All I want for Valentine’s Day is my two front teeth…

…Well, not mine. Little guy is in misery. 

The poor baby can’t sleep and just kind of whimpers all day when he is not chewing on absolutely everything he can get his little grip on. I know this teething affliction can’t be avoided, so I have spent some considerable time searching for ways to alleviate the discomfort without resorting to medicine. I’ve come up with a few things that work best for us. These tips are not new, I just wanted to offer a summary of the advice I’ve gotten and what has worked best.

Ice in the pacifier. I read this tip online somewhere when I was pregnant and thought it was kind of odd. But desperation can make a lot of crazy things sane, so I gave it a try. Once little guy was cleared by the pediatrician to drink a little water, I decided to try this trick. Compress the bulb of a pacifier and submerge it in a glass of water to fill the bulb part-way with water, then throw it in the freezer. He absolutely loved this. It was like the teething ring, but he didn’t need to hold it and test his luck with his sometimes shaky hand-eye coordination.

Sophie the Giraffe. When I got pregnant, mom friends couldn’t stop buzzing about this little rubber toy. My aunt was kind enough to give it to us as a shower gift.  I have to say, when I opened it I was unimpressed. It just looks like a cute little animal toy that squeaks so my dogs also find it irresistible (which is a bit of an issue!) However, this little toy seems to be the only thing that comforts little guy sometimes. I think it must be just the right texture and size for his little hands. I do well to never leave it at home!

My fingers.  I was hesitant about trying this one (um, ouch!), but my neighbor recommended it as the one thing that really helped her boys when they were teething. So I wash my hands really well and just sort of gently rub his gums and let him chew. It’s mesmerizing. And it seems to let him know I know what is hurting and I’m trying to help. That last part may be totally in my head, but it makes me feel better.

Distraction. Little guy is at an awesome age where movement really fascinates him. He loves to to try to anticipate my moves when I tickle him, or to fly like and airplane, or drop like an elevator when I do squats. It is one heck of a workout “flying” him all around the house and squatting with him (did I mention he’s 21 lbs at 6 months?!) Plus, he is just starting the belly laugh, and that is worth anything I can do to hear that adorable giggle.

Cuddles. I’m sleep deprived, so the constant neediness that accompanies teething can definitely be trying on my nerves and patience. But I am not the one going through the teething, and I know this won’t last forever. The best remedy I’ve found so far is lots of cuddle time and compassion. So for two nights in a row, I waited patiently while he fell asleep in my arms on the couch, since he seems too fidgety and uncomfortable to fall asleep like he normally does. One day I will be sad he doesn’t want to fly around like an airplane or fall asleep on my chest. 

It’s another phase that won’t last forever, but I sure do hope little guy feels better soon.

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Great Balancing Act

“So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I love reading this book to my son. I received it as a high school graduation present, and to be honest, I don’t think I read a word of it until one night searching through our bookshelf for something new to read to little guy. The book itself is beautifully written, and when I reached the page with this passage, I got goose bumps. It is a stirringly simple observation about life, and has become somewhat of a mantra me.

Balance in life means something different than I thought it would. I thought balance would mean keeping as many balls in the air as effortlessly as possible. Making it all work–home, family, community, career, health–without feeling the stress of near-certain failure, or the strain of never-ending commitments.

I am beginning to understand that balance may mean something entirely different. I am learning that balance means making choices and living with the consequences. I may want to do and be many things to many people, but balance can’t be achieved with all those things on my scale. They don’t fit. In order to find balance, I have to choose what is most important to keep in the equation.

Choices are tough because when something wins, something else loses out. But then again, that’s the point. I can’t do everything and do anything well. I have to make choices. I have to accept that there are consequences to those choices. There is simply no way to make all the choices at the same time. If this is such a simple concept, why do so many women like me struggle with the guilt in their choices?

My desires for how my life would unfold would be forever changed by the new outlook that was born right alongside my first child. Priorities changed for me, and I never saw it coming. Instead of doing everything as I used to, I would have to make some choices about where I would focus my energies, or else spend a good bit of my life fighting a losing battle to balance more than what fits on my scale.

Then came the guilt.

If I continue working, between the commute and my 9 hours, plus weekend events, I would barely see little guy. I’ll miss so much. Guilt.

If I quit, I will no longer contribute to my family financially. I will push us off the edge of “comfortable” and into the realm of “cutting it kind of close” every month. Guilt.

