Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Feeding Baby

For the first few weeks of my first daughter’s life, I carried a bottle of expressed milk everywhere I went. I honestly have no idea why I did this; we never left the house for more than an hour and she probably wouldn’t have taken it anyway. But I was scared . . . okay, terrified . . . that she might get hungry and I would actually have to feed her. Breastfeeding at that point was an extremely elaborate affair involving complete removal of shirts, propping of pillows, numerous disastrous latch-on attempts, and occasionally some small amount of milk actually making it into the baby. Eventually I realized we needed to get past this level of complexity with every feeding if we were ever going to have a life. Thankfully, we did . . . possibly due to some divine intervention, because honestly I still felt utterly clueless and best I could tell she did, too. Once we reached the point when nursing was no longer An Event but simply How Baby Ate, we were ready to take our show on the road.
We started small . . . a mostly empty cry room at church, the women’s Bible study, a booth in the very back corner of Panera Bread. Before long we could nurse with reasonable subtlety just about anywhere . . . not that subtlety was a requirement, but I found that I actually enjoyed being able to breastfeed my daughter anytime, anywhere and it was like our little secret, special time. Little old ladies (and some young ones, too) would walk right up to us, think she was sleeping, and peer over to take a peek. A few of them even patted or rubbed her head, and they had no idea that under the cute little pink blanket my shirt was yanked up from the bottom and sweet little baby girl was latched on to yummy goodness.
Of course as she grew and became more wiggly, subtlety kind of went out the window, and even though pink blanket still traveled with us, it soon became obvious What She Was Doing Under There. We curtailed our “public” nursing when she was about 20 months old . . . I was 6 months pregnant with her little sister by then, and my belly was starting to expand to the point where nursing laying down was really the only comfortable option. When little sister arrived, trusty pink blanket resurfaced, and we enjoyed many “outings” of our own. 
I’m expecting my third baby in a few months, a little boy this time. I’m sure I have a blue blanket around here somewhere . . .

Monday, June 28, 2010

Writing

I recently reread Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, circa 1994. This is probably the single best book on writing ever, well, um, written. My absolute favorite chapter discusses shitty first drafts . . . her description of the very first stage of writing, when you just have to get something down on paper/screen or you will never have anything to work with. This is just kind of an unfortunate step in the process that one must jump in and take if one is ever to move on and get to the *good* writing part. She then goes on to talk about how sometimes the writing is so awful in this draft, that you actually fear you might die before you have a chance to revise it, someone will find it and read it, and after your death the world will think your writing did in fact suck this bad. Really, though, no matter how terrible that first draft is, coming back to it an hour, or a day, or a week later is pure bliss, because you finally have Material To Work With. This is infinitely better than Material Stuck In Your Head Which Is Essentially Unusable Because You Are Too Lazy To Write It Down.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This Is What I Do, Part 3

So, after a morning at the playground reflecting on what I wrote earlier, I feel I must clarify something. I think I may have made mothering small children sound too simplistic; really, it’s not. I’d use the old “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” analogy, but that only captures part of it. Perhaps a more accurate description would be that it is more mental than physical, more emotional than concrete.
Following are just a few ways my children and I expend some of that mental energy together each day:
Small children constantly desire to learn. They ask about 4675 questions a day (rough estimate). And they like to talk. And talk. And talk. Conversing with someone under the age of five for a few minutes, let alone All Day Long, can become quite draining, and requires a great deal of patience and empathy. Everything is new to them, so nothing seems boring and no activity is wasted time. Sometimes this is difficult to bear in mind when a 10-minute walk to the grocery store takes 37 minutes because there are rocks! On the trail! Thousands! Let’s look at every single one of them!
I try to speak to my children the way I would speak to anyone else . . . and believe me, it’s tempting to slip into being condescending or gloss over things when you are around little tykes all day. Granted, sometimes you need to simplify, but in general I like to communicate with them the way I hope they will then in turn communicate with others. I try not to yell or raise my voice with them (unless I Really Mean Business) . . . although I’ll admit I do flip out occasionally after a particularly tasking afternoon. I use respectful language with them and lots of please and thank you and you’re welcome . . . and I don’t get upset or threaten them if they don’t automatically use them in return. (One of my big parenting pet peeves is when parents say “What’s the magic word?” to get a kid to say please or thanks . . . seriously; just make it a part of normal conversation and before you know it you will be hearing it back 90% of the time, unprompted.)
Because I have the luxury of spending so much time with my babies, and witnessing so much of their day-to-day lives, I have the opportunity to take full advantage of their natural curiosity. We can spend our days learning about why it’s important to recycle, spelling every item in the house, or studying Italian. Fun, yet it can be exhausting as well.
So maybe none of this is earth shattering, nor is it anything unique to stay-at-home parents. These are just some examples of how I spend my hours, days, and weeks with my little ones, especially when it seems like we survived yet another day with “nothing to show for it.”

