Finding My Direction

I signed up my littlest for preschool. Starting in September,  I will have 3 child-free hours to myself twice each week. Some parents rejoice at this shard of freedom. They regard the open hours with delight, imagining the quiet, the swift errands, the to-do list toppling abilities, the ease of exiting the car without unlatching and unbuckling other humans only to relatch and rebuckle their wiggling bodies a short time later. I, on the other hand, feel simultaneously mournful and lost.

I’m not ready to have my littlest leave my hip. I’m not ready to begin closing this young childhood chapter. I’m not ready to let go. I’m not ready for this next step. He is, though. So my level of readiness is moot.

I’m lost because I don’t know what to do with the vast yet limited time. One of the 3-hour preschool days will be dedicated to grocery shopping. Because every parent knows how demanding that errand is when accompanied by one or more children. So that leaves me with one 3-hour day to do with as I choose. So what do I choose?

At first I thought I could restart my International Board Certified Lactation Consultant educational endeavor. Then I realized that 3-hours once a week provides opportunity for a sliver of coursework — the credits which nullify after a limited time period — but offers no window for the requisite supervised patient hours. Then I remembered the level of flexibility I will require for sick days, class parties, school holidays, field trips, preschool performances, parent coffees, etc. The two-day preschool schedule is not stagnant. And so the educational goal was shelved, yet again, until all of my brood is in full-day school.

So, what’s a more viable option? Exercise?? Maybe. But I’m a workout DVD person as opposed to a class go’er. By September I will likely no longer be pumping (I realized this with a heavy heart. My surplus output is dwindling at 19 months postpartum — as it should — but, natural or not, the progression is bittersweet. No more 24/7 toddler companion AND no more milk donation??? I am wounded at the mere thought.)  So I will likely replace my pumping time with at-home exercise anyway. Exercise class option negated.

Perhaps I’ll volunteer! That’s a more likely choice. Given my looming milk donation end date, I will want to give back another way somehow. I began contemplating possible charities. Then I realized a more personal opportunity. Perhaps I could regularly volunteer at my eldest’s school! I have been remiss in my inability to participate to my desired degree this year given my littlest’s schedule and breastfeeding demands. Maybe that’s the solution. Maybe I might have possibly found an appropriate time filler. Something that gives me purpose. Something that still connects me to my maternal duties. Something that will make the time seem less empty and more fulfilling.

It’s hard being a stay-at-home mom. We give so much of ourselves to our children. Our identity becomes entwined with our maternal duties, just as a lawyer, an artist, a scientist, or a medical professional identifies with his/her career. Except children grow up and away.

We cheer for the development, praise the growth, but mourn the loss of our baby. To be needed in that primal way, to be wanted and loved and cuddled, to be present… it is a fleeting gift.

The constant demands of the newborn phase throw us into a world all our own. A survival-based existence of milk and spit-up, sleeplessness and lullabies. Then, in all too short time, the phase is over. The once-infant is walking and talking, becoming more child than baby. The increasing independence means that the burgeoning child is beginning to experience the world on his or her own. Once school begins, swaths of the child’s day will no longer be witnessed by us. We won’t share in those memories. We won’t know all of his or her friends. We won’t kiss all of the boo-boos or high-five all of the accomplishments. The child will be creating memories of his or her own. Without us.

As my littlest takes his own first step into the world I must bolster myself. I must cheer him on instead of holding him back. And I must take my own first step back into the world too. I must simply determine in which direction.

 

 

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Grateful to be a Stay-at-home Mom

It’s days like today when I am grateful to be a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t an easy day or a particularly challenging day, it wasn’t monumentally memorable or undeniably notable in any way. It was a relatively standard day in my harried, scheduled, intentional life as a stay-at-home mom of three kids 5 and under. But I was there, and for that I am grateful.

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Sure, being a stay-at-home parent is an ongoing gig with few breaks, no vacation or sick days, no pay, and little appreciation (heck, some even resent if not balk at the endeavor), but it is immensely rewarding. For me.

Others may find the undertaking simply torturous or overwhelmingly monotonous. It is truly all in how you approach the responsibility and how you are wired.

I treat my stay-at-home parenting as a job. Truly. Each day I am focused on maintaining a schedule and –hopefully — creating a socially enriching and physically healthy routine for my kids. I have a plan every day just as I did when I was a cubicle-dweller. Just now my colleagues wipe their noses on my clothes and all bathroom duties are communal.

