Mama Tears, Mama Fears: New School Year, New Chapter

It’s that time of year again. Teachers’ classrooms are freshly invigorated with unfamiliar students and crisp bulletinboard decor. Students sport squeaky new shoes and summer tans. Parents sigh a breath of relief, having survived the final days of summer and seek solace in the reprieve from child-wrangling or piecemeal childcare arrangements of summer. Except for me.

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From pool bag to school shoes

I’m the one feeling like the odd duck; the unicorn parent who is not excited for school to begin. At all. Instead of rejoicing my additional freedom and pumpkin spice everything, I’m mourning the end of my favorite season of long days spent outside in the sunshine, soaking in my kids, the sand, the sea, the memories. I know full well my children were equal parts adorable and asshole, but I don’t care. I’m self-loathing, wishing days of togetherness with my demanding darlings instead of hours of respite.

I’m lamenting the return to school year rush and the rigid routine I feel forced, not innately inclined, to institute. I shudder at the coming winter, as if a character from “Game of Thrones.” looking ahead towards an invasion of the zombie-like icy White Walkers: WINTER IS COMING! 

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School days are here

Mostly, though, I’m crying for a closing chapter I desperately wish to pry open. I shed tears recollecting where we used to be, who my children were (even just at summer’s beginning), how fast it all has progressed. I smile recalling memories of exhaustion and cuteness, milestones and regressions, overcome worries and hard-won lessons. I am warmed by gratitude for having been granted this life experience of motherhood, for being willing and able to accept the ass-kick of corporate lay-offs to shove me from cubicle to stay-at-home mom life. I feel a mixture of unsettling uncertainty and hopeful optimism knowing that we are all progressing — as individuals and as a family — towards our future selves.

I know we were where we needed to be, we are where we’re supposed to be, and we’re going where we’re intended. I’m still scared. Still sad. Still hopeful. Still reflective. Still uncertain.

Just as I am optimistic yet unclear as to who my children will be, what their futures will look like, I am similarly hopefully and anxiously unknowing of my own path ahead. Who will I be when I grow up?

Who do I WANT to be?

A mom. I want to be a mom. “You will always be a mom”, people say. But I fear the unknown. The unfamiliarity of mothering older children, teens, adults. I fear not being needed. Not being wanted. Those days will come, as they should (if I’ve done my job right), for raising independent, resilient children is my goal. But I hope they don’t come too soon.

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With my youngest entering preschool, this is my first time having all of my children in school. Grocery trips alone, a walk through Target or DSW or Homegoods unencumbered by tantrumers or snack requests? A quiet morning spent however I choose, whether on a walk, flowing through yoga, sipping coffee with friends, folding laundry, or sitting on my ass in a quiet house? What an unfamiliar circumstance!

I am in for a whole new chapter. More freedom. More time. More ability to uncover who I want to be as opposed to simply who they need me to be. Am I ready for the answer?

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The Gift of Low Expectations: How to Survive Any Errand with Kids

This was me 10 minutes before we headed off to the grocery store. Yep, hiding from my bickering, tantruming, antsy, nap-skipping kids. So, how did I survive a grocery store run with all three mischievous minions in tow? Low expectations.

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Don’t get me wrong I love my kids. I mourned when I thought we couldn’t have our own children. I lament their return to school each fall and celebrate our time together. But some days… woo! Some days I hit a point after 500 snack requests, 20 sibling melees, 3 missing sock expeditions (only to find 1 in the toilet, another on the kitchen table, and 1 forever unfound), and an outing gone awry, that I feel the innate need to hide from my offspring. I’ll quietly slip into a room, close the door, and listen with equally anxious anticipation for the sound of incurred injury or approaching footsteps.

And so, yesterday, after I hid from my children for 5 calming minutes, I made the fateful decision to take my crew to the grocery store.  Because what else did I have to lose?

Had my ever-mothering mind gone berserk? Likely. However, I was armed with something so powerfully self-preserving that no childish onslaughts could undo me: a low bar.

