Humble Trimmings

I’m guest blogging over on Kindred Mom for a month focused on A Quiet Christmas. This month, this community of brave and honest mama writers offers inspiration to embrace a quiet Christmas, with practical approaches, heartfelt stories, and wise advise.

We cheerfully dusted our final batch of Christmas cookies with an array of colored sprinkles, pushing them into position on the counters. Strewn with our morning’s labor, the cookie-laden kitchen testified to the festive holiday baking my daughter and I dedicated to our morning’s activity. She, her eyes wide with the joy of Christmas, was laying a foundation of cherished Christmas memories she would perhaps one day share with children of her own.

As it were, that bustling scene was in fact the vision I had as I planned to share my favorite season of preparation with my daughter and newborn son. On maternity leave, this was my first Christmas season as an adult where I would be home full time, and I had baked in a myriad of expectations for how the season would be. We would make all my favorite Christmas treats together, boisterously sing carols, study the Christmas story, and, through each activity, anticipate the Savior’s birth with joy.

For me, the childlike faith and anticipation of Christmas has never dissipated. Whether three or thirty years old, I sit in an otherwise dark room lit by a Christmas tree and feel that same uninhibited hope and expectation: Emmanuel, God with us, the purest hope.  Sharing that hopeful anticipation with my two little people was to be tremendous joy.

My many expectations stifled the hopeful, expectant waiting the season requires.

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Through little eyes

Sometimes,  outlandish pursuits can masquerade as self care. In the name of individual growth, rest, or healing, popular culture would have us believe it’s all permissible if you’re looking after yourself.

As a Jesus-follower, my head knowledge tells me that submitting in service is emblematic of the Man I follow, and so I’ve often found some tension in the self care message.

Until, a lifelong friend put it in really simple terms for me.

Over our monthly girl dinner, I was justifying a recent text message I sent to her at an unseemly hour, explaining why cutting out my sleep…yawn…was the only flexible thing at this time in my life.

“Do you want your kids to remember that their mom was always tired?” She asked me. “Besides, how great for them to see you set boundaries and take care of your own health.”

When my daughter cheerfully asked me if I had a headache a few days later, I knew those little eyes had indeed been watching.

How do I look through those little eyes? What do I want those little eyes to see?

I want those little eyes to see hard work.

I want those little eyes to see silliness.

I also want those little eyes to see restfulness.

We’re not in the school years yet with our children, which means my husband and I have many lofty plans not yet measured against reality. With the safety in many years’ distance, we often discuss how we’d like to limit activities, to give some freedom to be spontaneous, or even freedom to rest. From where I sit watching friends with older kids, it looks like a frenzy.

I digress.

What I can control are what my two little sets of eyes see. More than an ever-sparkling house, an always put-together-mama, or a wall of frame-worthy crafts (though I do appreciate all those things!), I want those little eyes to see how their mama prioritized rest. I want them to know in their core that an unplanned, unproductive day can sometimes become the restoration their little souls will need.

I want my kids to remember that mom was a lot of things. Sometimes, I was tired, so I rested. Sometimes, I had big goals, so I worked hard. I want them to remember a balance of pizza nights and diligent meal planning, and a mixture of silliness, joy, and ambition.

Above all, I want them to see through little eyes that it is okay to care for themselves, so they can find the restoration and motivation they need to do the valuable work set before them.

Better Together: Teamwork’s Harmony

I’m guest blogging over on Kindred Mom for a month focused on Teamwork & Communication in parenting. This community of brave and honest mama writers moves me to laughter, tears, and reality. 

The fumbling around for the reassurance of rhythm after a new baby had begun to touch on normalcy. Every evening, I would scoop up our baby son, head downstairs, and put him to bed, while my daughter basked in individual attention from my husband – her daddy. One particular night, a semblance of life rhythm still new, I put myself to sleep while putting the baby down. Upon waking, I stumbled upstairs, bleary eyes seeking our curly-haired daughter to begin her bedtime routine, the next link in our daily loop. I’m making this work. I’m exhausted, but I’m doing it all, I told myself, marching up the stairs.

Establishing normalcy meant feeling as if our family could wrap our arms around life as a crew of four, and move forward; but this new life was also a tiring one, sometimes spent fumbling around from work to commitment to chores deeply tired, and with double the tiny humans we enjoyed had previously. My return from maternity leave the month prior had been marinated in tears (mine) and endless worry over how we would survive (also mine).

My tired mind often drifted to playing out the exhausting minutia: rise early, tackle housework, execute career work, enjoy children, manage housework, execute bedtime routine, enjoy husband time, prepare for bed, wake for midnight nursing, rise early and repeat.

