More Than Gratitude

Multiple times recently I have pulled up my laptop, opened a new blog post and froze. I don’t want to write about I am still struggling with the balance of two children. That every day, for a short moment, I look at my kids and think, how do people do this? How do they help two children at the same time? How do they go to work, take care of their family and still pay attention to themselves?

I don’t want to write about I still feel lost from the person I was before becoming a mother. I want to share about how satisfying my career is, how I’m getting back into my hobbies, how I am living a zero-waste, screen-free, nutritious, socially engaging  and responsible life.

I thought I’d be more prepared the second time around. I was. But that didn’t really change that having children is difficult. Who knew, right?

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But I am writing you on Thanksgiving. My children are sleeping quietly in their own beds, hopefully until 6 am. My belly is full of food made with love. I am drinking hot cider and watching junk TV, the way you should on the night of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is complicated and problematic and tough because the way I have always celebrated it- filled with food, family and friends, is special to me. But that doesn’t erase that the Thanksgiving story we have been told is a lie and Native Americans have never treated with thankfulness or gratitude since Europeans came ashore.

Life is complicated. Children are complicated. Family is complicated. Thanksgiving is complicated. America is complicated. I am complicated. So are you. We cannot pretend that because we like something, it is inherently good. Or because we wanted a family, it is easy. To really participate in something, you have to see it for what it is, understand it for what it is and commit regardless. Commit to make the best of it. Commit to make it better. Commit to try.

Committing is harder for some. It is incredibly hard for me. I want to avoid. I want to keep my options open. I don’t want to get invested. This Thanksgiving though, I am trying to live my values. I don’t want to just be grateful for my life, my family, my country, I want to commit to it. I want to invest in it. Here we go.

 

Baby Austin

This week Austin turns one. One. Is it even possible?

Austin is my little sunshine- not always happy but always a force of nature, always moving, always laughing although he does not give out smiles as easily as his brother. He’s quick to lay his head on your shoulder or leg for a quick cuddle, the sweet snuggler, and he picks up on everything- learning, imitating every movement he can. He’s mischievous and sneaky, giggling towards everything you tell him not to.

Life is a wild ride and I’m so glad he’s on it with us.

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A Letter to New Mothers

Hey Mama,

We are closing in on the end on my little one’s first birthday. It is hard to believe that our tiny new babe has been here for a year. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic, wistful time and also the first signal that we’re exiting baby land. This little guy is getting bigger. Soon he’ll be off bottles and taking one nap a day. All the signs that he’s becoming a little person and we’re leaving the land of littles behind.

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Baby land is a wild and chaotic place. It is the Wild Things. It is a jungle. It is a beautiful place, full of mystery and bliss and struggle where you must work harder than you have ever worked for joy you thought might come easy.

I highly recommend baby land. If you want children, baby land is incredible, but it is a very hard place to be, even under the best of circumstances. As I see this chapter of our lives come to a close, it’s hard not to wish I had been able to access the knowledge, the clarity, the sanity that I have now and wanting to give myself so much more kindness that I ever would have allowed.

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As you enter this new world, you may find yourself looking at the past. Looking at a life that you could have had, had you not gone down this path. There will be moments when you are overwhelmed and you think, did I really choose this? Then in a flash, your child may smile at you or lay their head on your chest and you will think- oh yes, thank goodness I did. Their hand will accidentally brush hair from your face and you will hold your breath in the hopes it lasts forever. 

And yet again when they go to bed at night (for a few minutes, for a few hours?) and you choose to rest or you choose to clean or you choose to daydream or pull out your phone and look at their photos, you may think, “What have I done?” But you have made life and are molding that life and it is molding you.

It is okay to daydream of relaxing days. It is okay to be annoyed that you cannot eat your lunch in peace or feel overwhelmed that nothing is going to plan. In this new world of motherhood, there is an expectation of super human abilities. That you will remain calm in the face of chaos. That you will keep a beautiful home, perfectly divide all domestic duties with your partner, lose the weight, keep up your Instagram aesthetics and live a full, robust meaningful life outside the home. You will have it all and do it all.

Except you can’t. You’ll have to give some things up. A little bit of sanity, some hobbies, the clean floor, some of your social life. You may even think you have to give all of it up, but that’s not quite true either.

