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Monday, January 29, 2018

get movin' mama

Being a mom is hard core. It's nonstop and you never ever have enough time for what you want to get done. Ever. You barely get to go to the bathroom by yourself, right? I get it. I work full time out of the house and have three kids. I get that we never have time for things. Exercise though is one of those things I believe strongly that we NEED to TRY to find more time for in our daily busy mama lives.

Here's the thing... I think we need to reassess how we think about exercise, working out, fitness goals in our lives as mothers. We are NOT those high schoolers who played three sports and had time for three hour practices. We'll NEVER be them again. We are NOT supposed to have the bodies we used to have in  high school. Our bodies back then didn't expand to grow human beings. Of course, we're changed physically. We are not supposed to be who we were in college or even the first year after having our first child. Of course our bodies grew along with our hearts and expanding families. It's NORMAL. Let go of that guilt right now.

BUT as parents... we need more ME time, more patience for ourselves, more self-care and more time moving our bodies to be stronger moms. I firmly believe this will make you a better parent, if you give yourself more of yourself, more time getting active.

Here are a few tips for getting yourself moving again as a busy mom:

  • Accept the season you're in and the limitations you're experiencing. If you just had a baby, enjoy the time on the couch resting and feeding. If you had health issues you had to get through before working out became a priority, it's all good. If you are nursing, man, that's ENOUGH of a calorie-burner right now, it's OK to skip working out at this point in the game of motherhood. If you just started back at work, take a breather and get used to that first before starting a new workout regimen. If your kids are sick, or you are dealing with constant doctors appointments, I get it, that's priority right now, fitness can wait a bit longer. Accept the season you are in, moms. You WILL get out of that season, they all pass. You WILL be at a point in your life again soon where you can work out more routinely. If right now is not it, accept it, take a breath, and give yourself some grace and understanding. Let yourself BE right now, and accept you WILL get back there sooner than later. I just personally went through having a baby 16 months ago. I got back in shape last spring, only to get out of shape after having a surgery this summer. I got back in shape after the surgery, only to have my kids get sick this fall and I got out of shape again. I'm getting back in shape again now, and it's awesome. Accept the season, it will pass. It's not to say you can make excuses, but with parenting being the hardest thing ever, it's OK if it takes more time than normal to get back on track with your fitness routine.
  • Let go of daily pressure to work out. There's no time for that for most parents. If you aim for 3 days a week, 30 minutes each that's better than not working out. Do your best. Walk 10 minutes a day up and down your stairs if you have to. That's better than sitting those 10 minutes. It doesn't have to be daily. I personally feel better if I work out daily, but there are many seasons in my life where that's NOT doable. So tell yourself you'll do it a few times and then be proud of that. 
  • Get yourself up and move. Just move! It doesn't have to be a fitness video or a gym membership. It can be dancing around in your kitchen for 5 minutes before dinner. It can be parking farther out in the Target parking lot. It can be lugging bags to Goodwill in and out of your car. It ALL counts. If all you have time for is 20 crunches one morning, then so be it. That's 20 more than doing nothing for your stomach muscles. If all you have time or energy for is stretching after a long night with a teething toddler then that's awesome. Start to think of every little bit adding up to a healthier you. It'll make you want to do more in the long run. 
  • There is no "right" time. Find what works. For me it's Saturday morning while dad is preparing breakfast, I get up early and get moving before the kids notice I'm not around or bug me, that's one day down, a few more to go. It's waking up early in the morning so it's done, so nothing can become a reason why I can't get it done, no appointments or kid stuff has come up yet, they are sleeping so I'm not missing anything with them. Tell your partner it's important that you get this done, tell them what you need for help. Having their support is very helpful so you can keep going. 
  • Prep ahead. I get out my workout clothes the night before, even socks and my headband. I fill the water bottle the night before and have it ready in the fridge. I set my alarm the night before. There is literally no reason not to get up when you prepare. If you don't prep, you'll find an excuse not to do it. 
  • JUST DO IT. Be like Nike. I had to get up for 13 months for my third baby to pump milk at 5 a.m. so it was ready for his 5:30/45 bottle/wake time. I did this religiously for 13 months straight, every single morning. I never missed a beat, I couldn't, I HAD to do it. When pumping I could not fathom being awake at 4:30 to work out and pump, it just didn't work during that season. But once I stopped pumping, I told myself "you used to get up at this time and do something for 30 minutes for your baby, why can't you get up at the same time and spend 30 minutes on YOU?" So now that's what I do. I tell myself I have to. I feel better after I do it. I am more patient with the kids. I focus better at work. I feel happier, confident, stronger. I just do it. If I stop to think about how the hell I pumped for a year, I go crazy and think it's nuts. Same with exercising at 5 a.m. if I stop to think about it... I'll not do it anymore. Don't think, just DO. 
  • YouTube it. Find some cool workout videos to get you started, motivated if you can't get to a gym or don't have exercise equipment at home. They are motivating, fun, hilarious even. They can be 10 minutes up to 60 minutes, whatever you need. You can replay them if you don't get the moves. Anything to make you sweat is awesome. Try different ones each day. 
  • Reframe your goals. When you're a mother, time matters, because usually time away from your kids doing something for you means just that: away from the kids, your precious littles. You don't ever have enough time with them, so if you are going to do something important it has to be valuable. The working out thing cannot be about losing weight. It can't be to fit into a bathing suit or your pre-maternity leave pants. It needs to be worth MORE than that... it needs to be so you can chase after a busy toddler or so you don't get a heart attack like your parents did at a young age. It needs to be so you can focus better at work or so you can feel stronger when pushing the stroller at the park. It needs to be so you can be around for your kids, teaching them a healthy lifestyle. Your weight could fluctuate a few pounds daily if you ate the same thing every day. Don't waste your time on numbers. Focus on changing your life to be a stronger person for you and your family. Your goals as a mother working out are not going to be the same goals you had in high school on the sports team. That's normal and OK. 
  • Buddy system. Find a friend who wants to take walks with you and the strollers. Get someone to join a dance class or workout class with you. Go swimming with your family on weekends. Buddying up helps, not to compete or see who can lose more weight, but rather to have an accountability partner to encourage you and tell you it's worth getting out there. 

