Stay Present

I have spent most of my life thinking about what’s next.

What will we have for dinner? Will the boys actually eat it? 

What do I want to try to get done tonight? Check the budget or take a bath? 

Do we have any plans this weekend? What can I plan? Who should I call?

When can we take a vacation? Where will we go?

I hang signs all of my cubicle and write in my journal, “slow down”, “one thing at a time”, or “be present.” I am never present. This has always been the case for me. I have always dreamed of a life just out of reach. My high school self believed that happiness was waiting for me in college. My college self sought my life’s true purpose backpacking through Australia and then by putting down roots in Austin. As a parent of young children, I often think how much easier things will be when the kids are older, despite that everyone with older kids tells me this is not true.

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23 year old waiting for an epiphany in Australia

If not now, when?

The pandemic, for all its havoc on the world, is teaching me to be more present. Most of my questions these days are pointless or cannot be answered any time soon.

When we will go on a vacation? Hard to say.

Do we have any plans? Absolutely not.

Will the pandemic end? When will it be considered safe to do all the activities we did before? No one knows. Stop asking.

At first, I spent my initial pandemic days planning what I would do when this was all over. What adventures would I take? My mind still wanders there from time to time, but now I stick with today. Today’s project. Today’s fun. The little ins and outs of the day.

The boys help with their demands for right now. They struggle to think about tomorrow, let alone any time farther in the future. Anything they want is only in this very moment. It’s frustrating and freeing to live with people who have no concept of time, who believe they are being patient by waiting 20 seconds before shouting their desire again.

We spend as much time outside as we can stand. Each weekend we wake up to decide what adventure we might take next. Which nature trail will we go to? Should we take a bike ride? Go to the beach? We don’t know where we’ll go until that morning and then we pack up the snacks and hit the road.

Teaching the boys the joys of being outside is one of the things I dreamed of from the moment we decided to have kids, but it is typically far from idyllic.

Austin hates riding in the bike trailer, spending most of his time taking off his helmet and throwing things onto the road, but loves when we go on nature walks. At 18 months old though, he is constantly trying to wander off trail to grab everything and frequently cannot be persuaded to leave a mud puddle behind. We let him walk every so often but mostly carry him on my shoulders or in a carrier.

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Haines could ride all day in the bike trailer but refuses to walk any trails. We leave him on a bench thinking he will get up and follow us eventually, but have to go back and get him. So we take a stroller everywhere now, which drives me insane. Tyler, more tolerant, pushes him over tree rots and carefully navigates down hills. When I have to push him for even a few minutes I am instantly angry and annoyed.

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But when you are out 3 miles from home on a bike ride or mid-trail walk, you just have to deal. You pick the pacifier up out of the road and put it in your pocket for the 5th time in 15 minutes. You shove the stroller through the soft sandy trail and look up. At gorgeous green trees, at yellow butterflies, at birds. When Austin hears a bird, he will grab his ear to indicate he is listening or shout “caw caw”. He bounces up and down on my shoulders with delight. Haines wants to see every flower, wants to know about every animal that might live out where we are. What do birds eat? Why?

These bouncing boys, our beautiful surroundings, the world seemingly on pause, are constantly reminding me to just be present. And for once I am listening.

 

New Year’s Resolution #2: Me First

Me first can sound selfish or it can sound obvious depending on where you’re at in your mental health, self-care journey. I always thought I did a pretty good job before I had kids. I had ample hobbies and interests, friends and social activities that my life felt full and rewarding.

Kids totally knocked that out. I did not have a routine. I did not have a stable, dependable habit or thing that kept me sane during tough times. I was just floating by.

Side note: the most important unsolicited advice I would offer an expecting parent is that you establish a meaningful, flexible routine that allows you to keep your sanity in check. Daily meditation? At-home yoga practice? Friend that you can call day or night? Get it before that baby arrives in your home. 

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Sometimes the only answer is to leave the house, rain or no rain. I wanted to go hiking but didn’t want to risk messing up his nap so just hit a nature trail nearby. Compromise.

Now that we’re two kids in I have learned that I really don’t have any self-care habits. I had things I did for fun, not really for calm and it’s really made it difficult to have any emotional resilience.

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Another rainy moment but we rode downtown for ice cream. Totally worth it. 

New Year’s Resolution #2: Me First

I’m going to do something for myself every day. Some days will be small. A cup of tea after the babies go to bed. A long cuddle with Clara. Saying no. Ignoring chores. Taking the kids for a walk even if it’s dark outside or sprinkling rain. Perfect conditions not necessary. I don’t know what this will look like (I’m learning after all) but these are my plans:

  • Hot baths
  • Baking bread
  • Get outside, with or without kids
  • Stating what I need, am feeling
  • Declining invitations
  • Ignoring chores
  • Writing blogs, essays, gratitude journaling
  • Watering the plants
  • Eating food when I’m hungry, not waiting until the children leave me alone
  • Take a pottery class
  • Go to yoga
  • Crafting

 

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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Tiny Adventure: Coffee Crawling and Boat Cruising

So I’m pretty much down for anything that gets me outside on a pretty day. Make it stroller friendly and add free samples- I’m in! So this coffee crawl had my attention immediately.

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The Wilmington Coffee Crawl was well attended making it not as stroller friendly. One stroller was fine, but two strollers in a coffee shop or even near the shop- total traffic jam. It made it a little less relaxing than I would have hoped but I was in it for the adventure, right? To be fair, I don’t like coffee. I don’t like anything remotely coffee flavored. I’ve tried drinking chocolate milk with a thimble of coffee and it still makes me want to barf. I was in it for the danish samples (I’m always in it for the danish samples).