That’s right. I entered the afternoon grocery run fully aware of my fate. I had low expectations, so diminished that simply surviving the errand would stand as a win. This would be a shit show. I owned it.

We shuffled through pre-leaving routine: pottying, pants finding, sock hunting, shoe retrieving, shoe fixing and re-fixing (because despite having only two feet, my 4-year-old can put his shoes on the incorrect feet 6 times in a row), and finally leaving. As I waited for my eldest to get buckled, I texted my dear fellow mom friend and told her of my expectation that my middle son would lose cart privileges before we ever left the produce section. My inkling that my eldest would publicly release a (understandable) fury of frustration upon her irksome younger brothers. My awareness that pushing my toddler in the shopping cart would be akin to maneuvering a rabid kleptomaniacal octopus through narrow aisles of glass jars and delicate produce. This would be a disaster. I knew it. I felt it in my bones. I didn’t dread it. I didn’t fear it. My shame had been whittled down by 6 years of parenthood. I had nothing left to lose but my patience. Her knowing response: “Good luck.”

And so we went. And so the trip descended into chaotic mayhem, with my uncoordinated 6-year-old attempting to simultaneously read a book and walk through the wine section, my 4-year-old hanging in a backbend off of the side of the cart despite my constant reminders that he shouldn’t because his head would get smushed, and my 2-year-old releasing random shrill shrieks just for the hell of it.

At one point, my 6-year-old took to poking plastic bags of bread “because it’s squishy” as my 2-year-old attempted to throw his shoes out of the cart. Then, as I turned to pick up the one jar I needed in the aisle, my 6- and 4-year-olds took off down the pasta aisle in a foot race. Yes, full-on discombobulated running complete with jabbing chicken wing elbows down the grocery aisle of dried noodle and glass-encased marinara. Who does that? Are they new here?

Then, as we reached the furthest back portion of the store: “Need pee-pee! Potty!” Shouts my potty-training 2-year-old. So we haul ass to the front of the store. Every few feet I rerun the kid count: 1-2-3, 1-2… where’s 3? “We’re not buying Fritos. Better catch up or find a new family!” Then we hit a slow moving herd with grandma pushing the shopping cart. They were the hair-ball to the shower drain. As I envisioned a deluge of toddler pee pouring from the shopping cart, I bobbed and weaved pushing my car-shaped cart through the clog, leaving my older two to either follow or flounder: “Better keep up! Your brother has to pee!” I yelled back to them.

We made it. He peed. In the potty. Then there was a meltdown over the hand dryer, but that’s normal. Well, our normal.

Back to the cart we returned. We finished or shopping, skidding into a register lane with the grace of a three-legged water buffalo. There were candy grabs, sibling squabbles, fussing, and “Are we done yet?”s, but we survived. I loaded the minivan and as I shut the trunk door, I felt accomplished. I survived the shit show. I was still smiling. I was certainly laughing. All thanks to my low expectations.

Cocoons for Babies: That’s a Thing?

I’ve recently encountered a trend: cocoons for babies. Who knew? The practice recommends that parents create a quiet, soothing womb-like environment for their newborns in order to offer a smoother adjustment for Baby into the world and provide a safe haven from the daily din.

Dimmed lights, calm energy, cozy decor, serenity, hush. A baby cocoon. How precious! How loving! How utterly unattainable for any child but a firstborn in an affluent home.

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Now, I love the concept of preparing a loving, welcoming, unobtrusive environment for the baby-to-be. The neutral decor, the soft fabrics, the gentle atmosphere… how sweet! The planner in me adores the meticulous research and purchasing, arranging and staging that would be entailed. The 6-years ago first-time parent in me sees the beauty and seeming prospect, the adoration- and protection-based desire and demand to create such a space for the anticipated bundle. The mother-of-three in me shudders at the thought of feeling pressured to somehow maintain any sense of zen tranquility in my bustling abode of child chaos. I can only imagine the effort it’d take to silence my entire herd for one morning. It’d be more feasible to ship them off for the baby’s infancy.

