Finding 365 days of reflection

img_6435I have been waiting 365 days to write this blog post. 365 long, short, happy, sad, exciting, boring, fun, mundane, busy, slow, up and down days. 365 days that have each been unique… each their own snowflake within the year. Each day has tested me in its own way, making me better (even though some days I got worse first). When I walked away from a job I loved one year ago yesterday, I vowed to myself that I’d write and publish a post exactly a year and a day later reflecting on what I’d learned through my new role as a stay at home mom. Of course, at that time I didn’t predict that I’d spend the last four months of that year crippled by terrible writer’s block, with a head full of content and observations to share but an inability to translate them into shareable material. Perhaps that itself is the metaphor for my year…. a jumble of emotions and experiences too great to put into words. Or maybe, I’ve been so consumed by being home with my kids that I haven’t had a chance to reflect on what that has meant. Or maybe, the words haven’t come as easily as they once did. At any rate, I’m here now because I promised myself I would be, and that is a promise I intend to keep.

When I started out these last 365 days as a stay at home mom, I had great expectations of what that would look like and I’m simultaneously proud and saddened that I didn’t live up to much of that. I had lists, spreadsheets, projects, recipes, ideas and plans… most of which still sit in the same format that they did when I’d initially put them together, completely untouched. It’s not that I failed or that the expectations were too lofty, but rather that I had no idea what my days would be like until I lived them. Until I was the hot mess mom running her kid into her classroom late… again. Or the completely with it mom who planned great birthday parties. Or the mom who baked cookies and sat in the backyard making wishes on dandelions with her kids. Or the mom who had all the time in the world and yet no time at all to get anything done. I’ve been all these moms, and more.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned since this day last year:

  • Being a mom is the best job I have ever and will ever have.
  • Kids are resilient. They need a guide to help them navigate the world around them, but they are stronger and more intuitive than we realize.
  • Moms need a time out every once in a while. Sometimes that time out includes coffee. Or wine. (I’ve yet to need both at once, but never say never.)
  • Going to the bathroom alone is a luxury.
  • There will always be more laundry to be done and as much as you will it to happen, it will never fold itself.
  • Sometimes a bowl of cheerios and milk is dinner enough.
  • You can have ratings for your yoga pants, ranging from your nice ones to the ones you only wear around the house. Also, practicing yoga isn’t a requirement for wearing yoga pants.
  • Watching too much television isn’t healthy, but sometimes the television is the best (and cheapest) babysitter around.
  • Nothing teaches patience better than a child who asks “why?” all the time. Except for the child who says “mommy” on repeat for 30 minutes straight.
  • Pinterest is a great place to collect ideas for projects you’ll never do and recipes you’ll never make.
  • Breathe.
  • Put the date for a birthday party in your calendar. Check the date against the invitation. Don’t show up for the party a day early (or a day late for that matter).
  • Siblings fight. Sometimes they need you to step in and sometimes they need to work it out themselves because you can’t be a referee forever.
  • Every toy, shoe, and worksheet needs a home. I’ve yet to find a home for most of these things, but they need a home nonetheless.
  • You don’t have to be perfect all the time. Or any of the time.
  • Patience really is a virtue.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Kid laughter is the best form of it. Laugh with your kids often.
  • Ask for help. Accept it graciously.
  • Put the phone down. Sit on the floor and play.
  • Ask questions. Listen to the answers.
  • Be present.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Burned toast is salvageable. Burned chicken is not.
  • The drive-thru carwash with music blaring is an entertaining afternoon activity. (Oh, and your kids will like it too.)
  • Find your tribe. Make friends. Talk to people.
  • Being a mom (and being a parent, for that matter) is not easy.
  • Be kind to yourself.

img_6861This list is in no way complete, but it’s a good start. I was sure that after a year in this new life I’d have some deep and profound thoughts about what this transition has been like. I thought that I’d have a true understanding of both sides of the field having been a working mom, a stay at home mom, and, as I do now, straddling the two. But the truth is… there is no truth. I don’t have a profound understanding, I just have my days. These last 365 gratifying, challenging, amazing days. We spend so much time fighting the “mom wars,” comparing our experiences to others, longing for something else or being completely rooted in where we are. Maybe for some the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe the grass is perfectly green exactly where you stand. Or maybe the grass needs to be mowed, the laundry needs to be done, dinner needs to be made, work needs to be completed and the kids need to be bathed. It’s just grass, so do with it what you will.

