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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.

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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!

 

Always Our Babies

“Just look at my baby, all grown up.” I’ve probably heard this line hundreds of times…from teary moms watching their children wave from school bus windows on the first day of kindergarten or from fathers beaming over their sons’ or daughters’ graduations. I’ve even heard it from my own parents through the years, when my brother moved out of state, when my sister was accepted to a graduate program, and when I was pregnant. These are words that one can’t fully understand until he or she has a child of his or her own. These are the words of proud parents, reflecting on how time passes so swiftly by, and how although it all happens before their eyes, they still cannot fathom how their children go from helpless infants to curious toddlers to rambunctious grade schoolers to argumentative teenagers to adults, who are looking at their own children and repeating the same line.

My baby is hardly a year old, and already, I find myself asking where the time as gone. On vacation this week, and then with my husband and stepson gone again this weekend, Jacob and I have spent much more time together lately. And, it’s been priceless! But, it’s made me all too aware of how much he has changed and is changing with each passing day.

Ma’s milk in the morning

I’ve written many times about my journeys in breastfeeding. I’ve explained how it may have been one of the most challenging and also the most cherished parts of my first year as a mother. And, I’ve talked about how difficult it was for me around that first-year mark when I was contemplating whether or not to wean him.

At fourteen months old, I see the end of breastfeeding in plain sight. For the past couple months, Jacob’s taken little interest in nursing during the day or even before bed. By the light of day, he’s been too busy exploring, and before bed, he’s far too impatient to wait on the slow release of ma’s milk. Still, each morning when he awakes, nursing has been the first thing on his mind. Although from the beginning my milk supply always has been the greatest in the morning, I still find it simply amazing how my body has adjusted to his new schedule. As I stopped pumping months ago and his breast milk breakfast doesn’t really affect any of my eating habits—drinking coffee during the day, or having a glass or two of beer or wine at night–I’ve been perfectly satisfied with his choice.

The past few mornings, however, have been different. Jacob’s had a pretty bad cold and has been very congested. Though bottles or cups seem to adapt well to these changes, my breasts haven’t been quite so compliant. Even after I’ve suctioned his snot with a nasal aspirator (way better than a bulb syringe– check out the link if you haven’t tried one), he has a hard time suckling. Each morning, within minutes of waking, he’s come to my breast and attempted to nurse, but then through significant sniffles, has rolled away, crying in frustration. I think my morning milk supply has dwindled a bit each day since this pattern began. And, that makes me a little sad. My emotions are nothing like the hormonal swings I experienced when he reduced from eight feedings to just one over the course of two days. However, I am grieving a little over the loss of the closeness that nursing has provided to us since his birth.

Small wonders

Then, there are all the new things he picks up every day. He watches my husband and me as we get dressed and then grabs clothes and tries to put them over his own head. He waves his hand to push away food and says “ah duh” (all done) when he’s had enough of something. Just this morning, he was reaching for the spoon so much when I was feeding him that I figured I would see what he would do with it. Without thinking, I put the spoon in his left hand. Immediately, he shook his head back and forth, put the spoon in his right hand, scooped up some yogurt, aimed the spoon at his mouth, and even got a bit in there (as well as all over himself and the highchair.)

I mentioned a couple weeks back that’s he’s been pointing at all sorts of things and saying “uhzzhat?” (what’s that?). His vocabulary is growing all the time. He loves to say the names of animals and their noises. His two favorites are “daw” (dog) which he follows with “ruff ruff” and heavy panting, and “dow” (cow) followed by “mmmmmmmmmmm.” And, he tells us what he wants, whether it’s “muh” (more), “buh” (up), “ah-tzha” (outside), a “dottle” (bottle), or his beloved, “zsha-zsha” (his brother, Jackson), or “dada”. (I’m still not convinced he ever has said “mama” to refer to me…although of course, my loving husband insists he says it all the time.)

