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.

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Finding inspiration in 46 years

IMG_5719Today my parents are celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary. WOW! This milestone is pretty incredible. Since getting married, they have moved completely from the East Coast to the West Coast with a 40 year “layover” in Arizona. They’ve gotten their advanced degrees, and started and retired from their careers with pretty significant accomplishments and accolades to boot. They’ve made countless friends, traveled a good portion of the world, and raised a pretty awesome lady (if I do say so myself!).

Today, for their wedding anniversary, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to them. After all, a good portion of finding the “me” in mommy, comes from how they raised me. And a good portion of the “mom” in mommy comes from how they raised me, too. So, instead of a Hallmark card or a bottle of champagne at dinner, they get this blog post (is that the equivalent of those “someone I know went to some random tourist destination and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? Man, I hope not!).

IMG_5435As the only child of two educator parents, I grew up in a household that valued kindness, social justice, education, and above all, love. We were a small but mighty unit of three (except for one special year when we had an exchange student from Brazil who made us a happy family of four. Hi sis!). My parents taught me independence at an early age which allowed me to forge my own path and to become my own person from from the get-go. One of their favorite stories to tell is about the first time they put me on a plane alone to visit my grandparents in Southern California. At the age of five, my parents took me to the gate, told me the flight was the same length of time as an episode of Sesame Street (which, to my disappointment I soon figured out did not mean that the airplane would actually show an episode of Sesame Street), and handed me off to the flight attendant to board the plane. I said goodbye and didn’t look back as I walked down the jetway and onto the airplane. “You didn’t look back,” they’ve told me time and again. And, I’ve always just laughed it off and held that moment as a point of pride. Until this week.

FullSizeRender 2This week was my five year’s first week of summer day camp (another important part of my childhood). The first day, she gripped my hand tightly as the counselors introduced themselves and started a game for the kids to get to know each other. As she got more comfortable, I loosened our grip, first by standing next to her while we played, then sitting to the side while she played without me, and then giving her one last kiss as I walked away. And so, the second day I anticipated a similar progressive exit. But to my surprise, we got to the door of the camp building and she abruptly turned around, gave me a kiss and said “Mommy, I can go in by myself. I don’t need you to walk me.” Sure enough, she walked down the hall without turning back. And then I understood. I knew why that moment had been such an important milestone for my parents. They’d put me on a plane and sent me away for a week to stay with my grandparents; my experience with my own daughter was for 3 hours and was less than a mile from my house. But still, I finally understood. That independence that we so deeply try to instill in our children is a wonderful blessing, but man does it pull at your heart.

As with most parenting decisions, there are always unintended (or maybe unexpected) consequences. Teaching me independence at a young age resulted in me leaving home at eighteen. Like many others, I went off to college in another state. But when I left we all knew I wasn’t coming back. Of course, I returned for school breaks, extended holiday weekends and family vacations in adulthood. But really, when I moved out to California after I graduated high school, I had no intention of moving back to my hometown of Phoenix. That was it – bye bye desert. And that’s how it was for fifteen years – me going back to Phoenix with my family or my parents coming to visit us here in Northern California. We made the most of our visits, but we all knew that those condensed weekends were jam packed with activity and emotion because there was just never enough time. So, when my parents retired from their long careers in education and moved last year to a new home just a few minutes down the road from us, that created an entirely new and special reality. Suddenly everything had come full circle. I’d left home all those years ago without looking back (just like before that first flight) and created a new home and new life for myself. They’d continued building their lives, careers and community in Arizona. And now, here we are, together again. The weight of their move is not lost on me and I count my lucky stars every day that it was possible.

IMG_6423Living so far away from my parents for many years, I’d often felt jealous of my friends who had random movie nights with their moms or dinner out with their dads. But this last week, I saw my parents nearly every day. I took my dad to breakfast for a belated Father’s Day celebration. I spent a few days in my mom’s studio as she taught me to sew on her sewing machine. As a kid and even as a young adult, I never could have appreciated this time together. But now, I cherish it. I love that my dad can call us when he makes a dish for dinner that’s too spicy for them but knows we’ll like it, so he asks if he can bring it over. I love that my mom can take the time to teach me how to sew on a project that has taken months (even though it should have taken a few days) because we have the luxury of starting and stopping whenever we want to. I love that my kids can go to their grandparents’ house at 7am on a Sunday morning so my husband and I can get a little extra sleep. And I love that my kids are growing up with all of their grandparents (my parents and my mother-in-law) all only minutes away so they can be an active part of the kids’ lives and can attend sporting events, art shows, and special dinners out (and can watch the kids when we need to run errands or get in an occasional date night! Thanks everyone!).