Then, I think of myself and my friends with multiple children. Their youngest child — like my own third child — entered into a world of noisy siblings, bright lights, and pinging toys. Yet that youngest child (barring any special needs) is the happiest, most well-adjusted, and adaptable of the bunch!

Babies are precious and beautiful. Babies are noisy and exhausting, messy and stressful, demanding and resilient. As any pediatrician will tell you, babies are tougher than we think. (Have you ever seen an Apgar test conducted or seen a baby birthed vaginally? Then you know they’re sturdy buggers.)

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Do I think putting effort into spinning a warm environment for your cherished offspring is ill-advised? Not entirely. Placing love and excitement, care and appreciation into your baby preparation does nothing but positive things for all involved. If it feels right to you, do it! However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task, don’t do it. Eventually your child will regularly be present in the world and, well, the world is not womb-like.

Do I think everyone has the means to create this soothing space? Even with upcycling hacks and thrift store finds, no. Not everyone has the economic, spatial, environmental, or emotional ability to create a womb-like home. Some can, and that’s wonderful, but it in no way puts those children raised outside of the cocoon at a disadvantage.

Do I think creating a quiet, serene home gives the child a leg up? If anything, I’d argue the opposite. I know far more children raised in noisy, stimulus-filled homes who are happier and better adapted to the outside world than those who easily adjusted from quiet, low-stimulus homes to the chattering world. A cocoon is not the only way to ensure a baby feels loved and secure. And, heck, the womb is not silent. There are plenty of stimuli — from stomach churning and inhalation, mom’s road rage shouting and shower singing, Dad’s yelling at the TV and sibling tantruming. Baby has already heard the outside world before ever entering it. Life is loud, inside and out.

Do I think it’s feasible to maintain such an environment? As a mom of three close-in-age children, my response: hahahahahahahahaha… no. Absolutely not. Not in any way. Nope. It’s a lovely gesture rooted in the best and purest intentions of sheltering one’s cherished child from the overwhelming world. The desire, effort, and act are nothing but sweet and commendable. However, making a womb-like home for your child is not the only way to create a safe space for your little one. Your loving arms and healing kisses, you’ll soon find, will serve as such. You needn’t paint the walls “Morning Mist” and hush everyone in your home to make Baby feel loved. Just love Baby, that’s all.

Do I think feeling compelled to maintain a hushed, serene cocoon is problematic? Somewhat. If the endeavor is to envelope the child in love and comfort, beautiful! However, any parent is soon to discover that babies are not quiet or serene… and neither is the world. Does that mean the child should fall asleep to prerecorded audio of Tokyo Street sounds or NYC at rush hour? No. I simply think the pressure to create unnatural, inorganic sensory white space in a bright and loud world is an unattainable goal for parents — especially first-time parents — who are about to enter the wholly noisy, exhausting, stressful, life-upending, relationship-testing, goal-shifting, painful, emotional, rewarding, confusing, ego-obliterating, priceless gift of parenthood. Yet, if the womb-like space — either in creation or practice — enables the parents to better cope with the monumental shift of parenthood, proves agreeable to the baby, and is easily and stresslessly maintained, by all means do it! Just don’t stress yourself — or those dwelling with you — trying to make your home, your life, your world something that it’s not.

You are your child’s sanctuary. Your arms are her safe place. Your breath and heartbeat are his lullabye. You are all the comfort your child needs.

Love your baby. Forget the rest.

Fast and Easy Vegan Recipe: Beans-and-Greens Rice Bowl

Looking for something plant-based that’s quick, healthy, and easy to make? Hoping to fill your tummy, a lunch box, or your family’s plates? Need a dorm-friendly meal option or a simple dish your tween can heat up solo? Hunting for a 15-minute meal? This packable dish is good warm or cool. Give it a try.

Change out the beans and veggies to switch things up. Maybe black beans with peppers and corn, or cannelini beans with spinach and artichoke. Try switching up brown rice for farro or quinoa. Make this suit you.

