Parenting

Ramblings about Nap Transitions and Saying “No”.

January 31, 2017

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We’re through that phase that I like to call “the fog” in Baby Time. I feel like I’m the mother to two energetic happy curious toddlers instead of a toddler + cranky picky baby. I know some people LOVE that infant stage (the “glowworm” days), but honestly? I don’t. I love having a little one who is more mobile, more energetic, more excited, less “what-is-going-on-let’s-spend-all-evening-Googling-parenting-articles”.

So January, which is normally boring and depressing and cold has been a January for the books (the unusually warm weather hasn’t hurt, either). Watching my kiddos slowly learn to interact and relate is one of the most fun aspects of parenting yet, and one I didn’t see coming.

Right now? Miles is talking a million miles a minute. I love watching his vocabulary explode. I may have a had a slight panic-episode the other evening when the mom of one of his friends started talking about preschool applications. But that’s for another post another time.

 

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Violet craws like a mini-speedster and cheerily practices standing whenever she decides she’d like some attention. I think her days on all fours are numbered. This is ironic to me, because when Miles was this age, I was not on my “let them live” band-wagon and we pushed and prodded and encouraged him all we could. And he didn’t. And he decided to crawl at about 10 months and didn’t walk until 19 months.

Violet? We’ve let her take her time. We’ve spent a lot less time time prodding and a lot more time in quiet observed independent play. I know this isn’t always the case with timelines nor do I think one should measure a child’s progressor success at this age by (fairly artficial) imposed developmental milestones, but it was a good lesson for this Mama.

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Speaking of transitions, we are DOWN TO ONE NAP a day with Violet. Only other parents who obsess over schedules and rhythms and nap timelines will care at all about this but, folks, this is like Second Christmas to me. I LOVE the one-daily-nap phase. Our daily rhythm now involves one nice transition from lunch to bed right around 12:30 and lasting until 2:30/3:30 (or whenever around this time they wake up). I can’t “make” them go to sleep. But I can enforce a family quiet time consistently. (Spoiler alert: they almost always go to sleep. Violet sometimes wakes up early as she is still transitioing a little. If she does, I give her time and space to play quietly alone in her crib instead of quickly snatching her out of bed, a practice which consistently buys me a few more minutes of precious quiet time for now.)

It was only in the midst of this nap-time transition that I realized how much saying a firm, kind “No” is a part of maintaining our family’s rhythm. It’s boring. It’s lame. But it’s important. It’s especially vital to our week because I work from home and have to protect my work windows as well as my time with my little ones. When we say “yes” to too many things or overschedule or skip or fudge naps or bedtimes, there is a prety rapid domino effect and it’s not pretty.

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Sometimes, unique events or schedules merit a missed nap or a late bedtime. But these are rare and intentional. Most of the time, my childrens’ need for a predictable, steady routine has to trump Everything Else. Playgroups, events, outings, lunch with other moms, appointments – all of it falls second to our big-picture routine.

This is coming on the end of a few weeks where I’ve found myself saying “no” more than usual. It has felt both weird and freeing. No, I can’t commit to that; it’s my time to work. No, we can’t attend; that’s our nap-time. No, we can’t plan dinner late; we need to put our kids to bed.

This may earn me the title “Neighborhood’s Most Boring Mom” and sometimes I feel like a cranky hermit, but you know what? It’s been worth it. I think sometimes moms and dads who spend most of their day at home with their littles fall into the trap of feeling like their schedules (and the schedules of their babies) don’t matter. After all, you’re home! Where do you need to be? Why does it matter if you have lunch at 10:00 or 2:00?  Who cares? Throw caution to the wind. Stay up late. You can sleep in tomorrow.

Maybe this works for some. But for our family? When I start to be careless about our time, individually and collectively, moods and behavior and emotions start to slide. I’m slowly learning how very much my kids need me to protect their days and routines, even at the expense of things that are fun.

A side benefit of this is that I have an added excuse to protect *my* day and routine. We are all more productive and rested and happy. Everyone wins, except for Exciting Mom Awards, of which none are being handed out over here.

A quick piece of unsolicited advice? I think sometimes we stay-at-home parents undermind our own work. We think “Oh, I’m just a parent. I have so much time My schedule doesn’t matter.” No, you don’t. Yes, it does. Your time is not free or value-less. Your time is dedicated to taking care of lots of little finicky humans. Respect yourself and your time and your little ones. Treat the work you do with the dignity you would treat a job. Draw boundaries; follow through; protect your tools of quiet and rest.

