Our 8 Summer Journey

The rest of the world may begin and end years in January, but moms of school-age children know September to be the true New Year. With each closing summer and impending fall comes a mixture of celebration, anticipation, mourning, anxiety, and reflection. 8 summers have changed so much in our lives.

As beach bags shift to backpacks and flip flops are replaced with school shoes, long sun-drenched days of summer come to a close. A chapter filled with memories, experiences, and togetherness is filed away in the mind to be recalled upon in following years for comparison and nostalgia.

8 summers ago was unrecognizably different. The Hubs and I were a year deep into trying to conceive our first child. My hair was thinning and my abdomen was painfully swollen not from pregnancy, but from Clomid-induced ovarian cysts. I was hurting in all ways. Beach trips were quiet if not dull. We’d pack two beach chairs, two towels, and a small cooler for a stint on the sand. We visited the local medical center for a vacation sonogram to ensure my cysts were not dangerously large. Now — 8 years and 3 kids later — we have a bike buggy, two bikes, and an overflowing beach cart to haul a day’s worth of gear.

7 years ago our summer was split in two: massively pregnant then new parents. I went from cooling my swollen ankles in the surf to dusting sand off of my 5-week-old’s duckling fluff head. It was a time of anxiety, adjustment, upheaval, gratitude, and fatigue.

6 years ago we had a crawling 1-year-old on the beach and a brand new pregnancy. We arrived on the seashore exhausted from little sleep and morning-sickness. We chased our sleep-averse tot along the sand feeding her bits of lunch as she explored. We packed just one beach chair that stared at us mockingly; it knew sitting was a luxury we would not regain for another half a decade. It was a tiring but happy year full of newness.

5 years ago we had a newborn and a tantruming toddler. I — still skittish about nursing in public — would tuck myself away in the sandy, sweaty foldable beach tent to breastfeed every 20 minutes, looking longingly at sunbathers and swimmers floating through their beach days. I unnecessarily tortured myself for fear of offending others. It was a time of unending exhaustion, guilt, enjoyment, and envy.

4 years ago was our toughest beach year. We had a highly verbal, temperamental 3-year-old and a newly mobile 1-year-old who was hell bent on self-endangerment. It was constant wrangling, from tantrums to keeping a toddler from wandering into neighboring beachside camp sites, toddling into the waves, bopping his way over the dunes and into the parking lot, eating or throwing sand, stabbing himself or others with sticks or shards of seashells, or climbing rickety sand-planted umbrellas was a never-ending task. Beach days were exhausting. Naptimes and pumping times had to be kept. Vacation breastmilk recipients had to be found. All time had to be filled lest the un-childproofed beach house be destroyed. No one sat. Ever. It was a trying time filled with adorable snapshots and long sunny days.

3 years ago I was ginormous with baby #3 while keeping tabs on a social yet still emotionally unhinged 4-year-old and an adventurous 2-year-old. They enjoyed scouting out campsites containing the most enviable beach toys — ignoring their own laundry sack of plastic playthings — and striking up faux friendships before trying to abscond with the coveted items. It was not a proud year and, still, no one sat. It was a time of many apologies and reprimands, precious photos and cute memories, tired legs and sandy hugs.

2 years ago we had a 5-year-old rising kindergartener, a princess-adoring 3-year-old, and a babycarrier dwelling 1-year-old. I had tanlines from my Ergo carrier. Every day we’d walk like packmules onto the sand. Every day we’d set up camp and the two eldest would fervently request their first of many snacks. Every day our 1-year-old would promptly lose his mind and cling to my leg, demanding yet lamenting the morning nap from which he was beginning to self-wean. Every day I’d strap his sandy, sweaty, stout body back into the baby carrier and walk and nurse and walk and think. It was simultaneously soothing and tiring. When the nursing stroll ended, I’d return to the campsite — ankles and feet sore from striding along the slanted water’s edge — to nurse the baby or settle squabbles or fetch snacks to appease the unquenchable appetites of my growing 5- and 3-year-olds. We had to navigate sleep schedules and pumping sessions. I had to find local milk recipients for my vacation-pumped breastmilk. There was no sleeping. There was no sitting. The vacation was a marathon. It was a cuddly, demanding, active, milky, memorable time.

