Category Archives: thoughts

Bittersweet Beginnings

This week, my baby started kindergarten. I carefully researched all sorts of options from public to charter to private schools. I talked to fellow parents to find out about their experiences and any recommendations they have. I drafted a rather lengthy spreadsheet of data on the school options, visited the schools and then applied to several. After all was said and done, I sat back and waited. The admission or wait list letters came in and my husband and I further analyzed our options before finally settling on our school of choice.

Fast forward to this past week when the academic year commenced for my daughter at this carefully chosen school and the fun begins. Since I am a stay at home mom, she’s spent most of her 5 years of life with me, adding her younger sister to the mix the last few years. I remember feeling for good or for bad the immensity of the long days of time meshed into one another, one endless day consisting of all the time in the world to enjoy each other’s company (or not depending on the day). Time to keep her safe and teach her things about life and the world and marvel as she grew from a cuddly baby to a curious, vibrant young lady.

As the beginning of school crept closer, I could feel my anxiety rise. Even though I am happy with the choice that we made, letting my child go somewhere else 6 hours a day, 5 days a week to be surrounded by other children and teachers and adults that aren’t me and participating in activities that I will never know about kind of freaks me out. Not that I want to control everything about my daughter’s life, but because I want to protect her and be there for her and share her life.

At the same time, I’ve been very excited for her to begin this more structured journey of social, emotional and intellectual education. I can’t wait for her to learn and grow and discover her talents, passions and dreams. And I realize that some of that will only happen if she has this independence, this life of her own, separate from her mother.

So, this week is bittersweet for sure and has been an exercise in letting go. Something I’m not very good at, but have been getting much practice at as a mother. I know it is just kindergarten but it is the beginning of so much more, the beginning of the next phase of child-rearing where my role will continue to change and where more and more, I’ll have to share my daughter with the world. A world that is not the safe and welcoming place I used to think it was as a child. All grown up with knowledge of all that’s wrong in the world, I’m hoping I can learn to breathe and once again try to view it as my child does. Not in a naive, ignorant sort of way but in a way that might reveal the more positive, innocent and good possibilities out there.

It’s the beginning of a journey for both of us, and in accordance with our personalities and ages, I’m stepping tentatively one foot slowly in front of the other while she jumps, leaps and runs full speed ahead.


Magic in a Little Orange Box

Baking soda isn’t just for baking. Lately, I’ve been using it all over the place. Here are my current top 5 baking-sodauses. Enjoy!

1 – It will make your kitchen and bathroom sparkle. Just sprinkle a bit in the sink, tub or wherever, add a little water and scrub clean. You’ll be amazed. My disgusting stainless steel kitchen sink and porcelain bathroom sink have never been cleaner. I added a little squeeze of lemon juice to the kitchen for added power and a nice, fresh smell.

2 – Mix equal parts baking soda, coconut oil and shea butter for an all natural deodorant. Add a few drops of tea tree or lavender oil (natural anti-bacterial) for a scent if you’d like.

3 – Put a little baking soda in your hand, add a few drops of water to make a paste to use as a gentle exfoliant for your face or anywhere on your body that could use a little scrub. Add a bit of sugar for a more textured scrub.

4 – If your silverware or cookie sheets are spotted like mine, try using a little baking soda and water to scrub them clean. Then rinse and wash as usual. Works wonders.

5 – Need an activity for a rainy (or snowy) day indoors with the kids? Grab an empty yogurt container and tape to a paper plate (right side up). Wrap it all with tin foil and then poke a hole in the top and then press the tin foil inside the yogurt container. Set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Add equal parts baking soda and vinegar to the cup and watch your volcano bubble over with lava. Add food coloring for more fun!

 

 

 


Outrage

This month is the month for love… I’ve felt plenty of love for my family, friends and been grateful for the things in my life. However, I’ve also found myself in various states of outrage as well. I could blame hormones or lack of sleep (and they probably do contribute)  but the more I think about it, the more my reactions seem like the appropriate ones. I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Lately, I’ve been outraged that…

While looking at schools for my daughter to attend kindergarten next fall, I’m trying to discern where she would be safest from a school shooting. It pisses me off that this is a legitimate fear parents have to face when sending their children to school.

