Category Archives: The Balancing Act

When words mean work…

Parenting a child who is learning to talk is an amazing…and exhausting thing. Jacob will be one and a half in just a couple weeks, and his ever-increasing language skills astound me. Just this weekend, I probably heard a dozen new words from his mouth, including: “let’s go!” when I asked “ready?”, “home” once when we strolled into the driveway after a walk and once more as we were driving down our street after a trip to the grocery store, and then “fart,” which he repeated several times after hearing it from his (eloquent) father.

Of course, I am beaming with pride at my son’s growing vocabulary (well, except for the last addition I mentioned—my husband is beaming at that one.) Still, I also am keenly aware of the implications of Jacob’s ability to put into words his preferences and interests. Though a beautiful thing, as with many other milestones, it comes down to more work for me and my husband. Lately, Jacob’s favorite sentence starter is “I want moh” [more], followed by something that mommy, or daddy, or both of us must do, bring, shake our heads at, or simply ignore. Among the many requests (or demands depending on the day) and expressions in his vocabulary are:

  • “tzhit”: which means “cheese” but sounds identical to the sound effect he makes to imitate Spiderman shooting his web. When we don’t have any cheese or if I want him to eat something else instead, I just say, “That’s right! Get him, Spiderman!”
  • “muhp”: which he has used for months now to mean “up,” as in being lifted up into our arms or up out of a highchair, carseat, or tight spot between furniture where he has gotten himself stuck. “Muhp” now is what we hear when he is hanging from the safety gate blocking the stairwell leading to the second floor of our house. It means that he would like to go upstairs…and that he wants to get there by climbing all by himself. At this point, his motor skills fall behind his physical ambitions. In a typical journey up the steps, he slips several times and misses one or more steps completely. Sometimes, he decides suddenly to turn and go back down the stairs, which is no good…because…well, he doesn’t really know how to do that yet.
  • “bus”: the Wheels on the Bus song—this is the accompaniment to every car ride these days. When the wheels and wipers and horns and drivers and babies on the bus were not enough, donkeys and roosters and motorcycles and snakes came aboard. If this bus existed in real life, its noises would quite possibly be the most annoying cacophony that ever was. I’m not sure how I feel about creating that for my son.
  • “allllllllllll!!!” in his loudest voice as he waves his hand violently: which means he is all done and whatever it is that he is done with must be taken away immediately or he will keep yelling and waving.
  • “binky”: which is the first word out of his mouth when he wakes (still several times) in the middle of the night. If Ms. Binky (she’s female because she replaced my boob when Jacob stopped nursing) is not anywhere obvious, he climbs around the bed and over mommy and daddy, digging through the blankets and pillows until it’s safely back in his mouth. (Yes, we are planning to wean him off this habit at some point…maybe around the same time we actually get him to sleep in his own bed…?)
  • “melmo” [Elmo]: which means one of four songs that Elmo sings and that is available on sesamestreet.org. This is a pain for two reasons: #1 Jacob doesn’t like watching any video unless it’s one of these four songs and #2 because we don’t have a television, the best we can do is play each song one at a time on our laptop, which requires us to come back to the computer and type something new in every two minutes or so when the song is over. It is enough time to use the restroom, however…which is more than we’ve gotten in the past.
  • And two of my new favorites: “poo poo,” which at this point he only says AFTER he has made his diaper deposit and “uh oh,” which he learned recently from a playmate and which he says anytime he trips, drops something, or even sees one of us make a mistake. Both are simply adorable utterances. The increased workload from the latter stems from Jacob’s new liking for throwing both things (toys, food, etc.) and himself on the floor or ground just so he can follow it up with “uh oh.”

So, that’s the latest with us: a toddler full of things to say—not much of a surprise given who his parents are (very talkative people, in case you don’t know us or didn’t notice).  Anyone else have any cute words or phrases that have come out of their little ones recently or in the past?

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Between a crib and a hard place

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while—life has been a little crazier than usual. We’re in the middle of some financial difficulties. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that things have changed for us in major ways. It’s not just simple stuff—like having to limit my random expenditures or to make my own coffee instead of stopping at Starbucks (I do that anyway!). I have to cross things…lots of things…off our grocery list (meat, organic anything, everything unnecessary). I layer and wash the same few outfits over and over instead of buying new clothes for our growing boys. In general, I just don’t spend money unless absolutely essential.

My husband is working pretty much all hours (evenings and weekends) when I’m not at work, and I’m working multiple jobs outside of my main one. Anytime I’m not working at the office or to the beat of an aerobics CD, I’m with the kids. This translates into little time for me and even less time for blogging…especially because the housework just keeps falling further and further behind.

Don’t worry. We’re okay…just a little busier than normal.

So, in the name of saving time, which is the theme of my life right now, I thought I’d share a short update…

Co-sleeping update

My toddler son would rather fall asleep soaked in both his own and my or my husband’s sweat than to fall asleep alone. He has to have some physical connection (a leg, arm, etc.) to one of my or my husband’s body parts in order to fall or stay asleep. (See photo.) And, he still can’t sleep without a pacifier (which we do not even allow as an option in the daytime!) After nearly 17 whole months (since his birth) of trying variations of bassinets…and cribs…and crib mattresses on the floor without the crib, my son still has yet to sleep a single night by himself, without the presence of me or my husband. Really.

And, yes, we have tried…and tried…and tried. There have been tears and screams, hours of them some nights, sometimes coming from both toddler and parents…well, mama at least.

One day, we just stopped fighting it. We both figure that when he’s old enough to understand that it’s way uncool to sleep with us, he’ll eventually sleep in his own bed. Fingers crossed. (Can you please cross yours too? I could use some extra help in this area.)

Until I find another free moment, take care!

Calling all working moms: What are your rose-smelling secrets?