1 year ago things got easier. Our 6-, 4-, and 2-year-olds were sleeping more, testing limits less, and becoming increasingly independent. I weaned from pumping breastmilk for donation. We invested in a beach cart to lug our tower of beach gear. Siblings played with one another, content with their collection of toys instead of pilfering others’, and enjoyed playing in the waves. Occasionally we sat. It was an enjoyable time of memories and sand-dusted days.

This year — with a 7-, 5-, and 3-year-old — we hit our stride. The kids played. The tantrums were fewer. There were no naptimes or pumping sessions to navigate. Snack requests were still numerous, but The Hubs and I were able to sit on occasion… at the same time! Child duty was often divided one parent with the older two and one parent with the youngest one, unless my parents were also seaside, which meant one adult might be entirely untethered. There were actual moments of true relaxation! It was a time of laughter and memories, enjoyment, and fun.

It took us 8 years to get here. So much changes in four seasons. As warm sand turns to crisp fallen leaves to silvery snow to blooming flowers and back again, where will this next year lead us? How will we arrive on these same sandy dunes next summer? A little older, a little wiser, a little wilder, a little grayer, and a little more nostalgic of a time not so long ago.

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Lessons from Beach Evacuation

Well, the kids experienced their first beach evacuation. And it taught me a lot about my family, myself, and others.

Hoards of people hurriedly packing up sandy beach gear, streaming up and over the dunes, swarming across the streets and highway while thunder claps, lightening crackles, and warm rain pours. It’s a beach life milestone and a memory-maker, for sure. But it’s also a test of character.

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I was on the beach solo with my three children — aged 7, 5, and 3 — while The Hubs popped into town to grab some yummy cold brew coffee for him and me. I saw the gray clouds and, knowing the fickle nature of seaside weather, began to pack the beach cart with presently unused items as the kids played. Soon I felt rain and called my brood close to start getting flip flops on feet and chairs folded. Just as I heaved the mesh laundry bag of toys into the beach cart: thunder. The lifeguard blew the whistle signaling the evacuation.

Swimmers herded like soggy cattle from the ocean to the sand. People in large groups and simple pairs grabbed their gear and swarmed to the exit. Just as the first few sandy evacuees crested the dunes, The Hubs walked down the hill carrying two cups of sweating cold brew coffee.

He made his way to us. The kids were just about ready to depart but there was still some packing to do. “You take the kids. Get them out of here. I’ll finish this and meet you in the parking lot,” I told The Hubs. He briefly disputed, kindly saying he’d shoulder the burden of packing up but he had the kid cart attached to his bike, so it only made sense that he get the kids off the sand and away to safety. “I want them out of here,” I told him. I knew how dangerous thunderstorms were on the beach.

As plump raindrops fell heavy and thunder grumbled, off went my herd over the dunes while I completed the last bits of clean up. The whole time I checked about me, cognizant of my neighbors. In these snapshots of perception, I felt an almost voyeuristic, telling awareness of them.

What you see in your fellow beachgoers is generally limited at best. If anyone looks up from their book or sandwich or ocean view it’s usually only for a brief glance or a passing nicety. Emotional sharing and soul baring is not the stuff of seaside tourists. And unintentionally unveiling one’s true inner self is most certainly not commonplace.

But in that odd moment of rush and worry, you could see the part of people they kept hidden. The aniexty, the selfishness, the kindness, the bravery, the vulnerability they keep wrapped and bound beneath a carefully curated exterior.

Some gathered blankets in rumpled sandy lumps beneath their arms, dragging beach chairs in their wake, without a thought about the friends they just abandoned or those they cut in front of in line; they purely focused on their own safety. Some yelled and panicked, barked orders and swirled, overwhelmed by the situation, their taskload, their emotions. They fired frenzied orders in between anxious glances at the darkening afternoon sky. Some froze with eyes wide and jaws slack witnessing the evacuation as if from afar. Some laughed and shrugged entirely unaffected by the change in plans while others grumbled as if the weather was a personal affront. Some herded and helped, shouldered others’ loads and ushered strangers to safety. Some simply followed.