My biggest tip for getting a busy momma out there getting stronger and fit: MAKE YOURSELF A PRIORITY. I know, I know, you're busy. I get it. I was just there like a minute ago, way way way too busy to work out routinely. If this is not your season, it's OK. But if you think you can manage a few days a week and only 30 minutes a session to spend on yourself, getting stronger and happier, then TRY. It's OK to be a priority of yours. It's OK to put yourself first for a second. You've taken care of your kids for so long, it's all right to make sure you take care of yourself. 

Realize you won't be perfect at this. It's OK. Start somewhere. Start tomorrow with just stretching and see how that goes. Then the next day walk up and down your stairs a few times. The more you do, the easier it becomes. 

Have fun. Get movin'. I swear it's worth it. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

and then there were 3 kids!

My third baby was born 16 months ago today. It's taken me that long to find more time to get back to my passion of blogging. It wasn't just the third baby that led to busy-ness... it was selling our home, buying another home, going back to work, moving a few times, health issues ETC. But here I am, reminiscing for a moment about what it was like bringing home that third little guy.

It's taken me months to fully process how having a third child changes things. Is it easier or harder than the first, than the second?

Well, I've come to find that it depends on what ages your children are when you have that third and how your life is made up and whether your third baby sleeps or not. I've come to find that it depends on the season you are in with the third baby. Every single person I've asked this question of with three children has a different response- half of them say the third is easiest, it's like nothing adding one more in the chaos, you just go with it. Others say it's the hardest, so difficult managing another little one.

For me, it's been a little of both of those answers.

Our older two were ages 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 when we had our third little guy. I'm so grateful that they were potty trained, could get their own snacks, and were very into playing outside when baby was napping or helping me when I needed an extra hand. SO thankful. I don't know how those with three under the age of 5 do anything but diaper changes and feedings. I want to win the lottery to get them maids, cooks and spa technicians to live in their homes. Full admiration, moms.

What was easier about our kids ages was the big kids were old enough to help out and not get super jealous over the baby. What was harder was that our older kids were in school, dance, activities that never stopped just because we had a newborn around. We were at birthday parties and doctors visits and packing soccer cleats the first days we returned home from the hospital. Keeping their routine was key, so that was sometimes challenging with a baby.

It was hard for us to go back to remembering the baby phase where you can't just leave your house. This was a huge adjustment for us: having to wait on baby time, feed, diaper, feed again, repeat, then try to leave the house for an hour, return to repeat again. We were so used to leaving the house with nothing but maybe a snack. Now we had to return to a full diaper bag, changes of clothing, bottles, etc. It took some getting used to. Some people say it's easier to have kids closer in age so you aren't out of the baby phase. I tend to agree, but for us it worked better with older kids. I love that we spaced it this way.

What was challenging at first with three....
  • Connecting to each one. There are three individuals who all need their Mama at one time. It's so challenging. You need patience, deep breaths and to be honest, "Mom needs one minute to change the baby's diaper, then I can see your cool race car." You get used to telling someone they have to wait a minute. You forget a lot of things, but try your best to get back to the one who needed your attention. You find that if you can give them each 10 minutes of your attention that's OK at the start. You find that if you can talk to them while changing a diaper or while washing bottles or get them in on what you're doing, that counts as connection. 
  • Varying needs. They all need something different at once. A baby needs to be changed or nursed at the moment your oldest is supposed to be at his game and your middle is having a meltdown needing you to hug her because she stubbed her toe. 
  • Big siblings love helping. This is the awesome part and the annoying part. Having to say "don't squeeze too tight, gentle please, I'll change this diaper, thanks" gets old, but they are so curious and interested you have to find patience. 
  • Messy messy chaos. Just learn to get used to it. There will be messes everywhere. Me and messes are not friends. I get stressed with messes everywhere. But when you add a third, there is NO time at all. You never stop. However busy you thought you were with two kids, double it at least with the third kid. It's nonstop busy at least the first six months. Then you level out into another form of nonstop busy, just without as many feedings or diaper changes. It's hard to adjust to this constant mess, but you learn to be OK with the fact that you cleaned the bathroom and kitchen table, but the dishes are overflowing in the kitchen sink and you can't see your bed it's piled so high with laundry. You learn to be OK with the mess. You are busy making memories, or whatever the saying says! Yeah, go with that.
  • The world doesn't stop. You still have appointments and need to get to the grocery store to feed the big kids instead of just order more takeout. They still need you to sign permission slips and read at night with them. You still have to wash the soccer uniform and make sure she has the right leotard for dance prepared for Tuesday. It's difficult to remember these things when you have a newborn around. 
  • Even less Me Time. I need my me time. I need to be solo for a little bit of each day. With three, in the beginning there's no more me time, zero. It took me a long time to get it back. I felt like I was drowning without it somedays. I desperately wanted to read a magazine, blog, write, go to Target or something. I told myself, "It's just a year, it's just a few months, I can do this." I let things go and tried to take naps for me time to rejuvenate myself. This helped a lot.

Three babies meant more messes, a dirtier car, and a lot more food to buy. It was more expensive at first. It meant not having enough hands for all the littles when crossing a street and holding a baby carrier. It meant moving a car seat to the way back of the van to fit the baby in the middle. It felt guilty and sad at times not having enough attention to spare for each one at the right moment they needed it. It was divide and conquer with me and my husband- someone got one kid, the other got two kids, and we split up to wherever the big kids needed us to go. It was ignoring the load of laundry again, letting it pile up, accepting defeat that it'll never ever be caught up with again. It meant wondering how we'd do this, how this type A control freak mama would ever learn to go with the flow and accept the chaos and mess in the house.

