids were sleeping I was too tired to get out my paints. The best I could do was surf the internet looking at all the wonderful crafty things other moms were creating.
As much as I loved seeing all the beautiful eye candy, it made me feel bad that I didn't have the time or energy to be creative myself.
Then one day I discovered Under The Sycamore. Ashley is a photographer who chronicles her life with her four kids on her blog. She takes beautiful and amazing photographs of her kids doing everyday things.
I was inspired by her blog to pick up our digital camera and start snapping photos of our family. And I keep snapping. I think I can admit here that I've caught the photo bug.
The wonderful thing about photography is that I don't have to find time away from the kids to do it. In fact, they are the stars of my hobby. I can pick up my camera during snack time, or bring it to the zoo. I can snap photos for just three minutes, put down the camera, and get back to my boys.
I use the camera to give me a break when I'm having a rough day. If I can't seem to engage with my kids, or just don't feel like getting down on the floor to play Lego, picking up the camera inspires me to see their world from a new angle. After a few minutes I'm ready to join them again.
Taking photographs makes me feel creative again. I love reviewing the photos at the end of the day, seeing how many "keepers" there are and how I could've improved the others. Taking photos makes me a happier mom.
A few months ago we got a new camera and I was inspired to really learn how to use it. Ashley at Under the Sycamore offers online DSLR photo classes. Now that I've finished the course and am shooting in manual, I'm loving photography even more. And there is so much more to learn...
LESSON: Take up an easy hobby.
I grew up a dancer. Specifically ballet. And in high school I co-captained the drill team. My favorite activity as a teen was to dance all night at the local all-ages goth night club. Oh yes, I put on my black and white striped tights, doc martins, and black eye-liner every Saturday night to dance to the finest mix of Depeche Mode, The Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Soft Cell (this song gets me every time).
So imagine my surprise when my older son tells me at the ripe old age of three that he hates dancing. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised seeing as how the only way I can get his father to dance is to pour quite a bit of liquid courage in him. But still. I figured any child of mine would be born with the love of the dance.
Thankfully little Leo LOVES to dance. This kid was born to boogie. That's him up there getting down to MJ's Rock With You. And its a good thing too, because dancing makes me a happier mom. Its my first line of defense when we're having a sub-par day. And fortunately Finn has learned to enjoy our little dance parties. He's happy enough to spin around and jump off stuff while Leo and I get our groove on. Now if I could only find my Doc Martins...
LESSON: Just dance!
Earlier this week, dear friends of ours had their first child. A baby girl, she came two weeks early by way of c-section. Happy and healthy, mom and baby are doing great. At least, as well as they can be doing considering the ordeal they have just been through.
When pregnant with our first child I knew that I wanted a home birth. I've always disliked hospitals and doctors, and have a bit of an anti-establishment streak in me. Fortunately my husband got on board quickly. He even became a bit of a home birth advocate himself. Fast forward to my loooooong labor which despite countless hours of squats and lunges down our hallway refused to progress past 7cm. I ended up in the hospital and had Finn there.
When pregnant with our second child I signed right back up for a home birth, determined that this time things would go my way. Once again, the universe had a different plan for me. My water broke five weeks early. Leo was breech. Our sweet midwife gave me a hug and told me we had to go to the hospital for a c-section.
Sometimes I feel like these two defining moments in my role as a mother were tailor made to help me learn to let it go. Because really, 5 and 2 years later, does it matter how those boys entered the world? Actually yes, it does. They were birthed in the safest, best way we had available in the moment. What doesn't matter, in hindsight, is whether or not they came into this world according to my predetermined plan.
LESSON: Forget the plan. Let it go.
While I'm thinking about it, here are just a few things that helped my when recovering from my c-section.
1) Some kind of compression garment. There are all sorts of fancy ones now, but I just used a less expensive medical version. Some people even get them from the hospital. I started wearing mine about one week postpartum. It helped me feel stronger, and like my incision was safe from my wild 3.5 year old. It also really helped with that feeling that my insides were sloshing around when I went from laying down to standing.
2) Silicon strips for the scar. These kept my incision from feeling itchy as it healed.
3) Some undies that don't have a waistband.