Some people are destined to be moguls, intellectuals, healers, entrepreneurs, managers, artists, or organizers. Heck, some people have no desire to procreate at all. To them I say, “Bravo!” Knowing yourself and your goals, being true to yourself despite outside pressures — real and imagined — takes fortitude. Do you!

Then, there are the men and women like me whose main life goal is to nurture our own offspring. We don’t aspire to be rich in wealth or fame, just in love.

Unfortunately, sometimes life unfolds in such a way that this doesn’t or cannot occur. Instead of walking their dreamed journey, individuals are forcibly detoured to another life path without the comfort of celestial explanation.

Other times, the nurturing path is open. The life aspirations of 24/7 care duties ensue. It’s humbling and fulfilling, exhausting and invigorating, disgusting and beautiful all at once. Each day presents millions of individual moments that range greatly from sweet to stressful, comical to thought-provoking. Some days you feel as if you have hardly used your brain beyond basic feed-clean-protect duties. Then there are days you flop onto your bed in complete exhaustion not knowing how you survived — or how you’ll manage the strength to visit the bathroom to empty your hours-full bladder — but you’re certain that you’ll do it all again tomorrow. Because you’re a parent and that’s what you do.

Today though. Today, mingled among the mundane and trying moments, were brilliant flickers of beauty that reminded me why I am so grateful to be home with my children.

This morning I had the ability to spend a morning taking my littlest to a playground where he could run about with his pint-sized friend. I could take him to a children’s concert and witness his amusement. I could take my boys for a long walk in the afternoon sun and make a last-minute detour to a playground before school pick-up duties called. I could collect my kindergartener from school and hear her gush about her day. I could be here for the good, the bad, the goofy, and the downright obnoxious.

I once worked. I once wore heels and dangling earrings. I once had coffee with fellow adults and spoke in uninterrupted sentences. That’s a past me. A me that was unhappy and unfulfilled because I was playing a roll that didn’t suit me. Just as a natural career man or woman would feel if he or she was forced to be a stay-at-home parent.

There is no single path. There is no “right” or “wrong” journey. It is simply up to us to follow the road laid out before us, to seek our own happiness in accordance with our circumstances and selves.

This is my path. And I am grateful to be present.

Pressing “Play” Instead of “Fast Forward”

Sleeping through the night, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid foods, crawling, talking, walking, potty-training, riding a bike, tying shoes, starting school… we move through our children’s childhood with eyes forward. Some parents with more vigor and ambitious competitiveness than others. We look ahead to the next stage, achievement, or development. Being forward-thinking is positive except when it causes us to lose sight of the present.

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Yesterday, I sat in my 1.5-year-old’s darkened bedroom rocking and nursing him before his nap, just as I have every day for the last 19 months. In the dark quiet I began lamenting my lack of freedom, my breastmilk tether. To be able to go out to lunch, volunteer at my older children’s schools, exercise, or go to appointments without navigating naptime, which doesn’t exist without a pre-snooze nursing session, seemed lovely. To be able to go out with my husband or friends and not worry about getting home to nurse my littlest before bed seemed refreshing. To not have to remain home after my littlest’s bedtime in case he awakes, as only nursing can return him to slumber, seemed freeing. The longing for freedom was overwhelming. I craved the next stage.

I began contemplating when to wean to a bottle or sippy cup, at least for naptime. It was new territory. I’d worked part-time from 4 months postpartum with my first child until my first trimester with my third child, so my eldest two children learned early on how to find sleep without the breast. My littlest, though, never needed to welcome rest in any other way but in my arms. I chided myself for not introducing a nursing-free naptime sooner. What had I been thinking?

Then, my toddler placed a sweaty, sleepy hand on my cheek. I looked down at his blissful nursing state and realized that soon this season would be over. He will not nurse forever. He will not always need or want me to cuddle him in his dim bedroom each day and night before sleep. He will not always look to me for nourishment and comfort. “You’ll have your whole life to be free,” I thought to myself. “Savor the present.”

Like the tween sneaking into an R-rated movie or the teenager preening to look older, I was wishing away my present. I was being impatient with a fleeting precious stage in the hopes of reaching the next phase sooner. But getting there sooner doesn’t mean a thing since arrival is an eventuality. If anything it cheapens the journey and is fodder for regret.