The rain forests might be gone in 40 years. It’s true, I read it on a sign at Sea Life Minnesota of all places and then looked around online. As a global community we may destroy all of it in my lifetime. Most definitely in my children’s lifetime. Our family likes to watch the BBC Planet Earth series. My oldest is always saying how she’d love to visit those places. Of course, I never thought we would really get to see the actual places in the film, but I did believe that they would be there if we could find the time, money, whatever to get there. The fact that they may not be is outrageous to me. And further outrageous, there is probably nothing that we can do to stop it.

I live among people who have no respect for living creatures. Or in this case, deer. We have a rather large population of deer that run through our suburban neighborhood. They eat a lot of our plants and sometimes walk down the street. They have their babies in the tall grasses behind our house, bed down in wooded areas or sometimes even in our backyard. They live here. When I let my dog out today, we startled one that was lying in our yard. It stood up and as it turned to hobble away, I noticed an arrow sticking out of what I’d call her front right shoulder. She was moving extremely slowly and after she was a few yards away, she turned and just stared at me with these huge eyes. Someone obviously illegally shot her with a bow and arrow and didn’t kill her. So, not only do I feel bad for the poor, suffering deer, I also get to wonder about people shooting bow and arrows in my neighborhood… will my kids or pet get hit if they miss their target?

These are just three random examples of things that make me feel like screaming WTF at the top of my lungs. Sure there are lots of good things in life, I keep a gratitude journal to help me see them. But more and more lately, I’m coming across all sorts of things that make my blood boil. What’s on your short list?

 


On Becoming Mother, Again

I’ve been living and thinking about the transition from mother of one to mother of two for quite a while. When I was pregnant, I couldn’t really imagine it. Like a lot of parents adding to their brood, I wondered… will I love my second child as much as my first? How will I split my time between the two? Will caring for two increase the “work” aspect of being a parent but two or by two thousand? Well, my second baby girl came along almost a year ago and I got the answers to those most pressing questions – yes I love her as much, splitting myself is a balancing act like everything else in life, and the “work” probably increased somewhere between two and two thousand, but most days it is much easier than I thought it would be.

Some of the “easy” comes from the fact that I’ve mothered a baby before. My second baby was so much “easier” than my first. I wondered about this for a long time – was her temperament really that much better or different than her older sister? Well, yes and no. They are different kids with different personalities. But as babies, they are/were pretty similar. Both big time cuddlers, nursers, not the greatest sleepers and easily frustrated.

In my quest to figure out why my expereince was so much easier, I had to stop looking at the baby. She wasn’t that much different, but I was. Because I’d been through all those stages before I was a calmer, more confident mother. I knew that all of those stages (good and bad) would pass and tried to enjoy them because of that fact. And of course, I had another child to take care of so the time flew by. When there are more kids around, there isn’t a whole lot of time to sit around and dwell on much of anything.

Humans are creatures of comfort. And even though the endless nursing and sleepless nights of babyhood aren’t comfortable per se, if you’ve done it once, your knowledge and experience transforms it into comfort. It is something familiar, something you know. Something to hold onto as your first child gets older and you start to embark on new parenting territory – whether that be potty training, sending them off to school, setting limits or negotiating your ever growing and changing relationship.

Parenting a baby is relatively easy – as long as you meet their needs and shower them with love and affection, you can’t really go wrong. As they age, the “real” parenting begins. And it seems much trickier. Not necessarily that you can do it wrong, but with all the various parenting philosophies out there, it seems that way. And, when your child can talk back to you or run away, it is a bit more challenging to feel like you’re doing a good job.

The temptation, of course, is too keep having babies so you can stay in that “comfort” zone forever and sort of make yourself too busy to really have to address the issues of your older children. Right? I’m joking of course, but I can see the lure. That being said, all babies grow up eventually grow up and then here we are – parents in new territory, trying to figure it out with the least amount of pain and suffering for all involved.

Anything new in life can be a little scary, a little exciting, a little challenging. I suppose that’s why they call parenthood one of life’s greatest adventures – it is all of those things and much more, if you approach it with the right attitude. I know once I could pinpoint my own frustration or feelings of inadequacy in regards to mothering my first born, it made all the difference.