And then there were moments like this, where I was sitting in the Dairy Queen parking lot with a sleepy infant who'd just screamed his head off as we'd not timed our outing right and he needed to eat. And I remember feeling so completely content and in this supreme state of peace and happiness. I took a selfie wanting to remember this forever, this moment where I was beyond exhausted but yet I thought, "I look like this beautiful Mama who is in that glowing state - with the sun shining in no less - and this beautiful little human is on my chest and I created him, and we are together and this is the life I've always wanted."

I felt proud and just so happy. Despite the chaos. Despite the insanity of it all. Despite all the needs and busyness. It was perfectly imperfect. That's having three babies. It's perfectly imperfect. 

And here we are, 16 months later, and we're thriving as this Party of Five. We are in a groove. It took us a while to get here, but we are. I'm meal prepping and exercising. I'm remembering thank you notes and to text my friends again. I'm listening to books on CD on my quiet commute, and getting reminders from my calendar on my phone every few hours of where we have to be - dance, OT, basketball, birthday party, doctor's visit, etc. It feels constant, busy, and yet we're taking a breath. We are laughing, trekking out for a walk in the snow, making cookies on snow days, playing Monopoly instead of doing more laundry (it's still piling up, that never goes away, sorry to burst the bubble for you). We are tripping over snow boots at the door, forgetting to pack basketball shorts or washing the jersey last minute. We're arguing over what we're eating for dinner, and we are forgetting to pay the babysitter on Monday because we swapped who was driving where that day. We're living our life as five. It's not the same as it was with two. It's far better than I ever imagined, certainly better than how it felt those first few exhausting months with our newborn in the mix.

It was a dance, one we had to figure out how to move with five of us together. Once we all got in step with one another, accepted it would never be calm or perfect, but that it could be amazing and hilarious, we've been OK.

So how is three different from two? It's busier. There is more laughter. Things take me a lot longer to do, but I still get them done eventually. I let go of more things that just never mattered, it just took me creating three humans to understand what I could let go of. It's a constant juggling act of priorities and reminders. I've said to a friend, "I'm not sure I could have three babies if I was not an organized person. I think I'd lose one of them." It's being grateful for what you have and ignoring that you cannot possibly clean the entire house in one day anymore, or even in a weekend - and being all right with that.

It's making more memories, doing less cleaning.
Having three means more to love, more to watch and teach.
You just go with it and adjust.
Open your heart and your world to the adventures and just let go whatever you thought you needed to do before.
You somehow figure it out. You just do.

Is it worth adding a third baby? Knowing you don't have as much time or attention? Knowing it'll be messy? YES. I've never heard someone say no. It's always worth it. Three is incredible.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

raising girls

I remember thinking after having my first child, a boy, that I was relieved to have a boy. Despite how confusing boys are, especially to Mamas, I was relieved. I thought raising a boy would be easier than raising a girl. Now that I'm a mother to two boys and a girl, I realize that's so true in some respects. Boys are busier, typically, and difficult to chase after. They are into everything, at least in my experience twice over. Girls though, they are emotional. The emotions that come within girls hearts are challenging to navigate. Being a mom to a child who you would do anything for, yet you cannot control or change their emotions or how the world impacts them, that's a difficult feat for sure.

My daughter is turning six this year. Crazy how time flies when you're a mother. I remember when we first had her, the pink dresses and tutus were everywhere. I loved every second of it. But even then, holding her tiny hands and wrapping her teeny body up in a swaddled blanket, I knew. I knew it would be a difficult thing to raise a girl in this world that is obsessed with thinness and sexiness and all the other things you don't want to consider when you welcome a baby girl into your arms. I knew we were starting a journey together, one where I'd hope and pray to raise her to be a confident young girl, one who didn't care what the world threw at her.

I've said to a friend recently, my biggest goal in raising my sons is for them to be kind and helpful to others. My biggest goal in raising a daughter is for her to be confident, not care what others think. I want her to love her body and to speak her mind. These are big things to fulfill in a parenting journey.