If I work, I won’t give it 100% because I’ll be thinking about what I’m not doing at home. Guilt, once again.

If I quit, am I derailing my career as I know it? Am I giving up on my potential as an independent and driven individual contributor? Oh, make it stop.

I am still trying to come to terms with my decision to stay home with my son. I am not torn as much because it feels right for me at this point in my life.

That’s the great thing about balance. The choices, though they guide the direction of my life, don’t need to forever define it. When my condition or needs change, I can re-calibrate as necessary. And I think with experience I will learn to fit more on to my scale.

I have also discovered that balance is an intensely personal in definition. What constitute balance for one person is torture for the next. I’ve had several people comment on my decision, saying things like “you’re staying at home? trust me, you’ll be b-o-r-e-d,” or “As much as I love my kid(s), I could never stay home. I need my time away to stay sane.” These are valid points for these women. And there is nothing saying I won’t change my tune at some point and find that being at home actually starts to disrupt my ever-changing definition of balance.

I have to highlight that because in addition to guilt, many women (especially moms) I know endure another stressful and persistent state: the feeling of being judged.

I don’t judge what other moms do–honest. I know the mental and emotional gymnastics that can take place for moms to make the right decisions for their families. I also know many women are not afforded the choice I have–circumstances dictate what they must do for work, and my guilt-ridden tug-of-war must seem somewhat trivial to them. This is not a judgment on what I think is the best decision, just the best for my family at this particular junction in our lives. I commend women who successfully balance more than I do, and hope to learn from them.

I haven’t mastered the balancing act yet. But I know I’m on the way to understanding a lot more about my priorities and how to make the right things fit into my life.

I have not abandoned my ambition and pursuit of my own career, simply made the choice to change course for a while and focus on raising my son and growing our family. That’s a choice I’ve made, complete with consequences. My goal now is to see where it leads me and try to let go of the guilt. After all, I have places to go.

“…you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

–Side note, I’d like to thank Leoarna, whose post “Career Mum or Career Woman? Let’s just let each other get on!” inspired this post. I’m not quite sure of the proper blogging protocol for such a shout-out, but I wanted to make sure it was noted!

In a rut

I feel a little uninspired.

I have started to write several posts over the last few days, but nothing feels authentic or worth publishing. I am hitting a road block and hoping that writing about my lack of original thought might help get the juices flowing.

When the writing works for me, it is truly therapeutic  I don’t have to think too much, the words just come. Now, I think I’m forcing it a bit; however, I think I have to. If I always wait for the right moment, the right feeling to strike, I won’t write much of anything at all.

I have stagnated in my plans to get more freelance writing work as well. I have leads to follow and some self-marketing to do, but I am having trouble getting the ball rolling. Something is holding me back.

Staying at home with the little guy is unpredictable (despite the daily eat/play/nap schedule I printed out and posted on the fridge. I think I can hear more seasoned moms laughing at my naivete) The lack of real routine has caused me to get a little too comfortable with a weekend-style day on the weekdays. I play with him, we read books and take walks. All well and good. But when he naps, I fold laundry. I Facebook. I don’t do the work I said I was going to do. Heck, sometimes I don’t even shower, which just leaves me feeling unready for the day.

As he gets older, he is content for longer stretches just bouncing in his little bouncer, which leaves me with even fewer excuses for not getting my act together and working more. 

I desperately want to make working from home work, but I seem to be standing in my own way. Even blogging has not provided an outlet–I keep feeling like I have nothing worth writing.

So I’m in a rut. 

A little home office inspiration. Credit: hgtv.com. Designer: Meg Caswell

So tonight I am reorganizing my office space. If I don’t lie to myself, I realize that this project is just another form of procrastination from the task at hand. However, I hold tight to the hope that a reorganized, refreshed office space will leave me more inspired to get to the real work…starting tomorrow.

Any advice on how to overcome this creative drain? Anyone else in a creative slump?

When a child is born, so is a mom

When I was pregnant, Carter’s baby clothes was running a commercial on TV. I’m not sure if it was the hormones or my generally over-sentimental nature (probably both), but it definitely got me teary-eyed. The spot is narrated by a small child and details life over the first years of life as mother and child learn and grow together, and ends with the closing “when a child is born, so is a mother.”  See the spot here.

(as a side note, the video now ends with the phrase “when I became yours, you became mine.” Not sure why, or if I have the wrong video, but I’m pretty sure this is it!)