Advertisements

Finding firsts, lasts and somewhere in between

As parents, we put a lot of focus on firsts as important milestones… first words, first steps, first day of school… but focusing on the lasts is also an important part of this crazy journey we call parenthood. Last night in a crib, last time nursing, last day of school. I didn’t expect to feel emotional about my daughter’s last day of her first (there’s a tongue twister for you!) year of elementary school. After all, we had already celebrated her last day of preschool and her first day as an official elementary school student. Weren’t those the milestones to focus on? Yeah, I thought so too. But as tomorrow looms, my oldest daughter’s last day of school before her first (there it is again) “real” summer vacation, I’m strangely emotional all over again.

Ready to be the letter "N" in her class alphabet parade.

Ready to be the letter “N” in her class alphabet parade.

In some ways, it feels like her childhood is just beginning. The years leading up to this were largely toddler years, full of playdates, playgrounds and innumerable firsts. But beginning tomorrow at 11:17am, she will begin a summer vacation that represents much much more. She is on her path through traditional schooling, where she spends ten months learning inside a classroom and two months playing, exploring, and learning entirely outside of the classroom. This past school year has been just as much of a growing year for us, her parents, as it has been for our daughter. Prior to this year our entire school community and experience was wrapped up in a daycare/preschool. Our daughter’s friends had been the same babies with whom she’d covertly shared pacifiers. The challenges she had on the playground were with the same kids she saw as extended family because they were the only friends she’d ever known. The experience she had was loving and sheltered since she spent day in and day out in the same small classrooms from infancy to nearly five years of age.

But this year, we became elementary school parents and entered into this next (huge) phase of her life (and thus, by extension, ours). We watched our daughter work to make friends, expand her education and truly blossom. We listened to her as she’d come home and report to us about the games she played and the occasional squabbles she had on the playground. We comforted her on the day this spring when she cried because another child had been particularly mean to her, and taught her how to stand up for herself when she felt that an injustice (of the five year old variety) had occurred. We watched as she read (like, really read) for the first time. And we noted, time and time again, how clear it was that she had transitioned to being completely and utterly a kid, not the little girl we still imagine her to be. She became aware of the world around her and its magnitude, as well as its potential harm. She put to use so many of the lessons we’ve spent the last first years teaching her – how to be a good friend, how to ask for help, how to question things and explore her curiosity. These days, we sit in awe as this little girl, this kid who turned us into parents in the first place, is continuing to challenge how we define parenthood. She went from being a preschool “graduate” entering elementary school to completing her first year of her traditional educational journey, and that feels just as big as the day she started.

IMG_4014So many of my own childhood memories revolve around summer break – from family vacations to sleep away summer camp to day after day of riding bikes from one friend’s house to another, jumping in swimming pools and setting up makeshift lemonade stands. Summer represents such a key part of growing up – a time to develop independence, to have adventures and explore, to continually redefine yourself. And here we are, at the doorstep of her first real summer break of many. We’ll spend the next two months playing, doing art projects, seeing friends, testing recipes, going on small trips, participating in day camp, and marking each milestone as it comes. Whether the first, or the last, or somewhere in between, this year has shown us how quickly we can rack up the milestones and see time pass us by. So, tonight when I put her to bed, I hugged her a little tighter, told her how proud I am of her, and marveled as she told me “Mommy, I just want to go to bed. Can you tell me that tomorrow?” (Perhaps really we’re on the doorstep of the teenage years… just a few years early!)

Finding the art of “yes”

Sometimes, it takes the wisdom and jibber jabber of a three year old to highlight a flaw in your parenting. Take, for example, the following exchange that happened a couple days ago:

“Come here, No-no,” my middle daughter encourages to my crawling-curious-about-walking baby.

“What’d you call her?” I ask, thinking surely I had misheard her.

“‘No-no,’ because that’s what you always call her,” she explains with her usual bit of flair.

