3 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Baby Stage

For 6 years I had a toddler or infant in the house. Now, nearing my 7th year as a parent — with a newly minted 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a nearly-7-year-old — I can reflect with greater clarity on that precious, wholly exhausting, messy, beautiful time. In doing so I’ve discovered 3 important things every parent should know about the baby stage.

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1. EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY. If you haven’t yet learned that every single stage, phase, good time, rough patch, annoying habit, and terrifying challenge is temporary, you’re most certainly new to the parenting game. As soon as you gloat about your child’s brilliance at creating 3-word sentences well ahead of developmental norms, they’re licking the storefront window. As soon as you feel like your child will never poop in the potty, the digestive dilemma is no more. As soon as you wonder when you’ll ever get your body back, your child weans. As soon as you really begin enjoying the morning cuddle routine, it’s over and replaced with another habit. As soon as you begin to think you will never again not be a heap of saggy, leaking, oddly pillow-like human randomly crying into your 3-day-old breastmilk stained pajamas in a mixture of fear, deep sadness, exhaustion, and raging postpartum hormones, you exit the hole. As soon as you think, “Will these needy, week-long days ever end?” They’re over. All of it comes to an end; positive and challenging. And you may loathe reading this if you’re presently in the parenting trenches with no light peeking above your laundry piles of spit-up and diaper-blowout stained onesies, but it’s true: it goes fast — faster than you can ever imagine — these are the good, hard (incredibly hard), long, worthwhile days.

2. IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER. Think of most any developmental leap, milestone, or change and you can pretty much guarantee that things took a nose dive before the ride got smoother. Potty-training: a regression is bound to happen before you’re in dry pants territory. Sleeping: you’re going to hit (multiple) regressions and blips before you get some semblance of solid sleep. Walking: they go from speedy independent all-fours (or some variant) mobility to a rickety, slow gait before a sturdy walk is established. The first high fever bug: that thermometer reading has to keep going up and up (along with your blood pressure) until it eventually inches down. And afterwards, all of that stress and worry and strain remains as nothing but a memory. So know that if you’re at a parenting point when you end each day exhausted in all ways, doubting yourself and your abilities, feeling frustrated and stressed beyond what you ever knew possible, and wondering:”Will this ever end?” Know it will. And trust that this is just the precursor to improvement.

3. IT’S SURVIVABLE AND SAVORABLE You will have days when you lower your personal performance bar to such a degree that you refuse to be witnessed by any outsiders… your goal is survival. That’s ok. Those days (or a week) are normal. Nope, you’re not a failure. Nope, you’re not doing anything or everything wrong. Yep, it happens to everyone — EVERYONE — just people don’t admit it. But amidst it all, you can find a way to savor it. Savor your child’s smile in between tantrums or the sweetness of your child’s finally sleeping face or your own strength for being there despite everything going sideways. You may read this in the thick of things and think I’m full of it, but just try it: savor it. I’m not saying relish the crappy moments. No, those can stay sucky. I’m saying ignore the big picture of awful and appreciate the snapshots of good. In those tiny hidden moments you’ll find something to savor. There’s always something, no matter how small. Just look for it. Squint if you need to.

In no time at all you’ll be looking back on where you’ve been and think, “Wow, that was a shitshow, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” This is your life, your child’s life; don’t wish it away for what it isn’t. Don’t ignore all the pitfalls and spin it into what it never was. Dig in and appreciate it for what it is.

Survive it. Savor it. One day at a time.

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How Veganism Affects My Parenting

I’m a vegan. I’m a mom. Sometimes this can make things challenging.

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I believe in being honest and open with my children. I believe in speaking to them as intelligent fellow-humans who can process properly phrased answers to their questions, even if I find answering those questions uncomfortable. However my veganism can complicate this.

How? Animal welfare and food-related questions happen. Heck, in our minivan ALL kinds of questions happen! And I answer those questions but I must try to do so in a truthful, informative way that doesn’t force my vegan views on my children but allows them to make their own informed decisions for themselves. Because the best I can do as a parent is provide my children with unconditional love, honest answers, digestible information, unwavering support, solid structure, clear moral guidance, and an accepting environment that fosters their ability to be autonomous individuals.

You see, I view my veganism to be my personal choice for myself. And just as I do not believe I have the right to alter my children’s bodies because it is not my body therefore not my choice, I feel I cannot in full moral and ethical standing force them to follow my personal lifestyle path (ex: diet, religion, hobbies, sexual orientation, political beliefs, etc.) What is right for me is not right for all, even if I’d love to think it was.

When my daughter initially began asking where certain foods came from she felt conflicted between enjoying meat and feeling sad for the animals. That was a struggle I, myself, had faced for decades. So, I offered her a solution. I told her that if she felt eating meat was the right choice for her, she could eat the meat but say a prayer to the animal saying that she was sorry that it suffered and died but thanking it for filling her belly. Then she’d have to eat her entire animal-based serving so as not to have had the animal die unnecessarily. This worked for her quite well for a while.