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Better Than Never blogger, Chrissy, and I strolled Haines through a light rainstorm to three different coffee shops and a brewery. He was a champ! We used a beer at the new Edward Teach brewery to calm our caffeine/sugar overload. Sometimes you need an afternoon downtown to remember how much our town has going on.

Haines is pretty tolerant of his stroller. Tyler and I have started jogging recently and Haines rarely fusses. BUT he does not like to be contained. When Tyler wanted us to go on a Valentine’s sunset cruise, dinner included, I was skeptical. Haines wants to walk around and explore 98% of his waking hours, not wear a life vest and stay in my lap. Still, we did it! Tyler picked up burritos, chips and queso- literally the food of romance for me- and met me at the marina with a few tulips and a baby fresh from daycare. We were able to take a short sunset cruise and eat dinner on board although I did have to walk around carrying Haines most of the time. Being seated was unacceptable.

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I’m working on tolerating the stress of going places with a busy baby. The other option is being at home which I already do quite a bit! In the end, I’m exhausted, a little bit fried and pretty proud of myself.

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Baby Money: How to pay for your new baby $$$

One of the most stressful parts of adding a person to your family, is figuring out how to pay for that person. They’re not exactly contributing to your household income (slackers). Most couples are faced with the choice- does one person stay home or do we hand our paychecks directly over to daycare? It is very easy to understand why many parents decide to become a single-income family. One month of daycare is just shy of our mortgage. I feel nauseous just writing that.

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That’s my baby being the biggest boy at his daycare.

It didn’t make sense financially for either of us to stay home, but even more significant it didn’t make sense for us emotionally. I definitely wish it was something we could have felt was a real option, but when it comes down to it both of us really like our jobs. It was important to us to keep them. That didn’t stop me from being an emotional wreck going back to work. I also periodically re-lose my mind over being a working mom and all the guilt that comes with it. But that’s parenting no matter what you’re work situation is.

I’d love to tell you about how we saved and prepared for all our new costs in advance but…not really. Here’s what we had to tackle and how we handled it.

//Medical// First you have to birth a baby and that’ll cost you. Then they’re going to get sick and you’re going to have co-pays for the pediatrician ALL THE TIME. I was very lucky that a previous employer I had a Health Savings Account. Through employer funding and my contributions I had almost $6,000 saved by the time Haines came along. When our non-medicated birth delivered by a midwife was only a little over $1000 I was so excited that we had more we could use later. But only two weeks later we were back in the hospital for twelve days. Thank goodness we had those extra funds. Even with a healthy baby, you never know what could happen. Now, I make sure to fund a Medical Flexible Spending Account each year to get the tax savings on our inevitable medical costs.

//Childcare// If you are a dual-income family, chances are someone is watching that baby part of the day. I liked the daycare route for several reasons. I wanted Haines to learn good social skills and  having some structure and routine around his day will be helpful when he transitions into school. I felt like daycare could provide more of that. It also seemed to be the most cost effective option (barely). I put the maximum into a Dependent Care Account which isn’t nearly enough. This part is painful. There’s no denying it.

//Diapers// We chose to cloth diaper via a diaper service for the first year. It cost about $80 a month, which was gifted to us. This is definitely the easiest way to cloth diaper- we loved it! But it’s not the most cost effective. Currently we do a mix of washing our own diapers and disposable. We’ve always had leak issues with cloth at night and when we travel we bring disposables. Still using cloth keeps our diaper costs down as well as our environmental impact.

//Formula// Obviously if you can breastfeed throughout the first year, you can avoid buying formula. That’s not always possible. We had to buy formula for 5 months which probably cost around $320. And that’s buying it at Costco. Now, daycares are required to provide formula so we could have saved by using their formula. But at around the same time a chemical, GenX, was found in our local water system. I wasn’t okay with our local daycare mixing the formula with tap water so we brought our own.

//Food// Haines ate pureed food for less than 2 months. He is not a fan of having people feed him. We made all of his food to keep costs low. I think it’s a little much to buy a special blender for baby food- I mean it’s just a tiny blender but we were gifted a freezer tray for baby food and I’m a huge fan. Now I freeze chicken stock in it.

Now he’ll eat most (like 60%) of the things we make for dinner but we keep certain staples on hand for him at all times: fruit canned in its own juice, applesauce (most often homemade and frozen), frozen veggies (corn, green beans, lima beans, peas) and either Chex or Kix.

//Clothes// Most of Haines’ clothes are gifts. I try not to buy much for him and as he’s the only grandson in our family, people are very generous! Anything we have to buy is from second hand kid clothing shops and semi-annual consignment sales. We probably spent around $50 last year on his clothes. I bought one pair of Target pajamas, two pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of shorts, 3-4 pairs of pants and a couple sweatshirts. Once he outgrows something it goes into a bag underneath his crib. Hypothetical baby number two and/or friends with babies will benefit!

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One of our best second-hand finds!

//Toys// With very few exceptions, we don’t buy toys. We have plenty from hand-me-downs and gifts. We have purchased 1 second hand wooden train set and 1 activity walker from Fisher Price. We’re going to keep this up as long as possible by saying yes to hand-me-downs whenever they come!

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//Baby bullshit// One person’s baby bullshit is another’s must have item. You know what yours is. I won’t call you out.

Paying for babies isn’t for the birds. Someone once told me that babies are cheap when they’re little. I call baby bullshit.

I’ve also been told that when it comes to babies the money always just seems to work out. It did for us, but it has almost entirely been through the generosity of others. Maybe that and a little luck. So the amounts here may seem small to you (if you have a child) or they may seem enormous (if you don’t). But it worked out. And it was worth it.

Medical $7,500
Childcare $7,020
Diapers $15/ month in disposables, plus free cloth diapering
Formula $320
Food insi
Clothes $50
Toys $50
Bullshit $30