10 Pros and Cons of Having Close-in-Age Kids

I had 3 kids in under 4 years. My three kids were so close in age that I didn’t have a single menstrual cycle for 5 years (win!!) Of course, I also didn’t have a full REM sleep cycle for about that long. As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to having closely spaced pregnancies.

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1) Pro: Shared interests. Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Disney pricesses, kid concerts, indoor playgrounds… when your herd is close-in-age they share the same interests. Not only does this often make their bond stronger (at least in the young years), but this makes everything from playdates to day trips, birthday gifts to vacation planning a bit easier.

Con: Everyone’s a Spitfire. When your whole crew is in tantrum territory life is a minefield. Meals out are a gamble. Religious services are treacherous. Art museums are off limits. Grocery shopping is a three-ring circus. Travel is stressful. Needless to say, you quickly learn the law of 2/3: only 2/3 of your family will be happy at any given time. The extra fun part: the pleased vs. displeased campers can (and will) change without notice.

2) Pro: No Sleep. Once you get past the first indescribably torturous month of sheer sleepless exhaustion of your first baby, things get easier. You learn how to cope with less sleep than you ever imagined possible. (Seriously, you will laugh at how you could’ve ever claimed to feel “exhausted” pre-kids.) Once you get REM sleep it’s harder to live without it. This means it’s far easier to just be tired and stay tired than to taste the addictive drug of REM sleep only to have it ripped away from you. The sleeplessness of subsequent newborns isn’t nearly as painful as it was the first time around when you’re already running on empty.

Con: No Sleep. That’s right, it’s both a pro and a con! When all of your littles are little, so is your sleep accrual. Rising feeling well-rested is a thing of the past and (seemingly unforeseeable) distant future. You may go to bed early to make up for some of the lost Zs, but you have no control over your sleep pattern.

Pro: Diapers Days. When you’re already used to buying and changing diapers, adding another bundle’s bum to the mix isn’t a big deal. Same goes for scheduling around nap routines, carrying a hefty diaper bag, being accustomed to a easy-care-only wardrobe, having a baby-/toddler-proofed home, expecting tantrums, potty-training, and owning kid-safe dinnerware.  You’re already in that phase, so might as well keep it rolling.

Con: Diaper Debt. Diapers add up… and so do wipes. It gets pricey shielding the world (and your home) from multiple incontinent kiddos. Having multiple kids in the same helpless life stage can be challenging — buckling and unbuckling multiple car seats at every destination, putting on multiple tiny socks and shoes, putting on and taking off multiple coats, wiping multiple noses (and butts) all day every day, bringing EVERYONE into the public bathroom with you, bathing multiple kids, keeping multiple mini-humans safe in public — is exhausting and expensive. If you’re formula-feeding on top of all of this… OUCH! And if you’re shelling out for daycare… my deepest condolences to your wallet.

3) Pro: Gear Reuse. When you have your litter close together, the gear is easily reusable. And, if you do what we did and have your babies in just the right timeframe, you can even reuse the carseat and base for all of them before it expires. Win!

Con: Primary Color Pile-up. When all of your kids are young, the amount of toys and gear and primary colors overwhelms your home. Every corner houses kid items. Your bathroom is a bath toy menagerie. Your family room looks like a daycare center. To the minimalist, it’s unsettling at best, anxiety-inducing at worst. It’s a temporary phase but it’s a long one.

4) Pro: Nipples of Steel. Breastfeeding calluses the nipples. If you have your kids close in age, you can maintain that teat toughness much to your benefit. The more you pump and the longer you nurse, the easier it is adjusting to a subsequent newborn latch. Every nursing relationship is different and no matter how many kids you latch on, breastfeeding each baby has a learning curve. However, the soreness that you experienced with your first nursling is unlikely to happen if there’s little to no break between your weaned and breastfed babes.

Con: Milk Machine Malaise. After a while, you just want your body back. You want to be able to put on a shirt without considering boob accessibility.  You want to go out without considering nursing/pumping requirements or calculating engorgment. You want to sleep on your belly. You want to be able to take OTC medicine without worrying if it’s breastfeeding-compatible. Basically, as beautiful and beneficial and bonding as breastfeeding is, it gets old after a while (especially if you’ve been nursing a toddler.)

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5) Pro: Mom Identity. When you are in the trenches of motherhood, the role consumes you in the most rewarding, exhausting, fulfilling way. When you have raised baby after baby — one after the other — into toddlerhood and early childhood, you are unwaveringly secure in your maternal identity. Nothing else in your life — no other role, responsibility, title, or achievement — can come close to the one that demands every shred of you every waking and sleeping second of every day. When you have multiple wholly dependant offspring, your personal identity is: “Mom.”

Con: Lost in Mommyland. When you’ve been in the mommy trenches for years in a row, you forget who you were — who you are — beyond that role. Time simultaneously stands still and rushes by when you have baby after baby. You must focus moment-to-moment to survive but, once the babies all grow older and your focus can grow broader, you can feel lost.

6) Pro: Love Abounds. When you have multiple close-in-age kids, they often adore one another and you while they are young. Hugs, cuddles, kisses… every day is filled with genuine affection. Your arms, mind, washing machine, and life are full, but so is your heart.

Con: Marriage Bombardment. You and your children may share embraces and pledges of love daily, but you and your spouse will be permanently adrift if you don’t take heed. Each child demands attention. Each child deserves affection. Each child owns a piece of your heart. But your spouse does too. However, your significant other is further down the list than he/she used to be. Every additional child increases that distance between you in every conceivable way. Whereas it once was just the two of you bound to one another in love and fealty, now you’re bookends spaced further apart by each child you have together. If you are not careful to maintain your bond and make time, love, and space for each other, you won’t last. Children are a beautiful gift that can snuff out even the brightest marital flame, if you allow it.

