On Balance and Clare turning Two

On Clare’s 2nd birthday, I find myself reflecting on what a different place I am than I was a year ago. Yesterday I became officially certified as a Childbirth Educator. Last year I was wondering how I was ever going to finish the daunting task of all that coursework.  Perhaps this is also because I am reflecting as I read through submissions for my anthology, The Postpartum Year, and I am remembering how hard those early days were. The uncertainty, the strain.  These stories are transporting me back to that time, and also making me entirely grateful for what a better place I am in, mentally and physically. 

            Her birthday falls in the space between two weekends that I am going through the Yoga Assistant program at the yoga studio that has quickly become such a big space in my life over the last several months. On the 2nd day of the program, our teachers asked us to raise our hands if we felt like we were good at self care and good at balance, and I didn’t raise mine.  I’m not really sure why. I feel like I still question whether I am good at those things, or that I feel like somehow I am not a good enough mother if I AM good at those things.  (Which is ludicrous, I know.) But in a culture that values busy, bottom lines, overworking, super moms and perfection, it’s really hard to put your hand up and say “YES! I’m good at self care,” without feeling weirdly guilty.

            But when I really take a good look at what my life looks like right now, I would say I AM pretty good at those things.  And part of that is because in these first two years of parenthood, I’ve learned that I HAVE to be for the sake of my mental health. If you've been reading for a while or you know me, you’ve heard me talk so many times on this blog about how a mental breakdown following the cessation of birth control caused me to turn my life upside down and rebuild with a better foundation in place.  And because of that, I’ve learned to prioritize self-care, to sleep, to meditate, to do yoga as much as possible, to not neglect exercise, to get regular massages, to read, write and pursue passions that make me happy.  To get up earlier than my family to journal, or just drink my coffee and read The Skimm in peace.   I don’t do these things out of selfishness. I do these things because I am a better mother, wife, friend and person if I’m doing them.  I do them because I know – unfortunately from much experience – that if I’m NOT doing them – I’m at a huge risk for mental health spiral. 

            Am I perfect with them? Of course not. There are weeks that I get too many nights in a row of less than 6 hours of sleep or I don’t get to yoga enough.  And I FEEL it.  I get anxious. I snap at Chris and at Clare.  It’s all bad.

            But while her birthday comes in the midst of a very busy season for me, wrapping up birth and lactation certifications plus this yoga program, looking at her 2nd birthday compared to her 1st, it no longer looks like “Holy crap we survived that year” – it looks like “Wow, we are managing and sometimes even thriving with where everything is at right now.”  Of course a big portion of that is owed to the childcare help of my parents - couldn’t do it without you mom & dad - and a bit of relaxation and confidence on our part as parents, and a whole lot of self-awareness on my part. Not to mention Chris currently having a set schedule (which likely won’t last after the next few months, sadly)

            Clare is a big, brilliant, bright, ball of energy and personality these days.  She is exploding with language and understanding, which is both magical and utterly exhausting. They say a huge part of parenting is that the second you get comfortable, everything changes.  And I’d say that’s pretty much been our experience so far.  But it’s nice, at least in this snapshot moment of time, to feel like we are in a sweet place of comfort and relative balance. 

            Happy birthday my sweet girl, mama & dada love you so much.

K&c September

Every month I am documenting a few of our Mama/Baby Favorites. See July and August for more.

Getting Creative with Big Magic & Bird By Bird |  Getting ready for Halloween with Spooky Pookie

Boots, even though it's still hot | Sweater Pants in the morning, Cool Jumpers in the afternoon

Fall Fruit | Lara Bars, shoving the entire thing in her mouth

Planning all the things for the Fall | Carrying around her "balls" shouting Owwwside

Finding pockets of time to work on crafts | Mama's new zumba stereo and her music on it

Ode To Our First Home

It’s been on my list for ages to write a post that was an "ode" of sorts to our first little house. I just hadn’t gotten a chance to really put it into words. There is a space in Clare’s baby book for “a picture of your first house” and I think that’s what sparked the thought originally.