Now as I approach new territory, instead of freaking out and feeling inadequate, I simply allow for the learning curve. I try to tap in to that confident, calm mother of babies that I’ve become and channel that energy into mothering my four-year-old. Babies and four-year-olds need a lot of the same things, but they need different things too. And it’s those differences that I’m trying to negotiate and pay more attention to. Of course, all of this may be common sense. But during my recent initiation into being mother of two, it seemed like a huge “ah ha” moment, which is why I’m sharing it here. In case it will be your “ah ha” moment too.


Add some “Crunch” to your Life

I came across this quiz to determine your “crunch” factor the other day. Turns out, I fall under the “Mmm! Love that whole-grain crunch!” category. I’ve never considered myself particularly crunchy, but love that I am. I must admit that since my first pregnancy, I have become more and more careful about what I put in and on my body, my children’s bodies, and our living space.

In honor of upcoming Earth Day, here are 5 simple ways to make your life a little greener & crunchier.

Clothcloth diapers and wipes for the kiddos. Mama cloth (reusable menstrual pads) for the mamas. I love them both. There are so many online and brick and mortar stores offering cloth, the choices are endless. There are also cloth diaper services available in most larger cities. Once you make the commitment, you’ll never go back. It takes a little trial and error, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and even fun. Plus, cloth diapers require eco friendly laundry detergents that you just might start using for all your clothes, a nice bonus.

Nontoxic Cleaners – there are so many nontoxic brands of cleaners you can buy, you’re bound to find one you like. Real Simple magazine highlighted the best cleaning products in an article this month, many of which are non-toxic. You can make your own green cleaning products – pinterest and other places are a great way to find recipes. Oftentimes, going green can save you money and the products are just as good if not better than their toxic counterparts. And, you can feel better about surrounding your family with less chemicals and leaving less chemicals in our landfills.

CSA or Farmer’s Market – community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmer’s markets are great alternatives to grocery stores. I’ve noticed that the produce seems to be going downhill while the prices are going uphill at the grocery stores lately. CSAs and farmers markets give you fresh produce for less cost. It’s usually organically grown and doesn’t have to travel so far, so it’s fresher by the time it hits your kitchen. This is great if you have a baby too, the less chemicals in those first bites, the better. One more fun way to eat fresh – grow your own! My daughter and I planted spinach, baby carrots and strawberries in container gardens on our deck last summer. It was fun, easy & delicious!

Green Beauty – from shampoos and soaps to lotions and make-up, women put a lot on their skin. I’ve been moving steadily greener and greener with my beauty product choices for the past 10 years. Aveda and Origins are big companies that offer make-up and skin care products with a natural slant. Burt’s Bees, Neutrogena Naturals, Apivita and Reviva are also on my beauty shelf. Next time you run out of a product, try a more natural version. Your skin will thank you.

Recycle – recycling all your plastics, cans, glass and paper is a no brainer. But you can think of creative ways to reuse/recycle things as well. I’ve recently decided to use brown paper bags for gift wrap – my daughter has a blast painting, coloring or adding stickers to decorate the gifts. It saves money, looks cool and provides a fun activity for little hands. Cardboard boxes can provide endless fun for an imaginative child. And you could use old magazines, tissue-type packaging and cards for fun crafts as well. There are so many ideas on the web for fun, eco-friendly crafts you can do with your kids with old stuff you have lying around.

If you’d love to live a greener, crunchier life, but are overwhelmed with all the options, don’t fret. Simply try one thing at a time and see how it goes. And don’t feel guilty if you decide to cloth diaper, but still use a disposable from time to time. Or if you find a great all purpose green cleaner, but don’t want to give up a bathroom cleaner that you love. The point is to take little steps at a time because even little choices can make a big difference for you, your family and the planet. And, guilt is overrated – so, focus on the positive and you might end up getting crunchier as the years go by.

I got extra crunchy points for co-sleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding over a year, and making some homemade baby foods. If I can do it, you can too! In honor of Earth Day, make a pledge to yourself to get a little more crunchy! Good luck and have fun!

Some local resources (not all inclusive, but some of my faves): Peapods, Do Good Diapers, Creative Kidstuff, Garden of Eden, Party in my Pants, Golden Fig, The Bistro Farm


the F word

No, not the 4 letter one. I’m talking about the one that’s twice as long and seemingly more taboo. Feminist.