Here are a few things I'm striving to teach to my daughter, things that I think will help me in raising a confident daughter. There is no right way to raise a daughter. We're all doing our best. These are just some ideas...
  • No body shaming. No talking about diets, losing weight, weighing yourself, or which foods you can and cannot eat. Girls don't need to hear this. And it's hard to hide it if you're doing these things, so avoiding these things altogether is important. Don't assume your 4 year old isn't paying attention to what you eat. She is. If all you do is drink your breakfast and she is told to eat cereal, she's going to notice. If all you do is say "I can't, I shouldn't, no I've had too much already," she's going to take that in and say it to herself and realize some foods are "bad." Eat all in moderation. Teach her to eat a variety of foods- chocolate included. 
  • Compliment yourself. Yeah, this one is difficult for me. I don't know how to do this very well, but I'm forcing it and working on it every week. I try to say something nice about me that I'd say about someone else. It comes easily to compliment others, so why can't I at least once a week find something nice to say about myself? My daughter will see me getting ready for work and I'll say, "My hair looks so nice today" or "I love my smile" or "My legs were so full of muscles when I was cleaning the kitchen yesterday. I like my legs." It feels weird, but to my daughter, she smiles huge as if to say, "Yeah I already think those awesome things about you, Mom, glad you noticed yourself." 
  • Have hobbies. Find other interests you like to do instead of just being a mom. Read, write, take pictures, go outside and plant flowers, go running, etc. Do something that's just yours and let your daughter see that. Let her see it's great to try new things and do different things just for fun. Better yet, let her join you in what you're doing. 
  • Exercise as a family. Get her in on running with you up and down the driveway. Go for a hike in the woods with everyone. Talk about being strong and what our bodies do for us. Talk about fueling our bodies with good foods. Smile, make it fun.
  • Ask HER opinion. Ask what she wants, what she thinks. Don't just answer her question, "Do you like my picture?" with a yes of course. I respond with, "It looks like you drew clouds and a huge yellow sun. What do you think about this picture?" I validate and say I love it too, but first ask her thoughts. I want her to know her opinion, thoughts, feelings matter.
  • Read books about strong girls. This is a MUST with girls. There are so many that I love. My favorites are:
    • Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? 
    • Do Princesses Scrape Their Knees? 
    • The Paper Bag Princess
    • Princess Truly in I am Truly
    • Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • Talk about positive role models in movies, etc. Point out the strong character. Point out when girls are not being kind to one another in shows (Sophia is a good show for this, as Amber is oftentimes being mean or putting Sophia down). 
  • Validate feelings, don't shut down the crying. This is a hard one. I'm a counselor and I still mess this one up sometimes with my own daughter. It's difficult to hear one more time of whining and sadness that you know she will get over in five minutes. It's hard to validate and sympathize every single time or find patience for it. BUT girls NEED this. They need to be heard, seen, validated. They need to know their emotions are real, not weird, and seen and felt by others. They need to know you are there. So say "I see this is so upsetting to you. I see you are so sad. I'm here." While doing this, encourage them to get through it. It's a balance, a fine line. You encourage that YES they can do it. You are here.
  • Don't always fix it, just listen and be there. Girls tell me in middle school at my job ALL the time that their mothers don't just listen, they try to fix things and report things and call parents and do things. They sometimes just want their moms to listen. So after a girl shares things with you, ask questions, repeat what she's said to you so she knows you're really listening, and then if she's really stuck and needing help, ask what SHE'S going to do. I learned from AMAZING girl aggression and other amazingness Rachel Simmons to teach girls, "Doing nothing is a choice. You can choose to do nothing about this, but let it be your choice." Teach girls this. 
  • Teach her how men should treat her- talk to them, speak up for self, etc. Show her that men are not better than us. Tell her girls can do ANYTHING boys can do. Show her that you won't tolerate being disrespected by men or other women. 
  • Let her try EVERYTHING. Remember to teach her the "boy" things too like working with tools, digging up dirt, getting messy, playing all sports, etc. The list is long, let her find her passion by trying out various things. Don't limit her to liking baby dolls or painting. Try all kinds of things like karate and hockey and science experiments in the kitchen. 
  • Be specific with praise. Don't say "good job." Find a way to find something specific you like to compliment. "I like how you didn't give up when you were struggling to tie your shoes. You tried SO hard." Or "I could see your strong muscles when you were running on the soccer field and you then shared your orange with your friend, that was so nice to see." 
  • Don't let her say "It's OK." I taught my daughter years ago that when someone mistreats her, and then they apologize to her, she does NOT need to say "It's OK." It's NOT OK. How they treated her negatively is nothing she's going to accept. Even if someone apologizes. So when her brother hits her and then apologizes, she now says "Thank you" instead of "It's OK." Thanks for apologizing. Thanks for seeing that I'm hurt and sad. Thanks for caring about me. NOT, "It's all right that you mistreated me, I can take it, I'm used to it, it's going to happen again." It's a small word change, but it builds confidence. 
  • Don't let her say "I'm sorry" when she has NO reason to be sorry. Women are FAMOUS for doing this. I've done it myself and worked harder on it. I write emails with I'm sorry, and then delete them before sending. We are so quick to apologize to make someone else feel better, even when we aren't to blame for situations. So when she apologizes to me about something that she doesn't owe a sorry for, I'll tell her so, "You don't have to say sorry." It's language like this that helps girls understand they are important, significant and that they MATTER. 
I'm sure there are a thousand other ways to raise girls to be strong, confident and superstars in their own right. I'm still learning, honestly. It's a work in progress. I just find that I need to be conscious about raising my daughter. I have to think all the time about what she needs, what the world is sending her way, how to intercept those negative messages. 

It's a big job... raising girls to be the future mommas if they want to be. That's a big role. We are so lucky to serve in this role.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

ME time as a mother

Having ME time, solo, aka away from all responsibilities of being a mother, is DIFFICULT as a mom. We barely have enough time to spend with our kids and clean up after them, of course we have zero time to connect with friends and get out on our own. Or if we do find the time, we're too darn tired to go anywhere but our couch, right?

But having me time is SO important. Having space to breathe and time to think about what you want to think about is really key for being a healthier, happier, more patient mother. It's so important that I think every mom needs time DAILY to herself. I won't pretend I know how much time we need - hours pleeeeease- because I know we're lucky to get 10 minutes a day of uninterrupted time. But I do know for sure it makes me a much better mom when I get some time every single day to myself - to blog, read, write, Facebook, scroll Instagram, take pictures, take a long hot shower, listen to my music on the radio, ETC. If I can have some time every day to watch Netflix or just talk to my husband without being On Duty Mom, I'm happier and calmer.

A few years ago I made up the #MomMEChallenge encouraging moms to MAKE time for themselves, even little moments. I hope you start tagging me on Instagram @themommystories to show me what you're doing this month to put some time back into YOU each day.

But how do we do this? How do we make ME time?

It's reframing in your mind what you have time for. You have time for what you make time for I believe. You have to MAKE yourself a priority. SO hard, I know. But if you need, you can schedule it in the calendar. For example, hit up the gym or a workout class with a friend every week and make it an appointment you can't miss, or make a monthly girls' night out and put that on the calendar a month in advance so it's there.