And, Jacob spends his days learning and exploring. He pushes buttons, flips switches, turns knobs, and pulls objects in and out of containers. (The trash can in our kitchen is the center of his world. He has placed—or attempted to place—toys, hats, shoes, magnets, picture frames, and all sorts of other things in there.) He also reaches for anything he can get his hands on—which is an ever-expanding repertoire of items as he grows. We’ve had to move dishes and kitchen appliances to the back of our countertops, and we officially have stopped using the two front burners of our stove. Though he’s still a bit of a wobbly walker, he hasn’t given up on learning to run, though he has moved on from Yoda and yoga.

And, to think, this bright and active little boy was the tiny creature kicking and squirming inside my belly just over a year ago…the fragile little doll that fit perfectly in the crook of my elbow…and only months ago, the one whose only movements were rocks and head bobs and whose only ways to communicate were to grunt and cry.

It’s all going way too fast. Before I know it, he’ll be walking up the steps of a school bus or pulling away in the driver’s seat of a car headed halfway across the country to start a life of his own. These are the thoughts that fend off the stresses and frustrations of motherhood…

Things Worth Buying for Baby’s First Year

I remember the first time I set foot in a Babies“R”Us. I was only a few months pregnant, and I had been looking forward to the day I could wave that scanner gun thingy at all the cool stuff that I wanted for my son. My husband and I had been waiting to register until we knew baby’s sex. Within a couple days of spotting the beans on the ultrasound, we decided it was time.

I had imagined that creating our registry would resemble a shopping spree. I thought it would be totally…awesome. Unfortunately, it totally…well…wasn’t. The store was like a giant warehouse full of products we had no idea if we needed. What was a Diaper Genie, and why was it better than a trash can? Did baby really need his own tub and laundry detergent?

When we found something we knew he would need, we were overwhelmed with options. How do we choose among so many styles of strollers, shapes of bottles, or types of pacifiers? We left the store with our heads full of questions and not one item on our registry.

For the next few months, I started gathering info from all the moms I knew. I called the girlfriends I grew up with; I approached women in my classes at the gym; and I talked to my coworkers. Finally, I spent hours online researching various products. And, lo and behold, I was able to complete my registry and do some shopping before Jacob was born. Much of what we got worked; a few things didn’t. Some of what we bought or had bought for us simply wasn’t necessary. I’ve gone through a similar process with every buying decision over the past year since my son’s birth. My intention with today’s post is to save other mamas at least some of the trouble.

Recently, I asked the readers of this blog to share the strategies and products that made their lives easier during baby’s first year.  Thanks again to all of you who contributed. In my last post, I included strategies–things moms can do for their babies and themselves during the first year. Today, we’ll look at products–things moms can buy (or have bought for us). Just like last time, I organized everyone’s thoughts, added in some of my own, and included a few anecdotes straight from the mouths (or emails) of moms. And, again, I want to preface the list with a reminder that different things work for different babies and different moms. In fact, you will see there are even a few contradictions within the list itself.

Here’s what real mamas suggest you get your hands on…

For Clothes

Think 0 to 3 months. Tell everyone you know NOT to buy you a bunch of newborn outfits. My son weighed in at a whopping eight pounds, five ounces at birth. Newborn clothes go up to eight pounds. That meant many of the adorable little outfits people bought were never worn (by him—I did give away some of them). Although it’s possible you’ll have a preemie on your hands, the average baby weighs somewhere around seven and a half pounds. If you’re counting on the odds, you pretty much will have no use for newborn clothes. Go for the next size up: 0 to 3 months.

You’ll need lots. I mentioned this in my last post—my child was always spewing at one end or the other. He spit up all day long and had several leaky diapers most days of the week. This translated into going through ten or more outfits on a bad day. And, Lord knows I didn’t have time to do a bunch of laundry. Have clothes washed and ready to go well before your due date so when you arrive home with your precious package, doing laundry can wait.