I am not one who enjoys saying “no”. I hate it. But I’m getting better at it, for my kids and for me. One of the greatest gifts these baby days have given me is the gift of days that are covered by a quiet peace -peace-filled days AND peace about turning down good things for better. This is hilariously ironic considering how very un-peaceful some days feel with littles, but this unexpected fruit of these efforts to build a maintain healthy home rhythms? I’ll take it.

P.S. Need some more encouragement? This book taught me so much about confident, calm parentng.

Know a friend who needs to read this? Share the image below to Pinterest!

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Parenting

How We Play.

October 14, 2016

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Rich playtime is something that, I think, is unfairly taken for granted with very small children. A Google search of “Playtime with [pick an age, any age]” churns out a neat and tidy list of age-and-developmentally-appropriate activities such as “Blow bubbles! Build a tunnel! Sing songs!”, instantly gratifying and frustrating me at the same time.

I have a problem with this sort of definition of playtime.

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First, these lists are only particularly helpful if your child is on an average developmental track. Mine rarely are (where IS that elusive average child?), which means that I spend half an hour searching the activity sheets for the month prior to and following the one dedicated to the current age of my child, at which point said child wakes up from their nap of un-average length and it’s time to play again.

Secondly, these lists are sometimes ridiculous. One suggested that my 13-month-old would enjoy a blanket fort. I once spent 15 minutes constructing a blanket fort while he watched me in amusement. I convinced him to crawl through the “tunnel” portion of it maybe twice, at which point he became utterly bored.

My instinctual need for a parenting play check-list has been somewhat abated by pieces lauding “slow parenting” and the theories of child development like that promoted by Waldorf educators that place an emphasis on self-directed play.

I am not wired to provide non-stop entertainment to my babies and I would argue that parents, stay-at-home or otherwise, aren’t contractually obligated to provide non-stop entertainment to the little humans entrusted to their care.

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Playtime with my kids is honestly not something that always comes easily to me. I feel as if I am constantly battling the urge to SET A GOAL AND TEACH THEM SOMETHING or the lure of multi-tasking (“I’ll just check my email while we do this puzzle”). This is, I think, the symptom of a bigger problem that has more to do with my own inability to just appreciate stillness and presence.

But rich play-time (as opposed to “entertainment time”) and intentional presence is probably the single greatest gift a parent can give to their child and is certainly something that should be prioritized, if imperfectly.

Even as a stay-at-home mom, however, this is not something that just happens. There is always another errand, another chore, another play-date or activity, so intentional time together is something I have found I must purposefully make space for everyday.

In the hopes of providing you with a bit of encouragement, some practical help, and a shorter path to some hard-won lessons, here are a few steps that have helped encourage our family to have regular and rich play time.

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a dedicated space // The number and size of toys in our house has increased exponentially since Miles was tiny and we lived in 800 square feet. This is another post in an of itself, but when we first moved into our house, the lack of a comfortable, usable play space became quickly apparent. I dedicated a corner of the living room to toys baskets, but the flow of the room meant that the toys were never naturally played with in that corner or, for that matter, in that room at all. This lent itself to a constant clutter battle.

I’ve since turned our dining room into a dedicated playroom. The center is left free for play and baskets with toys and books are along the walls, which makes playtime in that space a logical step. The room is also right next to our kitchen, which means that my little ones can spend time there and practice independent play without actually being too far away from me and Mark; important both for their comfort and our peace of mind.

This option wouldn’t be available to us if we were in a smaller house or apartment, I realize, and I’m grateful for the option. For those of you in small living quarters, I would encourage you to make children’s bedrooms or another logical space as play-friendly as possible. (Often, this means leaving a space free of furniture so that the children can actually have space to, you know, play and so that the adults have space to sit.)

limited toys // Limiting the visible toys helps in two ways: it limits distracting options during a child’s playtime and minimizes the toy clutter (read: keeps parents sane and the space attractive). I cycle toys between Miles’ bedroom closet and the playroom. This will work itself out differently for different families and is a constant process, but the key here is that toys should be visible and reachable.

If toys or books are piled up and require untangling and sorting constantly, there are probably too many in a given space. A clean, visually open space makes it more appealing for parents and children and makes it more tempting to settle into the space for some quality time. Bonus: It’s easier for children to learn to clean up after themselves if toys, even small ones, have an obvious home.

toys that encourage creativity // When choosing toys for a play-space, focus on toys that are sturdy, don’t require a lot of adult supervision or assistance, and that can be used in many different ways by different age groups. These might include small wheeled vehicles, blocks, animal figurines, beads, textured items, and musical instruments. Some of our family favorites are these:

* Small colored wooden blocks.