7) Pro: Friend Finding. Mom friends for you, buddies for your babes… the (wholly necessary) search is an easier undertaking when your kids are closely spaced. It’s hard for moms with kids who are in vastly different age brackets to relate or spend time together. A 9-year-old doesn’t want to hang with a 6-month-old, so playdates are out. And no matter how exciting Baby’s first bite of solid food may be to the mom in the trenches, a middle school mom is going to have a hard time mustering passable enthusiasm when she’s eyeing tween social media melodrama and looming PSATs.

Con: Babies Steal Time. It wasn’t until I had my third child and had a brief moment of clarity that I realized babies don’t slow down or preserve time, they steal it. Your first baby seems to develop so slowly in comparison to your second and practically backwards in comparison to your third. Each subsequent child develops faster than the last but, what’s terrifying and sad: you lose 1-2 years of each pre-existing child’s childhood with each new baby. In other words, I “lost” 2-4 years of my first child’s toddlerhood and early childhood because of babies #2 and #3, and I lost 1-2 years of my middle child’s toddlerhood due to baby #3. Why? Because while you’re focusing on your newborn — as nature demands in order for the infant to survive — you lose sight of your older child(ren.) They seem automatically older and more capable to you in comparison to the newborn. As such, they require less of your mental attention. Not until the baby gains a bit of mobility are you able to return your focus to your other children. One day, you see your youngest at the same adorable age your older children once were and realize, with aching sadness, that you missed that stage… that those memories are faded in a hazy fog of newborn sleeplessness and rollercoaster hormones. That it was stolen time. Witnessing your youngest is your only window to what you missed.

8) Pro: On-trend Bump. If you have your kids close together, your maternity, postpartum, and nursing wardrobes won’t have a chance to go out of style. Sweet!

Con: Fashion Fatigue. By the time you pull that once-loved maternity top from the storage bin for the third time, it turns your stomach (not fun when you’re already fighting morning sickness.)

9) Pro: Pick-up Sync-up. When your kids are close-in-age, at some point their school schedules will sync beautifully. They’ll, for some time, attend the same school and have one another as a familiar in-school support too. Same pick-up and drop-off times = win!

Con: Sick Time Sinkhole. When your littles are all little at the same time, so are their immune systems. That means your paid-time-off pool is going to take a hit. Sharing is caring, and kids really like to share their germs (with one another and you.) If you and/or your significant other don’t have a rough plan for navigating repeated unexpected days off and midday pediatrician visits, get on it. Kids get sick and it’s generally at 2AM the night before a big meeting. It’s all about timing!

10) Pro: Rip off the Band-Aid. When you have your lot in a brief timeframe, you limit the pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, naptimes, and tantrums stage to a single block of time. You don’t exit the life season just to re-enter it again with one foot in two worlds; you are simply in it (really in those trenches) until you’re not.

Con: When It’s over, It’s Over. One day you’ll realize you’re exiting the deep infant-toddler trench. You’ll recognize the lessening stress and the availability of both of your arms. You can breathe! You’ll also realize that it’s almost over and there’s no going back. No more parent-and-me classes. No more middle-of-the-night cuddles. No more blissful sleeping baby on your shoulder. No more library story times. No more preschool parties. The door has closed, another has opened. What is ahead is beautiful but so was what is behind.

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This list of pros and cons could go on infinitely. But what really matters is what feels right to you, handling what life has handed you, and finding genuine happiness in your own life. Because, after all, we can really control very little in life, but seeking to find joy in whatever our circumstances is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others.

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Taking the Aversion Out of Bottle-Aversion: Step-by-Step Bottle (Re)Introduction

A return to work, a medical procedure, visits at Grandma’s, date nights, a shred of autonomy… there are countless reasons why a breastfeeding parent would need to introduce (or re-introduce) Baby to bottle. The problem: bottle-aversion is not uncommon and, man, it’s a pain!

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Two of my three children were bottle-averse. Like any sleep-deprived, anxious mom, there were times I worried and wondered if they’d ever accept a bottle. But, in time, they did accept the bottle. All it took was a step-by-step process of introduction. This same method has worked like a charm for friends, fellow pumping moms, and milk recipients with whom I’ve shared this.

If you have tried (re)introducing the bottle to your baby but it’s just not working, take a few steps back, regroup, talk yourself off of the anxiety ledge, then see if this process works for your bottle-averse babe. It’s worth a shot!

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STEP 1: CALL IN BACK-UP.

What you’ll need:

– A caregiver who is not the breastfeeder

What you’ll do:

Ideally the non-nursing parent or another caregiver would be the one to introduce Baby to bottle. Mom and her much-preferred breast buffet should not even be in the home during the introduction. Mom can go for a mini-stroll, nap in the car, sit on the front stoop… just not immediately available. Babies are smarter than we give them credit for. Heck, if someone handed you a plate of reheated leftovers while holding a tray of freshly made food, which would you pick?

Take the fresh meal out of the equation and make the leftovers (aka: pumped breastmilk) the only option. Of course if another caregiver is not available, the following steps can absolutely be employed by the breastfeeding parent; it just might require a bit more stamina.

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STEP 2: PUMP IT. WARM IT. DIP IT.

What you’ll need:

– 1oz freshly expressed breast milk

– 1 baby bottle with nipple

– 1 mug of warm (not hot) water

– Patience

What you’ll do:

When introducing the bottle to Baby, start with just 1oz of freshly pumped breast milk (we’re talking milk that is still at body temperature.) Limiting the introductory amount to 1oz lessens possible waste, because any pumping mom knows crying over spilled breast milk is totally acceptable. While pumping, submerge the bottle nipple in a mug of warm (not hot) water. This will help make the bottle nipple more like the warm, supple human nipple as opposed to a cool, rubbery manmade nipple. Just before feeding Baby the 1oz, remove the bottle nipple from the warming mug and dip the warmed nipple tip into the expressed breast milk. The fresh milk on the warm bottle nipple acts as a “MILK IN HERE!!” flashing arrow sign for Baby. Then try calmly feeding Baby the bottle. If it doesn’t work, relax. Redirect Baby’s attention briefly and give it another attempt or two, but never make the process stressful or unpleasant for Baby. We want this to be a comfortable, cozy, enticing experience.