Keep it simple. I had received many cute outfits—overalls, button-down shirts with jeans, and socks and shoes to match. None of that stuff got worn…well, more than once, at least. For the first month or so, when you’re busy enough trying to get a handle on more important things, I say to go for the one-piece outfits. In the summer, the short-sleeve onesies are great. For the rest of the year, the long-sleeve sleepers with the feet and the built-in hand mittens are perfect—lighter cotton fabric works for spring, and thicker or lined fabrics are better for the cooler months.

Bibs with plastic lining. In addition to being the king of spit up, my son had an uncanny ability to produce buckets of drool each day, which soaked through his clothes in minutes. The cloth bibs we received as gifts only delayed the problem slightly before the drool soaked through to his clothing underneath and left a rash on his skin. The bibs that worked best were fabric with a layer of plastic underneath.

Don’t forget mittens. I was due in April. At my shower, I received newborn mittens and thought it was a joke. Why would my little guy need mittens in the middle of spring? (I know, I know—laugh if you must, but I hadn’t been around many newborns.) Well, I learned quickly. Somehow my soft and cuddly baby had razor sharp talons that grew at unbelievable rates and that always ended up leaving tiny red scratches on one of us. The mittens are GREAT for protecting baby and you from falling victim to his claws.

Zutano booties. I had the good fortune of being handed down a few things from a fellow mom just before Jacob’s birth. When she gave me these fuzzy booties with buttons, she said, “Really, we found these are the only ones that will stay on.” She was right. We tried lots of socks to no avail. The booties never failed.

For Feeding

BPA-free bottles. You’ll want Level 1 nipples to start (and nothing higher if you are breastfeeding—you don’t want baby getting milk from the bottle faster than it comes from your boob.)

Thick burp cloths. Although most of the burp cloths out there are super thin, a few moms agreed that burp cloths that soak up a lot of liquid are much more practical. All babies spit up a little. Some babies, like my son, spit up 10 to 20 times a day. A heavy-duty fabric is the only way to go when trying to catch the puddle as it hits your shoulder.

Boppy pillow.  After my c-section, my entire abdomen was sore for about six months…so sore I couldn’t hold baby against my body. Until Jacob was several months old, I would sit down, position the Boppy pillow around my waist and over the arms of the rocking chair, and place him on top. That way, his entire body weight was on the pillow instead of on me. He nursed and napped this way without me wincing in pain. It works for bottle-feeding too:

“During feeding, my Boppy pillow saved my back….[it’s also great] for support when babies start to sit.”

Cheerios. These are often one of babies’ first finger foods—they’re easy for tiny fingers to grip and for tiny teeth and gums to chew, as they soften quickly.

“I’ve heard moms call them ‘baby valium,’ and it can be true in restaurants or in the high chair…sometimes [my son] throws them on the floor, so they become ‘Floorios’ if he eats them before Mommy cleans them up!”

Freeze-dried fruit and yogurt melts.  Even picky babies like these. My son is all about freeze-dried apples and bananas. Just like Cheerios, they’re easy to grasp and soften up when they hit baby’s tongue. They’re great for travel too and often come in portable containers.

Yogurt.  I’ve mentioned before that my son is a picky eater. In fact, there’s not one baby food he likes…unless it is mixed with yogurt. When mixed with yogurt, he does not discriminate between carrots, peas, green beans, squash, or any other puree that he’ll reject by itself. I can do 50/50, and he’s still kicking and squealing for the stuff. Who knew it was all in the mixer?

For Keeping Baby Satisfied, Occupied, and Safe

The Happiest Baby on the Block (by Dr. Harvey Karp) on book or video.  A few moms mentioned this. One of my best friends gave me the VHS tape while I was pregnant (yes, I still have a VCR). It was so, incredibly helpful. The video was only about 30 minutes long, and out of all the hours upon hours of time I spent reading baby books and websites, it provided the simplest, most practical advice that I actually used.