My friend Carol, who was also the mom of two of my first piano students when I started teaching at age 19 and who with her husband Kendall has been our landlord for the last 6 years lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away last week.  Our little duplex was also her first house.  And while we may just be renters, it will always truly feel like our first home. 

At Carols funeral, the priest spoke about “dwelling places” and all of the places that Carol called home, and it really struck me because we are living in one of the first places that she called home and it is because of her that we have been lucky enough to call this place our home for the last 6 years (and continue to do so!)

It seems like there's always a reason to want more or to not be satisfied with what we already have. Words often heard around here lament “I can’t wait till we have a bigger bathroom.” “I can’t wait till we have a dishwasher” “I can’t wait till we can have a real garden, or a better place to keep the cat litter." Stressing that we aren't in a position to afford to live somewhere bigger, always worried about being too cramped when we have large groups over because there just isn’t enough space for everyone.  And on and on. 

But when I really stop and think about it, there are so many wonderful things about this little house  that far outweigh the rest and we have made so many unforgettable memories here.  The charm that only a 50 year old house could have, we've got a pull down ironing board, a mail slot, a full brick walled fireplace and an adorable kitchen to living room "window." Someday way in the future when we do upgrade to something bigger or decide to buy a house, there will be even more memories that we will be leaving behind. 

This is the house where we came home from our wedding and honeymoon to.  Our newlywed home. (While Carol took care of our sick kitty while we were gone.) After the exhaustion of wedding planning and traveling, it really felt like a wonderful home to return to.

This is the house that we lost my dear kitty of 14 years, Kitters in. That week of finals, I will never forget laying with her in the hallway knowing this was probably the last day I would have her.  Waiting for Chris to come home so we could go to the vet.

This is the house that Chris started his career with Amtrak. After several years of us both working 5 jobs combined and him working 7 days a week, I remember sitting in the office with him all dressed up for training and thinking, wow, we’re really starting a new chapter. 

This is the house that I graduated from college in. Where we had my college graduation party. Where so many college choices and decisions were made.

This is the house where I made huge career changes myself, leaving my stable state job for a subsequent marketing job and then letting myself accept and realize how much I hated corporate environments, Chris and I making the choice to go off the pill and start a family. 

This is the house where I had a full blown mental breakdown in Spring of 2013, after the hormonal cascade of stopping the birth control pill. This house was my safe place to get through that incredibly tough span of time. Wrapped in blankets with Chris watching hours upon hours of West Wing.

This is the house where in early June 2013 I peed on a stick and ran into the kitchen waiving it in Chris’s face yelling “I TOLD YOU” and him lifting me up and spinning me around.

Yes, I peed on 3. Don't judge. 

Yes, I peed on 3. Don't judge. 

This is the house where I went into labor, and spent nearly a full day laboring before Clare’s birth.  Walking the neighborhood over and over with Chris, my mom and our awesome doula Nataly.  Kissing my Bertie cat goodbye and telling him we’d be home with his ‘sister’ soon.

Rocking in a chair in this living room with a tiny newborn on my chest is where I had the epiphany that childbirth education and birth work is what I was meant to do.

It’s where Clare had her first smile, said her first word, took her first steps and had her first Christmas.

Crammed with love, this house was full to the brim with friends and family for both of Clare’s one-year-old birthday parties.

So far there have been six Christmases, countless birthdays, other parties, get-togethers, book clubs, clothing swaps, this house is so full of memories and love. Tears shed, news relayed, some of our hardest days and some of our most joyful.   This little house will always have a very special place in my heart. 

Thank you, Carol (and Kendall!). Even though cancer took you from us far too soon, I can feel your sweet spirit permeating the walls of this place we call home, and I am so grateful that you have allowed us this space to live in as part of our journey.  

Rest in Peace, Carol.  We miss you.

Rest in Peace, Carol.  We miss you.