A few ideas of fun me time to add to your day:

  • Text a friend. 
  • Leave a voicemail- even if you know they aren't available to talk, make the effort to connect to your friends.
  • Email someone just for fun, skip the work stuff you need to reply to and just email someone you like as a friend to make her day.
  • Get a coffee, iced chai (my fave) or hot chocolate when you are going grocery shopping. I swear by this, for years I've done this even before I was a mom. Shopping is tough, tiring, busy. I treat myself every time with a small treat or drink to just say to myself, "nice work, you got that done, you deserve this." 
  • Take a longer shower.
  • Join a fun Facebook group that makes you feel better about life, scroll as needed even for five minutes.
  • Actually eat lunch. Sit down, too. Wow!
  • Read - or get books on CD or Podcasts- so fun! If you have even 20 minutes in the car solo it's a fun thing to listen to something non-child like.
  • Get special lotion and make sure you take time when you get out of the shower to pamper yourself. Buy nice soaps and hair products so at least you feel like you're doing something for yourself.
  • Start a hobby- taking pictures, reading, writing, blogging, etc. and stick with it, set a goal of 30 minutes a week that you learn about that new thing you want to do.
  • Sign up for a class - it could be from the local adult ed program in town. Make it something you can't miss.
HOW do you find the me time though?
  • Get up before the kids get up and go for a walk. Get it in early before you feel guilty that you're missing something.
  • Ask your partner in advance for help. 
  • Schedule it- put it on the calendars. Make it a real appointment you wouldn't miss. You find time for the birthday parties, practices, and work meetings... why can't you have a "meeting" with yourself?
  • Prep ahead of time. If you're going grocery shopping and want extra time at Target but worried about what the kids will have for lunch when you're gone, make the meal ahead or leave a list for partner. If you are planning to workout in the morning before kids get up, don't delay in the morning finding your shorts and t-shirt, but instead set it all out ahead of time so it's ready.
  • Get rid of time wasters in your life. Things that you could be doing differently... to add in more time in your day. Every weekend I spend two hours meal prepping, cooking, and cutting up snacks for the week. That way I don't have to do this 20-60 minutes a day, so I have more time with my kids at night and more time for myself in the mornings before work. Find more time by eliminating what you waste time doing.
  • Tell yourself you deserve some time. It's OK to not have to be the one person doing everything in your family. 
  • Lower your expectations. Tell yourself you will take 10 minutes to yourself this WEEK. Then add to it next week by saying three times that week you'll take 10 minutes. Make it small so you can accomplish it.
  • Write a list of what you LOVE to do, or what you used to do before kids. Put it on your phone. When you find you have a few moments- while waiting to pick up a kid or sitting at dance studio, you can do one of those small things.
I understand it's hard, but we are better mothers when we take care of ourselves first. Do something this week that makes you happy, calmer, happier. #MomMEChallenge Tag me!

to my daughter, who I will teach to love her body

Dear Daughter,

When I found out you were a girl, I smiled with delight thinking about all the things we'd do together. I imagined taking you to ballet- something I literally waited three years for and could not wait another second to sign you up for that first Mommy and Me class. I pictured you wearing tutus and also having dirt streaked all across your face, in your pretty painted nails, and in your hair that looks just like mine. I envisioned us snuggled up together talking and then going to thrift stores looking for cool things, just like my Mom and I did when I was younger. I imagined telling you things like "you're strong, you're OK, what a good writer you are, wow I love that picture you colored for me."

From day one, everyone showered you with pinks and purples. They showed up with dresses, tutus, and lace. Dolls littered our toy box now. After having a boy, everyone imagined we were delighted to see pink now. It was true, I'll admit, I was ecstatic to have a girl to dress up. But right then and there in the hospital on your first day, your Dad and I said to each other, "She'll be one of those girls who's wearing dresses and loves princesses and carries baby dolls, but who also loves John Deere tractors and digs in the dirt with big dump trucks and who is dirty every day and loving being outside. That's who we will raise, a strong girl who can do it all." 

With our daughter, we'd change what it meant to be girlie. We would help you realize it's OK to be whoever you are.

So you got your own set of tools. You love pink, so we were OK with the toolbox being a "girlie" color. You wore your brother's bright orange Home Depot worker glasses. You called yourself a worker girl. You wore rain boots to play outside in your dresses after church. You needed your nails cut short so you wouldn't constantly have dirt inside them. You kept up with the boys everywhere you went.You got a shovel for Christmas one year so you could shovel with Daddy, too.

We outlawed the phrases your brother would come up with sometimes, "That's a girl toy" or "I don't want the girl color bowl." We said there are no girl and no boy toys or colors. Everyone can play with everything. And yet, we had a boy who preferred Tonka trucks to baby dolls, and we had a girl who preferred feeding baby dolls and then putting them in a Tonka truck.

By the age of three I asked you what we use our head for? To be smart. I said what do we use our body for? To be strong. What do we use our smile for? To be pretty and kind to others. I hesitated teaching you the word pretty, it has negative connotations sometimes. Girls aren't supposed to just be pretty. But I thought long and hard about this one... I had times growing up when I didn't feel pretty like other girls. I wanted you to know that you were always beautiful and pretty.

I would ask you "What are you?" You'd say, "Smart" and point to your head; "Strong" and make big arm muscle body movements, and "Pretty" and point to the biggest grin on your face. Since age five we've added also that you are BRAVE in how you do a superhero pose, putting your arms up, scrunching your eyes and face to show how strong and courageous you are, a stance that says "Come on, world, I can take it."

We read books about girls doing whatever they want. We don't do Barbies. I know, I played with them as a kid and they didn't ruin my life... but I just can't get behind supporting something that's not reality. Disney princesses don't bother me because they are make believe, and the focus isn't always their bodies, I don't know. For some reason I can't feel the same about Barbies, so we don't go there. We have some strong dolls in our lives, with real bodies, and real colors, not all white dolls grace your baby doll cribs.

Lately as you are 5 1/2 and in Kindergarten and full of questions about how the world works, we've been talking about differences between boys and girls. I'll ask you these days, "What can girls do?" You reply, beaming, as if you've found the answer to the meaning of life at such a young age and it's brilliant, "ANYTHING boys can do!" I then follow up with saying, "That's true.... but girls can have babies in their bodies and boys cannot, so we're even cooler sometimes because of that." The boys in our lives are speechless, because it's true. Let girls be cooler, please, boys.