Pacifier. Although this is a no-brainer for some moms, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to offer one to my son. When Jacob was about a month old and breastfeeding was going well, I thought I would give it a whirl in the middle of a major crying fit. It shut him up like magic. Unfortunately, since the day I decided to use it and even still, I must say Jacob depends on it for sleep. Still, we save the binky for naps, nighttime, and public emergencies when he’s super cranky. It still works like a charm to soothe him.

Pack ‘N’ Play. There’s really no need to buy expensive baby cribs. These are durable, portable, and cost much less. We keep ours in the middle of the kitchen with a bunch of toys inside. It’s perfect for keeping Jacob safe and somewhat occupied when I need to do the dishes, prepare a meal, or just eat. (Although, I admit, these days, my son cries in there mostly, unless I’m facing him and actively amusing him in some way.)

Bouncer/jumper. This is one thing that actually worked for Jacob (although it was for a short spell, and I had to be within 5 feet of him.) Still, it meant I could get a few things done, as long as I was in close proximity. He loved bouncing along with me when I did my step-aerobics videos. He would watch my feet and bounce to the music.

Thick foam mats. Play mats are safe and cushiony. The best are about an inch or an inch and a half thick, because babies fall way more than you expect (or than you will think is okay!). Jacob’s favorite pastime when he first learned to sit was to fling himself into a backbend and bonk his head on the floor. Then, as he learned to stand, he fell on his head quite a bit before realizing that falling on his bottom was a better plan. Although you learn pretty quickly about just how durable babies are, the foam mats can ease some anxiety.

Baby-proofing products. Outlet covers, latches for drawers and cabinets, and gates for stairs are some of the necessities once baby is crawling and walking.

For Sleeping

Rocking chair. I mentioned using my rocking chair in combination with my Boppy pillow. The rhythmic motion also works to soothe baby to sleep.

Good swaddling blankets. Most babies, especially newborns, like to be wrapped up tight. Swaddling is one of the five “s”s of the Happiest Baby on the Block video mentioned above.

We swaddled [our daughter] until she was nearly six months old, and it really helped her sleep.  We used receiving blankets at first, but she was able to wiggle out of a regular swaddle within a few weeks.  Next, we used the miracle blanket for a few months. When she outgrew that, we devised our own two-blanket technique that functioned pretty much like the Miracle Blanket.  Whenever we would find her unswaddled, we’d just adjust our technique to keep her in.  In fact, other moms would tell me that they couldn’t swaddle their babies because they would get out of the swaddle and I would think to myself ‘clearly, they aren’t trying hard enough!’”

Sleep sacks. A lot of pediatricians warn against the use of loose blankets. Once baby is too old for the swaddle (usually once he/she can flip over), sleep sacks are great for keeping him or her warm without the risk of suffocation.

For Tidying Up Baby and Baby’s World

Baby nail file and/or clippers. For reasons I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to keep a constant eye on baby’s fingers and toes. Some moms are all about the tiny clippers made just for babies—if you use those, then wait until baby is sound asleep, clip the corner of the nail, and peel the rest away. Baby nail files work if you are afraid you will clip more than the nail.

A gentle baby soap. Our favorite is a Vanilla-Tangerine Organic soap (http://www.naturesbabyorganics.com/organic_shampoo.html). As I mentioned, Jacob spit up so much those first few months that he smelled like some kind of fancy, stinky cheese within a couple of hours of his bath. His neck was a permanent hideout for remnants of dried breast milk that formed into balls resembling cottage cheese. Ugh. This soap made him smell like the push-up pops I used to get from the ice cream truck as a kid.

Natural house-cleaning products. I was surprised to learn that babies mostly do not discriminate about what they stick into their mouths. I remember one mom watching me wash my Jacob’s pacifier and saying, “For the first few months, you’ll do everything you can to wash things off before he puts them in his mouth. Then, when he begins to crawl, he’ll start licking the floor, and you’ll just give up.” It’s true. I feel like the least I could do is steer clear of harsh chemicals.

