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 risk

Photographic proof of the fall.

On the day my niece was born, I was responsible for babysitting my then two year old nephew while his parents were in the hospital. He and I had a great day playing together until the moment that he tripped in his living room, bumped his face on some furniture and got a little scrape on his nose. I was only steps away from him but it happened quickly and I couldn’t catch him from falling. Though the tears that followed the bump were fleeting (and the rest of the day continued to be fun), the memory of the bump will live on forever, thanks to the nice scab easily noticeable in every photo of him meeting his sister later that afternoon (not to mention the relentless teasing from my family).

I asserted then, and continue to assert now, that kids get hurt. They get scrapes and bumps as they explore the world around them. It’s a natural part of childhood. However, no amount of defending myself from the “scrape heard round the world” prepared me for this morning, my first Monday as a stay at home mom, when my 7 month old daughter fell and, yes, bumped her nose and got a little scrape. Call it karma, call it a coincidence, call it what you will… I call it a quick way to stir up a mother’s guilt. Though I was only a couple steps away, she fell fast and missed hitting her head by only a few inches. Being a stay at home mom is off to a whopping success…

I do everything I can to protect my kids and shelter them from harm, sometimes to an anxiety-ridden fault. But the truth is, they have to fall. Because if they don’t fall, they can’t pick themselves back up and see that they’re okay. They can’t experience the pride in trying again and succeeding. They can’t feel the comfort of my hug and reassurance afterward.

Just as my kids have to go through this natural part of childhood, I have to go through the parallel part of motherhood. I have to know when to let them take a risk. When to let them push outside their (and my) comfort zone. When to rush to their aid and when to hang back to see how they’ll respond. It’s not just about letting my kids fall down and pick themselves back up; it’s also about calculating the risk and adding a buffer zone for safe exploration, even when minor risk is involved. It’s not easy, and honestly, I’m not always very good at it, but I understand the value of it, too.

Proof of today’s bump.

Luckily, so far most of my kids’ scrapes and bumps have been minor and easily treated with ice, a bandaid and a big hug. For the record, the baby was fine for the rest of today. And I managed to help my oldest with a Lego project and make a pretty nice dinner. But, if ever I need a reminder of the calculated risks kids need to have, I captured a picture as evidence of today’s bump, though something tells me I won’t forget about it anytime soon.

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.

Finding a thick skin

When I first started writing my blog, the only people reading it were my close friends and family. As I gained traction in writing, I also slowly gained followers – more friends, friends of friends and absolute strangers. I love writing about my adventures in parenting and sharing my insights and vulnerabilities through my posts. And I love hearing people’s reactions – positive and negative – to what I write about. My blog is a wonderful outlet, and a great way for me to capture today’s moments that will become tomorrow’s memories.
mama and girls
So, each time Kveller picks up one of my pieces and publishes it on a national platform, I feel giddy with excitement that something I wrote is getting shared with a much broader audience. They’ve published pieces I’ve written ranging from kugel to missing my oldest’s dance recital. It’s a very empowering feeling.

Then, last week Kveller published a piece I was particularly proud of – a diatribe on our family’s rules which stemmed from an argument with my 4 year old about having to wear socks. The piece is playful and ends with a lists of 16 family rules – some of which are serious and others that make me giggle from the broken record I’ve become saying them. And this piece, more than any other that I’ve written, elicited a lot of commentary from a broad audience on Kveller’s website and Facebook page.

Two rules, in particular, struck a chord with the Kveller readership – leave a house that has a gun in it and kiss your grandparents hello and goodbye. Who knew that these would cause such a stir? That by writing that my kids should leave a home with a gun in it, I wasn’t properly educating them about gun safety? And that by telling my children to kiss their elder relatives as a sign of respect, I was exposing them to a future of abuse and body confusion?