BEANS-AND-GREENS RICE BOWL

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BEANS-AND-GREENS RICE BOWL

Ingredients:

2 cans pinto beans

3 cups frozen broccoli florets

2 cups frozen peas

2 bags of frozen microwave-in-pouch brown rice

2 Tbl Soy-free Earth Balance Spread

1 Tbl dried Italian seasoning

2 Tbl garlic powder

* 2 tsp fennel seeds (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Microwave the rice according to package instructions.

Drain and rinse the beans.

Pour frozen veggies into a big microwaveable bowl and top with Earth Balance before microwaving for 8 minutes, or until warmed through.

Add the rice and beans to the cooked veggies then stir in the seasonings.

Refrigerate for later, portion it out for meal prep, scoop into containers for lunch box filling, or serve immediately.

Enjoy!

 

I Was Doing Yoga All Wrong: 7 Things Daily Yoga Taught Me

As a Type-A mom of three close-in-age kids, I push myself. A lot. With that mindset, I began my yoga journey with limited self-patience, clear goals, and an aspirational Pinterest board full of bendy yoga poses. I gave myself no room for leniency… I had to hit each pose as deeply as possible every time. I had to have a straight-line progression. I had to become pliable like one of the seasoned, limber veteran yogis… but on my own timeline.

I was rigid yet striving for flexibility. I had it all wrong. I’m still learning.

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1) Force vs. Push. “Feel the burn!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” You know the pain-centric power mantras.  I brought them with me into my yoga practices, forcing myself on myself. However, I learned quickly that yoga isn’t about forcing, it isn’t a “pain is gain” endeavor. It’s simply about pushing myself purposefully but relenting when the body indicates its limit. (And the body’s limits are not always what I’d like them to be.) I learned that forcing my body could — and did — cause injury which only distances me from my goals. Pushing, though, would get me closer to my goals, albeit at a potentially slower pace than I might like. I had to accept the length of the journey and push, not force, myself along my path.

2) Listen. With a chattering mind and a constantly whirring mental to-do list, as well as three vocal children, life demands I do a lot of listening. But am I always really listening? Yoga is about listening to my body, my thoughts — even when I’m striving for meditative mental silence –, my surroundings. Yoga is about piecing all of the noise together and honoring it all.

3) It’s OK to Fall.  Falling. What an ego bruise, right? It’d be great to hit a perfect tree pose with unending balance every time, just like it’d be wonderful to go a whole day parenting perfectly. That’s not reality. We’re human. We fall, and that’s ok. It’s not a sign of inferiority or failure. It’s simply reality. When we fall we just laugh and get back up. We don’t lament the tumble. We don’t seek to blame others. We don’t quit and curse the practice. We just own it and try again, our self-worth still beautifully in tact.

4) Ability is Fluid. My ability today is not the same as yesterday or tomorrow. I may have bent into a wheel yesterday but I can’t hit anything beyond a bridge pose today. Similarly, perhaps I was a fountain of glowing maternal love yesterday but today I am a grumbling mass of exhaustion. Tomorrow I might be limber and patient yet again… or not. Our bodies, our minds, our lives are constantly changing. Variables shift. We can’t expect to be able to achieve the same accomplishments each day. We can only try our best with the ability we have today.

5) Inspiration not Competition. That mom with the perfect hair or the enviable physique or the tidy home or the well-behaved kids or the ideal seeming life. Instead of looking to her with a lens of competition, look to her as inspiration. The same goes for yoga. In yoga, we don’t look towards one another to judge or compare but for inspiration. Someone hits a pose deeper than you, someone can’t quite bend just as thoroughly as you. So what? Our circumstances, bodies, experiences, and lives are entirely different. We are here to serve as inspiration only.

6) Release and let go. With a mind that can’t hold onto names but has a knack for clinging to guilt, yoga has wonderfully taught me the beauty of letting go. Welcome in the positive and release what no longer serves me. Release… it feels so good. So why is it so hard to do?

7) Thank yourself. We thank friends, colleagues, waitstaff, family, troops, deities even, but so rarely ourselves. But we should thank ourselves. If we do something good for ourselves, we should thank ourselves. We deserve the same kindness we extend to others. We’re worth it.