Once your baby has grown to accept the freshly expressed milk in a bottle, move to step 3.

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STEP 3: CHILL IT. WARM IT. DIP IT.

What you’ll need:

– 1oz refrigerated breast milk (no more than a day old)

– 1 baby bottle with nipple

– 1 mug of warm (not hot) water

– Patience

What you’ll do:

Repeat the same process of warming and dipping the bottle nipple as noted above, but this time add 1oz of warmed, previously refrigerated expressed breast milk (aim for no more than a day old so that milk is still somewhat fresh.)

This transition may take a bit of patience, but keep at it. Be sure to maintain the goal of a positive, peaceful introduction though.

Once Baby accepts previously refrigerated breast milk in a bottle, move to step 4

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STEP 4: FREEZE IT. THAW IT. WARM IT. DIP IT.

What you’ll need:

– 1oz frozen breast milk

– 1 baby bottle with nipple

– 1 mug of warm (not hot) water

– Patience

What you’ll do:

Now that Baby has begun tolerating previously refrigerated milk, it’s time to try previously frozen milk. Pour 1oz of thawed, warmed, previously frozen breast milk into a bottle. Repeat the same bottle nipple warming and dipping from steps 2 and 3. Then, just as before, introduce the bottle to Baby in a comfortable, calm, peaceful manner.

This may take a few attempts. That’s ok. Be patient.

Once previously frozen milk is a go, move on to step 5.

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STEP 5: FREEZE IT. THAW IT. WARM IT. DON’T DIP IT.

What you’ll need:

– 1oz frozen breast milk

– 1 baby bottle with nipple

– 1 mug of warm (not hot) water

What you’ll do:

Since Baby now accepts frozen bottled breast milk, let’s take things up a notch. Let’s ditch the nipple dipping and see if Baby still goes for the milk.

Just as in step 4, you will thaw, warm, and bottle 1oz of previously frozen breast milk. WARM the bottle nipple in the mug of warm water but do not dip the nipple tip in the milk before serving Baby.

In all likelihood, this should be an easy test by comparison since, by now, Baby is aware that bottle nipples like lactating nipples are milk portals.

Once this step is successfully accomplished, move to step 6.

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STEP 6: FREEZE IT. THAW IT. SERVE IT.

What you’ll need:

– 1oz frozen breast milk

– 1 baby bottle with nipple

What you’ll do:

So by now Baby will take any kind of breast milk provided: straight from the tap, fresh and bottled, previously frozen and bottled. Now let’s see if we can ditch the nipple warming.

Thaw, warm, and bottle 1oz of previously frozen breast milk as you have in prior steps. Now, without any bottle nipple prep, see if Baby accepts the bottle. This should be a low-key endeavor, especially if dropping the nipple dipping was an easy undertaking.

Once this has been accomplished, move to step 7.

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STEP 7: TAKE A BOW!

Seriously. You did it!! Go you! Your baby is now able to gain sustenance from human and faux nipples. Congrats!

Taco Lasagna: Gluten-free Vegan Recipe

Warm, savory, creamy, cheezy layers of zesty Latin-inspired casserole topped with cool, crisp, creamy, tangy veggies. Delish!

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I mean, who doesn’t love tacos? Who doesn’t love lasagna? Put them together and you have family-pleasing, freezer-friendly, make-ahead, meal-prep’able, gluten-free, vegan deliciousness!

Ready for the recipe? Read on.

GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN TACO LASAGNA 

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Ingredients:

2 cup salsa (I used this)
1 pkg Beyond Meat Feisty Crumbles
3 cup marinara (or 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes)
2 pkg frozen corn niblets
1 Tbl cumin
1 Tbl chilli powder
1 Tbl garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg corn tortillas
1.5 pkg Chao Original Creamy Slices
1 cup Go Veggie Vegan Cheddar Shreds
1.5 cup Just Mayo
1 pkg Kite Hill Ricotta
2 limes (juiced)
* Shredded lettuce (optional)
* 2 tomatoes (diced)
* 1/2 cup Just Mayo (optional)
* 2 Tbl apple cider vinegar (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Add the crumbles, marinara (or crushed tomatoes), corn, and spices to a pan and cook — stirring often — on medium heat until heated through.

In a medium size bowl, stir together the Just Mayo, ricotta, and lime juice; mix well.

While the crumbles cook, spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray, the spread a thin layer of salsa over the bottom of the pan.

Lay corn tortillas in a single layer over the salsa.

Spread 1/3 of the crumble mixture over the tortillas.

Lay Chao slices in a single layer over over the crumble mixture then top with a layer of 1/2 the ricotta mixture.

Top the ricotta mixture with a single layer of corn tortillas.

Spread another 1/3 of the crumble mixture over the tortillas, top that with a layer of Chao slices.

Spread the remaining ricotta mixture over the Chao slices then top with a final layer of tortillas.

Use the remaining crumble mixture to create an even layer on top of the tortillas then sprinkle with Go Veggie shreds.

Place the casserole dish in the oven And bake at 375°F for 30 minutes.

For best results, remove the baked lasagna from the oven, let cool for at least an hour (or refrigerate to use the next, or freeze for later use), then reheat at 375°F for 10-15 minutes.

* Optional: Mix Just Mayo and apple cider cinegar together to make a dressing then stir in the lettuce and tomatoes and top each slice of warm taco lasagna with the cool, crisp, creamy, tangy garnish salad. Yum!