A friend recently shared a post featuring a quote from Caitlin Moran, author of How To Be A Woman, referencing some dire statistics in relation to being a feminist. Mainly, that only 29% of American women consider themselves a feminist. Now, I’m not sure where that statistic come from, but if it’s true, we are in trouble.

We used to joke about the F word when I was a first year at an all women’s college. Many of us green around the edges 18 year olds thought it was a thing of the past, or a word reserved to describe the ideology of angry man hating lesbians (just for the record, I’ve met lots of lesbians and none were angry or man hating). During our 4 years there, we learned that the F word is relevant and for everyone.

Here’s the thing. If you are a woman with a pulse, you are probably a feminist. If you believe in equality for all, you are a feminist. If you think you should have the right to be educated, work, own property, vote and otherwise operate as a free human being in society, you are a feminist. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, harassed or otherwise taken advantage of because you are a woman, you are a feminist. If you think traditional gender roles can be limiting, you are a feminist. If you believe all women should have these basic rights, you are a feminist.

And, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. Many men consider themselves feminists because they believe in these things too. Also, feminism is not about being manly. It’s not about turning women into men, it’s about celebrating the differences between the sexes and valuing what each can contribute. It’s about respecting and loving yourself, as an empowered woman living the life that you choose.

It might seem that since we have all these basic rights in the United States, there isn’t a need for feminism. But here’s the thing. Politicians are always talking about reproductive rights and more recently, gay marriage rights. There is still a glass ceiling in some fields, women are still objectified in the media, and in real life. There is still harassment and abuse, sexual or otherwise, going on all the time. Miss Representation, a documentary and organization, takes a close look at discrimination against women, even women at the highest levels. Indeed, feminism is still relevant today.

When I was little, I thought I would change the world. These days, I’m mostly changing diapers. I’m a stay at home mom, which was the last thing I ever thought I’d be when I was growing up. But, here I am. I’m raising two girls and even though I’m living out the traditional family structure, you better believe, I consider myself a feminist. And I’m doing my best to raise strong, independent, smart, empowered young women. I’m even going to start posts in a “raising girls” category to share ideas, information and organizations that I find to help me out.

So, to all you women out there. Mothers, grandmothers or daughters, sisters or friends, gay, straight, or bisexual, partnered or single – you owe it to yourself to learn more about feminism, see how it fits in with your lifestyle, and proudly claim it as your own. And then, spread the word, literally. If 29% is an accurate statistic, the F word is in serious need of a revival. Let’s do it together.


Rockstars

If I were to give advice to new moms, the power of music and dance to transform mood would be at the top of my list. Even from a young age, babies respond to music. Humans seem to innately respond to it. My eight month old loves to listen and even make her own music by banging things together or shaking them. My four year old loves dance parties and has always enjoyed music. And me, well, sometimes it’s just the thing to lift my own mood. Here are a few of the current favorites that play in our home or our car:

All Together Now: Beatles Stuff for Kids of all Ages – an awesome cd and board book that contains great renditions of upbeat, fun Beatles songs, performed by kids and adults. We picked it up at Creative Kidstuff last summer after hearing it in the store and it’s been a big hit ever since.

Dog Train – another book/CD combo, this one is full of goofy songs written by Sandra Boyton (she illustrated the book as well) and performed by an array of popular artists. Really fun!

Fresh Beat Band – this is a recent find. It’s a Nick Jr. show and band geared towards preschoolers with some really rockin music. My daughter’s two favorite songs to rock out to are currently Just Like a Rockstar and Bananas. Think Glee for little tikes. Lots of fun!

In addition to enjoying music in your home, there are a plethora of classes available to parents and children. Your local ECFE or community education is a good place to look. If you are local to the twin cities, Music Together, MacPhail, St. Paul Conservatory of Music, and Kindermusik are a few of the organizations that offer a variety of classes in all variety of price ranges for children. You’re bound to find something that fits you and your family.

Find your own list of faves and play it loud. Enjoy this special play time with your kiddos. Because one day, they’ll probably think you and your dancing are lame. But for now, you’re their rockstar. So, rock on!