All Free Clear Detergent. This is a detergent that I’ve been using for years because my husband, stepson, and I all have sensitive skin. It has worked equally well for Jacob. It’s free of dyes and perfumes, is gentle on our skin, and it actually works! Plus, it’s inexpensive and available at most stores.

For Going Places

Grab ‘n’ go bag (or diaper bag). It’s pretty straight- forward that moms should have some sort of diaper/travel bag. More than one mom suggested the Diaper Dude bag—which is practical for both parents to carry. I also got a lot of suggestions for what should be inside: toys, books, diapers, wipes, Desitin or Balmex for diaper-rash prevention and treatment, Eucerin for dry skin (pediatrician-recommended and hypo-allergenic), extra clothes for both you and your little one, cereal or freeze-dried fruit, a first-aid kit, and baby hand and face wipes (I like http://www.babyganics.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=86.)

Stroller/jogger. Nearly every day of my maternity leave I took at least one walk with Jacob in the stroller. To this day, as soon as the weather is nice, I strap him in the jogger and go for a walk or run. It’s the getting out of the house that’s key, I think. Even when he’s crying, it’s out in the open air instead of echoing off the walls. Priceless.

Carrier. Different ones got different votes. For me personally, the suggestions I received didn’t work. With only the best of intentions, many people recommended we get an Ergo or a Baby Bjorn. I can’t imagine they could possibly have been nursing moms. For the first half year of his life, anything that reminded my son of ma’s milk made him cry until he got a sip. This meant he could absolutely never face my breasts unless he was about to eat. The carrier that worked best for me was the Moby because he could face outward in it. Plus, it distributed his weight evenly. My husband loved the Infantino Flip (though this one hurt my shoulders if I had it on for more than an hour or so.) Each was under $40! Here’s another opinion:

“I made the mistake of asking for a Baby Bjorn as a gift. My son hated it! I later learned that it’s not very good for boys, because the whole contraption holds up your baby boy by one point, right under…his wee-wee. I’ve collected many other carriers, and the best ones (I did an informal poll with my mommy friends) are the regular sling and the Ergo carrier or Boba.”

For Mama

Lansinoh Lanolin and Soothies Gel Pads. Sore nipples, be gone.

Spanx. Some moms bounce back to their pre-pregnancy bodies in no time. I wasn’t so lucky. It took me about a year to get rid of my belly. In the meantime, to fit into my clothes and especially my spandex aerobics instructor gear, I was all about undergarments that sucked me in. I had several “shapers” and wore them under almost all my clothes for about 11 months.

Video monitor. There’s something very comforting about being able to see your baby even when you know he or she is resting peacefully. I mentioned in my last post that my son goes to bed hours before my husband and I do. He sleeps upstairs, and we’re downstairs, with the monitor next to us. We watch his chest moving up and down to ensure he’s breathing (yes, we’re a little paranoid). Our monitor is portable so we can even clip it on as we go about our business throughout the house.

Gym with a nursery. Although this isn’t exactly a product, it’s something you certainly pay for. I know there’s no need for me to say much more about exercise as my saving grace, as I write about it all the time. But, one more thing—being able to get a break from my munchkin and bring my blood from boiling to baseline with a good workout…yes, salvation!

Fenugreek supplements. This one is exclusively for the breastfeeding moms. It’s a safe way to stimulate milk supply that is often used when moms return to work and have to pump (which isn’t as efficient as baby’s mouth).

“I had a noticeable decrease in milk supply when I returned to work (probably due to the transition from nursing to pumping during the day), and taking fenugreek nearly doubled my pumping output. [My daughter] is almost a year old, and I’m still breastfeeding. I seriously doubt we would have made it this far without the fenugreek.”