For many mamas, for me, the hardest thing I never understood was having to advocate for myself with myself, to practice self-care. To be able to recognize when I was heading towards the brink and to be proactive. To understand that I needed a break whether the day was hard or not. That I didn’t have to be drowning before asking my husband to take over, before saying, “I’ll do the dishes. You put the baby to bed.” It was both our jobs- the dishes and the babies. For all my feminism, for all my preparation, I have learned that lesson over and over again.

This new baby will be all consuming and you will feel you must make them the center of your life- how could you not?- but you are still important. That baby loves you and wants you to value yourself even if their tiny brain could never put that thought together. Put a reminder on your phone to do something for yourself every day, even if it is just a hot cup of tea or 5 minutes outside alone. Treat yourself like your best friend would- with kindness but no bullshit.

It’s okay to reduce your stress level. Let go of what you think meals should be- exciting or complicated. Change from cloth diapers to (biodegradable) disposable ones. Give up breastfeeding for formula. Whatever is not working for you. And when you do, send your guilt out with the trash. This is your journey and your family. Outside judgements need not enter here.

No matter how it feels, you’re not alone Mama. While being a mother may make you more aware of the sharp judgements of others (many opinions you may have been guilty of once too), you will also be shocked at the kindness and generosity of total strangers. Ask for help, reach out for a kind word, share your journey, joys and sorrows.

I am not out of the woods. I am learning motherhood every day. This new world has opened me wide and raw. It has fogged my brain and cleared my eyes. It feels like it has changed everything and yet, has it? Or has what’s important just been amplified? Has what’s important simply been revealed?

The days are long but the years are short. You will not always be able to embrace the chaos, sometimes it will be suffering and sometimes hilarity but if you can laugh through the tears from time to time, you’re doing something right.

Although I am incredibly frugal cheap, I recently made the investment in family photos. When I met with the photographer, she asked me why we were getting these done. I was honest when I shared that this time is so incredibly difficult that I struggle to see beyond the chaos. That I want photos that I can look back on and see how truly beautiful things were. That our family was just as it needed to be not in spite of the challenges of parenting but because of them. It’s not always easy to remember.

Everyone’s experience is different. You may walk into motherhood as if you were born for it, but if not, these feelings too shall pass. But the love you feel will not.

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling Without Kids

Traveling without your children seems as though it should be 100% spectacular. A gift from the heavens. And it is. Before kids I never understood why mothers would hesitate to take advantage of a kid-free trip. Your children are still there when you get back- what a great break! Enjoy what I have- freedom!

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But once your children enter your life, that’s it. I’ve heard many people say that having children is like having your heart outside your body. It’s wonderful with all that extra room to expand, with so much more capacity to love and be loved but it is now exposed, vulnerable, hard to protect.

Last week I was in Vancouver to see one of my best friends get married. I declared Anita my platonic soulmate when we first met (perhaps to her dismay or discomfort!) 12 years ago and to see her marry her romantic soulmate is not an occasion I would miss. It was my 4th time away from Austin overnight and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been away from Haines. While I’ve had to turn down both work trips and fun trips because of the babies (or the lack of money also due to the babies- pricey!) I don’t avoid traveling altogether. The time away resets and refreshes me. The infrequent work trips are valuable, and I try not to miss milestone moments with friends, just as I try not to miss them with my family.

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But the reality is it’s a struggle. It’s tears (mine) putting the babies down for bed and tears (mine again) before my first flight has even taken off, the anticipation of missing them already strong. It’s constantly wondering what they’re doing. When will I get an update, a photo, a Facetime? It’s wanting to hold every baby in the airport to smell their little heads and talk about my own cuties. It’s draining my phone battery looking at their photos.

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Travel does mean reading uninterrupted!

Travel is where Kat and Mama face-off. Part of me wants to go everywhere and do everything. Spend the money! Take the time off! Experience freedom and adventure! Tyler will hold down the fort at home- you deserve it. But the part of me that answers to Mama (or more often “What doin’ Mama?”) just wants to be at home reading Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too?” on repeat and feeling the tug on my pant leg as a baby pulls himself up to greet me.

And so it’s both. It is the occasional trip to a bachelorette or a wedding or a work conference that I try to squeeze every last drop out of before I go home and return to the world of both the routine and the sweet. Cuddles and chaos, diapers and bath time, playgrounds and teething, I miss you too.