Checking that my cart was properly loaded before I began my exit, I noticed my neighbors — a young grandmother, a tween girl, and a 4-year-old boy — were standing entirely still watching the exodus while holding onto the metal beach umbrella still planted in the sand.

Thunder rolled. Lightning cracked. I had to get them out of there.

“Excuse me ma’am,” the girl asked. “Do we really need to leave the beach in a storm?” “Yes,” I said, “lightening likes to strike people on the beach and we have lots of metal,” I said motioning to my beach cart and their umbrella, “so it’s not safe to stay.” The grandmother seemed to be returning to awareness but seemed entirely incapable of taking charge in that moment.

“Can I take your things on my cart? I can get you to the parking lot” I said, looking up at the grandmother as I grabbed two corners of their beach blanket. She nodded, wide-eyed. I rolled up the blanket folded their chairs and popped the items on top of my cart. The tween girl folded the umbrella and removed it from the ground. The 4-year-old boy, still in a dripping wet Puddle Jumper floatie, grabbed a bag. Grandma shouldered the dismantled umbrella and off we went into the exiting masses we .

“Where are you from?” I asked the tween, trying to lighten things as the rain grew steady. It turned out they lived an hour away from where I grew up. At the top of the packed sand ramp we ran into the girl’s uncle. He thanked me and unloaded the items from my cart just as thunder and lightening put on a show.

I descended into the parking lot with my beach cart and found my family. My boys were just finishing getting settled into their bike cart and my daughter was at the ready on her bike. The Hubs was chugging his coffee and held out mine to me.

I hurried The Hubs along, hoping to get the kids home to safety. Off they went and off I went. As their bikes grew smaller in the distance, relief washed over me. Now it was just me and the hoards in the thick summer rain.

Traffic on side streets came to a standstill as pedestrians and bicyclists streamed across roadways. Tensions began to ease. Chatter and laughter among stranded neighbors and strangers flourished.

Thunder boomed. Lightening split the charcoal sky. Everyone froze. Rain poured down in warm sheets. Water cascaded over the brim of my baseball cap. Some scurried to escape the deluge. Some ducked into cars. Some — like me — owned their waterlogged state.

The highway halted as the drenched herd reached the shoulder. Like swamp zombies, we lumbered across the roadway. Dry and air-conditioned motorists shook their heads in pity at us, the slovenly evacuees. Some of us groaned. Some of us fretted. Some of us shrugged against the rain. Some of us smiled knowing this was beautiful.

 

I Am Worthy: Bikini Body Vow

After having three kids in under four years, after turning 35, after having four abdominal surgeries, I thought bikinis were off limits. Then I realized I was being an idiot.

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When I see women and girls of all ages and sizes, shapes and forms baring it in a bikini, I appreciate them and their individual beauty. Scars, cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks, rolls, rib bones, freckles, skin variations… it doesn’t matter what the wearer looks like, I think she’s fabulous. I have yet to see a bikini wearer and think she is unworthy of the ensemble. So why did I deem myself unworthy?

I told myself I was too scarred, too imperfect, too “Mom” for a bikini. I knew how physically comfortable bikinis were but how mentally challenging they could be (especially now that I didn’t constantly have a crying/sleeping/cuddling/nursing baby blocking my midsection from view.) Yet one-pieces didn’t feel right either, and were way too uncomfortable. I’d look at matronly maillots and moan, but see a two-piece and think: “I can’t wear that.” Until I asked myself: “Why not?”

Why was everyone else a reasonable bikini body candidate except for me? Why did I berate myself whenever I donned a two-piece? Why was I unworthy?

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Because I had scars? Because I was insecure? Because I was imperfect? Because I was a mom? But aren’t those the exact reasons I SHOULD wear a bikini?

Being scarred meant I’d survived. I’d lived. That my body had surpassed hurdles and won. Did I really want to hide that? Did I want my children to think that their own scars were ugly? That these signs of life should be hidden? Did I want my children to view themselves or others as lesser because of their external marks?

No.

Being imperfect was being human. Being imperfect was being unique. Individual. I told my children to take pride in their individuality. Should I not value my own? Could my children  truly honor their own uniqueness if their mother lamented and hid her own?

No!