Nutrition bars. This isn’t too new of a thing for me. I’ve always been all about nutrition bars—they’re quick, and they feel sinful even though they’re not quite as bad as eating the triple dip ice cream sundae I’m craving. As I’m even more in a hurry as a mom, I make sure to have a few Luna, Lara, Pure, and other bars in my purse, diaper bag, and desk at work.

A plan for childcare. Again, this isn’t exactly a product, but it’s something many of us put a good amount of money toward, so I thought it fit. If you plan to work post-baby, get recommendations from friends, coworkers, and family well before baby arrives. Some day care centers have ridiculous waiting lists—like years. Also, have at least one good sitter who you can call when you need a break. If you have no family around (like me!), then have a few sitters handy. I even use them for doctor appointments or to go to the gym when the nursery is closed and my husband’s not around. I’ve found you may have to pay a little more for someone who is reliable and pays careful attention to the things that are important to you, but the peace of mind is worth every penny.

That’s what we got for products. Hope this helps some of the soon-to-be and new mamas out there! Please send your comments, critiques, and additions so we have an even better list. Happy mommy-ing!

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.

On Saving Mommy: Building an Arsenal for Battling Stress

I had a rough weekend…to say the least. It was the longest period of time my husband was away since the birth of my one-year-old son: three whole days and two whole nights. It felt exponentially longer. My sister even came into town for part of the time to help me keep my senses. And, thank God for her because tag teaming rather than lone parenting meant I got to go to the gym (probably my #1 sanity saver!) and actually take a shower afterward. The relief she provided may have been the only thing that kept me from taping a binky to my son’s mouth or supergluing him to his crib (kidding….mostly). After his long weekend away, when my husband walked in the door, exhausted and probably looking for a hug, all I could do was hand him our son and say, “mommy needs a moment.” Thankfully, he understood that…and the four-hour shopping trip that followed.

I’ve said it so many times: who knew being a mom would be this hard?! Maybe I’m just more of a free spirit than I thought. I have a really, really difficult time with the whole not-having-my-independence thing. Even as I was shopping for trash bags and baby soap at Target, the freedom of being all by myself without my wiggly son in the cart and a diaper bag on my arm was absolutely cathartic. And, I’m definitely not proud of that…or the fact that I’m just not one of those moms who relishes every second of mothering. But, it is what it is. I’m learning that’s just the kind of parent I am.

So, here I am, after two full days back to work. (Yes, I feel guilty admitting this too, but I find being at work far less stressful than being home alone with my toddler.) Finally, I’m slowly morphing back into the me before the demon I became this weekend—the mommy we all like much better. To celebrate the return to me, I thought I would brainstorm a little about ways to cope with the stresses of parenting…because Lord knows this isn’t the last time the monster in me is going to try to rise to the surface. Here’s what I came up with:

Prevent: What to Do Before the Diaper Hits the Fan

Prepare for difficult situations. Knowing my husband was going away, I did call my sister to come into town for relief. I should have called in all the troops. If you know you’re about to face a challenge, start thinking now about everything you can do to make it easier on yourself.

Schedule time for you throughout the day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to read an article in a fashion magazine or listen to some music, do it. Think about things that help you relax and put them in your mental calendar.

Get away. Every once in a while, get a sitter or have a family member watch the kids (if you have that luxury). Then, leave your usual environment. Get a pedicure. Go out to lunch or coffee with a friend or to dinner with your partner. Even if you can’t get away from home, get away from your routines. Have a candlelight dinner or take a long bath after the kids are in bed. Changing things up can break a pattern of stress.

Get physical. Lift some weights. Go for a run. Do some jumping jacks…anything to release the negative energy and tension. Aside from the many other benefits of exercise, it is a stress reliever.

Maintain healthy habits. Like I said, exercise. But also, get enough sleep. Eat nutritious foods. Drink water. Don’t overdo caffeine or alcohol. When your body is functioning well, you’ll be in a better place to handle all aspects of your life.