People keep asking me if I had a nice birthday. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to be that person—you know—the one who answers a positive question in an unexpectedly negative way and then causes an unnecessary, awkward silence. In my opinion, if I do that enough, I will lose friends…or at least acquaintances, who will do what they can to steer clear of the pessimism and uncomfortable situations I create. After all, who wants to talk to a big complainer anyway?

So, back to my 32nd birthday. It was okay, I guess. I spent the majority of the day at work planning an interesting project, then took my son to a pediatrics appointment that lasted way longer than it should have (hours), and afterward de-stressed at a kickboxing class in the evening. My husband bought me pink roses (my favorite) and a pint of the best hot fudge in the whole world (disgustingly enough, yes, I eat the hot fudge by itself—to me, that is a much better treat than a sundae…although I definitely enjoy a good sundae every once in a while too. And, no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t eat the whole pint at once…that would be disgusting.)

All in all, it was a fair day. And, I was accepting of its mediocrity at the day’s end, because I had taken off from work the next day (Friday, the day after my birthday) to celebrate with a three-day weekend and plans to spend some much needed quality time with my son, stepson, and husband…who I feel like I hardly ever see anymore between working every day, going to the gym, and just taking care of life’s miscellaneous, like grocery shopping and paying bills and keeping the house livable.

My first day off (Friday) ended up being pretty much like every other weekend or vacation day I take- somewhat stressful and less than fulfilling.  I spent too much of the day thinking about what I should be doing with my time (like the stuff I mentioned above, plus laundry, dishes, dusting, mopping, packing up clothes that don’t fit the boys anymore, etc). Although I did take care of some of those tasks, I didn’t achieve as much as I could have…because all I could think was, “this is my special day off, and I should be spending time on things I really want to do (like beading, drawing, blogging, shopping, or reading).” I didn’t do any of those things because I felt guilty that I should be doing housework.

Amid over-thinking what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my time and then disappointing myself with not accomplishing much of anything useful or fun, I spent a good amount of the day chasing a toddler around the house as he tried to climb the oven and all the safety gates in our home, pull our air conditioning units out of the windows, jump off the couch, and dive into the toilet.

Sidenote: as much as I’m bitching that I got nothing done, I did do the laundry, the dishes, and some organizing in my bedroom. I took my little guy on two walks in the beautiful weather, and I taught an aerobics class in the afternoon. I cooked two meals from scratch (which I never do), and I relaxed with a glass of pinot noir and an hour of Netflix with my husband before I hit the sack. Looking back on that, on top of the roses and hot fudge, I can’t say it was a bad day. Yet, I was far from satisfied with it. It felt like a busy, but mostly unproductive day, in both the ways of housework and of relaxation. Maybe my standards are too high?

Day 2 (Saturday) was much better. I stopped thinking so much and just got to doing, both necessary things—like paying bills and cleaning—and fun stuff—like going to the park and shopping (as a family). By today (Sunday, day 3 of my three-day birthday weekend), I finally feel satisfied. I can say honestly that the weekend was everything it should have been—productive and relaxing. I accomplished a good part of my to-do list, and I got plenty of playtime with my stepson and son, snuggle-time with my son and husband, and even a little me-time to exercise and blog.  I truly feel ready to start the workweek.

But…why do I do this to myself—why are days off such a stressful mix of worrying about the best ways to spend my time and of feeling guilty and unsatisfied about how I end up spending it? Two-day weekends just don’t seem to cut it for me anymore. They’re simply not long enough to prepare me mentally for the week to come. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself having anything more than those two days weekly away from work anytime soon. So, what’s the solution? Any suggestions from anyone out there? I think I asked a similar question the last time I took a vacation (and felt like I needed a vacation even more when I returned.) I got some good suggestions then about putting a little vacation into everyday life. Maybe I’ll compile and post a list about the working-moms juggle if I get some more ideas…how do other working moms make the most of the time when they’re not at work?

In the meantime, for the first time since I got them, days ago, I just noticed the amazing scent of my birthday roses, sitting on the table next to me. If that’s not a reminder of the importance of answering such questions as the one above, then nothing is. However, instead of spending the last couple hours of my precious weekend searching for an answer, I’m going to enjoy some chardonnay and a little cuddle time with my hubby before the cycle re-consumes me, starting tomorrow when I go back to work. Cheers.

On Holding Tongues and Choosing Battles

Usually, I don’t complain openly about my husband. Well, that’s not completely true. At times, I tell it like I see it when I’m talking to him about his mistakes and shortcomings. And, I never, ever hold back on complaining in general when I’m talking to my sister (tied for BFF with my husband). Also, when my girlfriends are grumbling about their husbands, I sometimes can’t help but to chime in.

Still, I think it’s fair to say, that, for the most part, I zip my lips when it comes to criticizing my other half…because, after all, he is my other half by choice. It would say something about me and my judgment if I bitched and moaned about everything he does and doesn’t do… when I chose him and married him and had babies with him and continue to be with him. And, generally, I think I’m good at making decisions.

Anyway, I don’t typically broadcast my marital gripes. Not on my blog—because hubby has no way to fight back. Not with my coworkers or acquaintances—because they have enough of their own complaining to do, and it’s just not good karma (especially as my husband crosses paths regularly with many of these folks). And, especially not with my parents—because all they want is the best in the world for their baby girl. If I start to insinuate that my life partner and father of my children is less than perfect, then mom and dad may start to question if he’s good enough. And, frankly, I don’t need another issue like that with my parents. We have enough of our issues.

So, onto my story…

The other night, around 8 o’clock (note: this is after Jacob’s old bedtime of 7PM), I called my father from the park. One of the first things he asked (when he heard Jacob squealing in the background as I pushed him on the swing) was “where are you?” This is when my non-open-complaining-but-hinting-at-what-I-want-to-complain-about monologue began.