* A basic train set.

* A basic large wooden bead lacing set.

Vehicles. So many vehicles (these aren’t wooden, I know, but they are SO LOVED).

* Random items with unusual textures, like these rubber potholders.

* This multi-use pound-and-tap musical bench.

routine // An example of this is: “After we get dressed in the morning, we sing these three favorite songs, and then we read two stories and then we play with blocks and then we take a walk.” Circle Time models may not be your gig (although studying examples like this one and this one have been vastly useful as I’ve worked to structure our circle time), but having some kind of routine that signals to your child that playtime and intentional quality time has commenced and that he can count on some focused time with his parent will help both of you maximize this time. I normally try to leave my phone or other devices in a separate room during our playtime routine since I am more prone to be distracted than my little ones.  Your routine may change weekly or monthly and will certainly change and shift, but having a routine of some kind will ground your playtime.

Our ideal playtime normally begins with a few (familiar!) songs, followed by some fingerplay activities, followed by a few books, followed by free play with toys. Remember, kids LOVE repetition. They will thrive as they recognize the same songs and fingerplays day after day, so don’t pressure yourself to constantly interject new material into their playtime.

A quick note – I am continually working towards letting my child lead the play-time rather than trying to force Miles (and now Violet) into a structure that isn’t working. So if they are just not into storytime or singing that day, we move on. If they just really need to get outside and we need to scrap the indoor reading, we do. Don’t stress. Rich playtime is about quality time with your little ones and about them learning about their world, not checking off boxes so you can give yourself a gold “parent of the week” sticker.

light // We are so blessed with tons of natural light in our home and I’m realizing what an enormous difference this makes on my mood and our family’s interactions with each other. When we lived in a small apartment with limited windows (three, to be exact), I tried to maximize the light by opening the blinds (and sometimes the door) and using lots of mirrors and lamps to enhance the light. Most of us are drawn more towards spaces that are well-lit, so if your play area is the best lit area in the home, your children and you will naturally want to spend more time there!

I would love to hear about your playtime routines and tips for encouraging healthy playtime! Comment below or send me an email!

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Life

Making the most of every day: 5 strategies.

July 13, 2016

I considered entitling this blog post “Why I don’t write emails and nurse my baby at the same time,” but apparently Google doesn’t like blog titles of such length and depth. I digress.

Getting anything done while living with small children – even ONE small child – is no joke. Laundry, dishes, basic cleaning, opening the mail, watching a movie – these things that used to happen with almost no thought, now require the strategy energies of a moon-launch to successfully execute, whether you are a mom or a dad of just one tiny two-week old baby or several children under 5.

When Miles was very young, we were barely moved into our apartment in College station, and Mark was in the trenches of the first (pretty terrible) semester of business school, I remember just staring at our piles of possessions completely paralyzed. How was I supposed to turn the chaos into the cozy 810-square-foot-Pinterest-modeled apartment of my dreams while continuing to work my part-time remote job with a baby that required a feeding session every two hours?

But you know what? It got better. Life has a funny way of doing that – more demands on your time come in the by the front door and you think that your sanity is leaving by the back door, but it’s not. Eventually, I figured out what was, and most importantly, was not important for that hour or that day or that week.

So here are my “get it done” hacks. They are not a road-map to 100 extra hours in a week or the answer to why you are not yet successful and happy in your dream job of Instagramming white sandy beaches. They are simply tools that I’ve found useful in stewarding my time and that work for now. I don’t rely them all of the time – but when I do, I’m more well-rested, more productive, more pleasant, and more present.

Whether you are a mom who stays with her baby all day, or a mom who works away from her kids 40 hours a week, or a mom who is at home most of the time and responsible for the laundry while maintaining a career in the cracks of time from your laptop in the dining room – I hope these help you. And give you just a few more hours in your day. Or at least a chance to finish that project and have a few minutes left for a cup of coffee.

Do not do things while your children are asleep that you can do while they are awake.

This is common wisdom passed around leisurely to young mothers at baby showers. But here’s the secret to really leveraging this rule. You can do more things while your children are awake than you think you can.

Laundry? Dishes? Making beds? Opening the mail? Avoid doing these things while your children nap. Instead, talk and sing and play with your children in the room where these things need to be done while you’re doing them.

Will the laundry take longer? Most assuredly. My 2-year-old “helped” me while I cleaned the floors the other day and it took at least twice as long. But it will still get done and then when your baby is asleep you can do something more exciting than the laundry. Like reading a magazine uninterrupted.