On Gratitude

Studies show that by focusing on what you’re grateful for, you can actually change your brain’s chemistry. Neuroplasticity and all that jazz. This last week I was particularly struck by this. I consciously think about what I’m grateful for when writing in my 5-minute-journal every morning. Sometimes this is in a sleep haze and my notes might not be the most thoughtful…i.e. it’s slightly embarrassing how many times one of my three “I’m grateful for” things includes simply – coffee.

But last week I had read this post of Elise’s and clicked through to this massively expensive house in La Jolla.  Gorgeous. Crazy.   In the same blog reading session I also read Kimberley’s series about the terrible financial troubles she’s gone through over the last few years and is currently facing. (My heart goes out to her SO much! And I think it’s really brave of her to share her story.) And the starkness of these two things just really hit me. 

We have had our fair share of financial worries, crises, account overdrafts, maxed credit cards, broken down cars, etc.  The list goes on and on.  And sometimes these issues can weigh so heavily on our minds, relationships and daily activities that it feels suffocating.  Chris and I have been through so many ups and downs in the 8 ½ years we’ve been together.  But if you compare where we are now to where we were when I was in college working 3 part-time jobs while going to school and him working 2 jobs, seven days per week (literally the man worked 7 days per week for like 2 years. NO days off - love you, babe.) , you can see such a huge difference.  Despite all of that we’ve always come out on the other side. We’ve never lived in fear of homelessness or had the incredibly humbling experience of being on food stamps. (Thank god for those programs, by the way)  It really just gives me so much perspective of all that I have to be grateful for and appreciative of.

I really like what Kimberly says about how most people just assume everyone is functioning in society the same way that they are.  They can’t imagine how others function differently.  What living paycheck to paycheck looks like. It is so true.  I think sometimes we get stuck living in our own little bubbles for so long that we can’t see how truly good we have it.  So as I sit here drinking my - most certainly a luxury – French press of Temple Coffee, I pledge, even in the harder, darker moments to do my best to be grateful and appreciative for all that I truly have. 

When I’m bummed that we can’t afford go out to dinner…I will be thankful that we not only make it a priority to buy but have the ability to afford healthy food. So many people are not that lucky.

When I’m feeling down that I can’t buy Clare the latest thing that all of my other mom friends are buying their kids, or when it feels like everyone around me can afford new clothes, gadgets, etc while we can’t – I will look around at all of the things we do have that seem absurdly luxurious when I really stop and think about what others go through. They may be ‘old’ or a bit run down, but we have TWO working cars. Two!  We both have computers, cell phones, CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONING.  We may live in a small house with a bit of  a run down bathroom, and no dishwasher. But we have an adorable, thankfully affordable rental with plenty of space for our family. And hello - less to clean!  (I've been mulling around a post on an ode to this little house. Someday I'll get it all written out)

When I am sad to be spending another weekend alone while most of my friends have ‘family time’ and Chris works out of town…I will be thankful that while Amtrak’s erratic schedule can be irritating, it supports us and our family and there are so many weekdays when the board is slow that we DO get to spend together that other families never get.

When I’m frustrated that I can’t find enough time to write or work in between Clare duty and piano & zumba teaching, cramming things into the cracks and crevices of naps…I will be grateful that thanks to Chris’s job, I AM able to pursue my passions of childbirth education, podcasting and writing without being chained to a 9-5 job and while also spending much more time with my young daughter than most have the luxury to. 

When my anxiety disorder starts to spiral as my menstrual cycle changes or I overextend myself, rather than digging myself into a deeper hole of worry and blaming myself for not ‘handling’ everything, I will be grateful for the amazing support system of Chris, family, friends, an excellent psychiatrist and the small self-care routines I have created over the last few years. 

Clare has been particularly challenging these last few weeks. Middle of the night wake ups – 4:30am up for the day – more tantrums than I can count – molar teething HELL. But she’s also had some of her sweetest moments…big hugs and kisses and other adorableness. Learning to help her manage her spirited personality will always be our challenge, but also our joy. I love my little firecracker cheese-ball so much that my heart hurts. And for that, I am incredibly thankful.

