Tag

inspiration

A Story About Breastfeeding and Mom Friends

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It’s not always possible to see the ways you grow and change over time. But sometimes it’s possible to get a little glimpse.

For me, that glimpse came in my journey through breastfeeding.

I didn’t start out particularly invested in breastfeeding. I tried it with my first born. We lasted a couple months, although I mostly pumped and bottle fed. We supplemented with formula the entire time and it didn’t take long before I transitioned out of nursing. I never felt guilty or cheated. Breastfeeding was HARD. I was a new mom doing what I needed to do.

It was four years before my next baby came along. By then some things had changed. I had done more research. I had a group of breastfeeding friends. I was making the transition to stay at home mom so I wouldn’t need to make arrangements to return to work. Although I still didn’t have anything against formula feeding, I was more invested in the idea of breastfeeding.

And it was still HARD. Cracking, bleeding, engorgement, pain. I went back to pumping to give myself a chance to heal. And pumping worked well. So we stuck with it. At four months old, we were still exclusively feeding breast milk–just doing it through a bottle.

Then we planned a vacation. The logistics of packing for and traveling with two children were overwhelming enough. But the idea of having to find places to pump, storing milk, and warming and sterilizing bottles was too much. So I took the leap and transitioned back to nursing.

After a brief adjustment period, suddenly it wasn’t so hard anymore. In fact, it was pretty great. Much easier than pumping and warming and sterilizing. I actually felt a pang of disappointment when she self-weaned the week of her birthday.

Then along came number three. After nursing for a year with number two, it was pretty much a given that I would breastfeed again.

But guess what? It was still hard.

Baby came early and, after being supplemented in the hospital, she decided that the extra effort required to nurse versus bottle feed was irritating. Since she was early and small, pumping and bottle feeding was a great way to know how much she was getting at each feeding. And that was fine with me. In the early days, pumping is easier, even with all it’s inconveniences.

And that’s where we are. I’m still nursing enough to keep the option open. But for the most part, we are pumping and bottle feeding. But because I’m a chronic over-thinker, I feel like I’m constantly wondering whether to keep going as we are or transition back to nursing more or even exclusively nursing. There are pros and cons to everything.

But that’s another post. Back to my point.

It’s been a long journey through breastfeeding. It was and still is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.  To be honest, by the time the third baby came along, I was feeling a little disappointed that I wasn’t more of a “pro” at this by now. Should it still be this hard?

But then I went to our local breastfeeding support meeting where they weigh baby and have a lactation consultant on hand to answer questions. Moms usually weigh baby before and after feeding so that they know how much baby is eating.

Since I am re-starting this breastfeeding journey from square one, and since we haven’t been nursing regularly, I wasn’t planning on nursing in public at the meeting. I really only got “comfortable” nursing in public during the last few month of nursing my middle daughter and hadn’t had enough practice with the newest baby to have regained my confidence. I just wanted to see how much she weighed. But then as I started talking with the consultant, I though “Eh, why not?”

Afterward as I was driving home, I was remembering going to the same support group with my firstborn. I don’t think I ever actually nursed her there, but if I did I tried to hide in the corner behind my awkward nursing cover and be as discreet as possible. It felt stressful and awkward and I had no idea what I was doing.

But tonight, even though we are still adjusting to this round of breastfeeding, I sat down on the couch and nursed her like it was no big deal. I chatted with other moms who were nursing. I didn’t bother with an awkward cover. She was a champ about it, and it boosted my confidence knowing she got a good feeding even when I wasn’t measuring with a bottle.

And I couldn’t help but feel just a little proud of myself. I used to envy the people who could breastfeed effortlessly in any situation. I always felt so awkward and self-conscious. And while I still don’t totally feel like a pro, being able to go to the breastfeeding group, not feel completely naive, and sit down and nurse my baby with minimal stress feels like a huge accomplishment, especially compared to where I started this journey.

On a closing note, as I was reflecting while writing this post, I realized that the growth I’ve seen in myself as a breastfeeding mama has so much to do with the people around me. With my second and third babes, I had stumbled into a friend group of nursing pros. Maybe with my firstborn I was just young and oblivious, but with my next two littles I suddenly found myself surrounded by people who made it look easy. Not only did I learn so much from them, but I drew inspiration to keep going even when it was tough.

I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to see how much I’ve changed and grown in this aspect of parenting. But I’m even more grateful to be surrounded by other amazing mamas who inspire me to grow and keep me believing that we can do hard things.

 

Why it’s so hard to be an open-ended parent 

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I saw this today and thought, “Yes! Open-ended parenting!”