Infertility Made Me a Better Mom

Infertility broke me. It pummeled me, my relationships, my perspective, my worldview, my sense of purpose and self-worth. But I am a better mother because of it.

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For a horrendous year we struggled to conceive our first child (full story here). Invasive and torturous tests, ineffective and horrible medications, and multiple doctors yet no one caught it. No one realized that I had endometriosis. That’s right, two fertility specialists and one seasoned OB/Gyn, yet not one even whispered the possibility of endometriosis. It wasn’t until 2018 — nearly a decade after my fertility battle — that I was finally diagnosed. But, let me tell you, the sad truth: my story is all but uncommon.

Women’s health is a brutal stomping ground of dismissed pain and excused symptoms, with “hormones” being the new “hysteria.” And so it is made possible for most endometriosis sufferers to go decades un- or misdiagnosed then prescribed horrendously invasive and entirely ineffective medical treatments. (Yes, treatments, as there is no cure. Nope, not even menopause.) But, that rant is for another time. Back to my tale.

By saying that I am a better mom because I experienced infertility am I implying that moms who never personally experience infertility aren’t good moms? Hell no! It just means that I am a better version of my former self because of what I endured and, thus, I am a better mom than I would’ve been without the life experience.

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Infertility — its unspeakable, wide-reaching pains and demands of secrecy — broke me. It shattered who I was. In order to go on, I was forced to glue myself back together. And I did. I pieced myself whole — shard by battered shard — in a better, stronger, more empathetic, more unwaveringly resilient form than I ever fathomed. It was because I had been broken that I could be so tolerant of pain, so appreciative of the children I was eventually granted (even on their worst days), so positively resilient, so set on cherishing every moment and gathering every possible memory with my children. Infertility was the shittiest of blessings that I would never wish on anyone, but for which I am now grateful.

The humiliating tests that were emotionally if not physically painful, the burden of hiding my fertility struggles and surging hormones from others (especially at work… because if a pregnant woman is viewed as a liability, a woman trying to conceive is just an empty cubicle waiting to happen), the effort to genuinely celebrate others’ pregnancies and births, the strength required to face others’ fertility-related commentary and questions in a non-murderous fashion, the strain on relationships, the distain for my own body betraying me, the sense of utter failure at what should be a natural and easy endeavor, the challenge of not allowing the descent into becoming that bitter infertile woman, the disconnect of being complimented or viewed sexually when my sexual organs were broken, the impossible battle of holding my shit together when my shit was so  shredded by hormones and emotions and physical pain and mental anguish and self-pittying and somehow — freakin’ somehow — lingering hope that it would all end well. It was brutal.

Infertility made me stronger, more appreciative. In its wake, I became a human clown-faced punching bag. In comparison to what I’d experienced during my bout with infertility, I could bounce back smiling after any blow. Life could not topple me. Trauma, physical pain, emotional damage, financial hardships, lost loved ones… I would rise. I would find happiness.

Infertility helped me discover what — and who — my priorities were and in what order they stood. Infertility lessened my limiting modesty (a must as a mom, especially a breastfeeding mom), increased my ability to self-advocate, and amplified my pain tolerance immeasurably. It made me acutely aware where I did and did not want to go in my life. It made my values clear and illuminated the rubbish. Even more, just as having a challenging child or difficult baby grants you greater humility, awareness, and accurate empathy, so does a bout with infertility.

Sure, prior to having faced infertility I was aware that such struggles were a hurdle, but I had no grasp on the life-altering, all-encompassing, ego-shattering, dream-endangering affects. As with parenthood, you just don’t know what you don’t know and you cannot possibly truly understand unless you, yourself, have lived it. And once you do live it, you look back at your former self and think, “I knew nothing.”

I certainly do not know it all. I have much left to learn and live, but I will do so as a better person because of where I’ve been. I will continue to survive and savor, laugh freely and find beauty in the mundane, hoard memories and cherish moments. I will continue to be better because I was broken. I will thrive.

No, Tomboys Are NOT Like My Gender-bending Son

My middle child loves rainbows and unicorns, princesses and fairies, purple and pink. And, no, he is NOT just like your tomboy.

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I recently went to a coffee shop and saw a birthday tea party underway. Grade school girls in pastel hued tulle giggled and sipped. Then I spotted her: the tomboy. She sported a button-up dress shirt with a suit vest and matching slacks, her hair pulled back into a ponytail beneath a fedora. She looked fierce! I wanted to find her parents and hug them. Then it happened. I realized my son would never be granted such leniency in social norms. A second grade girl in a suit is far different than her male classmate in a dress. And the jealousy overcame me in a full-on internal tantrum of, “It’s not fair!” “And why can she but not he?”

It wasn’t my prettiest moment. But, at least I kept it all inside.

I love that there’s a surge in pro-woman, strong-is-sexy, intelligence-glam, STEM-focused female empowerment. It’s long overdue! Women deserved flexibility to be, pursue, live, and dress as they are so inclined. But men deserve that as well.

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Girls t-shirts with “Smart and Powerful” as opposed to “Pretty Cute” slogans, Ninja Turtle tutu outfits and superhero gear in the girls section, dresses covered in dinosaurs and robots, primary colors instead of pink hues, boxy cut shirts and longer shorts (an aim for mobility over femininity)… fantastic! I love it. Blurring lines between the socially constructed gender lines should have been done decades ago.

However, the boys have not been granted the same flexibility. No Disney princess T’s or pink sparkle tennies. No “mermaids are for everyone” slogans or ballet themed pajamas. Girls are allowed — if not encouraged — to venture into the land of socially deemed “masculine interests” (hello, the entire plot of “Mulan”), but boys are not escorted into “female” territory.