It took me about 24 hours to realize that I do (lovingly) say “no no no no” a lot, like when the baby is trying to roll over on the changing table (before I’ve completed the changing process) or when she is crawling toward an area where I don’t want her going. In fact, the more I started listening to myself, I realized that “no” is one of the more frequent words I say. Now, granted I have an inquisitive five year old, a stubborn three year old and an exploratory baby, but why is “no” at the top of my phrase list?

These big sisters love playing with their baby sister who they now affectionately call "Nono"

These big sisters love playing with their baby sister who they now affectionately call “No-no”

When my oldest was younger, I was very conscious of avoiding using the word “no” too often. I’d offer alternative actions and phrases that highlighted the positive, saving “no” for a serious offense or key moment. In fact, I spent the last nine years working for an organization that believes in and trains staff on “going with the yes.” Instead of saying “no, but…” staff learn the art of “yes, and…” It’s a training I’ve taught many times and a mantra I adopted and absorbed into all facets of my professional life.

Somehow, though, when it comes to reserving “no” for critical moments and “going with the yes” with my kids, I’ve fallen short. When inundated with seemingly endless questions, my default answer is just “no.” When they ask me “why” I realize that my knee jerk negativity is backed by little reason other than that was the word that came out. That’s not much of a reason at all.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids hear “yes” plenty of times, like when they want to listen to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” for the umpteenth time, play “I spy” literally every time we get in the car, or when they want to have five more minutes before bedtime. But still, “no” has become a fast and easy default, so much so that my kids now just call their baby sister “No-no” as a nickname. Oy.

I want to raise my kids to be flexible. To be positive. To be accommodating, compromising and adaptable. To be strong and determined, but not stubborn and closed off. To be powerful women, and to assert the power for good, not as a roadblock for those in their path. And that all starts with me. They need me to role model how to do these things. That might mean taking an extra few seconds to listen to question upon question… or the same question over and over again. And it might mean that I let them do something that my first instinct was to reject. But, it also means they will hear more positivity and have more room to explore.

Yes, you can all lay in bed together! Look at the cute moment that created!

Yes, you can all lay in bed together! Look at the cute moment that created!

So, for the next few days, I am instituting my own creation that I’ve dubbed the “Just Say Yes Challenge.” I am making an active choice to be more aware of the power behind yes – to let my kids explore with fewer roadblocks. To let them hear a positive option instead of a negative response. To have a reason behind saying no, aside from it being the easier answer. I know it won’t always come naturally and will take a concerted effort to “go with the yes.” But I also know that the results could be wonderful and that makes it all worth it in the end.

Who’s with me? Do you want to try the “Just Say Yes” challenge with your kids? Comment below or on my Finding Mom-me Facebook page to pledge your participation in the “Just Say Yes Challenge!”*

*I’ll update the Finding Mom-me Facebook page with updates on how the “Just Say Yes Challenge” is going, so if you aren’t already following the page, click here to do so!

Finding five minutes

“Mommy, are we late?”

IMG_0068This is a pretty typical question my daughters ask me as they pile into the minivan and get situated in their carseats. And, unfortunately, too often the answer is “Yes.” It’s not intentional – most days we are running on time until life suddenly happens – a baby diaper blow out, an indecipherable toddler tantrum, a “big girl” meltdown over a seemingly harmless issue – and we go from mostly on time to most certainly late.

Teaching punctuality is one of those things that I think is a valuable life lesson for my kids. It teaches respect, responsibility and, most simply, time management. However, that also contradicts one of the great parenting liberties we have. Up to now, the concept of time has been entirely in our favor as parents. “Five minutes” is the most vague and open ended concept in our methods. At times, five minutes really does mean five minutes. 300 seconds. A small period of time in which to complete a task. However, more often five minutes is used as a theoretical – it can mean thirty seconds or it can mean fifteen real minutes. Since our kids have no concept of time, we can use the “five minute warning” as it benefits us.

However, that is soon changing. Our oldest is starting to understand time and the gig might be up. And, I’m realizing this might not be the worst thing. While I will miss being able to give a blanket time warning, having my kids understand the difference between 5 minutes and 35 minutes may help us contextualize our family’s schedule and what can be done in an allotted period of time.