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Plastic-Free July

Although I did have a few new year’s resolutions for 2019, this year I mostly focused on a list of monthly challenges for myself. They felt like mini goals to keep things fresh and let me try more of the things I’ve been interested in. Was this a good idea? No, probably not.
Self-care January was pretty awesome. It was a great way to finish up my maternity leave and force me to focus on me. Highly recommend.
Snail mail February felt a bit overwhelming at times but I wrote around 14 letters, several of which resulted in return mail- a win!
Minimalism March was mainly weekends of purging and tidying which was very cathartic. I need more of this in my life!
April is where things started to go downhill. Originally slotted as focusing on yoga, I changed it to No Expectations April. Even with utilizing YouTube, creating a daily yoga practice felt unrealistic. Do I want one? Sure. But at the end of March was when I felt like my insides were starting to crumble. Living a no sleep, new baby life alongside a full-time job and an ever growing realization that I had developed postpartum depression meant I felt like a shell of a human being. I wasn’t sure what the expectations were but I knew I was holding myself to a high standard and I wasn’t living up to it. Thus, No Expectations April. May and June followed in loosey goosey suit.
I did however take a stab at Plastic Free July. Plastic Free July is an actual thing (Instagram handle, hashtag and all) which made it much more fun and motivating to do. Since this was my first year doing it I had pretty low expectations. I wanted to use the opportunity to say no to plastic where I could, identify where I was unnecessarily dependent on plastic and see where we could improve. I didn’t ask my family to make any adjustments although I did make it clear what I was doing and I did make some changes in our grocery shopping.

Saying No:
With a few exceptions, I was able to say no to all single use plastic. Several times at work I used a piece of plastic cutlery without thinking about it although mostly I’ve been reusing them to make them not-so-single use. I’ve never been good about remembering my travel mug but I made a special effort to keep it with me so I wouldn’t have a need for disposable coffee cups and their plastic lids.

Room for Improvement:
Groceries are tough y’all. Since I work 40+ hours a week and have two children in diapers, I have limited opportunities to shop around in multiple stores. For the most part, I need to be able to go to my local grocer and get what I need but my local store does not have a bulk section.

I made a special effort to go to Whole Foods and the farmers markets but neither provided as many plastic free options as I might of thought. Our local Whole Foods is small with a limited bulk section and I realized many of the items I was buying from farmers were still wrapped in plastic such as meat or cheese. Even berries and cherry tomatoes were coming in plastic containers there. Oy.

My family did not directly complain but I did cut out cereal, chips and crackers from our grocery lists since they all come in plastic bags. It made for shitty snacking, so I welcome ideas here.

Also, on my to do list is to create and utilize plastic free alternatives for eating out. We’re doing great on carrying:

  • Reusable water bottles
  • Reusable Ziploc bags- we recently upped our game with some Stasher bags!
  • Reusable fork and spoon for kiddos
  • Reusable pouches for pureed food

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But we need to include:

  • Straws for adults and kids
  • Cutlery for adults
  • Back up travel mug for those who can’t keep theirs clean (I don’t want to name names but… it’s both of us)
  • Cloth napkins to take plastic free to zero waste
  • To-go containers

Plastic Free July was not actually free of plastic but it was reduced and a good exercise. We ended the month by signing up for a compost pick up service which I’m pumped about! You can bring your compost to the county for free but that’s unrealistic for me right now so I’m willing to pay for convenience.

The unintended upside of this challenge is that all my favorite unhealthy snacks are wrapped in plastic wrappers. No more mid-afternoon candy bars!

Breastfeeding: When the Journey’s Over

When my sister had her first child, over 14 years ago, I was shocked watching her use her breast pump. What a loud horrifying torture device. At 19 I was the stereotypical blend of naive and opinionated and told everyone I would never breastfeed. Fast forward 10 years later and nothing could have talked me out of it.

In fairness, no one was trying to talk me out of it. While many people asked me if I was planning to breastfeed, I can’t imagine what the response would have been if I had said no. The undeniable message I received from every direction was “breast is best”. I went to a breastfeeding class. I bought a supply of nursing bras and nursing tops and dresses. I ordered my breast pump. Although I was apprehensive, I wanted to give my baby the very best and generally speaking, for me, that means things natural. No man-made formula!

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Photo credit: Tula Q Photography

I’d like to say I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to feed my baby with my own body. That I wanted to connect with him in this particular, physical way. That I wanted this specific experience, but I don’t think I ever thought that. That wasn’t my motivation. I wanted to be natural, environmental and cheap. I wanted to dive in head first to this new mama thing.

As if by not breastfeeding I would be less of a mom or miss out on some key experience.

