Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Growing up

I started this blog 6 years ago when I was still pregnant with Charlie. It has been many things to me over the years, most importantly a place where I can think out loud. Motherhood can be completely overwhelming and I found myself unprepared for the onslaught of new information, skills and knowledge I would need to be a parent. No matter how excited you are to become a parent, no matter how many years you dream of the day it will happen, there is no way to prepare yourself for the role. This blog became my outlet for all that was mysterious, interesting, challenging and rewarding about motherhood.

I've written about the fright we had when Charlie entered this world, making my own baby food, and finding time to exercise. I've posted favorite recipes, shared my working mom struggles, the fun aspects of my work, as well as my views on cooking, nutrition, and exercise. I've posted photos from birthdays, vacations, farm table dinnersweekends around the city, our home remodel, major life milestones and everything in between. Writing about all these things made me feel connected, a part of the bigger parenting universe. Writing down my experiences made them resonate for me, and hopefully for a few others. It makes me happy to know friends (and some strangers) enjoy reading my blog. But in the end, I write for myself and how it makes me feel, reflect and remember.

This isn't a good-bye to the blog. I'm not done with this space, but I do feel like something has shifted. We've entered the world of elementary school and it is a completely different place from where we've been for the past 5 1/2 years. It is all new and a tad overwhelming right now, but it is not entirely foreign. School is something I know! I was in one school or another for more than half of my life, and I am still in a learning environment (remind me to write about how first year medical students are similar to kindergartners!).

(Dare I say it?) I am growing more confident about this whole parenting thing lately. The classroom, the field, learning, standardized tests, setting goals, making friends, teamwork - these topics are not as scary and unfamiliar to me as sleep schedules, breast feeding, and teething. I am starting to believe I have something to offer my children and it doesn't have anything to do with Pinterest-worthy parties or homemade crafts.

I'm not sure what this means for the blog or what the blog will be when it grows up. My kids are growing up too, and I don't want to post things here they wouldn't want the world to see. I might have to experiment with this space for a while and see what feels right. I'm not ready to lose this outlet entirely, it still means too much to me. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kindergarten, one week in

The first day of Kindergarten went amazingly well. There were smiles all around, hugs, tears of joy and sadness, but overall, we made it through and felt good about our accomplishment. There is so much excitement about that first day - pictures are taken, parents are welcomed into the classroom and everyone is on cloud 9 about kindergarten. So in some ways, that first day is the easy part.

We are one week in and doing OK. Some days we're up, some days we're down. Charlie was so tired after his second day of kindergarten that he literally collapsed in a heap on the floor of the kitchen and fell asleep the minute he got home. I wanted to do the same. One week in, I have his schedule and snack calendar on the pantry bulletin board for everyone to monitor, and am getting a routine going for making lunches and filing away the myriad of school work and notices that come home each day. Charlie sets his clothes out the night before and gets dressed before breakfast. Our mornings are earlier than they used to be and Charlie has to be pulled out of bed, grumpy and tired. We've been early to school a few days, but haven't been late yet - it isn't easy to time the 10 minute window for dropping him off each day. Everything is an adjustment. Then there's after school care, I'll save my thoughts on that for another day...

Charlie still hesitates to say good bye each morning, and today there were tears. The first day he could bring his lovie - Puppy - but not anymore. Puppy has to stay home and Mom and Dad have to say goodbye at the door. Next week we are supposed to drop him off in the car line, and there is no way any of us are ready for that!

The first day of kindergarten was the easy part, and now finding a routine and getting comfortable with a new place and new people is the real challenge.  It will take time and patience and many hugs. This morning Charlie asked if we could go visit his old school soon and I think he's looking for a hug from his favorite teacher. Some days we all want to go back, even for just a little while.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A letter to Charlie

Dear Charlie,

I am so proud of you! You did it - you are now officially a kindergartner. Your first day could not have gone any better. Daddy thought we would be late, but we were way early. We even had time to play on the playground before going to your class. That was fun. You were a total champ this morning and only got a little nervous as we were leaving and that was probably only because Mommy was crying. I was a complete mess. I told you I would cry and there was nothing I could do about it. But you were brave and that made me brave, too.