4) A My Breast Friend. Made nursing easier, and kept baby up off my incision
When our family first moved to Alameda, we knew nobody. We had many friends within a 10 mile radius, but none in the city itself. Since we moved to Alameda for its sense of community (they call it the Mayberry of the bay area) I was determined to get out there and meet some people. An introvert by nature, I'm not the best at developing new friendships on my own. So I sought out the local mom's group and joined. I threw myself into it, meeting tons of new moms and kids while simultaneously getting to know our new city and surrounding area. I even signed on to be the new member coordinator for a while.
That was five years ago. I no longer participate in the group, but am still reaping the dividends from it. I have a handful of friends whom I really enjoy that I met thanks to the mom's group. We get together when we can. And wherever I go in Alameda it is almost guaranteed that I run into somebody I know. It always makes me happy to chat with another mom for a few minutes in the grocery store, or at the park. A guaranteed mood lifter.
LESSON: Join a Group
This sweet boy right here has been throwing us for a loop for the past couple of years. Since he was about 2.5 Finn has been Jekyll and Hyde. About 60% of the time he was a joyful, spirited, happy kid. Then that other 40% of time he was nasty and literally out of control. He had some dietary issues that we worked out (the details of which I will save for another post). Solving those problems cut put him at about 90% awesome, and 10% nasty. It has taken some time to realize that the remaining nastiness revolves almost entirely around his grandparents.
Finn has three sets of wonderful grandparents. The problem doesn't lie in them. The problem is that Finn is jealous of the attention his grandparents give to his little brother. I cannot tell you how good it felt to finally figure that out. For the last few years it has been like a light switch turning my sweet kid into a monster as soon as his grandparents walk through our door. Pushing, yelling, defiance, potty talk, whining, and destruction were all to be expected. No amount of reason, threats, or consequences did any good. After all, the kid is five.
So once I finally pinpointed the problem I immediately started to make a plan. I pulled out my all time favorite parenting book, Between Parent and Child, and read about jealousy. The next morning I had a talk with Finn in order to validate his feelings (as the book suggests). It went a little something like this:
Me: You don't like it when Grandma and Grandpa give attention to Leo.
Finn: No, I hate it.
Me: You wish you could have all the attention when they come to our house.
Finn: Leo gets too much of the attention. Before he was born I got it all.
Me: It makes you sad that you have to share the attention.
Finn: Yes, it does. (shoulders drop, voice gets a little weepy)
After that Finn and I agreed to make a plan for the next time his grandparents come. He suggested we make Leo take 10 naps (I wish!). And so we have a plan. In this case the plan is to make a plan (how convenient is that for my blog topic today!) and talk about how the time with grandparents will be shared before they arrive. I can't be sure that this plan will work, but I feel soooooooo much better just having one. Instead of going into a visit with my teeth clenched just waiting for that first angry outburst, I have hope. And a plan.
LESSON: If something is troubling you, MAKE A PLAN.
Mothers Day is a funny kind of holiday. As a daughter I've always felt a self-inflicted pressure to make the day special for my mother. Now as a mother, its an odd balance in trying to make the day special for both my mother and mother-in-law, while trying to make a bit of space for myself to relax. I think I've always imagined I would be celebrated by my kids in amazing style. Applause and accolades and champagne and pats on the back all day long. Years past I have felt a combination of disappointed, tired, unprepared, overtaxed, and detached. Not good.
This year, in pursuit of a happier sort of Mother's Day I decided to lower my expectations. I let it be known that all that mattered to me is that I not spend all day cooking and cleaning. That was it. So, instead of cooking a big brunch for everyone, we went out to brunch. The food was decent. But neither I nor my mothers or sister had to cook it or clean up after it! We got to sit and enjoy each other instead. Then we all went home for naps (well, the littlest one and I anyway) and met up back at our house for a BBQ in the evening. My amazing husband shopped and cooked. When it was time to eat we all pitched in to set the table, and clear it afterward. And for the first time I really, truly, enjoyed Mothers Day. My expectations: a day with my family where I didn't have to cook or clean. What I got: a day with my family where I didn't have to cook or clean, a nap, time to take family portraits, a sweet hand drawn card from my son, and a feeling of joy and peace instead of disappointment and responsibility.
LESSON: Lower your expectations.