Now, a mere 6 months into motherhood, I have taken some time to reflect why that idea resonated so strongly with me. It comes to no surprise to mothers who have gone before me that having a baby changes your life in ways you can only begin to understand through experience. Becoming a parent has profoundly changed my perspective (surprise, surprise), and I think I’ve seen the biggest changes in my life occur in my relationships. As a mom, I have begun to see the other people in my life in a new light, both good and bad, in ways I never expected.

My relationship with my husband is different, and not just because of our shared sleep deprivation and lack of date nights. Parenthood, for me, has made the previously-defined “hard stuff” in marriage seem silly and the really hard stuff seem surmountable. Plus, I get a kick out of the subtle hints of my husband’s personality emerging in our son, even though I know it means he will be a handful!

My husband is no longer just the guy I married; he is the father of our kid. Not that marriage vows are anything to sneeze at, it’s just that now we have our vows and the well being of our little family to uphold. Kind of changes what I see when I look at him, but in a good way.

As I get older, I enjoy how I see my parents more and more as human beings and not just mom and dad. I see myself stumbling through some of the growing pains of motherhood and think of how my mom handled the same situations. I always thought of her as supermom who just knew how to make things work for our family, but I now think she must have once been awkward and inexperienced like me, which makes me feel better. Plus, I can make sense of the things my parents did and sacrificed in ways I never understood before. I may be uneasy about parenthood, but I am never lost because I had excellent roles models.

My relationship with my friends (and the list of those I still consider a friend has changed in itself) is also different from what I was expecting. I have friends who still call and visit and have stuck through everything with me, regardless of where they are in their own lives. I feel so fortunate for that. Now that I have a little life to care for, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the friends that actually care when they ask “how are you?”

Many of my closest friends don’t have children, and though I need to make more “mama” friends for the shared experiences, I secretly love having less attached friends to let loose with (or at least lead a vicarious life from time to time). They still go out on Friday nights. They still do weekend getaways. And even if I can’t go along, I enjoy hearing all about it. That might seem strange–enjoying friends who have less and less in common with me as far as family goes–but I think it does wonders for my perspective, and reminds me that “fun” does not always have to include a diaper bag. Plus, these girls are amazing people no matter how different our lives have become, and I’m in it for the long run with them.

All in all, being a mom seems to have changed my perspectives about my relationships more than the relationships themselves. One exception to that is the relationship I have with myself.

As a mom, I want to be a better person. No just in a new-years-resolution-guilt kind of way, but in the most authentic, motivating way I have ever experienced. I am living more healthfully. I am following my passion. I am going back to church. I am on a mission to be a better wife, daughter, and friend. I’m far (far!) from perfect at these things, but I am more inspired than I have ever been before–all because I have big shoes to fill, and because I really want my son to be proud of his mom.

Those are the biggies I’ve learned in my first six months— I’ve learned that when my baby was born, I was “born again” as a mom. And although I am well aware it won’t always be rainbows and sunshine, I am sure it was what I was always meant to be.

It won’t be like this for long

My husband and I are both a little sleep deprived this morning. For the fourth night in a row, our 5-month-old son has not slept much, and therefore neither have we. 

Pretty much sums it up…

Since he was born, he has never been a very good sleeper. Since I’ve been home (for over a month now) I’ve been trying to ease him into some kind of schedule, while hoping he will remain flexible enough for the occasional outing or visit.

No such luck. He seems to want to eat, sleep, and play at random. Over the last week, I’ve managed to get the day schedule to have some semblance of structure, but the nights are always wild cards. 

We’ve gotten all kinds of advice, and tried everything short of the cry-it-out method, which most of my relatives insist is the piece of the puzzle I’m missing. While I pass no judgment on those who do this, I simply don’t want to. I suffered no lifelong psychological ills from this method being applied to me as a baby. Likewise, I really don’t believe not letting my son cry-it-out is somehow crippling his ability to be an independent sleeper in the future. It is simply a matter of preference.

So, I will press on trying to console him to sleep in some form or another. Lavender nighttime baths, nursing, rocking, singing, a funny little creature that projects blue stars onto the ceiling. And I will resign to the fact that this is a phase, like a zillion others I will face before I’m done raising babies.

This morning, while my little guy was belly-laughing in his high chair at my funny faces, I heard a song that happened to perfectly fit the moment. It won’t be like this for long. The sleepless nights go hand-in-hand with the most beautiful mornings I have ever had. 