Cry me a river

“Oh, I’m at the park. Yes, you’re probably thinking that Jacob is usually in bed at this time. Nope, not anymore. Joe [husband] has him on a different sleep schedule. You’re also probably wondering why it’s just us and where Joe is right now. He’s at his softball game, where he is every Wednesday night (sigh).

“Do you remember he’s off work while school’s out this year because of his new job? He’s home with Jacob all sunny summer long while I’m at work all day every day. Yes, you’re right if you think it’s hard. It does sometimes kill me to leave for work in the morning when Joe gets to spend all of the lovely day with our precious son who is growing all too quickly.

“I know. I know. You’re probably thinking that I shouldn’t work full time or that Joe should be working days instead of me…because, after all, I’m the mom. Yeah (sigh). Well, anyway, Joe stayed out late with one of his friends last night [for the first time in months—I failed to mention this part] and so, he napped with Jacob late his afternoon.

“Yeah, you’re probably surprised and thinking, ‘wow, must be nice to sleep in the middle of the day!’ I was thinking the same thing. So, anyway, that’s why we’re at the park. Joe stayed out late last night and let Jacob sleep too long. So, here I am, after working all day while Joe’s out playing ball. I’m just passing the time until Jacob gets tired (sigh)…”

An unsympathetic, but reasonable response

After this ridiculous stab at my husband, my dad said, “Yeah, I remember when I had days off with you, kids, when your mom worked or was out grocery shopping or running errands. I did the same thing. I’d let you sleep all day if I could. You take what you can get when it comes to breaks when you have toddlers in the house. Good for him.”

My immediate thought was: “Seriously? This is Dad’s response to my poor-pitiful-me situation?!” My second thought was more aligned with how I really feel: my husband does deserve a break. As much as it tears my heart in two to leave my son for ten to twelve hours each weekday, I sincerely doubt I could stay home with him as much as my husband does and remain sane all the while. I learned that about myself on my maternity leave.

I always say I admire the stay-at-home moms out there who do it. Why don’t I admire my husband? Not only does he stay at home with my son during the day, but he also works evenings and weekends. Why do I feel annoyance instead of admiration?

“Never enough” is not reason enough to wage war

The problem is, as with all things in my life, I’m always wanting more. And, that has a direct impact on my expectations for the people closest to me, namely, my husband. Truly, I love him. I’ve explained to the world what a fabulous person and father he is. And, he is. But, he also happens to be the person I nitpick the most and on whom I take out my stress. Plus, sometimes he just makes me crazy. However, just when I’m about to kick and scream and pull out the big guns, I’ll come home to a clean house and an offer from him to watch the kids while I go hang with my girlfriends.

Ever since I became a mom over a year ago, I’ve found it takes a concentrated effort in all areas of my life to let the small stuff go and to be appreciative of the stuff that matters. When it comes to my husband, it’s the fair thing to do. After all, I have plenty of my own weaknesses and regrets. If he called me out on every incident in which one of those surfaced, then my life would be exponentially more stressful, and I’d be buried in guilt. No thanks. Furthermore, I figure if I am picking fights all the time, then down the road, when I want him to pay attention, all he’ll think is “here she goes again.” That’s not exactly the reaction I want when I actually have something worth arguing about. Until then, it’s probably best I keep my mouth shut. I guess it’s true that not all problems are battle-worthy.

 

Revisiting values

Sometime over the last two months, Jacob’s (one-year-old son’s) bedtime has migrated from 7PM to 9PM. This change has impacted my life in significant ways. Yes, it means that I have more time to spend with him at night after work and the gym, which has been nice. However, it also means that instead of spending those two hours cleaning, writing (blogging), or practicing step aerobics routines for the classes I teach, I am doing one of two three other things:

#1    I am playing strange games with my energetic toddler: games like get-myself-as-tangled-as-I-can-in-the-furniture-then-have-mommy-pull-me-out-repeat-repeat-repeat or like scream-loudly-until-mommy-removes-the-butterfly-magnet-off-the-fridge-and-gives-it-to-me-so-I-can- put-it-right-back-and-scream-again-repeat-repeat-repeat.

#2    I am lying in bed with him, starting at his old bedtime, 7PM, with my to-do list racing through my mind and prayers that he’ll fall asleep before 9PM so that I can deal with at least one major task. All the while, he is trying to crawl or roll away or jump on the bed, so I say “hey!” and pull him back to lie next to me (another one of those strange games that he likes to play over and over). Then begins the unintentional (but still annoying) head butting, kicking, or punching me while he gets comfortable.

#3    I almost forgot this one, but it’s not accurate to leave it out. My husband and I are arguing about who gets to go do his or her “very important” whatever while the other one keeps an eye on Jacob, or tries for two hours to get him to go to sleep (see #2 above). By the time Jacob is finally asleep at 9PM, I’m too exhausted to do much of anything.

As you were reading that last bit, you might have begun judging me or at least questioning how I do things. (Obviously, I’m okay with that, or I wouldn’t post my thoughts publicly.) You may be asking why I don’t just surrender those two hours to cherished time with my son, wondering why I don’t simply put him in a crib and let him cry, or questioning why I don’t make other time in my days to clean or write or whatever. These are all good questions, questions that I ask myself all the time, questions with answers tied somehow to my values.

Several months back I explained my step-by-step process for analyzing my values, and I invited you along for the ride. In case you didn’t hop aboard then, here are the questions I suggested we ask:

  • What do I value the most in my life?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What do I strive regularly to achieve?
  • What should I use to guide my goals and the way I spend my time?

I mentioned how there are a couple different approaches to tackling these questions:

  1. Try to sum up in a few words a broad value that is important to you.
  1. First, think about different goals or activities you value. Then, try to define broad categories that group sets of these goals/activities together.