A girl can play sports, refuse skirts, rock a pixie cut and be labeled as a “rebel”, a “badass”, a “tomboy.” A boy does ballet, wears a dress, and grows his hair long and he’s called into the counselor’s office. He’s labeled as “confused”, “wussy”, “different”, and many words I refuse to grant space on my blog. Yes, the girl may suffer bullying and social pressures to conform but, in all likelihood, it won’t touch what a gender-bending boy will experience. Not by a long shot.

The line of acceptability is moved much farther back for girls than it is for boys. The repercussions are swifter, bigger, more socially accepted, and far more dangerous for boys. And it’s not fair.

As a wise friend once said, and I paraphrase (because I cannot remember the names of people I see every day at carpool, no less a paragraph once spoken): It’s rooted in a sexist society, this notion that being female or feminine is lesser. It is through this lens that girls aiming to be more masculine is acceptable, whereas the inverse is unacceptable.

What a thought, right?! Do we devalue women and femininity so much so that we consider the desire to aspire to “femininity” immoral, wrong, treacherous? We consider the souls so inclined to be broken, wrong, or misguided because “Why would you ever want to be remotely feminine?” I hope not.

Women are strong. We have to be! We put up with endless limits, demands, expectations, and dangers that men never even consider. Why would a boy wanting to emulate what society deems feminine be anything but a compliment… a tribute to the ferocity of the feminine?

Often former tomboys or parents of tomboys attempt to parallel their lives with ours in order to empathize with our experience with my gender-bending son. Though I genuinely appreciate the emotional efforts, our experiences are not the same. I truly, genuinely wish they were. I ache for it to be so in my scared, proud, joyful, protective, worried mama heart, I do. But it’s not. Maybe one day it will be the same for all children.

Until then, I will continue loving, supporting, disciplining, preparing, enjoying, and fighting for my child. I will continue to survive and savor parenthood one day at a time.

What I Ate: Gluten-Free Vegan Edition

“But what do you EAT?” People ask when they discover my dietary restrictions. I am a dairy-allergic, gluten-intolerant vegan with dairy- and peanut-allergic kids. Food restrictions are rampant here.

But, really, though. What do I eat? I start my day off simply with tea and easily digestible whole foods grazed upon in a specific order that allows for a comfortable belly and a well-fueled day. My biggest meal — lunch — is leftovers, as I purposefully make extras for our dinner to allow for easy heat-and-eat lunches. Next, I sip some tea, have a plant-based dinner, then snack while watching a show with The Hubs. Scroll on down and see products and recipes from a typical day of food.

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5:50AM- Green tea and a banana Plain and simple is the way I have found I need to start my day. Banana seems to be the easiest thing on my tummy in the morning. So this is how I fuel my morning yoga.

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6:20AM- Green tea and raw almonds The banana provides a soothing base layer to my belly, so a handful of almonds can land right on top as filling fuel.

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8:50AM- Homemade kombucha and a Clementine I used to drink my “bucha”, as my kids call it, in the afternoon, but I’ve found mornings to be an even better fit for this probiotic powerhouse. (This day, I foolishly let the kids see me sipping… they stole half of my kombucha and my clementine. Scavengers!)

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11:40AM- Leftovers for lunch (Morrocan-style split pea stew with rice) There’s no real recipe for this slow-cooking but flavorful plant-based dish, beyond a crap-ton of herbs and spices simmered with some food staples. I added chopped onion to a large pot greased with olive oil then tossed in 5 cloves of minced garlic. I let that cook, then stirred in 5 chopped carrots, a handful of white mushrooms (chopped), 1lb of soaked split peas, a hearty dose of coconut aminos, and — after a few minutes — a container of vegetable broth. Then came the seasonings: salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, coriander, chili powder, cumin, and a hefty helping of cinnamon. I let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, reduced it to a simmer, and let it cook until the split peas were tender. I served it over rice. (This would freeze beautifully and works great for meal prepping.)

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12:15PM- Green tea This is “rest time” in our house and, considering how active our days are, we ALL need it. The boys watch a show or play in their rooms while I sip my tea. It eventually descends into raucous, of course, but we keep trying!

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5:00PM- Lettuce wrapped taco with spiced corn Lentils + Beyond Meat Feisty Crumble make this gluten-free, plant-based taco filling. Lettuce cups serve as the shell for the taco filling, diced tomato, Go Veggie Vegan Shredded Cheddar cheez, and “sour cream” (Just Mayo mixed with apple cider vinegar.) For the side dish, I heated frozen corn with Earth Balance Soy-Free Buttery Spread, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin. Then I heated a bag of frozen riced caulifower. I mixed the warm veggies with chilled pico de gallo and served.

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8:00PM- Plentil chips This is my indulgence time. I don’t  (and can’t) eat many packaged foods or treats, so after the kids are in bed, this is my treat. I often nosh on popcorn or gluten-free vegan chips while lounging on the sofa catching up on shows and chatting with The Hubs. It’s my reward at the end of the day.

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This is what I eat in a day. What do you eat?

Mommy, Why Can’t We Be Who We Want To Be?

“You can be anything you want to be!” We tell our children. We’re liars. And I just got called out on that lie… by my 5-year-old.

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Driving back from figure skating lessons, minivan smelling of stale snack crumbs and indescribable child funk, my 5-year old middle child sat in his car seat stroking the fluffy aqua mane on his rainbow unicorn bike helmet cradled in his spindly lap. He wished for this helmet, a replacement for his old toddler-size fireman-printed helmet, and happily sported it immediately after opening it on his birthday morning just the week before. Rainbows, unicorns, mermaids, princesses, fairies… those are his jam. Firemen, though cool, carry no spark for him.