This Is What I Do, Part 2

Okay, so this is what I really, truly, actually do as a stay-at-home mommy with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a baby on the way. Keep in mind it’s wildly different from what I may have been doing with a two-year-old and a newborn, or with one child compared to two. You just kind of go with the flow and adjust accordingly. Here’s a typical, dare I say ideal, day at our house:
Hubby goes off to work at 6:30 . . . I try to be up no later than that because I enjoy having some time to make coffee, feed the cat, putter online, do some yoga, or otherwise prepare for my day with a quiet house, and both girls will wake up between 7:00 and 7:30 most days. The girls share a bed, so in general if one is up the other is up and then the fun starts. 
Early morning snuggling is pretty much mandatory around here. The older one likes to start the day with “exercise” (aka, stretching poses in the living room). Breakfast is usually a picnic on the living room floor . . . a giant plate of fruit to share among the three of us, along with cereal or a bagel or a muffin and milk or apple juice (coffee for Momma if I haven’t gotten to it yet). After breakfast we may break out the puzzles, blocks, dolls, whatever and/or watch a DVD of Clifford, Mickey Mouse, or some other quasi-educational kid show. (Living overseas our TV options are limited, so all we ever see are PBS/Disney shows on DVD.) While they are doing this I clean up from breakfast, get dressed, and pick out clothes for them. Then we all get ready to leave the house. 
If it’s a school day we are heading out the door by 8:40 or so, otherwise it may not be until 9:30 or later. Usually if it’s not a school day and the weather is good, we head to the park/playground for 1 or 1.5 hours in the morning, then either have lunch out or come home and make lunch. After lunch the girls play together at home, either just hanging out in the living room with myriad toys or out on the deck riding their tricycles or playing in the sand box. 
Sometimes they play independently really well, other times they want me right there with them in the middle of the action. Often they just want me nearby, so I might do some reading on the couch while they flip through books on their own . . . occasionally pausing to read a book to them per their request. A lot of what I do with them now that they are out of the really intense high maintenance baby stages is supervision. I try to be available as opposed to all up in their space constantly. 
If this sounds like I have a lot of free time, I do, sort of, but not really. I would call it downtime. I have no “deadlines” to speak of, no pressure in my day-to-day activities, but I’m “on call” all day long. I may *want* to clean the bathroom or start laundry or do the dishes, but if one of them is having a bad day, or just fell down and hurt herself, or simply wants to have some Mommy Attention, guess what takes priority?
Of course a lot of activities simply take up time during our days . . . preparing snacks, changing diapers and helping with bathroom breaks, refereeing inevitable sibling squabbles. Today my youngest woke up with a runny nose and a cough (after not getting enough sleep to boot) so we did nothing but cuddle for about an hour. I love having the ability to take that kind of extra time with them in the morning when they need it . . . if I had to get us all out the door at a particular time I would miss out on that and it would make some early starts around here particularly rough.
If we are feeling really ambitious we may head out again in the late afternoon for more outside playtime, although if it’s very hot I don’t like for them to have quite that much sun. I try to start dinner around 5:00, so we can be eating by 6:00 and in the bathtub by 6:30. (Hubby comes home somewhere in that time frame and joins us.) Bedtime snacks follow, along with the current DVD movie of choice . . . we were in a Wall-E rut for almost eight months or so; we are just beginning to branch out. Ideally they are both ready for bed between 8:00 and 8:30; however, lately they have mixed it up and want to stay up until 9:00 or 9:30. Which means my husband and I pretty much crash as soon as they do, but when they fall asleep earlier I get to actually spend some alone time with my love. Then we go to sleep, get up, and do it all over again.
Oh, yeah . . . I had a point here somewhere.
So, most of my days are laid back. I don’t feel compelled to “get everything done” or have an immaculate house because I’m home during the day . . . on the contrary, my housekeeping standards are pretty lax. My job is to be here for my kids. Right now we are in more of a low intensity stage; that will change in a few months when the school year starts up again and we have a new baby in the house. Then my big accomplishment for the day will be keeping everyone alive. Like any job sometimes it's busier than others. When I was working “out there” sometimes I had weeks where I was pulling my hair out and pressures were looming and I didn't have time to pee . . . then there were days/weeks where I was taking long lunches and puttering online during work time because there simply wasn't enough going on.
This is just a glimpse of where we are right now, at this particular moment in time. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This Is What I Do, Part 1