I shared my list of values….

Kids’ Health and Development

Relationships with Family and Friends

Physical Fitness

Being Happy: Maintaining Sanity

Learning and Growing: Trying New Things

Becoming a Better Person: Learning from Mistakes

Being Thankful

Integrity: Being True to Myself

Making a Positive Difference in Others’ Lives

Keeping Life (House, Car, Office) Organized, Clean, and Clutter-Free

Before I go into what we did next (defined goals and activities that aligned with these values), I’m going to stop here…just in case you want to think a little more about values. As for me, I’m going to spend some time reflecting on my own list, possibly amending and appending to it, and hopefully living my weekend in some ways that align with it.

Catch ya on the flip side.

Ear infections, nosebleeds, nightmares, coughs, and housework: Another lovely weekend

So…I could tell you that the title of this post pretty much sums up my weekend (you know, the one that I hoped would be relaxing?). And, it would be nothing too short of the truth.  Yes, my younger son (just over 14 months old) has suffered a bout of recurrent ear infections over the last several weeks…ear infections that have him tugging on his ears 24/7 and waking every half hour or so during naps and at night, that have fought and won against two different types of oral treatments, that persisted in spite of antibiotic shots in both of his legs, not once, but twice, and that he is getting checked out once again tomorrow to determine if he needs tubes in his ears. Ugh.

Sure, my nearly 8-year-old stepson had three bloody noses since yesterday morning, nosebleeds that were messy and prolonged and that he swears weren’t caused by him picking his nose or sticking anything else up his nostrils.

Of course, I can’t forget his running into our bedroom at 5 o’clock this morning after having a “terrible nightmare” and refusing to go back into his own bed (although he had no memory of what the dream was about…)

And, alright, both boys have terrible coughs—the kind that wake both them and me every couple of hours and that make them look at me and my husband with eyes that plead for us to make it stop. We even gave a cough drop to the older one, but he said it was gross and begged to spit it out.

You already know about all the housework on my weekend to-do list (of which I completed a good amount)…because I mentioned that in another post.

And, okay, it’s true I’m wide awake now, very close to my usual Sunday night bedtime, because I’ve had more caffeine than usual today, due to being tired all weekend after all of the crap I just mentioned.

But…

Still, it would be at least slightly short of the truth if I said I had a bad weekend.

I spent a good amount of it with my family, who I miss during the weekdays when I’m busy at work or at the gym.

I got to stay in bed and play with my toddler instead of leaving before he awoke.

I got to watch for two days and evenings as he explored his world with his little round belly leading the way. And, I got to see his smile when he discovered something that made his legs kick or bounce, or when he learned a new trick.

I was able to take some long walks with the family and just sit back and smile while big brother made faces at little brother and they blew raspberries back and forth until they were both giggling uncontrollably.

I taught big brother a concept in math (his toughest school subject) and witnessed as he picked it up and then raced through the problems on three worksheets from his school’s summer packet. I was able to see him get on scary carnival rides that went higher than he wanted but that he loved once he tried them, exclaiming that he was “the king of the world” after he got off. All of this was happening while little brother pointed at all the families and stuffed animals and balloons that passed us by.

We spent time running through sprinklers at the “splash pad” of the beach near our house and walking through sand with the sun warming our faces and breezes from the shore dancing through our hair.  And, after the kids were in bed, I experimented with some recipes (more on those to come).

The best word to describe my weekend is neither challenging nor annoying nor fun nor relaxing. Although each of these words describes some piece or pieces of the last two days, the best word to describe my weekend is full. My weekend was full…full of cleaning and crying and complaining and illness…but also full of love and laughter and memories that I’ll someday surely look back on longingly. That’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting—it truly is such an odd and unpredictable mix of joys and irritations, both which I imagine I will miss years down the road…

On finding balance

Like a good girl, I pulled myself out of bed on this Saturday morning, over an hour before I knew the rest of the crew would be up. In spite of my creaky body and eyes that required prying open (after staying up later than usual last night to hang with the hubby), I went downstairs before 6AM to get a jumpstart on some weekend cleaning. As I looked around our kitchen and living room, I wasn’t really sure where to begin. And, quite honestly, there were a hundred other things I would rather have been doing with my time (like sleeping in). Still, I spent the next hour or so slowly deconstructing the tower of toys, books, and mail under which we once ate dinner. Though I hadn’t seen its wooden surface in weeks, I knew the kitchen table had to be under there somewhere…and it was my mission to uncover it before breakfast.

Between ripping up credit card offers, tiptoeing up the stairs with armfuls of toys and books, and leafing through coupons and mailers, I was a little upset that my husband and I had let the house get to this point. I mean it’s not filthy or unlivable. However, it’s one of those things that if we kept at it throughout the week, we wouldn’t have to spend our whole weekend chipping away at it. But, then, I reviewed in my head the kind of workweeks we’ve had lately and how cleaning on weekdays would mean sacrificing some of the things that are most important to us, like going to the gym, taking the kids to the park, or getting at least 6 hours of sleep. Once again, my brain returned to the topic of balance and how to figure out how to best spend my time.