I'm teaching you that you ARE something, beyond your body.

The hardest day to be a mommy of a daughter is the one where you begin to question your body, where you allow the world's negativity to creep in. This I've held my breath for each year as you grow older, as you connect more to the real world, away from me sheltering you from all pain. This, scares me. I hate knowing you will hate your body at some point. I fear all girls go through this, and I want to protect you from it.

You are a tall girl, your Dad is super tall and you were blessed with that grace. You are a strong girl, full of muscles. I compliment them all the time. When you run really fast in the driveway I'll say "Wow look at those strong muscles in your legs." When you jump high I'll say "Wow you are super strong, look how high you can go," instead of "good job, honey." I'm specific with praise.

I ask you, "What do you think?" when you ask me all the time for my approval of something you've done. I am trying to teach you, "Honey, whatever you've done, because YOU'VE done it, it's GREAT. It's awesome. It's OK. And if it's not great, if you made a mistake, if you feel like you want it done better, then that's OK, too, We aren't perfect. What do YOU think?" When you show me your drawing, asking if I like it, I reply with, "Oh wow, look at those blue clouds and I see that red car there, and who is that, is that me and you in the picture? What do you think about this picture?" I don't tell you it's the most amazing creation I've ever seen. I hold that a moment. I want you to know I validate what YOU think. And I want to reiterate to you that despite what the world thinks, your own opinion matters most.

We were at dance one day last spring. They had measured you in the fall, for a recital dress that you wore about eight months later. Needless to say, it didn't fit you when we tried it on. I recall being in the dressing room with you, realizing it's not going to fit, not even to practice today in dance class, and I physically felt your heart crushing inside of you. Your eyes dropped. Your body shrugged itself into weakness. You were devastated. You sobbed. You said to me, "But all the other girls get to wear their dress today!" You leaned into me as I hugged you tight, and I told you how we all grow differently and all our bodies are a little different and that we'll get another dress to fit soon, just not today, this one doesn't work for us. You said, "Well I don't want to keep growing, I don't want to get big and tall. I want to fit in my dress today like the other girls."

My heart broke. I teared up, soaking in your own tears. In that moment you didn't fit into the world as perfectly as the others did. And I realized that I cannot protect you from all of those moments forever. There are going to be many more of these moments, and our hearts are going to break together. I'll be here every step of the way.

I've tried teaching you that your belly is awesome, your legs are strong, your hair and face are beautiful. I've allowed you to wear what you want, mismatching and everything. It's ALL good. It makes you happy and confident and that's AWESOME.

I teach you when I force a compliment about myself- I say "Don't I look beautiful in these shoes or this dress, or doesn't my hair look pretty today? I like my hair." I show you that it's OK to eat dessert and extra helpings of pasta. I never ever ever ever diet or say I'm fat in front of you, ever. Those are unacceptable to me in front of young girls. If I don't want you dieting, I should not diet. If I want you to learn that running helps me stay healthy and strong, then I should say that to you, instead of "I'm running to lose the baby weight." Everything I do, you are watching. I remember that....

For your fifth birthday we had a Wonder Woman theme. It's so fitting for who we are teaching you to be. Strong, courageous, brave, confident, YOURSELF. Unique, beautiful, helpful to others. We hope so desperately that you learn that it's OK to love yourself and be yourself.

You aren't going to be the same as other girls. You aren't going to fit in all the time. You won't accept everything about you through the years, I know this is true, sadly. But I hope that most often than not you realize we are proud of who YOU are. We love you and think you are beautiful every single day. 

So, keep wearing your Batman shirt (not Batgirl, BatMAN). Keep telling me you want a "Batman and OK I guess Batgirl too" birthday party for your sixth birthday. Keep telling me you want to dress up your baby doll into boy clothes because you don't have a boy baby doll and you want to. Keep showing me how you line up your Little People - all the boys lined up with a girl teacher standing taller on a rock teaching them how to play the game basketball, because "they don't know, the girl has to teach them everything."

We left basketball the other day, your first practice. You were nervous as we entered, you needed me to hold your hand to walk toward the group. Once you saw a friend, you ran away from me and for the next hour never looked back... except to give me a thumbs up a few times, as if to say, "Mom, I've got this. Do you SEE me?!"

When we left basketball I told you how brave you were for trying something new, how awesome it was that you were learning to move your hands and legs to dribble the ball. I asked you how you thought it went. "Did you SEE me out there, Mom? Did you see me dribbling? I can dribble the ball! I can shoot it, too! I think I'm good at basketball." The confidence poured out of you as if for the last five years we've been adding to your core of confidence and you took some out today when you needed it. For five years we've taught you that you're GREAT, we're proud of you, that you are strong and capable. And here you are, you showed us it's true, that you're learning our lessons.

We aren't perfect. We are making mistakes, like when I've told you, "you're fine" when you're crying over something that I think is little, but to you is important, I just quickly lost patience and it came out... I should say "You are so sad right now... "I should validate you and hold you instead so you know it's OK. I'm getting better at finding more patience. All mommas make mistakes. All moms need to improve in their relationship with their daughter. It's normal. We'll work on it together.

Appreciate your body, little one. It's done and will do marvelous things. You are lucky to have legs that run and jump, arms that hold on to babies and help your baby brother up, and a mind that is sharp. You are lucky to have hair and teeth and cheeks and a round belly. Don't forget that.

Sweet girl, please know that despite sometimes when you feel your belly is full or your legs are moving too much, or when someone says they don't like your hair... please remember to break out your Converse high tops with your flowery leggings and mismatched sweater and headband, 

and tell them "I know I'm smart. I know I'm strong and brave. I know I'm pretty and kind to others. I'm OK how I am, thanks." 