Find a hobby. Obviously, I like to write. But, I also love to bead, sew, and draw. Although I only find time to enjoy these crafts now and again, they are great outlets. Having a project with small goals to work toward makes me feel productive and de-stresses me.

Reflect on what you’re thankful for. I’m not really sure how this one works, but it does. I guess if I’m thinking about all the good things in my life and how I’m fortunate in a lot of ways, then there’s just less room for me to be negative about the things that aren’t going as well. Taking time to be grateful just gives me a little peace. And, more peace means less stress.

Deal: How to Manage in the Heat of the Moment

Take a time out. Who said time outs are just for kids? They’re perfect for adults too. Sometimes a second of silence is the ideal way to hit my reset button. Kids screaming? Baby crying? Make sure everyone is safe where they are, then take a step outside. Close the door behind you. Breathe in the fresh air. Soak up the serenity. Breathe some more. If I feel like I’m about to snap, I often find the best way to keep my cool is to remove myself from the stressful situation…even a minute or two can make a difference.

Talk to someone.  Sometimes all I need is to vent or hear a perspective unlike my own. Think about what you need—whether it’s a receptive ear, a more positive view, or just a similar story from someone who’s going through much of the same. Then, reach out to the person who can offer you that. Make sure to enlist a listener who will make you feel better, not worse.

Healthy “junk” food.  Have a snack. My irritability peaks and my coping skills crumble if I haven’t eaten in a while. Even when I’m not that hungry, it just relaxes me to have some salty sweet potato fries, a piece of dark chocolate dipped in peanut butter, or a cookie dough flavored nutrition bar that tastes like dessert but won’t give me the sugar crash later. Comfort food can be even more comforting if it doesn’t leave you feeling sluggish and guilty.

Accept and Learn: The Calm after the Storm

Think about what you did right and what you can do better next time. So, your reaction was a far cry from the Carol Brady approach you intended. At least, you didn’t resort to duct tape or superglue. Although you may not win the mom-of-the-year award, you achieved a minor success in my books. Give yourself a pat on the back for not doing the worst of the worst, and then think about how you can handle things even better next time.

Write about it. I started this blog (that you’re reading right now) for a lot of reasons—one HUGE one was because writing is therapeutic for me. Since the birth of my son, I’ve hardly found (made?) time for recording my thoughts. I figured if I started something a little more formal and structured than my paper journal, then I would actually carve out some time for a little writing therapy. It worked! Journaling is great for venting and organizing your thoughts and priorities when they seem jumbled.

Envision the person you want to be and how you will get there. I believe the only reason I react in certain ways is it’s what comes naturally…because I’ve really never considered how I could do better. Sometimes, it helps to close my eyes and think about the me I want to be. How would the best me treat my kids, coworkers, partner, and friends? How would that version of me react in stressful situations? This simple reflection serves as a reminder that I’m a work in progress. If I get a little closer to a better me by learning from my mistakes and by strategizing for success, then my personal life project of bettering myself is coming along.

Any other ideas? Although I wish I had asked for them before this weekend, I’d love to hear some other tactics for not flying off the handle. Now that my blood pressure is back to normal, I’m in the perfect place to plot my plan of attack for next time. Moms never can have too much anti-stress artillery, right?

Avoiding the Guilt Trap

Nearly a year into motherhood, I’ve come to the somewhat disheartening conclusion that guilt is going to be a big part of the rest of my life. It creeps up on me when I drop my son off at the nursery of our gym. It catches me off guard when I spot, from my office window, a stay-at-home mom on the way to the park with her kids. It lurks in the shadows as I prepare meals, make plans for a night out, or take a longer-than-usual shower.

I’m not alone. I hear it all the time from my fellow mommy friends, “I just feel so bad when I…” The rest of the sentence looks a little different each time: “leave my daughter with my husband when I go to get a pedicure” or “pick up pizza instead of cooking dinner” or “buy myself something instead of using the money on my kids.”