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For such a time as this

Nearly five years ago, an odd assembly of women gathered together, infrequently and informally to study the Book of Esther together. We were an unlikely bunch. Between us we were an elite athlete, a business professional, a law student, a veteran, unemployed, despairing, seeking, joyful, thriving. And, (me) surprised by an unplanned pregnancy and grappling with what new normal may look like on the other side of this pregnancy.

I will always remember the utter grace I found when I shared the news with these women, a mere 7 weeks pregnant, as we clustered around the pale wooden table in my one bedroom apartment. I don’t remember what exactly I said, but I remember the grace. One promised we could go for coffee (since drinks were now out) and vent about what this might mean. Of course they were excited for me as well, but in that moment the permission to even need to vent was the oxygen I desperately needed. I began measuring my life in weeks; we continued our unorthodox study of Esther.

The story of Esther is hard not to love for me, as I’m such a girl’s girl. She is brave, beautiful, and good. As the lovely new wife of the king, she is in the rare position of an ability to speak out and save her people when her cousin exposes a plot to kill the Jewish people in her kingdom. So much depends on Esther. And yet, as her cousin Mordecai makes clear to her while she is weighing her desire to take action, she will not determine the fate of her people – but she can have a hand in aiding them.

Mordecai tells her: “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

That part doesn’t show up in the kids’ version of the Esther story, and studying this book deeply was the first time I really understand that passage. The call, that opportunity, continues to strike me ever time I come across it.

Perhaps you have come to your position for such a time as this.

Today, I am no longer a reluctant mother. In fact, the opposite. I am reluctant to miss out on the details of the days with my two sweet children. So much can be excused or blamed on this season of life, made up of whirlwind weeks and hanging-in-there months.

But perhaps I have come this this position, this precise one, for such a time as this.

What can I influence as a result of my position? What can you?

That Bible study group flowed into one more study, and then geographic dispersement and life changes ended the group. Without any uncertainly, I know were were having an Esther moment, banded together for such a time as this.

10 Tips for Navigating nursing and business travel

Typically, I’m a work-at-home momma. I work full time for a company based in another state, which means I’m fully “at the office” (read: my room) for 40+ hours per week, with the luxury of being able to immediately commute home should emergencies arise. For our family, we made a commitment to nursing for the first 12 months, another decision made easier by my remote employee status. I traveled a few times during both my kids’ first year, and invested a lot of worrying into the planning process. At the end of it, I made my goal of nursing for 12 months with both children, and managed to feel successful in my professional obligations as well.

Behind the scenes, though, was equal parts meticulous planning, furious researching, and copious worrying.

When I traveled for six full days for work in the final month of nursing my second baby, I was happy to have finally landed on a few things that make life easier for traveling, working, pumping, breastfeeding moms.

I’m mindful of how fortunate I am to have many brilliant women before me establish a much easier road, and hope my navigation list helps some other non-sleeping, list-making, and possibly panicking mom focus her energy somewhere more valuable.

  1. Reserve a space. By law, workplaces must have accessible, clean spaces for pumping – and provide pumping breaks. Call ahead to understand what that looks like at your location. And, bring a cover in case accommodations are cramped, cold, or otherwise not as private as desired.
  2. Ask about nursing stations/mom rooms in airports. These aren’t widely distributed yet, so be prepared to hike it to another terminal, or be directed to a bathroom. (Yep, I spent 30 minutes in the family bathroom at O’Hare fending off impatient knocks because my schedule didn’t allow time to jet over to another terminal).
  3. Ask for help. Many hotel rooms will accommodate a fridge/freezer if you tell them you’re nursing.
  4. Follow the rules. If you aren’t carting milk back home, your freezer pack still has to be frozen. I have a very kind TSA agent to thank for this one, who pulled me aside and said, “I’m supposed to confiscate this, but I’m going to go home and make a bottle for my four month old, and I know how hard this is.”
  5. Stay supplied. Bring steam cleaning bags and a mini dishwashing soap to keep parts clean while you’re on the road.
  6. Explore shipping options. I used MilkStork on my last trip, and was amazed by the level of detail put forth with this product. Not only did my box arrive early, but it was entirely prepped for someone staying in a hotel, right down to the circle stickers that sealed my box. While not cheap, this service also has a pre-written lobby for company sponsorship, which creates a lovely opportunity to educate and advocate for future mommas.
  7. Dress for the occasion. While the prospect of wearing dresses may be an exciting one, don’t forget that nursing logistics still stand when you’re pumping. No one says you can’t wear whatever you want, just be sure to think through what maneuvering an ensemble is likely to require when it comes time to pump.
  8. Know the value. Prioritizing nursing when you’re on the road requires commitment to the decision. Decide for your family where the value lies – and where it ends – so you can feel confident when you’re making your accommodations or making a decision to mix up your baby’s food sources.
  9. Expect to adjust. Even with careful planning, achieving a perfect pumping schedule when you’re already on an altered routine may be asking too much. Expect to miss a few sessions, and budget time in for longer ones in the morning and evenings before and after meetings.
  10. Ask your tribe. Many women are happy to share their own tips and tricks. I found myself sharing the company nursing room with a colleague acquaintance, and was thrilled when she e-mailed a few weeks later to ask for my advice on her upcoming travel. It’s human nature: we like to share things we know. Prior to that trip, I was on the receiving end of sage advice when I reached out to a local mom’s group via Facebook, asking what others did for work travel at 11 months. Along with the referral to the milk shipping service, I heard stories about introducing cow’s milk or adding in formula, all with the underlying theme that this wasn’t the massive hurdle I had mentally created.