And then the rest of today happened.

My four year old is in one of those phases. A hard phase. A defiant phase. A loud, rowdy, non-stop phase. It feels like everything I tell her to do goes in one ear and out the other. It feels like a constant battle for control.

Which I hate.

I posted today on facebook some of her creative defiance and had the usual amused responses. But I also had someone share their opinion suggesting that I was taking for granted what good qualities she was displaying in her defiance (creativity, innovation, perseverance, etc) and that “the work of children was to play” anyway.

I’ll admit, I got a little offended. My impulse was to get defensive, tell him he was preaching to the choir and that I knew all of that stuff.

But instead I started to wonder if I was really “walking the talk”. Am I being too hard on her? Sometimes it feels like all i do is nag her. Should I be appreciating her energy rather than being exhausted trying to channel it? Am I wasting all my energy trying to control her?

Except I always come back to the question: does letting her be completely who she is at four years old mean letting her run wild and choose what she wants to listen to and what she doesn’t? I can’t believe that’s true. Isn’t there something to be said for teaching her to be respectful, to be honest, to be kind and responsible and productive? It could even be argued that helping her to develop those traits will help her to fully embrace and take full advantage of her own authentic path in life. In some ways, those are skills that will help her be authentic down the road. I think there’s a difference between controlling who she is and controlling how she is. 

Also, to be blunt? I can’t see how letting her act like an asshole benefits her.

We shouldn’t try to mold our children into what we think society wants. But we also shouldn’t pretend like they don’t have to live their lives in that society. It is already hard enough to be an individual in the crowd, we don’t need to intentionally make it harder by giving the group more reasons to “banish” or shame the individual. Pretending that human beings aren’t social animals who long to be part of a tribe doesn’t make it true.

We can give them the skills like respect and honesty and kindness to help them fit more smoothly into a group and still give them the courage and character to stand out and be authentic. We can teach them socially acceptable behavior so that when they choose to deviate from that, it is by intentional choice.

I had the privilege of hanging out with one of the people in my life that I greatly admire and don’t get to see very often this week. We were talking about education and assessment and she said something about doing a little of both opinions. “Some of the stuff is great and we definitely need to be doing it, but we also have to do this other stuff. You can’t firmly plant yourself on one side or the other, we need things from both sides.”

And I thought that was so simple it felt profound and wise. It may seem stoic to plant yourself firmly in one corner, in opposition to any other way, but the truth is, we almost always need more than one way. We definitely need to teach children to challenge authority, be innovative thinkers, 21st century citizens. But we also need to teach them to be polite, respectful, kind, generous human beings. They can challenge authority, but not everything has to be a battle. And they can challenge authority and norms and still be respectful about it.

Children need to understand the importance of finding their true path and following it like their hair is on fire. Finding your authentic self may be the most important thing you will ever do. But we are human. Sometimes we just need our tribe. Sometimes, the most important benefit of being authentic is finding your true tribe. Once you find it, it’s important to be able to adapt through awareness of social norms and cues. Like listening, and realizing that it isn’t always about you.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Teach her that she can’t always disrupt class because sometimes going to battle with your teacher doesn’t help you, and sometimes other kids in the class don’t want to be disrupted and they deserve respect too. And I’m trying to do that without squishing her fire.

It’s hard. Obviously.

But it’s worth it.

April 27, 2015

 
I love this book. Love. 

And speaking of books, tonight was first meeting of new book club. Women are amazing, aren’t they? There are so many hardworking, fierce, vulnerable, brave women out there that getting to sit down with a few of them, especially some I don’t know too well yet, feels like such a privilege. Such a gift. This is going to be a good thing, I can feel it. 

My Child Is A Lot

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My oldest is a lot. A lot of energy. A lot of bouncing and running and jumping and swinging. A lot of questions. A lot of talking and yelling and singing and noise-making. A lot of toys all over the floor. A lot of water all over the bathroom. A lot of big feelings. A lot of “Can I have a snack?” and “Can I watch a show?” and “Can you play with me?”

She is a lot of creativity, used for both good an evil. She is a lot of challenges. A lot of sass. A lot of defiance. A lot of strength and fire and spirit and independence. Yes, she is a kid. And. She. Is. A. Lot.

There are days where I just can’t. The steady stream of noise and energy wears me out. By the time she goes to bed, I’m exhausted.

I see it in other people, too. At first they are enamored with her charm and intensity and passion. She is well spoken and her opinions are often comically adorable, so she can be very entertaining.

But the intensity can quickly become overwhelming. You can only answer so many questions about bees before you feel like you’re going off the deep end just a little.