And so, as I lie here now on the playroom sofa at far-too-early-in-the-morning after 2 hours of sleep and reading many baby storybooks by the light of “Max and Ruby” due to toddler insomnia, I feel his finally-asleep weight on me and I smile. Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I’ll have to dig deep tomorrow to delve into the Monday routine with 3 kids 5 and under, but it’s worth it.

These hardships, these swift sweet moments, these gems amidst the craggy rocks are what parenthood is all about. If we keep our eyes forward we miss the beautiful details of the present and there’s no getting them back.

We will get to that next stage eventually. No need to rush it. Just enjoy the ride.

Product Find: B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Cake)

Food allergies and dietary restrictions often mean that social gatherings involving food require extra planning. If you have a child with special dietary needs, birthday parties can be particularly cumbersome because: cake.

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Dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, food coloring… there are all sorts of delicious allergens in most cakes. So what do you do if your child can’t eat the provided cake at a gathering? You B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Cake) for your child to enjoy alongside his or her cake-nibbling cohorts. The problem is this often means you’re left with an entire batch of allergen-friendly cupcakes or 9/10 of a whole cake at home. (The taste buds love it; the waistline does not.) The solution: Duncan Hines’ Perfect Size Cake.

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For those with soy, egg, and dairy allergies, this mini cake is perfect for birthday party B.Y.O.C. At most, you’re left with a few extra slices. No biggy!

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Just be sure to check the label to ensure you grabbed a variety that suits your dietary needs. Make it vegan by opting for the dry cake mix + soda trick (all you do is mix 1/2 a can of soda into the dry mix and bake as specified in the package instructions) and substitute the butter for coconut oil or non-dairy butter and you’re set! The cake even comes with its own tiny baking tin with easy cake extraction. Bonus: the icing tastes better than the standard plastic tub product. Just be sure to have an electric hand mixer available to whip it up.

Let them eat cake!

 

Real Talk: Postpartum Hair Loss

You get pregnant. You’re round and glowing, you urinate every 20 minutes, and produce more gas than Exxonmobil. But, if you’re so fortunate, your suffering is eased by a glamorous perk: pregnancy hair. What you don’t realize is it’s only on loan.

Your hair has never been so full, lush, and manageable. It is your crowning gestational glory. Until postpartum hair loss hits. Some time around 3 or 4 months postpartum your body realizes that baby it’s been brewing has made a departure. And now it is time for all of that phenomenal hair to do the same.

While you were pregnant, your body held onto hair instead of shedding regularly. Now your hormones have reset so shedding has begun again. The problem is that you’re now shedding 10 months of mane all at once. That means a thinning hairline, bald patches, mangy ends, overall thinness. Not pretty.

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Me 4 months postpartum after my 3rd child. I lost a lot of hair, as I always do postpartum. I have never shared this vulnerable image but do so in the hopes that others feel solace knowing they are not alone.

Mother nature may be kicking your leaky, stretched, hormonal, dark-circled self in the ovaries but that’s the price you pay for 10 months of pregnancy hair and a baby. There are ways to manage the hair loss though. After having three kids and three rounds of confidence-obliterating postpartum hair loss, these are my tips for regaining a sense of follicular normalcy.

1) Remember this is natural, unavoidable, and – most importantly — temporary! You will hit a point when you think you will go bald. You will have clumps of hair clog your drain after just one shower. You will cry. You will survive this. This WILL stop. Know this. You will NOT go bald.

2) Don’t believe the hype! People will claim this potion, that vitamin, or this treatment will magically halt the hair loss. FALSE! Nothing is stopping this hormonal train. The best you can do is manage the aftermath. Don’t buy the snake oil.

3) Regrowth is your hope! Biotin supplements and prenatal vitamins are your key to speeding up regrowth. Some shampoos offer the same claim too.. the jury’s out on that. If it makes you feel better, buy them, try them, and go for it. It won’t stop or reverse hair loss, but the vitamins at least will help new hair replace the shed hair sooner.