Bodies

We live in a culture where the female form is glorified. Society constantly defines and then redefines its aesthetic value. Curves are appealing and then they’re not. Boyish figures are sexy, and then they’re not. Big, fake breasts are in, and then they’re not. It’s no big news that women, usually from a young age, have body image issues. This is just a fact of life in America, where even if a woman possesses the look of the moment, she will find fault somewhere, with something. Her nose, her ankles, her elbow? I’ve met very few women in my life who are completely happy with how they look.

Pregnancy and motherhood change women’s bodies. There is no way around it. Sometimes, women feel they’ve changed for the better. Other times, not so much. Pregnancy will leave its mark on your body – stretch marks or a little paunch where there used to be nothing. Nursing? Well, let’s just say your breasts will undergo huge transformations and never quite be the same again. And motherhood – the lack of sleep and time to oneself will leave you probably a bit more wrinkled and squishy around the edges. Many women lament the loss of their pre-motherhood body. Change can be challenging.

Personally, I’ve struggled with body image throughout different periods in my life, just like everyone else. However, I’m proud to say that I like my mother body. It reminds me of what it (and I am) capable of. A woman’s body is amazing. The stretch marks and little tummy remind me that I extended to provide a home for a human being. My body grew and housed a baby for 9 months and then birthed it into the world (twice). A rather amazing feat, if you ask me.

The changed breasts? Same thing. I know we are a bit obsessed with these lumps of flesh in our society. But really, I’ve never found them more beautiful than when (and even after) they’ve performed their function – they nourished my children. Also, pretty amazing.

Yes, mothers are tired. I’m not sure if it lasts forever, but mothers of small children, are definitely tired. Tired mothers grow wrinkles, at least I do. Mostly around my eyes. They let me know that I’ve cared for my children, even at night. Whether I’m doing the right thing or not, I’m trying. And a parent who tries, is beautiful.

And then there is the lack of time for personal pursuits. I choose to use my little free time for projects dealing with my children, family, our home or writing. I could use some of that precious time for the gym, but for the time being, I don’t. My exercise is limited to carrying, chasing and playing with my children. And if that results in me being a little more squishy than I used to be, that’s fine by me. It’s a reminder that I have more to care about than just myself, which is a wonderful gift.

Our children leave marks on our bodies, life leaves marks on our bodies. It ‘s how we choose to see those marks that defines them, and in turn, helps defines us. If we look at ourselves and see a failure – failure to measure up to society’s standards for beauty or our own desire for a past beauty – that will affect us. And it will taint everything in our lives. If we look at ourselves and see a success – success of our bodies to produce life, success of ourselves to nurture it – that, too, will affect us. And it will taint everything in our lives.

So, choose to see yourself as beautiful no matter what shape your body is in. Embrace those changes rather than be embarrassed by them. Let them remind you of the greatness that you are capable of, the mundane and wondrous act of creating new life. It will send a transformative message to your partner, your children, your friends, yourself. Who knows, it might even change the world.

 


The Invisible Mother

In my pre-mother life, I perfected the art of being invisible. I was always pretty good at it. The bookish, introvert with a big imagination, I could leave a room anytime I wanted. And people don’t tend to notice someone who isn’t quite present. Add neutral clothes, small voice and big hair to hide behind and, bingo, invisible.

Of course, I wasn’t always invisible. Everyone wants to be noticed sometimes. Like on a date or when you’ve done a good job at school or work. But I tend to like to blend in, especially in public places. And I did. Rarely was I ever approached by strangers wanting to start a conversation or someone offering to give me a hand opening a door. And, I liked living anonymously in the big, busy world.

This, of course, changed when I became a mother. Even before, actually, as every pregnant woman knows that her body gives her away. I couldn’t get into an elevator without someone asking me my due date and then commenting on either how big or small I was for my dates. Some people even offering advice or good luck wishes. And once you start toting around a baby, there is no way to stay invisible. People LOVE babies. If they aren’t starting a conversation or trying to babble to your baby or (gasp!) touch your baby, they are meeting your eye and smiling, whispering to their friends and pointing at the cute baby. And, if you have more than one child, your days of being invisible are definitely over. People will want to help you, offer you advice, comment on your children, tell you their stories. It is not necessarily a bad phenomen, just very different for a self-proclaimed introvert used to being invisible in public spaces.