The more that I think about time, though, the more I realize that it’s not just about the five minute warnings and understanding of the big hand and little hand on a clock (I mean reading the numbers on the iPhone lock screen…). Time alludes us. I swear it was just yesterday that I took the pregnancy test that changed our lives forever – that turned us from newlyweds to soon to be parents. And not much longer after that our first daughter, then our second, then our third, was born. How did that happen so quickly? Where did the time go?

My kids can’t understand the true passing of time yet, and I am so thankful for that. Our oldest daughter told me yesterday “when I grow up, I’m going to be a mommy and live in your house so we can always be together.” While a cute idea she will likely not follow through on, this statement gave me pause as I imagined what that will look like. If five years have gone by this quickly, what will the next twenty five look like. Will they also be a blur of memories and moments frozen in time? Will I look back at today and think “just yesterday my kids were babies?”

Proof of time going too quickly. My oldest trick or treating for the first time, and this year.

Proof of time going too quickly. My oldest trick or treating for the first time, and this year.

Time is of the essence. Time flies when you’re having fun. Time is on your side. Time heals all. So much of what we do and say is wrapped up in the theoretical and practical application of time. And, yet, most days all I want to do is speed time up so that the meltdowns and chaotic schedules turn to quiet slumber, and simultaneously slow time down to live in the moment and not let my kids grow up too fast. The paradox of time is overwhelming.

So, for now, I think I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee while the baby naps and the older girls play cooperatively together. I think I have, oh, maybe five minutes…

Finding a way to say goodbye

This  is a deeply personal post originally written for the blog maintained by my employer, Camp Tawonga.

 

After nearly a decade of being a part of the full-time Tawonga team, it’s time for me to say goodbye. Leaving Tawonga is bittersweet – working here is a dream come true and an amazing experience each and every day. However, as my three little girls grow up before my eyes, I feel now that I need to be with them on a more regular basis.0M3A6876

I’ll never forget the moment during my first year on Camp Tawonga’s summer staff when a member of the senior leadership team said to me, “You’re a Tawonga lifer. I see it in you.” How true that statement was. My first time setting foot on Tawonga’s property was the summer of 1993. My parents put me on the bus to camp for the first time, sight unseen. I boarded the bus without a friend and looked out the window to see my dad giving me a thumbs up and my mom fighting back tears as she gave a brave wave.

I boarded the bus to camp for the next four subsequent summers as a camper and another four throughout college as a summer staff member. Tawonga shaped me in more ways than I can count. I had many firsts there – first backpacking trip, first time I felt connected to Judaism, first kiss. I developed deep, lasting friendships while up in the Sierras. I moved to the Bay Area after college because that’s where my camp friends lived. I joined Jdate (where I met my husband 10 years ago) because of the Jewish identity I formulated at Tawonga. One choice, one decision – Tawonga – has shaped so much of who I have become.

Read the rest of this post by clicking here.

Find the symbolism in transition

FullSizeRenderFor the past week or so, my emotions have been tied in knots. I’ve watched on Facebook as many of my friend’s kids have started kindergarten and with each post, happy family picture, and report on how the first day went, I’ve become more and more overwhelmed with emotion. Their milestone moments are just days before ours, and the anticipation is staggering. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of preschool. At 6pm, she will “graduate” from the small center where she has been since she was four months old and transition next week to elementary school. Where did the time go?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why the emotion has become so heightened for me, and at best, I can think of a few reasons.