A few of my first blog posts were on this topic. At the time, I wondered if finding the ideal ways to spend my time, one’s time, could be distilled down to a simple equation that involved identifying:

1. Our values

2. Goals that align with these values

3. Activities that bring us closer to achieving these goals

And then, thinking about:

4. The amount of free time necessary to devote to each of these activities

5. Activities that we currently do in our free time that don’t align with our values or goals

6. When free time exists in our schedules (maybe more than we thought if we subtract #5?)

When I attempted to work through that equation, I abandoned it when things got sticky, somewhere around #5. I promised more than one of you that I would return to these ideas about balance and prioritizing someday soon. Well, today is the day that I will at least stick one foot back through the door. Here are my newly evolved (?) thoughts on the topic:

  • I think it’s absolutely, unquestionably essential for all moms (people really) to take some of their precious time, no matter how limited, to think about their values and priorities: about what’s important to them, what’s worth spending their time doing. Because if we don’t take a moment to ask ourselves these questions, then the little time we have each day will be filled with whatever serendipity brings. While spontaneity and going with the flow can be a good thing sometimes, spending our days riding with the tide may leave us feeling unsatisfied. To make the most of our days, we must make a conscious effort to prioritize our time.
  • The process to finding balance is not a one-shot deal—it’s a continual journey. It’s one that requires us to revisit our ever-changing values, goals, choices, and commitments, and to ask ourselves again and again if we’re happy with how we are living our lives and spending our time.

That’s all for today because my Saturday routines are screaming at me, and my son’s nap will be ending any minute. I promise more to come on the topic. In the meantime, happy weekend!

 

Division of Labor

This summer, my husband and I are trying something new…and I don’t think it’s working very well so far. As he began working as a consultant to schools last fall, his day job ended at the beginning of June. To save money, we decided he would become our full-time childcare during the weekdays while I’m at work. At first, we were both enthusiastic about it—especially the idea of one of us parenting our toddler during the days, rather than leaving him with a sitter or putting him in daycare. I must admit I was a bit envious that my husband would have his days free to go the beach or park, take walks with Jacob in the stroller, and just enjoy the sunny, summer weather. However, because this is not an option for me anyway because I work full time (and I would likely go nuts if I were home five days a week), I was mostly happy with our childcare arrangement…until we started living it.

I’ve said before what a fabulous father my husband is. He is…I mean…as much as I’m a good mother. So, mostly. We do the best we can. But, I don’t think that either of us is the problem. The problem is the two of us are the only ones sharing all the work at home while both working multiple jobs outside of the home. We’re both always on duty, tag teaming each other. He cares for Jacob when I’m at work or teaching aerobics. Then, I come home and put on my mommy hat while he goes to teach voice lessons or play softball or go to choir rehearsal or dj a wedding. When we both are home at the same time on Saturdays, there are dishes and laundry to be done, meals to be prepared, and floors to be swept and mopped (because that is where Jacob spends all his time these days). We’re constantly taking turns, with one of us doing chores and the other one running around after Jacob while he pulls pots and pans off the stovetop, gets stuck climbing under and between furniture, throws our shoes and my stepson’s toys in the garbage, and eats any small thing he finds on the floor.

Every Saturday (the only day my husband and I are both off from work), a conversation something like the following ensues:

Me: Can you please take Jacob while I go do X (really important thing that I’ve been waiting all week to do–something like pay the bills or put away all the laundry from the weekend before)?

Husband: Sure, it wasn’t like I had anything planned for the day except spending it how I spend every other day—chasing after our son. We’ll see you tomorrow when you’ve checked off everything on your to-do list.

Me: Really, all I need is 30 minutes. Can you watch him for 30 minutes while I do Y? Oh..wait, I really need to do X though…and Z. Well…I think I can get by just doing X…or no…Z. (I look over at Jacob.) Oh! What does Jacob have in his mouth?! (Remove old, dried up piece of cheese with dust on it from Jacob’s mouth.) One of us should sweep the floor today. Okay, I’ll go throw in some laundry, and then I’ll take Jacob so you can go mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Maybe I can sweep the floor if he takes a nap today?

To say the least, this whole system exhausts us. I just wonder if things will take a turn for the much, much better when Jacob starts daycare three days a week in the fall. With both of us having days off from childcare at the same time, I’m hoping our stress levels will simmer down a bit. Who knew household chores and yard work would become luxuries after having children?

What is vacation?

I’m not very good at relaxing on vacation. In fact, I’m not very good at relaxing period. In spite of several concentrated efforts over the years to mellow out, I’ve always been high strung. I’m not always stressed; in fact, I’m often in high spirits and energetic. It’s just that I’m hardly ever calm—I sort of swing back and forth between feeling absolutely fabulous and feeling fully frazzled. The only times I’m really relaxed are after a glass or two of red wine or maybe during those last few minutes before I dose off to sleep at night. Vacation isn’t much different for me.

Heading to Ohio to visit my family and friends is the way I’ve spent nearly all the time I’ve had off from work since I moved to Connecticut in 2002. Living thousands of miles from the relatives I love and the irreplaceable friends I’ve made through the years is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And, it’s especially difficult since having children—there’s a large part of me that wants them to have everything I had as a kid. I want my Jacob to grow up camping and boating with all his cousins and celebrating holidays and birthday parties with kids screaming and running around and breaking things, and adults laughing and cooking and complaining in the background. To say the least, I jump on any opportunity to go back to my Ohio, and I end up making the trip by car at least two or three times each year.

However, when I return from a “vacation” to my hometown, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful that I get to see a few of my good friends and family. It’s especially nice to visit with my grandma, who probably doesn’t have a lot of years left in her, and my dad, who is one of my favorite people in the whole world (and who is so proud to be a grandpa). It’s also nice to reminisce and catch up with my aunts and uncles and my old friends who have kids now too. But, the trips don’t feel very vacation-like—because they’re so jam-packed! It’s breakfast with X, lunch with Y, coffee at the Zs’, and dinner and drinks somewhere else. It’s hardly a vacation in the typical sense of the word. Sure, it’s wonderful in its own way. I just hate how it leaves me after the vacation longing for downtime and a break in the same way I was longing for it before I left. These go-go-go getaways tend to stress me out even more than my day-to-day life. When I return from vacation, I often find myself saying “all I need is a vacation.”