Added bonus: your children will not grow up thinking that magical fairies do the laundry and the dishes while they sleep. (And if you are frustrated by this idea or have no idea how to encourage your children to play alongside of you rather than depend on you for 100% of their entertainment, read this book. In fact, read it anyway.)

Have a clearly defined list of things to do while the child or children are asleep.

This way, when that squirmy four-month-old that is in the middle of dropping a nap and won’t sleep at the expected time for all of the efforts you can pour forth and you finally get her down, then you know exactly what to do next to make the 12 minutes of sleep-time productive.

Otherwise, you will spend her 12-minute nap figuring out what to do and will be frustrated because you make any progress on anything but Facebook Awareness when you hear her precious cry at Minute 13.

It doesn’t matter what this list says. If it’s yoga, then get your 12 minutes of yoga in. If it’s editing for a client, then bill 12 minutes of editing. BUT DO SOMETHING that will keep you from falling over the Cliff of Time Despair.

Know and cage black holes.

This is slightly different than the generally accepted mantra: “We are all wasting all of the time with social media” (true as that may be). I have my time black holes and you have yours. Whether the black hole consists of magazines or Instagram or Netflix or counting the clouds that sail by: we all have them. I’m sure even Sheryl Sandberg has something on which she wastes time. The way to leverage this? Know what those things are. Then limit them by determining when you will waste time.

For instance: social media, namely, Instagram, is so addicting to me. I love it. Not always necessarily a good use of time. But when I’m nursing and only have one hand free and can’t really move around very effectively and am generally being left alone by my toddler – I scroll Instagram. When I’m not nursing? I try to leave it alone. See? It’s self-limiting. Wins all around – I get my mental zone-out break, my baby is fed, and I don’t feel as if I wasted precious time by falling down the interwebs.

Have a clear sense of what can be done when.

This is related to all of the other suggestions and this looks different for everyone. Some women can type entire books while they nurse. I can do….basically nothing that requires two hands while nursing. And I’m not very good at typing anything other than a two-line email with one hand. So extensive typing or editing or really at all anything requiring two hands doesn’t happen while I nurse. But my children have both loved our Ergo. So sometimes when they are awake and just want to be close to Mama, I *can* do things like cleaning or laundry or typing while I wear them. But some children hate their Ergos but love their playpens.

If I try to type an email longer than two sentences while I’m nursing, I get frustrated and normally my baby gets frustrated and the email generally doesn’t get finished anyway. So I quit trying to write emails longer than two lines while nursing.

Just know what you need to do and then figure out the best time and situation for doing that. Then, when babies don’t nap and the weather changes and someone needs to be held during their nap instead of sleeping in their crib – you have a backup option and can still be productive at something.

Give yourself grace to be productive in different ways.

Pregnancy and caring for newborns has been a huge reality check (at least for me), in part because being productive suddenly means something very different than it used to mean. During pregnancy, you are growing a human. So even thoughI was exhausted and nauseous and flaky and couldn’t remember why I walked from one end of the house to the other, I was still being massively productive. This took me forever to really accept, but once I did, I became a much less stressed-out human being.

Nursing has been such a soul-check for me. I want to be up and moving and doing things, even if those things don’t necessarily accomplish much, because I feel better if there’s movement and energy being expended. But when I’m nursing my babies, I have to sit for hours. And do seemingly nothing. Sometimes my babies even know when I’m looking at the screen of my phone and get annoyed, so I’m really not doing anything. Except that I am keeping a human alive. So that’s pretty important.

Spending time with my baby and simply cooing back at her is, in fact, quite productive. I’m helping her to become a little human. We don’t always have to be *doing* something remarkable together – sometimes my kids need me to just be present with them. Reminding myself of this helps keep me from being frustrated at the slow moments and helps me appreciate and savor those times more.

This book was also completely life-altering for me. It gave me a new perspective on time and focus and presence with my kids and convicted me enough to really sit down and think about what kind of parent I want to be and how to make that happen.

What are your secret weapons for getting things done with little people?

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Parenting

On rhythms and geraniums and parenting two.

July 1, 2016

  

Parenting Round Two has been so vastly different than Parenting Round One. Becoming a mom for the first time was amazing in so many ways. But also, during Round One, I remember a distinct feeling of panic underlying almost all of my activities. Everything seemed HARD. Nursing was hard for a long time, sleeping was non-existent (for any of us), and I’m pretty sure I didn’t cook a meal that didn’t involve a tortilla for the first four months of Miles’ life.