My parents are two of the bravest, strongest, smartest, and most loving people I know and I am inspired by them as individuals and as a couple. When they sold our home in Phoenix, I was sad about the loss of those memories, but what we have gained is so much more. And their house here is just as special as was the house in Phoenix. This year more than ever I’ve learned that a house is just a house, but home is where the heart is and my parents have two of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.

Happy anniversary you two! We love you! Have a wonderful celebration!

Finding an expanded heart… x3

IMG_2723Dear little one,

Happy birthday! Happy birthday to my third beautiful baby girl! Happy celebration of 12 months around the sun… an accomplishment shared between you and us, your loving and adoring parents.

You, my love, changed everything. Yes, it’s true. While your sisters, of course, changed us plenty, you were the tipping point that changed us… me… in more ways than I can explain.

Your oldest sister made us parents, and that is a gift for which I’ll always be grateful. She showed us how to completely adjust our lives and ourselves to make space for a tiny being that is completely reliant on us. She was the first to teach us, test us, push us, and show us the true definition of unconditional love.

Your middle sister taught us balance. She taught us how to be in two places at once, and to continually split ourselves to match the needs of her and her sister so that they were getting the physical and emotional care and attention they craved. She showed us the incredible bond of siblings and proved that our hearts could expand to love more than we knew was possible.

Then came you. You came in like a storm – brewing for a while, teasing with false labor and sleepless nights. When it was finally time for you to come (after a particularly spicy dinner of Indian food), you showed us that you could be simultaneously stubborn, strong-willed, and determined. When you were finally born, you instantly expanded our hearts again. You filled our family with joy and celebration. When you were born, a double rainbow appeared in the sky.

IMG_2761We often joke about you in the most endearing kind of way, blaming the fact that you’re the third child on why we are the way we are. We often say “oh, third child” as a reason or excuse for why we haven’t taken as many pictures, or why we are more comfortable letting you play alone in our dining room play area (still under observation, don’t worry! We didn’t throw you to the wolves!). Our entire family jokes about it too – about how we do things (or don’t do things) with you that we never would have done with your sisters.

But the truth, little one, is that we are that way because you’re the third, not in spite of it. We are more relaxed with you. We are able to give you space to explore in a way that we were more nervous to do before. Yes, we might have missed a picture here or there. We might give you a sippy cup with last night’s water still in it. We might pick a toy up off the ground and wipe it off on our leg rather than washing it or sanitizing it like we did for your sisters. Yes, we might do those things, and more. But we also are able to really relax with you. To focus on you in an entirely different way. To seamlessly fold you into the chaos of our family and having three kids five and under.

IMG_2558Yes, you’re the third child. And with that comes its own blessings and curses. But, my little bumble bee, I want you to know that you have taken our family by storm, just like the day you were born. You’ve expanded our hearts. You’ve given both of your sisters the unique and special experience of being big sisters and trying our their maternal instincts. You’ve given your daddy an intensified level of pride (and fear) of being the father of three girls. And, you’ve given me an entirely new approach to being a mom.

Happiest of birthdays, little one. Here’s to today, and to many more to come.

With love, adoration, and double rainbows,

Mommy

Finding my own bias… and overcoming it

When I was a little girl, I told my parents I wanted to be a veterinarian for kittens. Not any other type of animal. Not even grown cats. Just kittens. As a young girl, I dreamed of doing just that. Of course, as I got older, my aspirations changed and I started following a path toward medicine, public health, social advocacy, and so on. Now I work for a summer camp overseeing the customer service, family relations, and communications – a path I never could have predicted but greatly enjoy.

princess in jerseyA few weeks ago, I asked my three year old what she wanted to be when she grows up, thinking she’d tell me she wanted to be a firefighter, an astronaut, or any one of the other professions little kids seem to say when asked. Instead, she told me that when she grows up she wants to be “a mommy.” My first inclination was to cringe – was I not doing something right that my daughter wasn’t aspiring to be a doctor or superhero or any other world-changing type of profession? Then it made me sad that I cringed at this – what a wonderful aspiration to want to be a mom. It is the most selfless and rewarding (and exhausting) job I know. She wants to care for others, take care of others, and put their needs in front of her own.

As I came to terms with my own bias and her aspirations, I decided to ask her again a few days later “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I was hoping to redeem myself and react perfectly (one can dream, right?). So I asked her. And she responded to me “a princess.”