As with many feelings, guilt is not all bad. Guilt causes us to reflect on something we’ve done or something we’re doing and to ask ourselves if we should keep doing it. In this way, guilt can motivate us to make important changes. Unfortunately, guilt also can be a barrier that keeps us from doing good things for ourselves and from enjoying ourselves when we decide (force ourselves?) to do those things. So, what are our guilt traps, and how do we free ourselves from them?

Guilt trap #1: Seeking perfection.

Free yourself: It’s natural sometimes to question if you might be doing something wrong as a parent. Some nights when I lie in bed, I wonder what my son will hold against me when he is an adolescent or an adult. We all have our moments when we act out of anger or frustration and soon regret it. We all could be better at some of our parenting techniques. But, setting standards too high is stressful. Do the best you can, and find some satisfaction in knowing how hard you try.

Guilt trap #2: Comparing yourself to other parents.

Free yourself: Just stop it already! There will always be moms out there who do things better than we do, and there will be others who do things worse. Who cares? Learn what you can from the successes and failures you witness, but stop keeping score. Parenting is not a competition. Focus on what you’re doing and on getting better at it, not on what’s going on around you.

Guilt trap #3: Thinking “I should have known” when something bad happens.

Free yourself: You are not a psychic. Try as we may, we can’t prevent every accident or mishap in our children’s lives. You simply can’t blame yourself when your toddler falls and bumps his head or when your kindergartner trips over a cord and breaks a lamp. You only can do so much. When something goes wrong, remember that a lot of life is outside of our control.

Guilt trap #4: Feeling like you are repeating the mistakes your parents made.

Free yourself: As much as we don’t like to face it, our behavior is learned. If your mom slapped you on the hand every time you reached for something she didn’t want you to touch, chances are your natural reaction to similar situations with your own kids may be a smack. We certainly can learn from the mistakes of generations past and attempt to avoid repeating history. However, our learned behavior may sneak in every once in a while. As long as you’re not harming yourself or your family, accept your mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Our parents weren’t perfect, but we turned out okay, right? There’s some comfort in reminding ourselves of that.

Guilt trap #5: Listening too hard to what others say.

Free yourself: Think “grain of salt” with this one. Just today, a woman approached me and said in a disdainful tone, “why isn’t your son walking yet?” I mean, seriously?! All I could think was, “Come on, lady, are you really judging me for my almost one-year-old’s preference for crawling?!” Every time you hear, “do you really let him/her do that?” or “oh, s/he’s much too old to be…”, smile, and remind yourself that children develop at different paces and that your choices about how to parent your child are based on your own reasons—reasons that you don’t have to share with anyone who questions how you do things or how your child is turning out.

Guilt trap #6: Forgetting who you were before you were a mom.

Free yourself: Every once in a while, think back to what your life looked like before you gave birth. What was important to you then? What were some of your favorite activities? Then, give yourself permission to fit some of those things into your life now. As busy moms, it’s therapeutic to take a little time for ourselves each day. Don’t sacrifice your workout, a healthy lunch, or your friendships just so you can avoid feeling guilty. Sure, be selective with your sacrifices. Are you going to give the whole fam PB&Js every evening for dinner so you can make a daily spinning class? Probably not. However, tossing a frozen meal in the microwave or ordering takeout here and there is not a bad thing, especially if it means mama can catch a glimmer of her old self. Most of us have no intention to get back the lives we had before we had kids, but keeping in mind that we are more than just moms is important too.

The next time you’re feeling guilty, ask yourself if the remorse is doing you any good. Are you feeling guilty because there is something in your life that truly needs to change? Or, have you fallen into a guilt trap? Remember that you’re not doing yourself any favors by letting guilt keep you from the activities you value. In fact, you’ll probably be a better mom if you let go of the guilt and do what makes you happy. And we’ve heard it all before, happy moms make happy babies. As a mom, your life will never be guilt-free, but doing what you can to free yourself from some of the guilt can be good for you and your family!