What if I was so busy worrying about breastfeeding that I was missing out on just enjoying my baby?

I don’t regret breastfeeding. Breastfeeding taught me a lot of patience and resilience. I got to have the beautiful experience of feeding an infant with my old body, of providing life, sustenance, for both my boys which is pretty incredible. I’m lucky to have had the ability to breastfeed at all.

That moment that the baby latches for the first time is such a victory. It’s this incredible feeling of power, but it’s also coupled with incredible pain. Actual toe-curling pain. Fun fact: your uterus contracts when you nurse. This is a good thing for your body but it fucking hurts. As expected, your nipples also hurt. All of this goes away eventually. The toe-curling stops and if you are getting a good latch, your nipples will be okay as well. The feeling of power also fades, at least it did for me.

I never felt as though it was a choice. If you have the ability to breastfeed, you do, right? Even if it’s hard (yep), even if it hurts (yep), even if it means your spouse can’t help you feed the baby (yep). It’s a time in my life that I can really pinpoint the effects of media/social media and how it influenced my decisions. Even the second time around, I still felt an internal pressure to breastfeed as long as possible. I didn’t feel able to factor myself into the decision- my comfort, my needs, my stress level.

Breastfeeding is incredibly cool, but mom’s needs, wants and mental health should be a top priority instead of the last consideration. This is hard in parenting when you are so very needed, needed for the every day survival of your children. But what about you?

When people ask if I nursed Haines, my auto-response is “Yes, but I quit around 8 months.” It’s a negative story. It’s about failure. It’s about how I didn’t make it to a year, the ultimate nursing goal. But that’s wrong. Haines and I nursed for 8 months. Austin and I nursed for almost 9 months. We stopped nursing when it wasn’t what I wanted anymore and our relationship is just that, a relationship, a two- way street. When Haines and I quit nursing, it was a rushed stressful decision that resulted in days of emotional turmoil. Starting him on formula felt like a failure.  But the last time Austin latched, I knew the decision had been made. I felt done. I texted my mom friends for support and asked Tyler to bring some ice cream home.

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Will I miss that little flutter suck of a baby nursing himself to sleep? Sure, but my baby’s growing up and I miss my body more. I miss myself.

The Magic of Siblings

I’m sure no one is surprised my blogging has dropped off since we became a family of four. Or even more so since I went back to work. Blogging was once something I really enjoyed and thought a lot about. On the way to work or in the shower, I would mull over things I wanted to share. The things in my life that were taking over, small or large. I wanted to share about sleepless nights, about introducing solids, about the way your identity totally changes becoming a parent.

Now, on rare occasions, I think, “Didn’t you used to have a blog?”

Austin hit seven months recently and now typically sleeps through the night. We are on the verge of a dependable routine (yes, I know I just jinxed it). He has started to eat food with varying levels of success. Haines seemed to love everything that came his way while Austin acts as though I’m feeding him a lemon. Perhaps he will be our picky child. We still call Austin “baby brother” more often than not and Haines is definitely increasingly interested in his new friend. He vacillates between trying to keep every toy away from his brother or singing him songs and giving him kisses.

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Chokehold action

Having two kids has made my mind a chaotic mess. I wish I could say the fog has lifted but I still very much feel wrapped up in the daily grind of survival. Today Tyler and I took turns eating dinner while the other walked Austin around. During Tyler’s turn to eat, I took Austin outside and thought, “Tonight is a survival night.” Survival days/nights are when you remove all expectations and just make it through. It was a perfectly fine evening with many adorable moments but it was also an evening where we just needed for everyone to eat, everyone to take a bathe and everyone to go to bed. And so they did.

This will sound stupid so bear with me- having a second child is a lot of work. I’m not sure I’d recommend it. As a new parent you think one child is difficult (because it is) and then you have a second. Holy cow. But you already know how to parent, which is helpful, and most importantly you know that this too shall pass. You become resilient. And you learn that multiple kids is crazy but siblings is beautiful.

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My heart explodes on a daily basis watching the boys interact. Austin has always looked at Haines with total love and awe, as I’m sure he’ll do for quite some time, but now Haines is developing his own feelings for Austin. He’s interested in what he’s doing. He wants to be a part of his day. I know not all siblings become best friends and to hope for such may be naive, but I can’t help but feel I’m watching two people fall in love. It is not always kind or sweet. It is often selfish. It is always real. It is authentic. It feels like the beginning of everything. Siblings, I’d highly recommend.

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