Circling Back at the End of the Day: Family Connection Routine

Evenings are rough. At the of a long day, everyone’s harried and tired, yet the to-do list is unyielding. But we’ve found a way to circle back and connect before day’s end, and it’s so simple. It only takes 5 minutes.

Each evening, after I shower, I call down to the kids to turn off the TV,  clean up the playroom, and pick books. This has been our routine for years. Recently, after a 4AM epiphany, I added another step to the the nightly pattern.

I grabbed my favorite circle blanket, placed it on the playroom floor, and asked everyone to take a seat. We began a new evening ritual that is now so treasured that my 6-year-old races to fetch the circle blanket each night in happy anticipation.

IMG_20180124_060204_232All three kids sit on the circle blanket but, really, only the 6-year-old, 4-year-old, and I participate (the 2-year-old bobs in and out and acts as enforcer when someone speaks out of turn.) I begin by asking who wants to go first. Sometimes I am volunteered, sometimes someone in particular is raring to speak. One at a time, we list the following items without explanation or interruption before we move on to the next speaker:

1. Three things we didn’t like about our day,

2. Three things we did like about our day,

3. One thing we would’ve done differently that day,

4. One thing we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

Some days the kids have three good things but only one bad thing to note. Some days the good things are hard to come by, but together we recall even the minute intricacies — like a yummy lunch or a nice breeze or a smile from a friend — to flesh out our positive trio.

Very often, I’ve found, that the kids are surprised by one another’s lists. They often don’t realize the impact of their actions and words on another’s day, but this activity is helping shed light on their affect on others.

The other night, my middle son listed his sister not including him on the playground as one of his three dislikes du jour. His sister looked offended and scoffed. I reminded her that we don’t interrupt during circle time. Then, during my daughter’s review, she noted that the one thing she would’ve done differently that day was include her brother on the playground. They’re getting it!!

My middle son and my daughter have both come to me separately saying how much they appreciate circle time. And, you know what? I do too. I can voice my missteps of the day (ex: yelling when I wish I hadn’t, not cheering up someone I wish I had, messing up a recipe, etc.) so that they know I make mistakes and feel remorse too. I also get to hear about their days and they hear about mine. We all get a glimpse at how one another processes the day’s events and what one another values, as well as finds particularly hurtful. We learn about each other’s triumphs and hurdles. It’s enlightening, connecting, healing, bonding. And it only takes 5 minutes.

Then, after we’ve completed our sharing, we return to our old routine: story time as usual. Each child hands me his or her selected book then sits in my lap while I read it. Sometimes only one child sits on my legs, other times I’m balancing all three. Either way, my heart — like my lap — is full.

Maybe this circle time routine would work for you. Give it a whirl for a week and let me know how it goes. Worst case, you waste five minutes. Best case, your bonds grow stronger. That’s a gamble worth taking in my book!

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Pumping Mom Kitchen Hack

Lactating — and formerly lactating — mamas, I have a hack for you! Got old pump parts lying around? Grab those retired pump flanges and put them back to work…

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as kitchen funnels! Just toss the soiled pump part in the dishwasher after usage and you’re all set!

 

My Birth-related Trauma: After Effects

I had a traumatic vaginal birth with my first child (story here.) It left me scarred in more ways than one. 20 months later, I went on to have a jarring c-section birth with an inept anesthesiologist (story here,) followed by a second c-section that went well — for which I cried tears of joy as they sewed me up — until the epidural fell out of my back on transfer from the operating table to the gurney, meaning I had zero pain relief immediately following invasive abdominal surgery. To say I have traumatic birth memories is an understatement. But birth is natural, right? Everyone on Earth arrived by way of birth. So how can something so commonplace leave such an emotional scar? It’s not like I went to war.

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But, in a small way, I did. At least, it was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced — or hope to experience — to war. There was blood and pain and true risk of death. There were tears and little control and so much fear. It was war in the delivery room. A battle to overcome.

That said, birth isn’t actual war. It’s the bringing of life. It’s something done everywhere every day. How can some women birth over and over without issue, whereas others are tormented by the memory of just one birth? How can similar experiences manifest so differently in individuals? Truly, I don’t know. They just do.

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What does my birth-related trauma look like? Not much from the outside, honestly. I keep it well-hidden. Fortunately, 6.5 years out, my bouts are much less frequently triggered than they used to be. I used to sleepwalk every night with baby-in-peril dreams that, at best, caused me to scream in my sleep and at worst spurred me to unknowingly sob while digging holes in my pillow. Even the hint of birth in movies or TV would cause me to become faint and nauseous. I had to switch to another OB in the practice because I couldn’t bear to see the doctor’s face at the other end of an exam table.

6.5 years later, when my trauma does flare, I generally know what to expect: episodes of panicky breathing, rapidfire vivid memories on an uncontrollable loop, edginess and irritability, a clenched jaw and subsequent headache, sleep disturbances  (ex: nightmares, sleepwalking, insomnia), feelings of sadness and shame, emotional detachment, and fatigue. Sometimes the trauma sticks around for a few hours, other times for days. It’s hard to predict its schedule.

During the episodes, I welcome as much mental clutter as I can to pile on top of the birth horror reel that’s constantly spinning in the back of my mind. It is the quiet time I fear. Closing my eyes in the shower, a lull in radio programming during a drive, that period before sleep when you close your eyes and welcome rest, those are the times when my trauma tightens its grip. Every birth memory I tried to shove beneath carpool and dinner prep, homework help and playdate scheduling, social media pings and friendly texts fires through my mind like an emotional inferno  All of the things I tried to forget I am reliving.

If I do sleep, it won’t be well or for long. I will likely sit up in bed thinking I’m awake when I am really somewhere between wakefulness and slumber. I may possibly sleepwalk into the closet or jump from bed in a terrified dream state. I will wake far too early exhausted but unwilling to close my eyes again for fear of repeating the process. I just want the day to start so that I can push the memories beneath the surface, weigh them down with the everyday. Bury them with the life I love.

Then, as quickly as it arrived it is gone. My trauma after effects trail away, a mental vapor. Leaving me content once again and appreciative of my unglamorous beautiful life as a stay-at-home mom of three. The memories fade and sleep is welcome once again. Until next time.

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If you — or a loved one — suffer from birth-related trauma, know it does not make you weaker or lesser or broken. You can love your child and your life, you can be a loving and appreciative parent but still suffer from the emotional wounds. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful or unfit. You are simply a human who survived.

Get help if you need it. Talk about it. Give it voice. Know it will get better. You are a survivor. There is no shame in that. Ever.