I got this art print last year, and it really is one of my favorite quotes.  We may not have everything, but we sure do make the best of what we have. And I need to remember to appreciate that.  We all do. 

What have you been taking for granted lately? What small thing could you be grateful for today? Share in the comments! 

10 Tips for Traveling to Maui With a Toddler

You can find a ton of blogs about what to bring when you travel with a toddler, how to navigate airplane travel and the like, but I wanted to focus this post specifically on travel to Maui.  We recently took an early 5-year anniversary trip to Maui with our 15-month-old.  We stay in Kihei (the south side of the island.) Check out my post on Girls on the Grid for more info about our favorite places to eat and things to do in Kihei.

But here are my top 10 tips for traveling with your toddler to Maui:

1)   Stay on California Time (West Coast Time) if you can.  This is probably one of the smartest things we did while on vacation. I had heard nightmares from friends about how their kids wouldn’t sleep after the trip, or while on the trip, no naps, etc.  By staying on CA time, it meant we were up at 4am (or earlier) everyday, but that was totally fine because we went to bed by 7 or 7:30pm every night.  Clare slept well while were there, and we didn’t run into any jet lag problems when we returned.  Win!

2)   Naps: Fly during them, and enjoy them while you’re there.  We had good luck on the first plane ride because it started when she typically naps, so she slept through part of it.   And while we were there, it was so nice to just take time during her naps to actually relax.  To read.  Not to frantically run around working, cleaning, podcasting, blogging like I do when I'm home.

3)   Prepare for activities to not last long, and be okay with that.  Toddlers need breaks. Lots of breaks.  Sometimes they just want to hang out at the condo playing with measuring cups.  We definitely didn’t plan any long all day trips. (Road to Hana, etc.) Those things just aren’t feasible unless you want a very cranky toddler on your hands.

4)   Don’t forget sippy, snacks and a towel wherever you go. There were a couple times we ended up somewhere and forgot one of those three.  Luckily a lot of restaurants will give you a cup of water with a lid, but those are rarely as indestructible as sippy cups. Snacks, ditto.  And a towel is always good to wipe off your child if you decide to pop over to the ocean or the sand while you are out on a trip.  So much better than dragging a sandy crying baby into a car seat.

5)   Beware of sand and nursing toddlers – Sand is all fun and games until it’s in their mouth, and then they want to nurse. And sand is just everywhere.  Sometimes it’s just easier to go to the pool to swim…

6)   Bring as many books as you can comfortably carry – I only brought a few books, figuring we wouldn’t use them much except maybe on the plane. But I was wrong. In the condo that’s pretty much all she wanted to do. We read Little Blue Truck about 4.8 billion times during the week.

7)   Enjoy the non-busy mornings – The good thing about staying on California time and getting up basically before dawn…our favorite breakfast place, Kihei Caffe at 5am was very peaceful and not at all crowded. Which would’ve been a whole different ball game later in the day. (Check out more about other restaurants that we loved on my GOTG post)

8)   Babywearing. The end. - Seriously though….We used a kinderpack for the airport and long walks, a borrowed water sling in the ocean and a regular ring sling all over the place.  It just makes traveling so much better.   

9)    Check out the aquarium - About 15 minutes outside of Kihei (on the way to Lahaina) is the Maui Ocean Center.  It’s much smaller than say the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but it’s cool because it houses sea life specific to the islands. There’s an awesome walk through tunnel where rays and sharks are swimming above and below you.  It’s a must see if you have kiddos, but honestly it’s pretty cool even without them. We went on our honeymoon by ourselves, also.


10)   Bring Help if you Can – Next time we visit Maui, we plan to go with my parents so that we have the extra hands of two more adults, and also so that Chris and I can sometimes do our own things – him snorkel, me shop – without feeling like we’re leaving the other one behind with a baby.  Who knows though – by then we may have two kiddos and it could be an entirely different ball game.