So, what’s the solution? What do others—who live miles away from their family and who actually enjoy spending time with them—do for their vacations? I’m looking for some help here, so please send me a note if you have suggestions. I have three main thoughts about the whole thing: (1) more of my friends and family members need to come visit me (I mean it, if you’re reading this) (2) I need to plan my vacations a little differently, and (3) maybe I need to squeeze a little more of the relaxation part of vacation into my everyday life.

Although I have little control over who visits me (did I already say that you are all welcome to stay at my home and eat my food and enjoy Connecticut without a care in the world if you come out this way?), I have control over #2 and #3 above. Here are some thoughts:

How to get the most out of vacations

1)      Carve out time for rest and relaxation. Schedule a day or two without visits, between days that are crazy busy. Or maybe only schedule one activity per day and plan to relax for the remainder of each day.

2)      Clean before leaving. Although I could spend several whole vacations cleaning my house and still not be satisfied, I think it’s good practice to at least straighten the surface of things so it isn’t overwhelming to return home. Although I did the laundry (mommy’s job) and my husband did the dishes and took out the trash (his jobs) before we left, we were greeted post-vacation with floors begging to be mopped, toys everywhere trying to trip us, and the whole place needing some major work. That is not a good place to be after vacation. Even if I had felt refreshed (which unfortunately, I didn’t), the mess alone would have ruined that.

3)      Pay the bills, and catch up on mail beforehand. Again, this one came crashing down on me as soon as I stepped inside my home. A huge stack of bills and mail needed my attention before I went back to work. I spent at least 2 hours sorting through envelopes and on the phone with automated billing to utility companies the day I returned.

4)      Spend some time outdoors. This is a biggie for me. And, I should know better than to spend the majority of my vacation inside air-conditioned hotel rooms, houses, restaurants, and fitness centers. I grew up fishing, hiking, swimming, biking, etc. Outside in the open air is what I love and where I’m happiest. I lose sight of that all too well.

Better yet: How to squeeze a little vacation into day-to-day life

1)      Read a book or magazine for fun. Did I mention I read my first magazine in several months last week while on vacation? (And, it was while I was on the elliptical machine, and I only got about half of the way through.)

2)      Connect more with family and friends by phone, email, and Skype. That way, maybe I won’t miss them so much and run to Ohio whenever I have a day off….maybe.

3)      Go to the beach or the park after work or on the weekends. The outdoors just feel vacation-ish, no? Maybe it’s just me.

4)      Have a special dessert or a drink more often. I need to stop saving hot fudge sundaes and red wine for vacations and my birthday. I think there are a few good non-vacation days here and there that deserve them.

5)      Have friends with children over to the house. I’m all about healthy background noise… that sure beats the television (which we don’t have).

6)      Eat a home-cooked meal. Slowly. I’m always eating Luna bars or microwaved frozen meals or canned soup or something else quick and easy. My aunt made an amazing meal for us last week—pulled pork, homemade coleslaw, and old-fashioned macaroni and cheese (not Kraft from a box). Not only was it delicious, but we took our time eating it. We actually had a conversation over dinner. I hardly ever do that.

7)      Exercise outdoors. I almost always go to a gym to get any sort of exercise. Why not spend that time taking a walk or jog outside?

8)      Watch a child play and explore. This one goes along with the last a little..because being at ease when a child is playing is much easier if outside. At home (in our hotel room, at others’ homes, in public, etc.), I spend so much time blocking my little guy from making messes or having accidents that I’m hardly relaxing and just letting him explore. The other day at the beach, we found a shaded area in the grass, and I took him out of the stroller. He picked up a shell and pulled up a few blades of grass and did all sorts of creative things with them. It was so interesting and relaxing to watch him examine the shell and the grass from all angles and then to combine them into miscellaneous games. (He put the grass on the shell and walked with it, stuck the shell in various holes in a nearby park bench, dug into the mud and sand with the shell, and of course, as he does with everything now, brought the shell toward his mouth while shaking his head “no”—mimicking me when he tries to put objects in his mouth. It’s adorable actually.)

Any other ideas? Please. I need them…in a serious way…especially for sneaking a bit of vacation into my every day. Like I said, it takes a lot for me to find inner calm before, during, and after vacations. I’m always wondering where I can find me my mellow. Maybe it’s time to stop saving up for the couple of weeks each year labeled vacation and instead start doing the things now that soothe the soul?

Baby’s first year: Strategies that work!

I think it occurred to me sometime within the first hour of arriving home from the hospital after the birth of my son. I don’t know if it was the shock of being sore, mostly unable to move, and all alone with his fragility after having nurses on call for days. Or, maybe it was being squirted with projectile, fluorescent yellow baby poo, or having changed his clothes four times in less than 45 minutes after the spewing of two pee-pee fountains, loads of spit up after his first nursing session at home, and a second batch of liqui-poo that leaked out the sides of his diaper. No matter the cause, the reality was clear—this whole baby thing was not going to be as easy as I thought.

Since that day over a year ago, I’ve learned that I am not the only mom who was faced with this truth and actually quite astounded by it. With all the books and websites out there on babies and mothering, it’s a little curious that many of us aren’t prepared for the challenges that baby brings. Instead we learn from our experiences and from going to other mamas with our questions as they come up. With all this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to be a bit more proactive.

In a recent post, I asked the moms who read this blog to share their tried and true methods for surviving the challenges of the first year.  Thanks to all of you who sent emails and Facebook messages, and who left comments on the post. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with how much good stuff everyone brought to the table. I organized, edited, and added to the ideas that you all sent. I also thought of some miscellaneous recommendations I received. Finally, I included some verbatim quotes from the moms who sent them, because I just thought they were valuable.