“Do you want to keep doing figure skating?” I ask him, knowing the new class session sign-up starts soon. “Uh-huh.” He replied with that distant hint of unsaid words. “What’s up? Do you still like it?” I asked him. “No, I do,” he answered, “but I want to do ballet too.” “OK,” I respond, wondering how I’d fit yet another extracurricular into our packed schedule and tight budget, “that could actually help your ice skating, just like your sister’s yoga practice helps her Tae Kwon Do.” He smiled.

“I want to be in the ‘Nutcracker’!” He exclaimed. I tell him that one of the benefits of being a boy ballet dancer is that there are fewer boys than girls who do ballet, so there’s less competition for male parts. “When you try out,” I said, “you’re way more likely to get the part of the Nutcracker than a girl dancer would be to get the part of Clara.” He sighed like a deflating hot air balloon. I glanced in the rearview mirror. He. Was. Gutted.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. He looked up teary-eyed, “I don’t WANT to be the Nutcracker.” That’s when I realized the problem. He didn’t just want to do ballet, he wanted to wear the tutus and the pointe shoes and the pink. He wanted to be Clara, the Sugarplum Fairy, anyone but a dull, masculine Nutcracker. Crap.

“Well, when you try out for parts you dance in front of judges and they tell you what part you’ll play, if any. You don’t really have a say,” I told him, his wide blue eyes looking at my reflection in the rearview mirror. “They usually have the boys play boy parts and girls play girl parts,” I explained. He sighed.

Then, in exasperated disappointment, he unknowingly shot a verbal bullet: “But, Mommy, why can’t we be who we want to be?” Gut punch. Knife stab-and-turn right there. Ugh! I’m done. Can I tap out? Please? Can someone else handle this conversation, ’cause the only thing getting me through it is that we’re doing this in the car and not face-to-face.

Mama tears welled hot in my eyes and stung as I sniffed and shook them into submission. “I’m sorry,” I said, “it’s not fair. It’s just kind of how the world is right now. Maybe it’ll get better in time.” And that’s all I could promise him. A “maybe”, “in time.” How f’ing lame is that?!

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Can a mother’s love fix a broken heart? Can a father’s support mend a wounded spirit? Can a big sister’s protection shield from bullies? Can a little brother’s admiration eradicate the closet? Can family acceptance ward against self-loathing, self-harm… or worse? Can a few supportive friends enable you to except you as you?

I don’t know. But it’s all we’ve got in this world that won’t let us be who we want to be. Yet.

I See You, Mama

I see you, mama. The young woman struggling with unexplained infertility. The woman who’s suffered years of unwanted childlessness. The woman who for years prevented pregnancy but, now, cannot conceive. The woman who always dreamed of being a mother but whose dreams may never be. The woman whose friends and relatives are popping out babies, both planned and not. The woman who must hide her struggle from the world, undergo invasive and humiliating tests. The woman who is told, “Just stop caring about it and you’ll get pregnant.” The woman others ask, “When will you have a baby?” Or say, “You could just adopt.” The woman who feels broken and betrayed by her own body. The woman who must smile through it all and pretend everything is ok… even though it’s not. I see you.

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I see you, mama. The expectant first-time mom both giddy and terrified, overwhelmed with tsunamis of unsolicited advice and the crushing weight of all you don’t and can’t yet know. The pregnant woman whose body and life and needs and hormones are changing moment by moment and nothing feels like her own. The rounding mama would is exhausted and puffy, sick and unable to even look at toast, contracting and sleepless, leaking and flatulant. The woman who is told she cannot complain or grimace despite her daily discomforts, because she is fortunate to be pregnant. The woman who others openly judge for everything from drinking coffee to wearing high heels, dying her hair to sporting a bikini. The mother-to-be who looks ahead at the impending birth with determined eyes and a game plan, tearful worry and pure hope, rattling prayer beads and terror. I see you.

I see you, mama. The new mom who is more exhausted than she ever knew possible, leaking from places she didn’t know she could, losing herself to the 24-hour beautiful struggle of new motherhood. The woman who looks in the mirror — thinning hair tied up in a nest, dark wrinkling bags beneath vacant bloodshot eyes, breastmilk stains over each swollen breast, belly puffed in a postpartum paunch, baby spit-up speckling her shirt — and wonders where she went. The mother who cries as her baby wails, not knowing how to console her child, doubting her own abilities, wondering if she made a huge mistake. The woman who looks at her partner and feels distain, for hormones and exhaustion, and stress, and self-crticism, and loss of self have clouded her love. The mother who coos over her beautiful child, takes all the photos, fills the baby book, hoards memories and mental images in her mind’s eye. The woman who struggles to nurse, cannot nurse, will not nurse, who drowns in the pain of overproduction. The mother who is addicted to the hormone high of her baby asleep on her chest. The mother who wishes she could love but cannot. The mother who is counting the days until she can return to work. The woman who sobs with each passing week, clawing to slow down time. I see you.