As a parent, what’s the most important thing here? This entire blog is centered around the idea of parenting her without putting out that fire. And yet, people are collaborative animals. Our survival depends upon finding a place in the herd to “belong”.  We teach our children manners and social norms to ensure they will be accepted into the pack, increasing their chances of survival. So my maternal instinct impulse is to bring the raging prairie fire down to a controlled burn.

Is that the best thing I can do for her? I don’t know. Parenting strategies of the past would say yes. But today? Maybe the world needs a little more fire.

Can we teach our kids “how” to be without controlling “what” to be? She can be fiery and fierce and passionate, but how can she be those things in a way that is safe and kind and respectful of others?

Because I don’t want to teach her to change who she is just so others will accept her. But i do want to teach her how to be herself in a way that is kind and respectful to others. I want to teach her awareness, so that she can use her fire, but not without understanding the consequences. Not without being aware how fire can affect those around you. 

Perhaps, then, it is about teaching her self awareness. Rather than telling her how she should be, I teach her to be aware of how she is and how it affects others. In that way, I teach her how to make choices for herself. Isn’t that what authenticity is all about?

In the end, I want her to find her tribe. The people who appreciate that fire and intensity. I want her to figure out how to use that fire to change the world. I want her to know that she is perfect the way she is, and that even on the days where she wears me out, that I will always be grateful for how she challenges me to grow.

My Time, Her Time

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(Viewpoint of a spying mama)

There are days where I feel guilty for not spending enough time with her.

Actually, there are a lot of days I feel that way. I sit and pour through Pinterest trying to find new ideas for activities to do together, making big plans for things I want to teach her and experiences I want to give her.

And it’s not just because I feel the pressure to be one of those moms, the kind who is never caught browsing Facebook when they could be spending quality time with their kids or hiding in the bathroom just to get to read a few pages of a book other than Dora. There’s no shortage of reading material out there on the vast Internet machine designed to shame parents into spending more intentional time with their children. And to be honest, I’m a huge advocate for grownups slowing down and paying attention to their little people. Children are magic and they have a gift for teaching us things we most need to learn: patience, authenticity, courage, love.

But that doesn’t mean I should never touch my smartphone or read my own book or just say, “Mommy needs some me-time.”

The truth is, I WANT to spend time with her. She grows older every day and I will never get this exact version of her back again. The things she says and does make me laugh until I cry and blow my mind and leave me in awe. She sees the world in such a unique way and it’s a privilege to catch a glimpse of.

But I’m a human. I don’t always have the energy to devote myself completely to another human for every waking hour. And even if I could, I’m not sure it would be the best thing for her.

Parenting changes with each passing generation. I don’t remember my parents down on the floor entertaining us every moment. And I guarantee my parents’ parents weren’t constantly searching for new and unique ways to keep their children occupied.

Children are vibrant and creative little brings. To constantly provide entertainment for them robs them of the opportunity to utilize that creativity.

I miss her when I send her to her dad’s for the weekend. But I know that is what’s best for her. I will miss her every time I send her out into the world without me, but I know she needs to go. In the same way, I hate passing up any opportunity to spend time playing and creating with her. But for both my sake and hers, she needs to be left alone sometimes.

She needs to go outside and play out whatever fantasy she wants, however she wants it. She needs to disappear into a pile of My Little Ponies and learn how to play all of the characters herself. She needs to learn how to be alone. She needs to learn how to be bored. She needs to learn how to be something other than the center of attention. In fact, she needs to learn how to have no attention at all. She needs to learn how to make choices for herself, especially when no one is watching.

In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to believe that the lessons she will learn from being alone are just as important as the ones I will teach her.

So perhaps, rather than feel guilty about not spending time with her, rather than wear myself thin trying to have a Pinterest activity for every day, I just need to shift my perspective and remember that giving her space IS a valuable activity. In fact, perhaps I shouldn’t be waiting until I’ve reached the end of my patience and need a break to implement alone time… Perhaps it should be a planned learning activity just like all the others.

Kids need our attention and our love and our support. They need to be heard and held and helped. But they also need to explore the world without us so that when they’re grown they’re ready to explore the world without us.

The Doing

I’m a list person. I always have been. I love the visual feedback of accomplishment when I make a list and cross everything off. I always have a “to do” list. Always.

Now that I am in sleep-deprived mom-of-an-infant (when do they stop being considered a “newborn”?), I am even more dependent on my lists, both for the validation that I am doing something with the days at home in yoga pants and for the help they offer my distracted brain.