I worried about you all day long, though I shouldn't have. You didn't even need to take your family picture out of your backpack because you weren't sad. I wondered who you sat next to in the cafeteria and if you ate all of your lunch. Did you fall asleep at rest time? I thought about you and wondered if you remembered the hand sign that meant you had to go to the bathroom and if you would have gym or music on your first day. Did you make a new friend? From what I could tell the highlights of the day were when the Principal pulled a quarter out of a kid's ear at lunch time, playing at recess, seeing your Berkley friends in the hall, and picking out a prize from the class Treasure Chest. If there was a low point, it was probably at snack time in after care. You couldn't open your string cheese and were too nervous to ask a new friend or teacher for help so you threw it away. That makes my chest hurt to hear, but I know that in no time you will feel confident enough to ask anyone at school for help. If that is the worst thing that happened on your first day of school, I think we can live with that.

We spent the last week together waiting for kindergarten to start. Every day, just you and me. We went to the grocery store, played baseball, went to Mommy's work, rode bikes, and had a blast at World's of Fun. I really enjoyed just hanging out with you and that made it even harder to be away from you today. It felt like the longest. day. ever.

The highlight of my day today was picking you up from school. When you saw me your whole face lit up and you gave me the best, biggest hug. And you were tired, but happy, and I just wanted to wrap you up and hold you so you could sleep for a little while. Tomorrow is only your second day of school and I really want to be the one to pick you up and see your face light up, feel that giant hug. But I can't. Mommy is getting an award at work, a really nice one. You would be proud of me! And here's the thing about working mommies, we're always having to make tough choices. Tomorrow I have to be at work and I can't pick you up, but you will be just fine. You will be excited to have Grammy pick you up and show her your new school. And I will get many, many more chances to pick you up and hear about your day. If this letter still exists in cyberspace someday or on my computer when you are old enough to read it, I just want you to know that I wanted to be there with you. You are my everything.

Ok, time for mommy to go to bed. I'm exhausted and feeling entirely too weepy. Just know that I love you and you make me proud every second of the day.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Last day of summer

Charlie and I spent the day walking our legs off at World's of Fun. The weather was perfect and the park was nearly empty. We rode several of his favorite rides three times! There was ample hand holding for me and a day of distraction for both of us. Just what we needed. 

We're both ready for kindergarten! Bring on the Kleenex. 

17,000 steps wore this guy out! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

His hand in mine

Charlie likes to hold my hand. If we are out walking, especially if it is just the two of us, he will grab my hand and hold it firmly in his. We've established a natural rhythm to our hand holding. I start walking and angle my hand back just slightly and his hand reaches up to meet mine. I don't have to look, I know his hand will just be there. Sometimes he will hold my hand if his sister is around, but most of the time he is distracted or she is demanding my attention and our hand holding is interrupted. But when it is just the two of us, we are content and happy with our joined limbs.

I don't know if Charlie holds Ryan's hand the same way when they are out just the two of them - I hope so. We've always considered Charlie our non-cuddly kid. He will dictate how close you can sit next to him on the couch and where you can place your arm - not on his leg, sometimes around his shoulders. Izzy, our super cuddly child, doesn't like to hold my hand. Most likely because she is always looking for an opportune moment to bolt away from me. But not Charlie. For a child that is always moving and never sits still, hand holding is his way of connecting and showing affection. It warms my heart every time he takes my hand.

We sat in the kindergarten classroom today for a parent-child conference with his new teacher. All the new students and their parents sat at the small rectangular tables and listened to the teacher explain what would happen the first day of kindergarten. Charlie was excited, happy to be there, listening carefully to his teacher. Sitting slightly in front of Ryan and I, he would turn around to smile at us or ask a question about what the teacher was saying now and then. About 20 minutes into the meeting, Charlie casually reached back and took my hand. My eyes welled up as I looked at his small hand in mine. Ryan noticed and smiled, but Charlie's attention stayed on his teacher.

I don't know if he did it for him, or for me. I tried to hide the tears that surfaced in the first five minutes of being in the cheerful, storybook-perfect classroom. The teacher started talking about the morning classroom routine - hang up your backpack on your hook, put your classroom folder in the wire basket, wash your hands...and picturing my little guy doing those things on his own every morning just made the tears flow. I want Charlie to feel nothing but happiness and excitement about his new school and teacher. Only silly moms cry at such wonderful new beginnings. I don't think Charlie saw my tears, but I think he knew we both needed a squeeze.