For the purposes of keeping the post from being painstakingly long, I divided all the info into two: (1) strategies–things moms can do and (2) products–things moms can buy (or of course, even better, have bought for us). Today’s post will tackle the strategies. Before I jump in, I want to add one cautionary note: not all of these things will work for everyone. In fact, some of the recommendations from other moms did not work for my son, and I’m sure some of the tactics that worked for Jacob or me did not or will not work for others. This may go without saying, but it’s important to remember that we, moms, and our babies are all quite different. What works for us will vary accordingly. Still, much of what worked for one of us will likely generalize to others.

Here’s what worked for the mamas who contributed…

Before baby arrives

Don’t pack up the oversized clothes quite yet. Many of us don’t realize that the baby belly remains for a while after baby is born. I know moms who headed to the hospital with plans to wear home a cute outfit in their pre-pregnancy size after giving birth. It wasn’t over-optimism fueling their plans—it was mere expectation. They didn’t know any better! It varies for everyone, but for most of us, there’s a deflated balloon around our waists for at least a couple of weeks after baby makes his grand exit. If you have a c-section, you probably won’t want anything hugging your sore mid-section for even longer than that. So, hang onto the maternity clothes—or at least the slightly larger clothing you wore about midway through your pregnancy—you may need them for a little longer than you expected.

Find breastfeeding support.  Out of all the complaints I’ve heard, nursing, especially during those first few months, may have been the most common hurdle. Have a lactation consultant ready in case you need help. Thank goodness I joined a couple of breastfeeding support groups with other moms who were going through the same.  I’m not sure what I found more helpful—the information from the lactation consultants who led the groups or the consolation of being with other moms enduring similar trials.  I’m still friends with a few mamas I met in these groups. Being able to trade stories has been priceless.  

“[Breastfeeding is] …the most beautiful thing to do, but in most cases takes about 4 to 6 weeks to perfect. Both baby and mommy are learning something new, but it’s worth it.”

Gear up for the first week. Have meals ready in the freezer. Ask a family member or friend come over to cook and clean (not just socialize), and help you catch up on sleep. If your own mother or someone else who has kids can do it, that person can be a good resource for sharing stories from her own experiences as a parent.

The first couple months

Be prepared for visitors to come and meet your new precious bundle. Set rules if you want to limit who comes to the hospital. Have your partner enforce them. If friends or family want to visit once you’re home, ask them to pitch in, like holding the baby while you have a nice, long shower.

Accept help and even request it. If people offer a hand, say, “yes!” If they don’t offer, they simply may not know what you need. I could hardly walk for weeks after my c-section. I would have killed to have someone drop off a meal or watch the baby while I took a shower, threw in a load of laundry, or got out of the house for an hour. No one did. Mostly though, I feel it’s my fault because I didn’t ask.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s taking out the trash, painting your toenails, or changing your baby’s diapers. If you want an extra set of hands, say so. People want to help, but they are also sensitive to your ‘I am supermom and I need no one.’”

Focus on healthy habits from the beginning. As much as you can, eat nutritious foods and get a good amount of sleep. You’ll be recovering, and you’re going to need your strength, especially to get through those first few weeks of baby adjusting to night and day and to being out of your belly and in the world. Eating well, going to bed early, and napping during at least one of baby’s naps can help a lot.

Tell your partner what he can (and can’t) do. Remind daddy he’s important, but new babies often just want mom at first, especially if she is breastfeeding (and therefore is baby’s lifeline). Plus, mom’s smell and voice are all baby has known for the past nine months inside her womb, so she provides the most comfort. Dad’s job is to be mom’s manservant: fetch her a glass of water, fluff her pillow, cook her a meal. And, when mom needs a break from baby, dad can help with that too, even though baby may resist a bit.

Let the housework go. This also goes for yard work, preparing elaborate meals, and pretty much anything that is not essential to keeping you and your baby happy and healthy. A friend shared this poem, which I had never heard but loved:

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ’til tomorrow,

For, babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow;

So, quiet down, cobwebs, and dust, go to sleep;

I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.”

Take baby into the shower with you. I was going it alone for the first few months of motherhood with my husband at work and no family or close friends nearby. One thing that worked, so that I could get cleaned up and so I didn’t have to make extra time to give baby a separate bath later, was to pull him in with me. It was easiest when he was a tiny baby, but my husband and I still do it now. Make sure to hold on tight—babies are squirmy and very slippery when lathered up.

Start tummy time right away even if baby resists. Although some babies are quite content on their backs and fight time on the flipside, having them on their backs all day and night sets them up for flat heads and slower development of their muscles.

“[My son] hated tummy time. At his 3-month checkup, I was reprimanded by the doctor about his flat head and told that it would take up to 6 months to fix.”

Don’t wait until baby starts crying to react.  Many will say that the only way baby can communicate is through crying. This is not the case! They have a lot of other ways of saying they are hungry, tired, or just need a change of scenery. Pay attention to your baby’s cues such as a bobbing head when hungry or a rub of the eyes when tired. Then, act before the tears and wails begin. This way, babies start to realize they don’t need to cry every time they need something.  

Get into the habit of putting baby to bed early. I have friends who wait to put their babies to bed until they go to bed. Not this mama! I need, need, need time to unwind, especially at the end of the day—and if baby is awake, the winding continues, and the unraveling never has an opportunity to start. I use the couple of hours between Jacob’s bedtime and my own to journal, catch up on housework, and reconnect with my husband. From what I can tell, babies are flexible in the sleep-timing department—why not make it on the early side?

Take a time out. Can’t get a break? Make one. I mentioned this suggestion in my post about battling stress but the suggestion came up so many times from other moms that I figured it was worth including. When the going gets tough, put baby in a safe place and go take a breather.

“If no one is there [to help you], put the baby in the crib and let him cry while you cry it out yourself.” 