I see you, mama. The woman who knows her child is facing a struggle perhaps unseen. Who feels in her bones that something is not right. The mother who spends more time in hospitals than her home, more time pumping than holding her child, more time worrying than living, more time battling with insurance than talking with her partner. The woman who sees others’ children happy and healthy, growing and developing, connecting and learning. The mother who looks ahead and cries. The mother who worries. The mother who savors the small accomplishments with the delight of world-changing victories. The mother who feels alone in her struggle and wonders, “Why me?” The woman who finds a strength and ferocity within herself that she never knew possible. The mother who discovers a love stronger and more overwhelming than she ever knew possible. The mother who must plan and apologize, fight and cheer, hide tears and fake smiles, overcome and crumble under more than anyone she knows. The woman who never saw this coming. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mother of multiple children struggling with it all. Balancing and savoring, struggling and laughing. The woman who must do and be it all, all day everyday for everyone. The woman who is expected to give everything but give herself a break. The woman who is expected to know what she’s doing but still feels like she knows nothing. The mother who looks back at old pre-children photos and cannot recognize the person in the picture. The woman who wouldn’t trade her life for anything in the world, but would give anything for a vacation… and a solo trip to the bathroom. The mother who can (and does) discuss poop over lunch, who can dislodge a nasal-dwelling Cheerio in a single nostril squeeze, who plans everyone else’s birthday but forgets her own, who counts down the minutes to an evening out then misses her children as soon as she sees empty car seats in her rearview mirror. The woman who struggles to feel sexy, who identifies more as “mom” than her own name, who wonders if she’s doing any of this right. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who lost a child in-utero, infancy, childhood, adulthood. The woman who doesn’t know how to answer, “How many children do you have?” The mother who aches with a hollowness in her heart, who struggles to find happiness, who strives to be whole… herself again. The mother who wonders what might have been. The woman who wonders, “Why me?” The mother who counts her blessings and her losses, who pushes forward while glancing back, whose heart will forever be partially broken no matter how full life makes it. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who is unwell. Suffering emotional or physical pain, trying to be the mother she so deeply wants to be. The woman with unending guilt for her inabilities, her shortcomings. The mother who pushes herself too hard and puts herself last. The woman who pretends it’s all ok. The mother who feels alone in her struggles, who feels frustrated by her children, who is burdened with guilt for not being the mother she thinks her children deserve. The woman who wants the world for her children but can barely pour them a bowl of cereal. The mother who struggles, who tries, who sometimes loses. The mother who loves but feels love is not enough. The mother who cannot see or feel her own worth. I see you.

I see you, mama. The shy mother who craves a village. The woman who feels isolated. Who wonders how others learned to make friends but she has no idea how. The mother who sees mom cliques on the playground and wishes she could join one. The woman whose belly jitters with anxiety and mind rattles with insecurity when approached by a fellow mom. The mother who has to gather her wits to arrange a playdate for her child, who wishes birthday parties were not a thing. The mother who wants just one good friend with whom she could truly be herself. Who hopes her child does not struggle as she has. The mother standing alone. I see you.

I see you, mama. The fit mom, the styled mom, the mom who everyone thinks is perfect. The one with the handsome husband, lovely home, beautiful children, and hoards of friends and followers. The mother whose family is always pristinely dressed. The one who pushes herself to do it all… lead the P.T.A., be classroom mom, make all of the Pinterest crafts, be Instagram perfection, look the part always, be her best. The woman who cringes at the thought of posting a non-smiling photo or sharing anything but the glory reel of life. The overachieving woman who never feels adequate. Who constantly feels exhausted but cannot let on, who hides life’s realities for fear of judgment (her own and others’), who creates a facade to tell herself she’s happy. The “perfect” woman who tries and gives and does but does not feel it is ever enough. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mom who pushes through every day giving and doing, comforting and disciplining, planning and playing. The woman who smiles wide, laughs hard, loves deep, and hugs warm. The mother who tucks her children into bed at night and lies awake exhausted, mentally replaying her day, battering herself with mom guilt. “Why did I yell so much?” “Why didn’t I do that with the kids?” “They had too much screen time.” “Am I consistent enough?” “Are they eating enough vegetables?” “Why didn’t I do better?” “Am I doing anything right?”  The mother who loves so much it hurts. The woman who gives until she breaks. The mother who will do it all again tomorrow. I see you.

I see you, mama. The career-driven mom, the reluctant working-mom, the stay-at-home mom, the mom who wants to work, the single mom, I see you. The breastfeeding mom, the formula-feeding mom, the donor milk recipient mom, the struggling mom, I see you. The lonely mom, the grateful mom, the aspiring mom, the passionate mom, the fun mom, the peaceful mom, the mom who’s trying, I see you. The tired mom, the energetic mom, the young mom, the “old” mom, the experienced mom, the first-time mom, the mom who knows all, the mom who wishes she knew, I see you.

I see you, mama. You’re not alone. My love to you.

Happy Second Birthday, Blog!

Two years I’ve been blogging, now. So much has changed in that time. My life, my children, my eating, my friends, my path. Let’s delve into some of the transition and transformation, shall we?

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When I first started the blog, I had two preschoolers and a baby at home. Now, I have two preschoolers and a first grader. For the first time in seven years I am neither pregnant nor raising a baby!

Two years ago, I was a dairy-allergic omnivore who proudly pumped three times daily in order to donate breastmilk. Now — still dairy allergic — I eat a plant-based, gluten-free diet, and my former true omnivore husband has since become a pescatarian like our daughter. I am no longer pumping or a 24-hour boob buffet, but I am nursing my littlest 2-3 times daily, mainly for comfort in the morning, rest time, and before bed.

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Back when the blog was new, we used to have preschool in the morning, rest time, a playdate, dinner, then bath and bedtime. I had little flexibility to volunteer at my childrens’ school or do more than a brief outing away from my littlest, as I was on 24/7 boob duty. Plus, I was exhausted. The way I knew I’d somehow managed some REM sleep the night before was if I actually managed to properly brew my morning tea. Now, all three kids generally sleep through the night in their own rooms.

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Though our weekday schedule is a bit more chaotic these days, I am freer than I once was. I have taken on and given myself more duties over the past two years. I volunteer at my daughter’s school every-other week or so and plan most of my middle son’s class parties, which is funny because though I am a planner I do not consider myself much of a party planner. I lead one of the two bi-weekly mom meet-ups for my sons’ school, which is a gathering I only developed this year. Though small, it has created a lovely community and outlet for shared knowledge. I often have coffee once a week with a cherished friend, volunteer weekly as an ambassador at a yoga studio, and somehow grocery shop, cook, clean, and meal plan between school drop-offs and pick-ups.