One of the things I do is write down lists of things to blog about. The days are busy and a thought will come to me and I’ll write it down for later.

The problem is, later never comes. I keep going with the endless chores and lists and another idea comes along and I add it to the pile and just keep pushing it aside. I have thousands of blog posts waiting to be written. Hundreds of moments that have now passed… What it was like to worry about becoming a mom of a second child in the midst of a blended family, what transitioning from work to staying at home was like. All moments passed. All thoughts unwritten.

I have plenty of excused, sure. But how valid are they really? Sure there’s plenty of stuff to get done and there always will be. But it only takes a few minutes to push pause and write. And this blog isn’t intended to be a perfect specimen of writing. It’s intended to be real. Scattered thoughts from the middle of the night because the baby is awake, typos because I’m writing this from my phone during a gymnastics class kind of real.

So I’m working on doing rather than just planning to do. I had the idea for this post and went to write it in my journal but stopped. The four year old is playing alone in her room happily. The baby is sleeping. The laundry is running and the crockpot is cooking supper. Now is exactly the kind of “later” I have been waiting for.

Authenticity: Nature or Nurture?

 

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Yesterday I wrote a post about how our children reflect who we are. Today I found this quote on Facebook that reminded me of the same message, but it also brought to mind another topic.

This blog is centered around raising children to be authentic, or true to themselves. But what is their authentic self and where does it come from? Is it something that they are born with? A predestination toward a certain personality or way of being in the world? Or is it something that is created by their experiences and encounters? The classic debate: nature versus nurture.

I personally believe it’s a little of both. Because I’ve looked into the eyes of my children and other children and seen something there before they’ve had a chance for experience to put it there. Some children come into this world full of joy and wonderment. Others come in like they mean business. Still others like this is old hat for them. These characteristics will shape the way they interpret the world, and thus, who they are and who they are becoming.

But there’s no denying that experience changes us as well. Experiences that are out of our control: where we are born, who our parents are. The other day I was reading a book about the spread of polio and the evolution of the vaccine and I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I had been born here in a country where preventative medicine was available to me, not because I was grateful for my own good fortune but for the good fortune of my children. Any parent knows how awful it is to watch a child suffer, even just from a cold or flu virus. Imagine having to watch a child become paralyzed from a preventable illness simply because you don’t have access to the medicine. Circumstances change us. Period.

And our choices change us. So not only are our children being affected and changed by every experience, those experiences affect the choices they make which then lead to different experiences which will further shape them. I could choose to sit and watch tv all day or I could choose to read or I could choose to volunteer. Each of those choices will lead to experiences that will change who I am. Maybe not big drastic changes, but changes none the less. Not only will our perspectives and feelings and all the parts that make up our “authentic self” be impacted, but the actual physical makeup of our brain changes, a science referred to as neuroplasticity.

Bottom line: we are all constantly becoming who we are. The “authentic self” is not a fixed point we arrive at, but rather something that is constantly changing. Which means it’s not enough just to know ourselves in one moment; we must constantly be curious about and present with how we feel, what we believe, and what feels right and authentic to us.

Which brings us to the most important question of all: how do we reach our children to truly be authentic if their “authentic” changes every day?

Mirrors

 

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No one gives you clearer feedback on your parenting than your children. More times than I can count, I’ve heard my oldest speak in a certain way or say something in particular and it is like watching myself in a mirror. I’m not talking about family resemblance; I mean the way I lecture her on the importance of listening or my tone of voice when I’m angry. Usually, it’s the things I’m not so proud of that I find reflecting back at me.

Tomorrow is her day to bring snack to preschool, so today we were separating her choice of cheezits and grapes into individual snack baggies for each of her classmates. She did great with the cheezits, but lost stamina when it came to the grapes. Of course, that was at the same time her baby sister needed to eat and only minutes before her dad was scheduled to pick her up. “Come on, Lex. Get this finished. You can get these done, just sit down and do it. You’re old enough to help with this,” I coached (repeatedly) until it was finished.

When we were finally done she headed out to play in the back yard until her dad arrived. I left the screen door open so I could keep an ear on her. It didn’t take long until her play turned into a very loud lecture during which the dog was being scolded to “get to work” and “help out” and “get it done”.

Sigh.

I called her to the door and asked “Did you feel like I was lecturing you about making snack?” Bless her heart, she seemed surprised at the question and responded that no, she hadn’t. But just because she didn’t realize it doesn’t mean it escaped my awareness.

“Let’s both work on asking for help a little more nicely, ok?” I suggested. And she happily skipped back to her game. And I sat at the table contemplating just how many different ways I treat her or respond in a certain tone and then I scold her for exhibiting the same behavior. I expect her to be patient and kind and thoughtful and polite, but am I always those things? The answer is obvious. Of course I’m not.