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Now, my house is a dietary smorgasbord. My husband is a lacto-pescatarian, my daughter is a dairy-allergic pescatarian, my middle son is a peanut- and dairy-allergic omnivore, and my youngest is technically an omnivore but is naturally more of a lacto-vegetarian as he dislikes the texture of any meat beyond hot dogs and chicken nuggets (and let’s be honest, nothing in nature is the texture of a hot dog or chicken nugget.) Then there’s dairy-allergic, gluten-intolerant vegan me. We’re all doing what’s right for us as individuals.

Some vegans may have a problem with my parenting style. They may claim I am not a vegan because I am not forcing my children and husband to eat a vegan diet all of the time. That judgment is inconsequential to me. Their problem with my parenting is just that: their problem, and not my own.

Veganism is right for me, but it’s not right for everyone (even if I wish it was.) My kids have the right to choose as much as I did. Meanwhile, they’ll learn the deliciousness that veganism can offer through our meals at home.

 

The Day I Failed

Have you ever had days when you failed? Times when you feel like a completely incapable parent who — despite trying moment after moment, day after long day — you can’t shake the fear that you’re failing your child? Well, I have.

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Yesterday was rough. It started out fine enough with the usual morning blips: “He took my toy!” “He’s sitting in my seat!” Standard sibling stuff. Then the day spun into afternoon and the brief firecracker bad decisions morphed into waves of whining and misbehavior, not listening and blatantly ignoring threatened consequences. It culminated in me hauling my 5-year-old offender out of the local family concert in a football hold (aka: “the carry of shame”) and to the minivan while my husband, 3-year-old, and 6-year-old stayed to dance and play in the sun.

My middle child squirmed and shrieked in protest against the car seat harness, his consequence. Meanwhile, I sat in the driver’s seat unable to fully focus on his lamentations as I was audience to an internal shaming of my own.

I replayed the entire day, focusing on each time I reprimanded, discussed, scolded, incentivized, redirected, threatened, complimented, and yelled at him. I couldn’t determine what to do differently. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure.

“Adults who make bad decisions are unhappy but adults who make good decisions are happy,” I tell my children, “and I want to help you learn how to make good decisions so that you can be happy adults.” “The world,” I remind them, “has consequences, and so Mommy does too. If you make good decisions, good things happen; if you make bad decisions, bad things happen.” I give them the power to choose their destiny, in a sense, through decision-making. Just like life does, but for now they’re learning in the relative safety of my cocoon.

My eldest knows this speech backwards and forwards. She often retells it to her younger brothers when they misbehave. My youngest prides himself in making “good a-cisions”, as his 3-year-old tongue pronounces it. My 5-year-old presently does not care.

I know my bright, creative, and kind 5-year-old is capable of making good choices and selecting reason over impulse. His teachers note how well-behaved he is in school. But right now he’s not.

“You’re a smart boy who can make good decisions,” I calmly remind my middle son multiple times daily, “make good decisions.” But he doesn’t! Rational me who has parented a 5-year-old before knows it’s the age. Reasonable me knows this is healthy and good… a sign of appropriate development. But mom me is sick of it. Emotional me feels like a failure whose setting her child up for a future of bad decisions, squandered opportunities, burnt relationships, and turmoil. Mom guilt is a bitch.

Then, during evening circle time it all changed. After completing her own circle time share, my eldest asked me to do my circle time after my middle and youngest children had retreated to a sudsy bath. In accordance with our circle time formula, I noted my three dislikes of the day, my three likes, and then I sighed and shared the one thing I would’ve done differently: I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with my middle child. “I don’t like yelling at you guys,” I told my daughter. And she smiled. She smiled in this knowing, kind way that stole my breath for a moment. “I know, Mommy. You’re trying your best and you are doing a good job. You NEED to do that so that he can learn to make good decisions.” It was as if all of my internal reason had gotten so frustrated being ignored in my own head that it spilled out through my 6-year-old’s mouth.

I hugged her and thanked her. I ended circle time with the last sharing point: what I was looking forward to tomorrow.

And told myself that tomorrow would be a better day.

5 Misconceptions about Vegans

The word “vegan” can trigger eyerolls and disgusted huffs from grandmas and death metal rockers, alike. There’s quite a stigma attached to the label. Are all of the assumptions wrong? Nope. There are assholes in any group. But there are some generalizations that are just all wrong.

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I was once a serious omnivore who loved to try new food. Goat, sashimi, lamb, raw shellfish, octopus, ostrich, alligator… I ate with adventure. Then came my dairy allergy. Next, an inability to properly digest most meat after my gallbladder removal, followed by an ethical awakening. Then a gluten intolerance. Now — a dairy-allergic, gluten-free vegan — I eat with conscience and consciousness.