I looked frantically for solutions at every turn and, even amidst the vast array of crowd-sourced-Internet-and-Amazon baby wisdom, there were very rarely any solutions to my newborn who slept at least three hours less each day than every book promised me he would (try Googling THAT schedule) and who needed to eat twice as often as that elusive “average” baby.

This time around has been different and wonderful in its own way. Baby 2’s birth and the ensuing days and weeks have been covered in so much peace. This probably has something to do with the fact that I am not unpacking boxes, that I actually took maternity leave, that Mark works for an organization forward-thinking enough to offer fathers paternity leave, allowing him to be home for those first couple of new weeks as a family of four. Maybe it has to do with my baby, who just seems to have a more effectively charged internal clock, who seems more mellow, or maybe I just know a little more about what to expect – and what to not expect.

There is a lot more laundry this time around and my house may never actually be completely clean again, thanks especially to my curious and busy toddler. I wash my hair not nearly as often as I used to and dry and style it less frequently than that. But even now, after the first haze of the brand-new baby days has worn off, even on the busiest of mornings when our house contains the work-days of two adults, a babysitter, an infant, a toddler, and an oddly ballooning population of tractors and trains, our days have a steady confidence, an expectant rhythm to them.

Waldorf education philosophy, with which I am almost as mildly obsessed as I am with extra-sharp cheese, talks about how a day is built out of alternating periods of contracting and expansion, much like breathing. We come together, we pull apart. Days, especially for children, should have a pulsing steadiness. Like kneading bread.

I love this picture of pulling outward and settling in. I think it’s almost as important for adults as it is for children. Maybe our rhythms are different; but I go a little crazy when I don’t know what pieces of my day I can depend on. (This is probably THE HARDEST part of parenting young infants for me – this always-not-knowing.) And it is amazing to me how this sense of rhythm changes even the way I handle my infant’s sleep schedule. 

Schedules are hard for babies – not scheduling at all is hard for families. But rhythms? Rhythm is something I can watch for and listen for and encourage. Rhythm is something I can fall back on when our day starts to feel messy and hectic and scattered. Rhythm is something I know will return, even if an evening or a morning or a day feels unpredictable and chaotic.

I try to set landmarks in the day for myself, just as I do for my children. Mine are slightly different – my few minutes alone with the coffee carafe and my cup, a few stolen minutes with a book or a magazine (like this one or this one), a window of time during which I get to water my two pet pots of geraniums. And these landmarks – naps and meals for my children, these little moments for myself – help to guide our day, to reassure us that chaos is not in fact winning – that the days are being redeemed, slowly, steadily, one by one.

And even when the laundry piles up and the tractors and trains line the halls and the crackers need to be vacuumed from the floor for the nineteenth time, I can breathe more easily, knowing that we’re finding our rhythm. And we’ll find it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.

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Books | Career

March Book Report.

March 28, 2015

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It’s been a while since I posted a book update. Making time to read again feels good. Tracking the books I’m reading encourages me to keep doing it because I’m reminded that I am completing books (which, for someone as OCD as me, is so necessary for successful goal-achieving!)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Reading this one through Oyster. I was late to the e-reading train but I have been pleased with Oyster’s selection and love this collection of memoir-essays. P.S. Here’s a $15 credit towards Oyster if you want to try it. (When you sign up for the $15 credit, I get some credit too! Free books all around = win / win.)

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. This one had me at the preface (which happens to be written by Eric Metaxas, the author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.). I’m so excited to keep reading this one.

A Bend In The Road: Experiencing God When Your World Caves In. My mom’s group is going through this book together – it’s been challenging. You know those Bible study books that are super boring to actually read? This is not one of those. It’s one of those books is so good when I curl up alone but that also works well for a group-discussion.

The Whole-Brain Child. Still reading through this one. It’ll be particularly helpful, I think, when Miles is just a little older – most of the ideas are geared towards toddlers or young children. It contains some fascinating concepts though about mindfulness and emotion.

The Creative Family. Still reading this one too – I love it! It makes me excited to pick up activities that I haven’t tried ever or in years. It has some really wonderful step-by-step ideas for encouraging young and very young children towards creativity – lots of Waldorf-style activities, which is so inspiring. There’s also a nice collection of quotes and helpful resources.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. Finished this! It was fantastic. It had some wonderful concepts for leadership and workplace relationships but it also was so applicable to marriage and other personal relationships. I enjoyed it and was truly challenged.

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