The outward mother that strangers see carrying an infant and holding a preschooler’s hand while navigating the aisles of the grocery store becomes extra visible. Seemingly impossible to ignore. But, the opposite happens in the private sector of the home. Mothers and the work that they do tend to go unnoticed. By the children they are raising, their partners, and society. Of course, partners may say good job and on mother’s day, there will be cards and gifts and usually time “off” from motherhood or a special outing with the family. But day to day, they become invisible. Who ever misses mother until she’s gone?

As a society, we might notice that mother with the kids out in public and offer a hand or word of advice, but it seems, we don’t really value the work of that mother. Maybe as human beings we might value one another and our connections to each other through children. But, there is no Emmy for best mother, no giant salary with an office on the top floor. There are rarely pats on the back or even a marker to know if you are doing a good job. Rather, there is usually a good amount of guilt or worry thrown in. Do I work full time? Stay home? Work part-time? Am I a bad mother if I use daycare? If I don’t join the PTA or lead the girl scout troop? And our society (especially the media and marketing departments), play up all that doubt with countless articles on mommy guilt and all the ads trying to sell us things to make our lives easier and ease our “burden.”

So, in all the ways that matter or all the ways that one might want to get noticed for, there isn’t much visibility. But when you might want to be invisible, there is no where to hide. It’s just one of those things. I know that to my children, if I do my job, I will always be invisible. And I probably won’t want to be. I know as a mother, it would be nice to get a big, fat salary and an office with a view, complete with bonuses and promotions based on my outstanding performance with every review. That visibility and recognition would be great. But, I’m guessing I’ll have to settle for being invisible.

Motherhood, in it’s all knowing sort of way, is forcing me to give up my ego and be more open to connections with other human beings. I’m learning to embrace those few moments of connection and recognition in a smile from a stranger, a story of parenthood, and that open door. And let the rest go.


Calming Waters

rocks and waterWater has long been associated with tranquility and renewal, a primordial hearkening to the waters of the womb. The waters that were filled with the muffled, rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat and the outside world. The waters that nourished and protected us as we grew. It’s been long acknowledged that the sound of water can transport us there – the real thing or recordings in those nifty sound boxes designed to help us rest in a busy world – bring us peace. The sound of waves crashing or lapping against a shore, the rush of a waterfall, the music of a brook. The silky touch of water on skin, it’s invisible buoyant strength as it seemingly holds us up, it’s caress as we  glide through it. The effect of water can be magic, easing the human mind, body and spirit.

Both of my daughters love water. Before becoming a mother, I was prepared to fight over bath time as I’d heard countless stories about kids who hated the water, hated to bathe, were terrified of pools. I’m not sure if love of water was written into my girls’ DNA or if the fact that I bathed with them from an early age made a difference. All I know is, my preschooler still loves bath time. And, my five month old has loved it since she was brand new. All I have to do is utter, “kick, kick, kick in the bath tub,” and I’m rewarded with a huge gummy smile, high pitched squeals and the flailing of limbs that accompanies infant excitement. I think it’s her favorite part of the day.

She loves to splash with her hands, move her body in the water, and bat at the rubber duckies and fish. She’s learning things about cause and effect, like all babies do, by playing. She loves when I gently move her through the water. And, of course, babies respond positively to skin on skin contact. Kangaroo care in preterm babies provides physical and psychological comfort for those tiny babies outside the womb. But the benefits aren’t just for them. All babies can benefit from skin on skin contact. So, bathing with your child is a double-dip. The waters and your touch are calming. And, if you nurse in the bath, like I sometimes do, it is a triple-dip. Nursing mothers know the comfort babies find at the breast. Imagine how soothing that is for the baby – to nurse in warm waters cradled by their mother.

Of course, bath time doesn’t have to be limited to mom. This is something partners can participate in (with the exception of nursing, of course). It could be a special time to bond and provide loving support to those little ones. If the idea of naked baths isn’t your thing, you can always don a swimsuit or underwear while you bathe. But, I’d say give it a try. Even if your child seems to be one of those I was warned about. One who screams at the mere mention of a bath, try it. Bathing with you might make all the difference.


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