Yep, I cringed again. That’s what a hashtagger would call #parentingfail. As a mom of two little girls, I’ve avoided the princess world like the plague. I don’t believe in little girls wearing only pink and purple (though my daughters choose those colors every time). I don’t believe in the idea of the maiden in distress needing to be rescued by her prince. And, I definitely don’t buy into society’s collective belief that girls are princesses and boys are superheroes, sports stars, etc. etc. etc. When we talk about princesses in our house, I tell my girls that princesses are just girls with crowns on.

So, when my older one’s aspirations changed from being a mommy to being a princess, not only did my internal battle over the past few weeks rear its ugly head but also one of my parenting philosophies and principles got thrown into the mix too. Again, I grappled with my own bias – why did I cringe? And what difference does it make what a three year old says she wants to be later in life? As I continue to look inward at my beliefs, philosophies, and parenting practices, I try to remind myself that at this age, it’s about exploration, imagination, discovery and growth. Too often we are looking so far ahead at the future we miss what’s right in front of us.doctor kit

So, I decided to ask my daughter the same question, one more time, and promised myself that no matter what she said, my answer would be anything other than a cringe.

“Honey, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a doctor… for stuffed animals. Just like Doc McStuffins.”

And with a big smile, I gave her a hug and said “Okay, let’s go get your doctor kit because ‘purple bear’ has a belly ache.”

Finding the freedom to slow down

Have you ever seen that scene from Family Guy where little Stewie says to his mom, “Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mom. Mommy. Mommy. Mom. Mama. Mama. Mama. Ma. Ma. Ma….”? When his mom finally acknowledges him, he replies “Hi,” then giggles, and runs out of the room.


Before becoming a mom, I thought this was an exaggerated comedic rendition of young children’s speech patterns and quests for attention. Now I know that it’s not an exaggeration. It’s actually eerily accurate. And, the comedic punch of it loses some power after the same “mommy” cycle happens multiple times a day.

“Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mom. Mommy. Mommy. Mom. Mama. Mama. Mama. Ma. Ma. Ma,” my three year old chirps happily. Sometimes I can take the stammering of the same word over and over and over and over and over again (sometimes it’s not “mommy.” Sometimes it’s “um” or “hey mommy” or “I just,” to name a few). Other times I want to respond to her the same way the mom on Family Guy does – with an exasperated “WHAT?!”

But before I turn into the cartoon version of myself, I hold my breath and remember that my little one is learning to communicate and that the story she wants to tell me about the dream she had where a dinosaur came into her room and read her the Three Little Bears book that she refuses to let me read to her is the most exciting story she’ll tell all day. Her brain is working so quickly that she just. can’t. get. it. out. So, instead she goes into overload and just repeats the same word or phrase a few times before finishing her thought.

beach ballThis exercise in patience – in holding my breath and catching my words before finishing her sentences for her or getting frustrated – has been a good practice in more than just the recounting of our days. It is also effective in the inevitable moment (moments) throughout a given day or weekend when we are running late and I have to tell my kids to “Hurry up!” On plenty of occasions when I tell my kids that we are running late, the older one responds, “I very don’t like being late,” though she doesn’t entirely grasp the concept. Even still, it breaks my heart every time she says it. She has no control of her schedule, and yet has already developed an understanding that she doesn’t want to deviate from it. Yes, there are times that they need to be reminded to keep moving, and teaching punctuality is important. But in a world driven by being fast, where information is literally at our fingertips and day planners (or Google calendars) are full of appointments, meetings and places to be, sometimes keeping moving and punctuality are not always the priority.

The juxtaposition of me looking at the clock while my kids look at the shapes in the clouds is a good reminder that kids have no concept of time. Like, none. (This becomes unbelievably evident every Saturday when we’ve been awake since 6:30am but still can’t seem to get to the 9am swim lesson on time!) So, in those moments I have to make a choice between the hands on a clock or the moments at hand.

It’s in those moments that I try to remember to slow down and take it all in. It’s in those moments that I remember to enjoy the morning cuddles while watching Elmo for five more minutes before jumping out of bed and starting our regular routines. And in the moments when I allow my daughter’s imagination to steer us, literally and figuratively. And in the moments when we’re already late and another two minutes to watch the snail cross the sidewalk isn’t hurting anybody (unless someone steps in the wrong place, and then it’s hurting the snail!)basketball

Time goes by so quickly. I don’t want to rush my children growing up, and I don’t want them to feel like they had to “hurry up” just to get from point A to point B, when there’s a lot to see in between. Sometimes, I just want to feel the freedom to slow down and enjoy the moment.

How do you remember to slow down? What are the moments you enjoy most?