Even if the sleeplessness seems like it will last forever, this moment in my and my son’s lives will be gone long before I truly appreciate them. Soon, I will be worrying about teenage driving, grades, and my baby leaving home. So, for now I will try my best to be present in the moment and try to remember to enjoy the fleeting joys of babyhood. 

 

Veggies for thought

Forming new healthful habits is difficult for a number of reasons: defeating old habits, maintaining willpower, finding the time to exercise and cut up all those veggies. But the reason that I am finding most maddening is also the most surprising for me: staying healthy requires money.

Fruits and veggies

Adding extra veggies, fish, and a multivitamin to my grocery trip this week cost me a small fortune and a gym membership is out of the question; meanwhile, ramen noodles are $0.30, a McDonald’s McDouble is $1, and sitting on my butt for hours is virtually free.

Sure, there are more frugal ways to be healthy. Start a vegetable garden. Clip coupons. Go running outside. But for those already stretched for time and resources, maintaining good habits with any kind of regularity may be a fruitless (pardon the pun) task.  It’s no wonder so many people abandon New Year’s resolutions by January 2, when real life takes the place of our good intentions, and the majority of us are carrying extra pounds and filled with convenience foods.

I’m now working part-time from home and am more fortunate than many because we don’t rely on my income to make ends meet. However, we certainly don’t have the wiggle room in the budget for a bunch of wild-caught fish or organic apples. Plus, after trying to squeeze some kind of  activity into the vast majority of my day, the cheap and easy gratification of a fast food burger is so much more appealing than another hour of cleaning, cutting, and preparing a slew of vegetables.

Of course, I could buy the veggies pre-cleaned and sliced, but I will pay a pretty penny for them. Or I could buy them in a can, but what about BPA? Carrots are easy, but no one in my house will eat them. Screw it–I’m going to the drive-through! Preparing healthful, tasty, inexpensive, and quick meals is so complex it’s almost contradictory. Something’s gotta give.

OK, so nothing groundbreaking here. Life is a constant balance between time and money, healthful choices for long-term gain or quick and easy methods for short-term satisfaction. It just never hit me before how much our culture and lifestyle mangles the message by extolling, and even guilting us with the benefits of health and wellness as a way of life, then encouraging the quick, easy, cheap foods and lazy life choices.

For me and many others, eating better and getting in shape will always be difficult because my human nature seeks the path of least resistance to nourishment. However, the ease and perpetual allure of cheap, quick, low-nutrient consumer foods makes it even more difficult.

And least I know the challenges I’m up against when creating a healthier life are not entirely internal. In order to improve my health,  I will need to battle the culture that sets unrealistic expectations for our eating and exercise habits, then offers a plethora of easy ways around those expectations. And the first step in any fight is to know your enemy.

Mourning the loss of childhood innocence

I woke up this morning to the sight of my little boy sleeping peacefully. The terrible events that unfolded last Friday gave me a renewed sense of gratitude for his safety, but also the recognition that I will never be able to protect him from all the bad in life. Terrible, unspeakable things happen on rough city streets and in sleepy, picturesque towns. And there is nothing I can do to guard him from experiencing bad things in life. One day, he will face the troubling realization that life is full of uncertainty, unfairness, and loss.

For the most part, our society recognizes childhood innocence as something sacred—something to be protected lest it be disturbed too soon. We understand that childhood innocence is fleeting and the rest of life exposes us to a host of sad, scary, serious things.

Although I can’t wait to share the amazing and beautiful parts of the world with my son as he grows, I am sad that the good things of life must go hand-in-hand with the hard parts: fear, disappointment, temptation, evil. I know my job as a mom is not to shield him from these things, but to prepare him to face the tough stuff when the time comes. And somehow I already know that it will be more difficult for me to witness his pain than it is for me to experience it myself. Such is the condition of parenthood, I’m learning.

Being a parent has allowed me to experience the deepest and most profound love I could ever imagine. But it has also made me more vulnerable than I have ever been before. Truly, my own heart now exists outside of my body.

It is through this new lens of parenthood that I viewed the recent tragedy, and why it is even more earth-shattering for me to think about. I can’t imagine the kind of pain those families and that community is grappling with. My thoughts and prayers, however insignificant they may be, are sent the way of all those suffering from this trauma.

My hope is that our children whose innocence has been shattered by this and other awful events in life will also be fortunate enough to perceive the good that coexists with the bad. That they will remember the fear and the loss, but also the courage of those they loved, the strength of their community, and the sense of commonality that tragedy brings out among us.