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No longer the baby he was when this blog began, my youngest attends preschool two mornings each week. My middle son goes four mornings, whereas two years ago he only attended two days per week, They both have individual time with my mom on Wednesdays, which is a beautiful thing. Meanwhile, my eldest is in full-day school five days a week as opposed to her old schedule of four mornings at preschool. After we pick up my eldest from school, we make a quick jaunt to the playground and back home for homework time. Next comes dinner and extracurrilculars in some frenzied order.

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Two years ago, my middle son enjoyed gymnastics and swim classes at the community center. Now he is finishing up his current Tae Kwon Do session in favor of his much preferred figure skating lessons. He loves skating, or as he calls it: “dancing on the ice!”

Two years ago my daughter was doing ballet and swim classes at the community center. She now enjoys her Tae Kwon Do classes, with a long-range goal of earning her black belt, and cherishes her weekly yoga classes at a local coffee shop. She wants to take up piano but I have yet to wiggle that into the schedule and budget.

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Back when I started this blog, my life revolved around food: meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, pumping for donation, breastfeeding, helping others navigate nursing hurdles. I desperately wanted to continue my coursework to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC.) I have since realized that the IBCLC goal is a distant if not wishful aspiration. The 1,000 patient hours alone that I would need to complete — in addition to further course requirements — before I even sit for the certification exam are not attainable for me in the foreseeable future, at least not considering my personal family priorities and preferences. Instead, life has shifted me towards yoga.

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Two years ago my exercise mindset was all about shedding weight and gaining muscle. A very: “Push! Push! Push! No pain no gain!” mentality. I was unforgiving of myself and expected nothing but forward momentum. Jillian Michael’s “30-Day Shred” and PiYo were my jam, as I could do them at home during naptimes. Then, I started yoga via Boho Beautiful on YouTube in late 2016. It sparked a change in me that has extended into all parts of my life.

I have moved from doing daily at-home YouTube-lead yoga to doing self-lead in-home daily yoga and in-studio yoga 2-3 times per week. A favorite yoga teacher-turned-friend spurred me to become a yoga ambassador (story here) with the goal of entering yoga teacher training in the fall. I, then, plan to earn my kids yoga instruction certification. I never would’ve suspected this shift two years ago but I look in all directions now and love it wholeheartedly.

The person I’ve become and who I am becoming, my winding life path, the people I’ve encountered and welcomed into my life, the relationships that have deepened and those that have passed, my children’s development and growth as unique individuals, my ever-strengthening partnership with my husband… all of it is different. All of it is good.

Considering how much in my life has changed over the last two years, I cannot imagine what I’ll be writing two years from now. Thank you for following me on my journey! Tag along for the ride, surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.

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Three Things I Learned from My Kids

Being a parent, it isn’t always about what we teach our kids. It’s often about what they teach us. About the world, life, ourselves, happiness. They may be small, our needy germ-covered offspring, but they are wise in that, “I may eat Playdough and lick trashcans, but I know how to be truly happy” kind of way that only dogs and children master.

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1) Wonder. As my 2.5-year-old youngest child and I attempted to complete an errand at a local craft store — frequent tantrums firing and fizzling like bottle rockets on the 4th of July — I experienced the store through his eyes. THE WONDER!

“Look, Mommy!” A wall of model vehicles towered above him. “So many colors!” He exclaimed, walking among the silk flowers. “One more second, Mommy!” He pleaded as he gazed in awe at the miniature fairy house decor. “Mommy, I hold your hand. Come over here!” Basket upon basket of vibrantly hued faux fruit. This wasn’t just an errand for him; this place was a marvel.

He ooo’ed as we walked past the bike store, ahh’ed as we strolled past flower displays in the pharmacy, stopped short in amazement as a suped-up pick-up truck idled outside of Whole Foods. An errand was more than an errand because his world was full of wonder. In turn, the world became more beautiful and vibrant for me too.

Since parenting three children, I find myself seeking out the beauty, the wonder, the “wow” in the ordinary. The heart-shaped leaf on the driveway. The massive construction vehicles as I sit in traffic. The budding trees as I walk down the sidewalk. The colors in the produce section. The world is amazing if we choose to see it. My children have reminded me how.

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2) Play. As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, I play every day. What a gift! Walking down the sidewalk, I crouch down with my littles and hop over cracks. On the playground, I bounce with them on the seesaw. At home, I do silly voices while reading and chase them in the cul-de-sac. We bring snack time outside. We play “Go Fish”, “Connect Four”, and “Guess Who?” I become a human rocket launching my littlest into the air by way of my lifting legs.

Life is more fun when we play. My kids help remind me to not take myself and my life so seriously. They reintroduced me to the beauty and necessity of play. With play we are more active, vibrant, joyful, and full of life. There’s no better way to be. If you’re not full of life, what are you full of?

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3) Shift. Priorities, attention, schedule, route, perspective, goals, plans, outfit choices… my kids have required and taught me to shift often and in countless ways.

What childless me thought I would do or say as a parent has shifted. My priorities have greatly shifted. What used to be my plan a year ago has shifted. Who I used to be has shifted. How I eat has shifted. My hobbies have shifted. How I see and engage with the world has shifted. My body has shifted. My tolerance for others’ crap has shifted. And that’s OK, no matter what “Jenny from the Block” may proclaim. Shifting is good.

I’m stuck in a long check-out line, I shift my attention and find ways to distract the kids: “Where’s the color blue? Do you see a balloon? How many lights can you find?”

I’m in traffic and I decide to downshift my emotions, releasing my plans and accept that, “what will be will be.” I shift my focus away from the brake lights and my filling bladder to any surrounding fun I can find. “Look at that loader, kids! What do you think is in that box truck? Look how pretty the sky is! Who wants a car dance party?”

I shift to survive. I shift to keep the peace. I shift to feel peace. To be happy.