The first day is going to be hard, so hard. The first day of kindergarten is the day we send him out into the world to learn, grow, play and exist independent of us. He will thrive, he will soar, he will surpass all my expectations. I just hope he'll want to hold my hand for a little while longer.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Escape the Overwhelm?

I finished the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte two weeks ago. I’ve been churning over the many ideas and thoughts I had while reading the book and trying to figure out what to write, where to focus. There is so much to the book that resonates, I don’t know where to begin:

…People like me tend to get confused over which demand is more pressing in the moment, so we don’t have clear focus on what to do. We can’t decide. So we end up doing both work and home activities in an ambivalent, halfhearted way, which produces mediocre outcomes and vague disappointment in both.
Sometimes the sheer agony of leaving the warm baby or the weeping toddler and walking out the door in the morning to go to an unforgiving workplace was enough to sap my strength for the rest of the day.
The minute I cross the threshold into the office, the chatter would start in my head: “You left your children. You’d better do something extraordinary to make up for it.” …the guilty, sluggish start tended to make my workdays longer, the churn of pollution in my brain making it harder to think. Then I’d get stuck on deadline or in traffic and guiltily slink home later than I’d hoped. 
But that ragged feeling of being neither here nor there and vaguely inadequate in both is what I remember most about being a working mother with little kids in the early twenty-first century. For years, I imagine myself sliding sideways into the day, reluctant and resentful, skulking like a crab.
I can identify with Schulte in her struggles with career and family and the book reminded that I am not alone in my frustrations as a working parent. We are all battling the ideal worker norm that glorifies face time in the office and an American culture and government that places work and achievement above family and personal well being. But I was also very frustrated as I read, wondering when I would get to the light at the end of the tunnel, the bright spot that tells us a better day is coming. Schulte tries to shine a bright spot on companies that have created flexible work places and women that have escaped the overwhelm. It is somewhat encouraging but still falls short of hopeful. Unless you have plans to move to Denmark sometime soon, the nirvana of family friendly culture.

Despite this, I'm glad I read the book. It made me want to take steps to change the system somehow. And I realized something that just might be a game changer for me. I need to banish the ambivalence. 

Banish Ambivalence. I didn't realize I'd been stewing in ambivalence until I read Schulte's book. To be ambivalent is to be preoccupied with both what is wanted and what is not. I need to banish any ambivalence I feel about my career and instead embrace it – and my life - fully. My career choice does not allow me to work from home (except occasionally) and I do not have a part-time option. I am not my own boss. And as much as I like to imagine the possibility, I am not going to quit my career and become a writer/blogger/chef/trainer/b&b owner anytime soon. What I do have is a challenging and rewarding career that offers a great deal of flexibility and autonomy. I am fortunate to have options and I need to focus on the resources I have available and stop wishing for alternatives that don’t exist. 
Embrace whatever it is you’re doing, whatever you’ve chosen, with passion and see where it leads. Then adapt as you go. 
My new mantra: Banish ambivalence. Embrace the life I've chosen.

And a few tips On time management I found helpful:
1. Choose ONE thing that’s most important to do every day. Do this first in your day when your brain is most alert.

2. CHUNK your time. Multitasking makes you stupid. Work in concentrated blocks of time with regular breaks. When it is time to work, shut off email and turn off the phone. When it is time to be with family, do the same. Fit in the 5% stuff-of-life crap (emails, calendar appointments, school forms) after you’ve made time for what’s important. Sounds simple right? But it's not. Interruptions are everywhere.

3. Take 5 minutes to pour the clutter of anxieties into a Worry Journal. This will help uncontaminate your time. I am finding that spending 5 minutes on Monday morning dumping out all the worrisome thoughts in my head allows me to then tackle projects and set priorities for the week without the drain of my own fears and doubts.

I love that this book includes simple time management skills. For as much training as I've had in my life, no one ever taught me how to prioritize life and work in an always on, answering emails at 11pm "cycle of responsiveness" that we live in today. I recommend Overwhelm to anyone struggling to find time, happiness, and success while striving to live an authentic life.