And move on. Run on, in fact, run past them and into my arms. I'll be here waiting to add to your core of confidence and we'll be OK. Together. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

don't rush the lullabies : learning to slow down as a mom

Last year I was in the midst of the new mom chaos phase for the third time. I had big kids - 4 and 6 - running around to dance and school and drop offs and needing permission slips signed. I had a newborn who cried when he was hungry or when he pooped- which was just about every 1-2 hours. It was exhausting. I was spread too thin. I had to keep on giving. I needed something to give, but when you're a mother, nothing gives, you just keep giving it seems. It can be overwhelming to say the least.

I found myself at my sister's house that winter, with a three month old and the big kids. We were hanging out at her house with her three children, too. We were loud and crazy, toys and kids everywhere we turned.

One night I was lying in my nephew's bedroom where we were staying for a few days and I heard my sister singing a lullaby to my niece to help her get to sleep. She put emphasis on words. She used a higher voice, then a silly voice. She laughed. She tickled, and baby laughed. I heard her sing it slowly, as if she had all the time in the world. She sang it as if she were completely and totally present in that baby nursery. She sang it with patience and love, and as though she enjoyed what she was doing in that moment- standing in the cold room, bare foot, hair a mess, spit up on her shirt, not having sat down all day, totally in need of a break after all I saw her do that day, and a thousand other things to do later.

I remember thinking, "She's singing that entire lullaby right now. She's not skipping over words or rushing lyrics. She's totally there and she has time to sing the entire lullaby. I wish I had time like that." 

And then it hit me... We DO have time like that. We just FEEL like we don't sometimes. We CAN sing an entire lullaby. How long does it really take? A minute? Three minutes? Can't we spare that much time to our babies at the end of a long day where everyone and everything else took our attention, energy and patience? Can't we share that much love every night? Isn't it the least we can give?

It made me cry. To think that I used to sing entire lullabies also, three kids ago. To think that recently I'd been rushing the bed time stories or even skipping them when the big kids begged. To think I'd been fast forwarding my renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for my newborn and offering up only the speedy remix version of You Are My Sunshine to my middle baby who at almost five years old so desperately needed those 2-3 minutes of extra attention every night from her momma singing a real lullaby.

I felt guilty, embarrassed, sad. I felt frustrated and angry that really, I can't find that much time? When will it get easier, I remember thinking? 

From that night on, I've sang real lullabies to my babies. I've answered yes more often than not to the extra bed time story or to the "Can you tell me a Once Upon a Time, Mama?" where I make up some random story about my oldest son being a knight or a prince or a boat captain or an airplane pilot and we talk about pirates and the adventures he's on and it takes literally two minutes and he's smiling ear to ear as he rests his head on his pillow to sleep.

I've said yes more. I've made time for these moments and ignored the laundry piling up or the work emails I know I "should" respond to. I've put it aside as best as I can - and it's not easy some nights - to focus entirely on them before bed. In fact, it's probably the hardest time of day. I'm spent, used up, zero energy left. I just want to curl into my own bed and have someone tell me a story and let me doze off to sleep instead of face all the responsibilities that I don't have any time earlier in the day to handle since I work full time out of the house and it's a HUGE juggle to get it all done...

But I do it because I saw it CAN be done. My sister sings an entire lullaby to her little one, so I can, too. It's important. It's a good bonding moment. It makes me feel calmer, too. They deserve that much from me.

I am not perfect. There are plenty of rushed nights still. There are nights where I sigh or roll my eyes to myself when one asks "I need a hug now too! I need you to kiss my stuffed animal!" and all I want to say is "Please, please just go to bed so I can breathe!" We all have moments. We all go through phases, like the one I was in with a new baby and big kids who all needed so much from me and I was about to crack if someone asked one more thing from me, like a lullaby.

Give yourself some grace in those challenging moments. Let yourself be in those moments of chaos and know that it WILL pass. You can improve and get better. 

And slowly get to a point where you start saying yes again to more stories at night or where you allow yourself to really focus on singing the lullaby with all your heart put into it, not rushing to get to the dishes on the table downstairs. Tell yourself it's only five minutes, I can spare five minutes.

This parenting things is so hard. I don't know a single mother who doesn't want an extra 24 hours in her week, an extra five hours in her day.

We all need more time to get it all done. But what if that's the point? We CAN'T get it all done, ever. We have to just keep trying to do most of it, the best of it, what's most important, instead of all of it. That's enough, that's OK and acceptable. That's really OK. YOU are OK. 

Hugs, mommas. It's hard, I get it. It's nice to admit when we're sliding into a negative pattern, and then reach up for a hand - to another momma who gets it - to change things around. For me, my sister did that for me, without even knowing it. I've never told her that I heard her that day, that it changed me.

It's a simple thing, singing a full song to my baby at night and being present when I do it. It's not changing my world or theirs, but it's changing those moments, and that's what life is about. Small moments changed into something better, more positive, moments where we are really alive, present and focused on what's most important- love.

That is what my babies will hopefully remember someday when they are grown: My Mom said yes most nights for songs and stories. My Mom slowed down to see me, hear me, be with me. Is there anything more important than that?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

breaking the newborn "rules"

I had my last newborn a year ago. What a bittersweet time. It's so nice being done forever with night feedings and all that beginning newness where you're so unsure of yourself as a new mom. Yet, I miss those first moments so much and want to re-do them.

Having three babies, I've found my way through the haze of confusion and questions that lead you to becoming the mom you're going to be. I figured out what worked, what didn't; what I'd keep, what I'd toss to the side like dirty laundry.

I'm not a typical mom who does everything by the book. This is odd considering the fact that I read every book I can find, many about parenting. I get Parents magazine religiously and totally kept up with every month's chapter for What to Expect When Expecting, The First Year, AND The Toddler Years the first couple of times.

But I've found that I'm also the mom who does things her own way, her baby's way. I listen to me and my baby. I remember what I've seen work for moms I know and family members. I don't do what is "typical" sometimes.

I've "broken" a few newborn rules, things that "they" say to do. And it worked for me, times three babies! So I thought I'd document those here for you, in case you are like me and didn't care to follow the play by play that some moms follow.