4) Camouflage is your friend! Hit up a beauty supply store and buy a hair piece (faux bun, hair-covered hair tie, or faux ponytail like these) or dry shampoo/texturing product, whatever works to hide your thinning ends and allows you to wear your hair up with confidence. (Bonus: Wearing your hair up very temporarily keeps the hairs from shedding, but know that as soon as you release your hair so will your scalp. Also, updos can get uncomfy given the hair loss can place unwanted stress on still-rooted hairs as others depart throughout the day. So proceed with reasonable caution.) Grab some root concealing spray or powder (this is my favorite) to hide any thinning edges and bare patches. There are ways to hide the hair diaspora.

5) Cut and color boost more than your confidence! A shorter cut makes hair appear thicker. Hair dye makes hair appear fuller. The combo could be just the image-enhancing, volume-feigning move you need.

Postpartum hair loss is embarrassing but it shouldn’t be. It’s entirely natural. Your body just did an amazing thing: it created a human. YOU created a human. You are amazing. You are beautiful. Your hair will return and this will all be a memory. You’ve got this!

Pumping at Work

Recently, my husband ran across my old pumping bag from my corporate days. The sack has remained untouched for two years. It is a reminder of a past life, a previous self, a completed journey.

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As a part-time working mom with two kids under two years apart, I pumped at work for three years. I was fortunate enough to have an office that provided a lactation room, and a relatively cushy one at that. For the lactating associates among the 2,000 employees in the building, there was a room near the nurse’s office that held eight curtained nursing alcoves, each outfitted with a desk chair, a table, an electrical outlet, and sanitizing wipes. Six of these alcoves sported a hospital grade pump. (If you chose to use one of the communal pumps, you would need supply your own pump heads, bottles, flanges, membranes, tubing, and piston. Otherwise, you could use your own pump.)

The room also housed two small refrigerators with tiny freezer compartments, a sink with dish soap, paper towels, a bookshelf on which you could store your pumping bag and donate or borrow a magazine, and a donation drawer where one could generally find old, sanitized or never-used pump parts, storage bottles, sanitizing bags, etc. That drawer got me out of many a “mom brain” bind when I had forgotten an invaluable pump piece.

With a long commute and babies at home (who I craved to be with instead of sitting in a cubicle farm), that pumping room became my place of solace in the corporate environment. I would enter the quiet room and smell the scent of disinfectant and sugary breastmilk, knowing I had 20-30 minutes to myself. Sure, I was hooked up to a machine but it was brief solitude amidst an otherwise hectic life. I could flip through fashion magazines, read a book, scroll through photos of my little ones, scan social media, or just sit. It was MY time. There was no other such time in the day like that for me.

When others would moan about pumping and ask how I pumped so diligently, my advice was always the same: 1) make it a priority, 2) make it “you” time, 3) remember this is a medical need, nothing less.

1) Make it a priority: View your pumping sessions as if they’re a meeting with the C.E.O. In the corporate world it is easy for pumping to get pushed to the back burner, but breastmilk supply is not so forgiving. Push back a pumping session once for someone, and you can bet that will become the norm. I left meetings early or temporarily to pump. I blocked my calendar to secure my pumping sessions. They must be a top priority.

2) Make it “you” time: if you make the pumping sessions enjoyable, not only will you be less likely to skip them but you’ll be more likely to produce more milk. Just as “happy cows make better milk”, so do happy mamas. Read, text, meditate, knit, do kegels… do whatever it is that makes you feel happy when you’re pumping. It needn’t be a burden. If you have to work while pumping, go ahead, but relaxing is best. The less tense you are the sooner your milk letdown will start and the more milk you’ll make.

3) Remember this is a medical need, nothing less: never allow someone to make you feel guilty for pumping. No one would dare berate a diabetic for taking time to check his/her blood sugar or administer an insulin shot. This is no different. A skipped pumping session can not only be the potential for mastitis but could lessen the food you have available for your child. Over time, frequently missed sessions can deplete your supply. Never let someone stop you from pumping.

To cope with business demands while maintaining an every 2-3 hour pumping schedule, think rigid flexibility. If you must attend a meeting during your pumping time slot, be upfront and say you must pump then but ask if you can call in. If it’s a long meeting that overlaps with your pumping time, step out to pump then return to the meeting afterwards. If you have an off-site meeting at a hotel, call ahead and speak to the front desk and ask for pumping accommodations. More often than not, the associates will gladly assist you. If you run into an associate who is not helpful, ask to speak with the General Manager, who will undoubtedly accommodate your reasonable request. If you have to be at a non-hotel off-site location, get a car adapter and pump in your car. If you must travel, bring a nursing cover and pump on the train or plane. You have options!