  1. Aside from the transition from maternity leave to daycare, this is the first real transition my daughter will have. Her cognitive memory exists solely in our daycare – it’s all she has ever known. The loving teachers, parents, and friends are her safe haven away from home. The kids she plays with on the playground are the same kids from the baby room who popped their pacifiers in her mouth when she was sad. The environment, the rules, the classrooms – all of it is not just familiar, it’s all there is. Soon, she will be propelled into a new school, new classroom, new community, new teachers, new kids who will become her friends and she will start from scratch. She’s an adaptable, social, curious kid and I’m not worried about her, but I am certainly aware of how quickly her comfort will get thrown out of whack until she finds her way again.
  2. Even before my oldest was born, people would tell me “it goes fast.” And while I believed them, I could never have understood just how fast it goes. While putting my older two girls to bed the other night, I told each of them the story of the days they were born. As I snuggled my eldest and told her about that first moment when they put her on my chest and she looked up at me, I found myself suddenly fighting back tears. Wasn’t that just yesterday? Didn’t she just take her first steps? Say her first words? Throw her first tantrum? When did she become a kid? (As she says, “I’m not a little kid anymore, I’m a child.” Indeed you are, baby girl.) I know it’s only going to go faster and faster. I know that the symbolism of her graduating from preschool tomorrow is a precursor to her graduating from high school, and in between there will be a blur of wonderful memories of a childhood that will inevitably go by too fast…after all, everyone says it’s true.
  3. My daughter isn’t the only one going through transition tomorrow. My husband and I are too. I’ll never forget how warm and welcoming the day care director was on our tour with our oldest still in utero. She said to us, “Our goal is to provide as loving a home here as you would yourselves. If you can’t be with your baby, we want to be a partner in parenting and make sure your baby knows how loved it is.” No other daycare we toured came close to saying that. And she lived up to her word. Overall they have provided a loving place while we went to work every day. It’s not easy to leave, but it is easier when you know your family is in good hands. At our daycare, we’ve made some amazing friendships. We’ve found community and we’ve built our village. It’s not just our daughter who is flying the nest, but it’s us too. Of course, we still have two more kids at the daycare center, and we will maintain friendships long after we leave there. But still, the symbolism of our own transition cuts deep. We are starting out again in a new school, new community and new potential friends and we will forge our way as well.

the road ahead

Tomorrow’s graduation and Tuesday’s first day of school are both huge milestone moments for our family. They are symbolic and emotional, overwhelming and exciting, real and unbelievable all at the same time. I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t know what to expect as we begin our journey into the world of elementary school. All I know is that I will cheer for our daughter as she graduates tomorrow, hug her extra tight when I leave her new classroom on Tuesday, and will savor every moment with each of our girls as they grow up before our eyes…inevitably, way too fast.

Finding milestone moments

cold morningThe exact text message I sent to my husband this morning read, “Holy *#%@! Our baby is going to elementary school!” That’s because this morning I registered our oldest child to start on her journey of public education beginning next August. The required precision of paperwork and orderly fashion of lines in the registration process were overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of today’s notable milestone. And in just a few short months, today will be overshadowed by the first day of school.

In truth, most days have some sort of milestone. While the “big” ones are easily noted and just as easily remembered – first giggle, first time rolling over, first tooth, first steps, and so on – I’m finding that there are milestones even in the most mundane moments. Whether it’s the first time she dressed herself, or first time she cleaned up her toys without being asked, or the first time she spelled her name, each of these moments got flagged in my head as an important “first” in her maturation and in the development of her independence.

One of the mantras that I remind myself of daily is that parenthood is fleeting – as soon as you adjust to one thing, that changes and something else reveals itself. While I thought that would end during the infant stage, it has continued to prove true. After all, if life is a journey and not a destination, it’s inevitable that there will be milestones every step of the way.

Even so, today was a big one. Signing up for elementary school was both invigorating and terrifying. How did time already go by so quickly? And how much faster is it about to go? When I told my daughter I’d signed her up for school today, she said to me, “First I go to school, then I go to college, then I get a job, get married and become a mommy just like you.” While her overly simplified view of the journey is absent of an actual understanding of the timeframe associated with it, the summary of the next 20 years stopped me in my tracks. She’s right – time is about to fly by even faster than it already has and if we don’t appreciate each of the moments and each of the milestones, they’ll pass us by just as quickly as they arrived.

I wish I could say I was good about tracking them. When I found out I was pregnant with our oldest, I kept a detailed journal of my entire pregnancy and her first year of life. With my second, I started a journal half way through the pregnancy and kept it through most of her first year, more or less. And now, with less than 4 weeks to go before my due date for baby number three, I figure that tomorrow is as good a day as any to start writing in the journal. (Insert birth order joke here.)

It’s a challenging balance – how do you find time to honor the important moments and actually live them? And as life gets busier and the moments multiply, how do we ensure they don’t just pass us by? What do you do to honor, celebrate and remember milestone moments?