Being insecure meant I should counter my desire to hide my perceived imperfections and, instead, love them if not simply accept them. Society tells us that surgical scars are grotesque, that stretch marks are unattractive, that an imperfect midsection is unworthy of exposure. Did I want to impart those demeaning messages onto my children?

NO!

Being a mom meant I needed the utilitarianism of a two-piece bathing suit (Hello, peeing in a public pool restroom with a toddler resting his fingers on the door lock!) It meant I likely required a different size top and bottom. It meant I’d earned every damn stretch mark and scar I had. It meant this body didn’t just do… it MADE. This body grew and birthed three lives, sustained those lives through breastmilk for a minimum of a year and a half each, and nourished 30 other babies through peer-to-peer milk donation. Was that achievement not to be celebrated? Did I want to show my children that the remnants of their creation, the souvenirs of their births, the signs of their nourishment were shameful? Should I indicate that the raw strength and soft beauty of a postpartum body are to be concealed? To be hidden in disgust?

NO!!

Realizing the idiocy of it all, I said: SCREW SOCIETY! Heck, screw myself for believing that slop and imposing it on myself! I made a vow to myself — for my children — that I would wear only bikini bathing suits (no one-pieces) all summer in order to show to them and myself that all bodies are beautiful, that scars are a sign of survival — of life lived –, that moms are beautiful too.

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At first I felt jittery with my midriff bared at the pool and then at the beach. I had to silence that internal voice telling me others were judging. I reminded myself: so what if they were! That’s their problem, not mine. Others’ thoughts — perceived or real — were none of my business and shouldn’t confine me.

Day after summery day, I became more comfortable. More confident. I was content in my own skin. I rocked my scars. I shrugged off any jiggle. I smiled at the stretch marks. I owned my physique. I was standing as an example for my children to accept themselves and others as beautiful individuals. I was happy.

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I don’t want my children feeling lesser because of their scars; I want them to rock them as badges of honor! I don’t want my children feeling ashamed of their bodies; I want them to cherish them as gorgeously unique vessels! I want my children to appreciate others’ uniqueness as well. Because we’re all different. And different is beautiful. Scars, sags, stretch marks, and all.

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I’m a 35-year-old mom with scars and, yes, I wear a bikini. Because I’m scarred. Because I’m imperfect. Because I’m a mom. Because I’m worthy.

We’ve Come So Far…

It’s been seven years. My, how far we’ve come!

 

This was the much-wanted child I feared I’d never have. This was the embryo that changed my whole body and my life. This was the fetus that sent my body into gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. This was the tiny new human who almost didn’t survive her entrance and had to be resuscitated twice within hours of being born.

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This was the newborn they questioned would be able to walk or talk or process information with ease, but whom they called a “two pacifier” NICU resident because she was their most vocal guest. This was the infant with latch issues and a proclivity for choking day and night. This was the baby with a ferocious wail and a voracious appetite who woke up six times each night until she was 2-years old.

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This was the pudgy ringlet-haired 1-year old who refused to walk — in favor of pilgrimage-style knee-walking — until she was 19-months old. This was the sparkle-loving, highly verbal 2-year old who was fiercely independent and vocally wilful but absolutely precious. This was the bright, tutu-wearing 3-year-old who loved being a big sister to her toddler brother almost as much as she enjoyed testing her mother’s patience.

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This was the out-going 4-year old who strived to please others and be kind to friends but threw head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, shrieking tantrums at home yet adored her newest baby brother. This was the 5-year-old who loved kindergarten but struggled to master reading and painfully adjusted to the full-day school schedule.

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This was the 6-year-old who shrugged off dolls in favor of doctor kits and rockstar dress-ups, who dove into Tae Kwon Do and yoga, who finally figured out reading and excelled at math, who uncovered ways to harness her powerful emotions, who expressed kindness to those around her, who had more good moments than rough moments. This was the child who turned the corner from emotional whirlwind to strong, expressive, kind-hearted individual.

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This is the 7-year-old of whom I am endlessly proud, for whom I prayed when I didn’t know to whom or what I was praying. This is the child who changed every shred of me, who tore me (literally and figuratively) apart but inspired in me the strength to piece myself back together.