MYTH 1: VEGANS EAT SALAD. Vegans eat all kinds of fare — from veggie-based casseroles to soups, stews, curries, and loads of veganized comfort food, pasta to nachos, ice cream to pie, tofu or chickpea scrambles to veggie burgers and mock-meat indulgences — vegan food is delicious and varied. Anyone who thinks vegans just eat salad has never met a vegan. If anything vegans consider what omnivores accept as vegetable dishes sad. Produce can taste and be and do so much more than just sit huddled in a steamed-and-salted pile on the side of a plate.

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MYTH 2: VEGANS ARE MILITANT. Are there some vegans who are out to forcibly shame and shock everyone into joining their ranks? Yes. But the same can be said for various sects of society. Portions of groups as wide-ranging as La Leche League to Evangelical Christians have members who are abrasive and vocal in their beliefs, but that doesn’t mean all are so brutish. Many vegans are just living and eating in a way that suits them. They won’t try to convert you and they don’t judge you. Heck, many ate and lived just like you for decades before something in their life — whether it be an awakening of the conscience, a medical condition, an aversion, an environmental awareness, or something else entirely — took hold and shifted their lives. Sure, they would love if you chose to join their herbivore ranks, but they honor that that’s something for you to choose (or not.)

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MYTH 3: VEGANS ARE DIRTY HIPPIES. Now, I generally prefer a good love-and-peace hippie over a hyper-competitive elitist corporate type, but that’s personal preference. Either way, vegans come from all walks of life. From Ellen DeGeneres to UFC champion, Mac Danzing; from singer and songwriter, Bryan Adams to housewives (like me); from author, philosopher, and neuroscientist, Sam Harris to college students and teens. Raising children not just vegetarian but vegan is becoming increasingly common, so if vegans are becoming increasingly common now (having doubled their numbers in the US since 1994),  they’ll be everywhere in a solid decade.

MYTH 4: VEGANS ARE SICKLY. It’s true that most vegans could benefit from a b12 and possibly an iron supplement, but omnivores are notoriously malnourished and would be advised to take nutritional supplements as well. Despite omnivores being able to eat everything served to them, they rarely consume all of the right nutrients in the right balance in order to live a supplement-free life. However, unlike an omnivorous diet, vegan eating can offer such benefits as reduced arthritis pain, lowered risk of certain cancers, lessened risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. So, all of that said, vegan diets don’t necessitate poor health, just as omnivore diets don’t guarantee good health.

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MYTH 5: EATING VEGAN IS EXPENSIVE. A bag of dried beans will be cheaper than store-bought meat any day. Sure, some vegans can have a pricier grocery bill than others if they rely on mock-meats, dairy substitutes, convenience food, and out-of-season produce. However, I have yet to experience an equivalent monthly grocery bill as a vegan to what we had as a 5-person family of omnivores. We slashed $50-$100 off of our weekly grocery bill (despite our third child eating more solid food than before) as soon as we ditched meat. And the more whole, in-season foods we buy, the deeper the discount. Now, I am aware that veganism isn’t accessible for everyone as vegan options can be hard to find in food deserts, but for those who live with reasonable grocery options, going meat-free is a money saver.

What other myths have you encountered about vegans?

Summer’s Here: Out-the-Door Organization

Summer is here! Trade backpacks for pool bags, school shoes for sandals. Here’s how you can swap your mudroom door organization from school daze to summer cinch in a snap.

Remember how we transformed the back of a door into an easy exit station for back-to-school (project details here)? Do a few switches to transform those same hooks for the summer season of pools and splash pads, playgrounds and playdates.

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School Daze

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Summer Cinch

Swap backpacks for pool bags. I got these kid-friendly sacks in Target’s deal bins. Each kid has their own, which contains a towel, goggles, flip-flops, a flotation device (if needed), and pool toys with our surname written on them in permanent marker. Bonus: less for me to wrangle as anything in their bag is their responsibility!

Switch the school shoes with bump toe athletic sandals (we love the Osh Kosh brand as they’ve lasted us just as long as the KEEN varieties but at half the cost, especially if you scout deals on Amazon or Zulily.) Toe coverage, sole grip, safe for water, easy on and off, and — as any laundry overloaded parent who’d love to minimize their house exiting routine by even one article of clothing can celebrate — NO SOCKS REQUIRED! From hiking to errands, biking riding to creek splashing, playgrounds to splash pads, these are a win.

Hang your own pool bag where gym shoes once rested, and you’re set! What’s in my pool bag? Sunscreens, bug spray, two towels (because one of my minions inevitably steals mine and gets it inexplicably drenched), lip balm, cheap sunglasses (the only kind I buy since I shred or lose mine by summer’s end and I just can’t handle even the tiniest scratch on a lens), water, and snacks for the kids.

Helpful additions: 1) Adhere one hook per person beside the door for winter coats or spring jackets, as I did. Just use the same damage-free hooks utilized for the rest of the project. 2) Heavy backpack? I swapped my eldest’s backpack hook with a heavy duty option. 3) Hang up the foldable stool using a damage-free hook.

Summer just got a little easier. Go soak it in!

 

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.

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.