Side note: NO judgment if you did these things. They work great for some. My point in writing this piece today is to share that after NOT having followed these rules for three babies and they all turned out just fine and dandy, YOU, too, could choose to do things differently and be an A-OK momma, too. Let the pressures go. It's ALL good.

Here are a few things that worked for me, breaking all kinda "rules" over here:

  • Pacifiers- We used these within a couple of days of birth in the hospital every time. We loved these. Babies have a natural soothing reflex in their mouth to suck. It helps them feel better, secure. One of my babies came out of my belly sucking his thumb, he did it in the womb, sucking is normal. I refused to be the pacifier. My breasts did not have to be in even more pain post nursing sessions with a baby attached. We bonded just fine, they latched just fine, with using a pacifier. It's OK to use these from the start.
  • Arm-less and short-term swaddling- My first baby didn't like his arms tightly put into his swaddle blanket at night as a newborn, he liked to move, he liked his thumb in his mouth from birth, so we swaddled his body tightly but left the arms out. Babies like to feel something on their face, and letting arms and hands out helps with that. It's also one less thing to transition to later on down the road if you let them experience sleeping in a swaddle but with arms out. Also, short-term swaddling. I don't find the need to swaddle tightly for months on end. Surely the first few months, but then do your best to transition your baby out of this phase by three months or so. I've heard of SO many moms struggling with babies who won't sleep, don't know how to sleep because their baby has always been swaddled from birth, and now it's 5-6 months later and baby is able to actually move and get out of said swaddle and it isn't working... eek! Avoid it all together - arm less swaddle and then short-term the swaddle all together, move on to a sleep sack. 
  • Bottles early on- We gave each of our babies bottles the first week they were born, most from the night home from the hospital - day 4-5. I strongly encourage moms to do this. I breastfed my second and third like champs for over a year and they all had bottles the first week home. I don't believe the hocus pocus for most babies that it's going to cause them nipple confusion or that you'll never be able to breastfeed if you give them bottles early on. I think it's OK for moms to have a break from being the only go-to feeder. I think dads deserve a chance to feed and experience that feeling of feeding an infant too. Keep up with nursing primarily, but feeding bottles at night is SO helpful. It also makes babies sleep longer and fill them up more. I don't know that to be scientifically true, but I've had three babies and they all slept through the night at 5, 8 and 9 weeks old, so I believe it to be true for sure! 
  • Yes, wake a sleeping baby. I know, this is a scary one, right? BUT if you EVER want to sleep again, I believe in waking your baby during the day as they start getting older. I fed my babies religiously every two hours from the day they were born in the hospital. I had them on a routine feeding - even nursing - from day one. OF COURSE I fed on demand, too, if they were hungry at 1.5 hours instead of 2, yes of course they ate. BUT if they were sleeping at the 2 hour mark, yes, I woke them up and changed their diaper and fed them, which helped us be on a routine early on, which led to babies sleeping MUCH better at night. We had 4-6 hour stretches week one. If baby is sleeping at night, by all means let them sleep. If there is a growth spurt, of course let them sleep. But for the most part, take your day to feed them, wake them, fill them up, so that at night they are more tired and full and will let you stay on more of a regular sleep routine yourself. 
  • No rock n' play- I didn't know what this thing was the first two times, but the third time I was offered one from a friend and I declined. I was too scared of the habits it would create and I didn't want one more thing to transition from later down the road. I believe in teaching my babies to sleep in the bassinet and crib as early as we can - flat and swaddled for better long term sleep. Yes, the swing is an amazing thing, so letting them sleep there early on was a lifesaver during the day naps. Night time sleep though was for the bassinet, flat. I didn't want my baby getting used to something that we didn't really need. Now, if I had a colicky or reflux baby, OF COURSE do whatever you have to do to survive. But if at all possible, if you can avoid doing things that may cause a bad habit to form that is difficult to transition down the road, try it! 
  • Get out! I think it's totally fine to get out with baby. Cover them up, keep them in a car seat bucket so people are less likely to touch them, but go ahead and get out if you need to. We were at Chuck E Cheese with baby #2 a week after her birth because older two year old sibling needed to burn energy. Not the greatest place for a newborn, but do what you gotta do. It's OK, not a bad mom for getting out.
  • Let people visit and hold baby. I think this helps everyone. It's OK. Just make sure good hand washing is implemented and people with sickness stay away. 
  • No mittens- I know people think these are adorable and all older grandparents think they are a necessity, but I had three babies and never used these and didn't need them. They are just one more thing to wash or deal with and aren't necessary. The reason people put these mittens on babies typically is to avoid baby scratching herself. Well, I find no reason to avoid dealing with the issue- just cut the nails. I could not cut my first baby's nails for months so had a sister in law do it! Whatever it takes. I also think babies like to touch their face with their hands, so that's an added bonus to avoid these things. I know many love them, so all the power to you. We actually used them for pee-pee-tee-pees to cover the baby boy's parts during diaper changes the first time around!
  • Formula is AWESOME- I stockpiled formula for my second baby. I took EVERY free can I could get my hands on the second time around, after sooooo much guilt after a failed attempt at nursing my first. It's OK if you use formula. It's fine, it's healthy and it's awesome. Do NOT feel ashamed if you need or choose formula. I never even needed the formula I stockpiled the second time, as she nursed great, but it made me feel better knowing I had it so that was a win for us. Do whatever works. FED IS BEST.

Just remember that YOU are their mother. You will know what's best, even if you don't know what's best, even if you're new at this and confused. Listen to yourself, watch and observe your baby. Pay attention to what works for you all, not what someone else suggests. Here I am suggesting stuff to you, too... geez. I share only in case it helps you. If it doesn't, toss it out like the laundry we try to avoid cleaning!

Remember that when it comes to your own babies, it's OK to break some rules now and again to make it work for you and them.