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I am who I am now because of her. I love her more than she will ever know until/if she has children of her own. For all of the struggles, our worries, our pains (of all kinds and intensities), our sleepless nights, our brutal days, our cherished hugs, our belly laughs, our tears, our proud moments, our cherished memories, I am profoundly grateful. She made me a better me; I can only hope I help her become her best her.

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Seven years behind us, there are no more nap times, no more pumping schedules, no more night terrors, no more sleeping baby on my chest, no more toddler arm rolls, no more kindergarten plays, no more fingerpaints, no more waiting room meltdowns. We’ve come so far.

We have so far to go.

 

What I do When Life Goes Sideways

As I tell my kids — especially my middle son who has a phenomenal gift for getting himself and things stuck in bizarre places — “If the way you’re doing something isn’t working, try doing it a different way.” Life is always going to throw curveballs — especially when there are kids involved — so what’s my hack?

1) Choose a different path.

2) Laugh.

It may seem simple but if you’re unaccustomed to the practice, it will take time and repetition to ingrain it as second nature. Let me use my own nutty life for example.

Yesterday was a sideways day, but instead of bemoaning it, I stayed flexible and laughed. When plan after plan for family activities went awry, when my endometriosis pain flared, I looked for a different path. Then I found a way to laugh.

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(In case you’re wondering, lunch was homemade broccoli slaw Beyond Meat vegan and gluten-free “sausage”, and grilled corn)

Today we rented a family paddle boat and ate a picnic lunch on the lake. All was going well until we were surrounded by a flock of fearsome feathered foe. You guessed it: Canada Geese. Ferocious beasts.

One brazenly stole a corn cob right from my 5-year-old’s hand! My 5-year-old sat slack jawed in shock. My 6-year-old screeched and crawled up the seat. My 3-year-old, husband, and I laughed. Needless to say what was “supposed to be” a peaceful paddle boat picnic turned into my husband and I laughing and feverishly pedaling the unresponsive Titanic of a dingy away from hungry geese while our 6-year-old hid her lunch and shrieked. The outing was a pure fail in its efforts to relax but it was an epic win for making a hilarious (well, for all except our 6-year-old) memory.

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The day continued on — geese left behind at the lake to harass other paddlers — when endometriosis pain flared again (this was day 2 of discomfort.) I knew I needed to take a beat. (Though I can only do this temporarily or else I feel worse. I am better when I am up and distracted. It’s like a mental game: if I act or look ill, I feel ill but if I act or look well, I feel (comparatively) well.) So I was a human car racing track for my toddler for a bit and then back to life: TO THE POOL!

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We arrived at the pool — suited, lotioned, and snacks ready — only to find it was closed due to thunder. So we devised another plan: SLIP-AND-SLIDE!

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I felt my endometriosis pain starting to rile my frustrations, so I knew I needed to change course. I dove in. Yep, 35-year-old me fully clothed sliding down a lubricated tarp in our yard. Classy? No. Medicinal? You bet! And that worked well until thunder rolled again and again making it clear indoors was the place to be. New plan: INDOOR PLAYGROUND!

We swiftly peeled off our wet swimsuits in favor of dry clothes then into the car we went. 20 minutes later, we arrived. The indoor play place was closed. I looked up the next indoor play option: also closed. Ugh! Right? No. Plan D: HAIRCUTS!

My middle son’s hair had transitioned from chic to shaggy and my littlest’s natural rat-tail was looking rather twangy. So, a trim was due. We drove just down the road to the hair salon: booked solid. I spotted another option across the shopping center. We scampered over. The hairdresser stopped me before I could even sign in warning me of the long wait. Well, Plan E it was. SMOOTHIES!

Our herd of five exited the air-conditioned store and were engulfed in the hot swampy breath of Mid-Atlantic summer. Then we notice it was raining. Seemed fitting. We laughed at the continuity of our misadventures. On we walked.

We arrived a tad soggy at the smoothie place, my curly hair now double its usual girth, but the store was open, there was no line, and it was serving beverages. Win!

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The Hubs doing a little smoothie stealing trickery

There we sat, kids slurping pureed fruit while perched on bar-height stools. And we laughed. It wasn’t the afternoon we had planned, but it was the one we had. And that’s all that mattered. That and the laughter.

If life doesn’t go your way find a new path and laugh. It’ll be worth it.

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.

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!