My to-do list will never get done. But I hope I can find time for what is most important and live the life I want. I’m certainly going to keep trying. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Of dogs and marathons

Can the 4th of July really be here and gone already?  The July 4th holiday always feels like the mid-point of summer to me. Time is going too fast! Roxie is a 4th of July baby and we celebrated her birthday with a special pink dog treat and a trip to the dog park for a swim on a hot morning. Roxie is now 12 years old, an old dog by any measure. I told Charlie and Izzy the other day that Roxie was my first baby. They thought that was funny. My life with just Roxie 12 years ago was so very different from what it is now. When I brought Roxie home at 8 weeks old, I had just returned from living in Italy and was settling into a new job in a new city where I knew no one. We navigated St. Louis and then Kansas City together before we expanded our world and made room for our lovely little family. I think we've done pretty well for ourselves. 

I've heard it said that parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. In marathon running, you have to be physically prepared, but true success in the race depends on your mental strength and attitude. My mental approach to a marathon involved dividing the 26.2 mile race into smaller segments, usually 4 sections of 6 miles each (the last 2.2 miles you just gut out and get across the finish line however you can). The first 6 miles was always about taking stock, first of my body - checking for any early muscle aches or soreness, determining how well I timed my last ingestion of calories and fluids, assessing whether I wore the right clothes and if I took the correct precautions against chafing - and then of my surroundings – figuring out where the wind was coming from and how the weather might change in the next 4 hours, and checking my pace in that beginning crush of runners. I tried to establish a comfortable pace in those early miles, one I could sustain for the entire race. 

Lately, I've been thinking about the parenting marathon as a 21 year race.  In reality, you attach your race number for the rest of your life, but let's consider just the childhood years for now. I've decided my mental approach to the parenting marathon will be to divide the race into 4 sections of 5 years each (and gut out the last year and get across the finish line anyway I can). I’m coming to the end of my first segment of the parenting marathon right now -  the years before kindergarten starts and the outside influences really creep in. Unlike with my running, I have approached this first leg of the parenting marathon without any training. I suppose training in other aspects of my life could translate to the parenting marathon - like having amazing parents and a loving family, and experiences like marriage and teaching. But definitely not the sport-specific training (i.e. actual parenting!) I prefer. It has been at times chaotic, inspiring, discouraging, rewarding, unexpected, and not without a significant amount of chafing. 

The first segment of a marathon always made me the most apprehensive, not knowing how my body would feel or respond, and not being able to predict all the adversity that might come my way. I had no idea what to expect in my first 5 years of parenting and the not knowing caused me many sleepless nights. I wondered if they would ever sleep through the night and worried about when they would take their first steps or utter their first word. Making sure your child is on pace with major developmental milestones is a lot like monitoring your splits at each mile marker. I'm a scientist. Making it about the numbers is reassuring, calming.

I always knew when I hit the 6 mile mark in the marathon that I would be ok, that I could indeed finish the race. And it was in the second 6 mile segment of the race that I felt the confidence of my training kick in, and when I could finally realize that I was in the middle of an amazing adventure. I knew then that the race would be a test of my will that would only make me stronger. My fears faded and my goals came into view. I focused on running my best race, staying mentally tough, and enjoying the moment. In the second 6 miles I always found my groove. 

In parenting, like running, I know there will be unexpected turns and hills not clearly marked on my race map. But hopefully the first 5 years of parenting – surviving, getting my race number on and to the starting line on time -  will give me confidence going forward. Here’s to finding my groove in the next leg of my parenting marathon. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Future gymnast or rock climber

Izzy has always been a good climber. She has strong arms and good balance. I've seen her climb a playground rock wall with ease and her teachers tell me she can go all the way across these monkey bars at school by herself. I'm pretty impressed at how she gets herself onto these bars, hangs there, and then pulls her legs up. Nice skills!

Note: it was water day on the playground so she was in her swimsuit. She is in need of a new one, I'm reminded as I see these photos from school. This one is a couple sizes too small!

I started teaching both kids how to hang from their knees at the playground. With help, they can both do a forward flip around the bar and a penny drop - sis, remember those from gymnastics? Good times.