Pumping at work is possible but does require effort, just as all things worthwhile do. You can do this. You’re a mom.

 

 

Explaining War to my Kindergartener

“Mommy, what’s that?” My 5-year-old asked, pointing to a large, black conical structure a few feet from the astronaut exhibit we were admiring. “I don’t know. Let’s go see.” So, over we went, my 3.5-year-old holding one hand, my 5-year-old holding the other, and my 1.5-year-old strapped to my chest. “It’s a missile,” I said as I scanned the display plaque. “What’s a missile?” She asked. I paused.

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How to explain missiles, war, destruction, and intentional loss of life to a kindergartener without fueling nightmares or marring her worldview?  I had to keep it simple but accurate. I had to think fast.

“Missiles are like bombs that one country can launch at another country during war.” I said succinctly, hoping her interest would fizzle and we could return to examining astronaut toileting gear.

“What’s war?” She asked. Crap! “War can happen when countries disagree with one another and can’t talk it out. Instead, they hurt each other until one country is so hurt that it cannot or will not fight anymore.”

“How do they hurt each other?” She asked. Dammit! “They use guns and bombs…” “and missles?” She interjected. “Yes, and missles.”

“How do the missles hurt people? Does that pointy thing on the end poke people?” Whyyy?? “Not quite,” I began, “The missile blows up and that explosion hurts people.” “How does the explosion hurt people?” She inquired. “The explosion can make buildings fall down, things catch fire, people who were in the buildings get injured or die.” She looked at me in silence. She appeared both sad and confused.

“Why do countries do that?” “I don’t know. I don’t quite understand it.” I replied, “No one likes war. Unfortunately, sometimes it just happens. Countries get so angry with one another that they think the only way to end the argument is to start a war. Sometimes people in one country want to hurt people in another country, so war happens when one country is trying to protect itself.” I pointed to the display where we had previously stood for a long time examining the uniform of a female Air Force officer. While examining the details of her jacket, we reviewed the family history of military service — both of my grandfathers, my great uncle, etc. — and family friends who served and are serving. “That’s why people like her are important. They help keep us safe.” She nodded and grabbed my hand.

“I don’t like war, Mommy.” She said with a sigh. “I don’t either, sweetheart.” “Can we see the astronaut pee bag again, Mommy?” Asked my 3.5-year-old. “Yes. Yes we can.”

In Defense of 2016

“2016 sucked!” “2016: worst year ever!” Poor 2016 is getting a bad rap and all because of myopia.

So often we focus on just one aspect of an experience, dashing the rest from mind. A whole day can be categorized as “bad” based on a few unsavory instances when, in reality, a majority of the day was simply unremarkable and perhaps even pleasant. Our recall is entirely flawed.

The negative in life is necessary not only for us to appreciate the positive, it is often the precursor to beautiful life change and personal growth. Without uncomfortable life adjustments, we would remain stagnant. Without struggles we wouldn’t adapt, learn, and toughen. Every overcome hurdle enhances our perspective, worldview, and resilience. Our lives are richer and we are better for all we’ve faced… good and bad.

We do not begin a day or year precisely the same as we end it. So much can happen in a year. People enter and exit our lives through drama, distance, development, and death. Our career paths can change. Our dreams can shatter, shift, or shine. Our perspectives and beliefs can grow or morph. We are in a constant state of flux.

I’ve had years during which there was ample family drama, multiple deaths, loneliness, poor decisions, work uncertainty, relationship hurdles, boss woes, identity struggles, financial strain, weight frustrations, personal crises, fertility battles, and health troubles. During those years there were also fond memories, happy experiences, good decisions, work wins, laughter, love, and contentment. No year — or day — is wholly bad or wholly good. To categorize an entire timeframe as such is hyperbolic, imprecise, short-sighted.

My rough days and my challenging experiences have been the greatest fuel for personal growth and positive life changes. Sure, change can be scary and hard, but that makes the positive outcome even sweeter.

If 2016 strikes you as being more negative than positive, take a hard second look with a clearer lense. Look at all the good that happened and may still yet happen as a result of the year. If you’re still not convinced, consider the past year as a transition stage, a launching point for massive positive life changes.

“The sun,” they say, “shines brightest after the storm.” And so do we.

Happy 2017!