I understand the arguments the readers were making and I appreciate that people took the time to read my post and share their opinions. I welcome feedback and comments – it’s fun to see how my writing impacts and influences others. But some of the comments on my last post made broad judgements about my parenting and ventured to say that I was wrong for having some of the rules that we do. While one reader said that each family’s rules are unique to them, other readers said things like I’ll make my kids a doormat by encouraging them to be nice to everyone or that I should never ever tell my kids to kiss a relative. By making such strong statements in response to the rules in our family, I can’t help but think about the litany of arguments, judgements and lines in the sand we draw in these ever present mommy wars.

mama and babeBreastfeeding. Bottle feeding. Formula. Breast milk. Pacifier. Thumb sucking. Attachment parenting. Cry it out. Organic food. Non gmo food. Regular ol’ food. Extracurricular activities to provide structure. No extracurricular activities to provide freedom. Stay at home mom. Professional mom. The list goes on and on. We all have such strong ideas, ideals, and approaches to parenting. We can read books about it. We can quote studies. We can wing it. We can do our absolute best and still feel like it’s not enough. And, although we are our own harshest critics, the commentary on my latest post reminds me that we can be each other’s harshest critics too. Instead of drawing a line in the sand of what we believe to be the right thing, why not open a dialogue in which we each speak out own truths while accepting those may not be the same truths for somebody else? I’m not upset or offended by the comments readers made, but am more so inspired by what the readers could have said.

We all know that raising kids takes a village, and in my experience that’s absolutely true. But the definition of village is loose and long, extending from our inner circle to the adult who attempts to discipline our kids on the playground. We need to find a way to lift each other up and support each other as we forge our own path, whether or not it’s the one we would take ourselves.

Finding balance

Gwyneth & kids selfie

Gwyneth & kids selfie

Over the past week or so, Gwyneth Paltrow has plastered headlines (okay, tabloid headlines… who’s counting?!) with her “conscious uncoupling” from her husband (gold star for the brilliant publicist behind that phrase) and has suffered the wrath of women, particularly working moms, across the country who are angered by her comments about “regular office jobs.” Like most US Weekly loving women, I have read her comments and the many responses that have been written in the new (perhaps over used) open letter format (here‘s my favorite). For those living under a pop culture rock, Gwynie (can I call her that?) made the following comment:

“I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening. When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day, and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”

The truth is, yes, that comment was pretty bad. Yes, as a working mom, I’m a bit offended by Gwyneth’s assumption that I have it easier than her. But really, don’t we make assumptions of one another all the time? At least weekly, HuffingtonPost Parents features some open letter (see, there it is again!) to working moms, or stay at home moms, or moms wanting it all, or moms striving to make ends meet, or some other “class” of moms about how their situation is harder than someone else’s, or how they feel misunderstood. Why do we need to create classes among ourselves, rather than appreciating the unique triumphs and tribulations each mom experiences regardless of how our situation compares to that of someone else? How is Gwyneth Paltrow different than the rest of us (aside from all the obvious differences from the rest of us!)? At the heart of it all, isn’t she just another mom struggling to balance her particular situation, thinking that maybe the grass is greener on the other side? Isn’t she a mom going through a hard time, making (very) public comments about why she struggles as a working mom, even if through misdirected and backhanded comments about other moms?

My selfie with kids... totally the same thing...

My selfie with kids… totally the same thing…

A few weeks ago I had dinner with a friend who decided to leave her job three years ago, just after her first daughter was born. As we compared notes and swapped stories about our daughters’ growth, sassiness, and ability to push our buttons (isn’t that what being a toddler is all about?!), she said to me “I don’t know how you do it! How do you work a full day, and still manage to come home, make dinner, and take care of your kids, and then get up again the next morning and do it all over again?” I could have (and did) say the same to her about being home with her kids all day. I didn’t tell her that it takes me multiple cups of coffee to get through a focused day of work, or that sometimes “dinner” becomes the random odds and ends that my husband and I come up with while commuting home, or that I sometimes use Doc McStuffins to entertain my kids while I’m rerunning the same load of laundry I washed two days before but forgot to transfer to the drier. Similarly, I’m sure there’s plenty she didn’t tell me. That’s because we all adjust to the situation we’re in, while simultaneously trying to keep our heads above water and wondering how our counterparts “on the other side” keep their grass green.

Balance is a funny thing. Whereas before having kids, I imagined balance as perfectly aligned scales just like the image of my star sign Libra, I now see balance as an ever tipping scale that teeters back and forth by the week… day… even minute. There’s no perfect answer to balance. There’s no “perfect situation” out there. The new definition of balance is fluid and if we can find the right definition in any particular moment, isn’t that a victory in it of itself?

What does balance mean to you?