The discomfort of seeing your own traits that could use some improvement in your child makes this a profound lesson; one I will keep learning over and over again. But there is a brighter side to this: every time she brings me a special gift, a token of her love or “something to remember me of her”, every time she responds with overwhelming gratitude or offers a small kindness to another, every time she marvels at the magic of the moon or the sunset or sings a song she just made up at the top of her lungs or let’s her imagination run wild… Those are reflections of me, too.

None of us are perfect, but in my eyes she is wonderfully, perfectly human. Can I offer the reflection in the mirror the same kind of grace?

Just Like That

Have you ever noticed how many times in a woman’s life that she becomes someone completely different in just a moment’s time? I suppose everyone has these kinds of sudden identity changes. But as a woman I am noticing how frequent and profound they can be.

It’s been a crazy year. My life has turned upside down. When I think about where I was a year ago, I’m blown away by how different my life is. One moment I am single, and a short ceremony later I am married, complete with a whole new name. Have you ever thought about how profound it is to become someone new, a whole new signature, drivers license, and identity just like that? I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Who is this new person?” How could I know yet? After all, I had just met her. She didn’t even exist until now.

And then one little white stick and two little blue lines and I went from being a woman to being a pregnant woman. Everything about the way I was treated, the way I treated my body, and the way I thought about myself changed, just like that.

Fast forward nine months and in an instant I went from being a pregnant woman to being a mother, from a mom of one to a mom of two. Everything changed: the way other people treated me, the way I identified with my body, how I felt and acted and thought about everything changed. Just like that.

One day I was a Professional Development Coordinator. I loved my job and the people I worked with. Then all of a sudden I wasn’t. Then I was a massage therapist. And then, at some moment that is hard to pinpoint, I became a stay at home mom. What does that even mean? When you fill out your child’s paperwork at the doctor’s office and they ask for employment, what do you write? I know deep in my heart that devoting this time to my children is the right and authentic choice for me and my family. Choosing to stay at home doesn’t feel like losing a piece of myself. Until I’m staring at that blank line. And then I don’t know.

All of these changes are profound, life-altering, identity-shifting changes. The kind of changes where you become someone completely different, just like that. Aren’t those kinds of things supposed to take time? Shouldn’t you have to work at it?

And then as a mom, a mom with the intention of raising authentic children, I have to wonder, what kind of changes like that does my child face? She became a big sister in a moment. She will become a kindergartener in a moment. What can I do to support her?

Or maybe the more important question is, what can I learn by watching her navigate these transitions? What will it teach me about who she is? Because isn’t that the point? Not to impose my way of “coping” on her, but instead to help her discover a way that works for her? Perhaps the best thing we can do as parents is to chose “discovering” over “knowing” every chance we get. Because every time she goes through one of those big life shifts, both the ones I can see and the ones I can’t, she will have become someone completely new. Just like that.

And then I get to discover her all over again.

Harper Claire

 

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Ever since I had Lexi, I knew I would have another daughter. She would have dark hair and green eyes (an odd combination to my blonde-haired, brown-eyed oldest child). I didn’t know anything else, but I knew she would exist. And I’d name her Harper.

When I found out I was pregnant, part of me knew it was time, but another part of me couldn’t believe that what I had always believed could be coming true. I was hesitant to label this baby as Harper or get my hopes up. We talked about other names and stayed open to the possibilities.

At the twenty week ultrasound, the tech confirmed what I already knew. It was a baby girl. From that moment on, she was always my Harper.

My little eight pound one ounce miracle came into the world on January 9th at 7:51 am, a few minutes before sunrise. She let her presence be known before the doctor even had her all the way out. The first time I laid eyes on her I felt like I had met the love of my life all over again. When they put her on my chest, she wrapped her little hand around my finger and stayed that way all the way to the recovery room.

We named her Harper Claire. Claire means “clear and bright” and that’s what I see for her. She is so sweet it almost hurts, but she is also strong, with a quiet fierceness about her. Lexi has big, big energy. She is a force to be reckoned with. Harper’s energy is quiet but it is fierce. She will be a good match for her sister.

Life is such a miracle. Children teach us that every day. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out what is mine to do in this lifetime. I always expected my work in the world to be work. And there will be other work. But when I look at these two little humans that I’ve been given to care for and raise into this crazy world, I think that helping them discover and be who they are meant to be will be the most important work I ever do. They will be my greatest art, the best thing I have already given to the world.

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