Be open about your feelings to at least one person. Having a baby involves a wide range of emotions that aren’t all positive. Once we accept this and admit our feelings to others, the emotional jumble often is easier to manage. Open up to your partner or another close friend or family member. Tell them exactly how you feel. It may be joy, but it may be frustration, anxiety, sadness, or anger. And, that’s okay.

“Whatever it is, share your feelings.  I had mild postpartum, and I held everything in.  I would then either explode at my husband in a mean way (which caused him to be angry) or end up holding it in and crying in the shower (my one time to be alone).  When I finally gave in and talked to my doctor, my family, and my husband about it…my depression went away.”

When newborn turns baby turns toddler

Ease back into your job (if you have the flexibility). As I was about to return to work, one new mom told me to use the first day away from baby to cry and get a handle on my emotions. A lot of moms who have to go back to work full time start with just a few days a week and gradually build up. Since I started back at work when Jacob was almost four months old, I have worked four 9-hour days and one 4-hour Weds. I look forward to the middle of the week when I have my whole afternoon to spend with my son.

Try co-sleeping. When I was back to my full-time job and my four evenings a week at the gym (my most effective anti-stress therapy), I felt like I hardly ever saw my son! Also, I found it so hard to fall back asleep after getting up to pull him out of his crib and into a rocking chair to nurse in the middle of the night. As soon as I started having him sleep next to me in the bed, I got much more sleep and overall time with my son. We still do it this way—the only time he still nurses is at night. And, thankfully for me, he still loves to cuddle up close to his mama (though during the day, he’d much rather be exploring!). I value this time with him so much. Note: This is one of those recommendations where you may want to proceed with caution. Some people who know I co-sleep are appalled. After Jacob become mobile, it meant disassembling our bed frame so only a mattress remained and also getting rails for the bedsides. Factoring in the impact this may have on your sex life (or the faded shadows of its existence) also is probably not a bad idea.

Don’t let yourself go completely for too long. After your belly starts to shrink back down and your baby starts to follow some semblance of a schedule, do some things so you feel better about you. Wash your face, put on some makeup, tweeze your eyebrows, etc. Whatever will make you feel like you again. By a few months out, I say: pack up the maternity clothes. Do not put them back on only to set yourself up for someone asking when you are due. Wear your husband’s baggy tees, your jeans without buttoning them, whatever. Do NOT wear clothes that are meant for pregnant women. You will only feel larger than you are. I still remember the first time post-childbirth I actually put on makeup and a matching, non-maternity outfit: I felt renewed!

Plan mamas’ nights out. Hallelujah to the nights when I can put on my dangly earrings (without fear of having them ripped off by a tiny hand) and share some wine and stories about the adventures in mommyhood. When you’re a mom, girlfriends are important. Girlfriends with kids are a necessity.

Don’t force baby to finish his food. Learn your baby’s cues for “I’ve had enough”. Turning his head away or crying during nursing, bottle-feeding, spoon-feeding, or even eating finger foods are usually good signs.  When they’re hungry, they will eat.

Strive for consistency and routines. Nighttime routines and somewhat consistent naptimes and pre-nap preparations usually help to soothe baby to slumber. A few moms recommended putting baby to bed while he’s still awake. As babies get further along in the first year, letting them know what to expect in various situations also is a good idea.

Question social norms and the advice of others. I wrote a whole post on this a while back. Sometimes what works for everybody else may not be helpful to you and yours. You may consider questioning recommended strategies before you attempt them and suggested products before you buy them. They may not be as necessary as you thought.

Read books and make it fun. Reading is something we want our children to do for life. Get them used to it now. Although for the first several months it may mean them exploring the books with their mouths (okay, trying to eat them), getting them excited about reading early has its benefits. Use voices, facial expressions, and funny noises as you flip through the pages.

Start baby-proofing early. Outlet covers, latches for drawers and cabinets, and gates for stairs are some of the necessities. Also, be mindful of common products that your child could easily ingest.

One time, [my toddler daughter] …saw a bottle of rubbing alcohol in my bag. I learned that she drank the darn alcohol! I called poison control…immediately. They said that most likely she only drank a small amount because alcohol tastes bad. Apparently, this happens all the time…”

Let babies be babies and kids be kids.

“Sometimes we want [our children] to act a certain way, [and] we forget they are young.”

During my first few months as mom, whenever Jacob cried, I would apologize or say, “he hardly ever does this” (I think I was trying to convince myself). After I came to terms with the idea that it’s okay for him to cry and be fussy, things got much easier for me to handle.

Have a sense of humor. Hopefully, each of us possesses a little of this naturally. Still, sometimes we all have to remind ourselves to look for the humor in challenging situations. Getting into the habit of smiling or laughing instead of crying or yelling can only make the hard times a little less difficult.

Remember that things get easier with time and that you’ll likely miss the “baby” years. A lot of moms say they are sad when baby’s not a baby anymore, no matter how challenging it was.  When you are in the midst of trying times, attempt to focus on the little things you treasure a lot and that won’t last. The-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel approach also can’t hurt. Although there are certainly some challenges in store for the years to come, many things will be easier. To name a few, it’s only a matter of time before baby will not only be moving around on his/her own but also feeding and entertaining him or herself. Cherish the time when everything is tiny and cute and when baby needs you. Because, whether you like it or not, you won’t always feel so needed.  

“[My husband and I] always knew [parenting] would be the toughest and most rewarding job of our lives… and now we have a really awesome dude we can call our son.”

Thoughts? Thanks again for all who contributed. Feel free to leave a comment to say one of these suggestions didn’t work for you and what did instead. And, if you want clarification on any of the above, I’m happy to consult with the moms who contributed. Finally, if you have any other ideas, I’m sure the new and expecting moms out there would be happy to hear them.

Next time, we’ll move onto the products: what to buy for baby and mama.