I am a stay-at-home mom. That’s an SAHM for you acronym people. Prior to having kids, I had a regular old job in a regular old office for regular old pay. I also did a stint as a freelancer, working at home in basically the same job capacity. Working at home is not nearly as idyllic as one would like to think. In fact, at times it pretty much blows. Once the kiddos came along, however, none of that mattered . . . they became my new “career.” Then the party really began.
The uninitiated may wonder what exactly it is that an SAHM does. First, here are some things I do NOT do:
  • I do not do any work for pay.
  • I do not stay at home all day.
  • I do not watch soaps, eat bonbons, or otherwise live out any stereotypes you may have come across.
What I *do* is serve as the primary caregiver for my children . . . the one person truly available to them 24/7. Not that I am physically with them 24 hours a day 7 days a week, although it seems that way sometimes.
I once experienced great difficulty explaining to a “working mom” (don’t even get me started on that lexicon) that, no, being at home with your kids is not like “being on vacation every day.” The best way I found to illustrate it is to consider me to be doing the job of your childcare provider. If you work a 40-hour per week job, with a modest commute, say less than 30 minutes each way, plus an hour for lunch, that’s 50 hours a week (10 hours a day) your children are in someone else’s care. Just imagine that I’m doing that “job” during the day (albeit for zero pay) and then still having all of the same parenting responsibilities as you during non-work hours.
Granted, my days are undoubtedly more flexible than moms who leave the house to go to work each day. I don’t necessarily need to wait until the evening or weekend to do laundry, get groceries, or make time for personal interests. And I would definitely argue that my days are decidedly more entertaining; although I never had a job that I really loved, so perhaps that’s just me. But I treat being a parent as my full-time work, because that’s what it is.
Next time: What specifically do I really, really, REALLY do all day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sleep

So, it seems that both of my children have given up sleeping like normal people in favor of some preschooler rocker lifestyle. I’m trying to maintain perspective, and I know that in the grand scheme of things “this too shall pass” . . . it always does. Fortunately, I’m aware enough to know this, and go with the flow . . . even if that means sitting up with one or both of them until they self-destruct and fall asleep on the living room floor at 10:45 p.m. 
Interesting tidbit many parents (and experts) would be shocked to learn: You actually cannot “make” someone go to sleep. Really. What you CAN do for young children, however, is create an environment in which sleep is a pleasant alternative at the appropriate time of day. This doesn’t always work, as evidenced by the last week at our house. It’s not their fault. They get off routine just a little bit and they get all out of whack. It’s my job as a parent to help them get readjusted. I am not succeeding at this presently. I know there are camps out there who would advocate myriad “tough” ways to get through this . . . and in general I feel kind of bad for them, but that would be a whole new post. 
My plan for my own children this week is to look for better ways to wear them out during the day, and try to encourage a better sleep routine over the course of the next few days. Neither of them nap, so that is not the problem. It’s been incredibly hot here lately, and so we haven’t been spending as much time playing outside. Plus, the older one missed a day of school last week, which always throws her off. (And of course the younger one just follows suit.) But Mondays are great for implementing a new idea, so we shall see. Wish us luck.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Welcome Post

I can’t believe I put off starting this blog for as long as I have. I originally thought about it right after my second child was born . . . and now she’s 26 months old and #3 is on the way in 5 months. To say I became distracted would be, well, true.
Back in my pre-kids days I journaled quite a bit. Of course, that was dinosaur time compared to now . . . with actual pens and notebooks sitting in coffee shops like an Anne Lamott or Natalie Goldberg wannabe. Ah, free time. I used to know what that was. I guess I see this as a faster and more efficient way to recapture some of that. Truth be told, it’s been so long since I’ve had to use my handwriting skills to compose more than a grocery list, I’m not sure I could do it without cramping up. Not to mention whatever I wrote would be dreadfully unreadable.
So, my goal for today is simply to say “hello” to the idea of blogging, and try to come up with a plan. I love a good plan.
Unfortunately, my early morning time alone is coming to an end . . . it’s almost 7:30 and the rest of the house will be awake soon, so that’s all for today.