Now it’s just a matter of packing.

Bon voyage!

To Google: Defining an era

Last week marked my little guy’s 11-month birthday, and I feel the baby year winding down already. I’m equal parts nostalgic for the newborn days and insanely entrenched in pinning an obscene amount of baseball-themed first birthday ideas. This is my second time around, and while I’m certainly more confident this time, my brain had kindly blurred out a few things, which, in retrospect, may be an essential survival-of-the-human-race tactic. I distinctly remember slipping squeezing into a pre-baby dress when my daughter was around the same age, and feeling for the first time like a remnant of the “old me” was back, albeit with a new squishy spare tire at my waist to keep me company through the journey of life. This is also the point at which life is starting to feel a bit more normal – baby may be ingesting actual food, mom and dad may be enjoying actual sleep, some of the infant gear has been donated, sold, or stored, and the house looks like more than only a tiny human reside in it with its servants around in the shadows. This heady feeling of mastering the new normal launched my thoughts on all the silly things I’ve Googled, and then delved deep into an internet vortex, in that wonderful/amazing/terrifying/exhausting/exhilarating first year. And so, for your amusement: The Baby Year, as experienced through Googling.

At due date

Proven ways to start labor

How often does the hospital send you home if you’re in labor

Home remedies to increase labor

Can you die from not giving birth

Infant

When do babies sleep through the night

What happens if your toddler punches the baby

Games to play with a newborn baby

Can you spoil a baby if you hold them for every nap

When do babies sleep through the night

Car seat will not come out of car

Carseat manufacturers instruction manual

Can you break a carseat pulling it out of the car

User friendly car seats on sale

Mom workouts in 30 seconds

Is it possible to workout with a baby

How many calories does breastmilk burn, really

 

What does baby snorting mean

Is it bad to put baby in a crib

How often should you check baby in crib

Should I set an alarm to check baby in the middle of the night

Can sleep be permanently disrupted by a baby schedule

How often do nursing moms have to buy bras

Expandable nursing bras

Baby at 4-6 months

When do babies sleep through the night

What is a sleep regression

When does sleep regression end

Do kids sleep through the night at any age

 

Baby food allergies

 

Weird spots on baby

Baby 7-10 months

When do babies sleep through the night

Cases of mothers who have gone insane from sleep deprivation 

One minute workouts to restore abs post-baby

ten second workouts to restore abs post-baby

celebrities with post-baby weight

best place to buy work-appropriate tunics

Shift dresses for work

What happens if baby eats small pieces of paper on floor

What happens if baby eats dirt

What happens if baby eats part of a raspberry bush

Easy babyproofing

Professional baby proofing

Do they make bubbles for babies?

Baby approaches one year

How to throw a perfect first birthday party

Pinterest first birthday parties

How to encourage childfree friends to attend a birthday party

Should my baby have friends by his first birthday

Healthy smash cakes

Best pushup bras

First-birthday themed cocktails

 

This one’s for the future

Perhaps one of the most over-used cliches in discussing work life balance is the advice to “set boundaries.” In the digital age, where an employer, customer, or team member can find you on vacation via cell phone, or a child can FaceTime you on a business trip (or, as a recent viral video shows, inadvertently join your video interview) boundaries in life are blurry at best. Setting them, doable. Enforcing them? Not as easy.

This is why I’m learning to live with disappointment. Not mine – theirs. 

I know, I know, there are the select few, those mom-unicorns who shed the baby weight easily, thrive at the office, kiss faces and stay “present” at home, and maintain their sanity. For the more human of us, we’ve realized “having it all” is likely impossible, and now it’s simply a matter of who is going to be disappointed.

Phew. That sounds incredibly dramatic. 

It’s also true.

Drawing a hard line and getting off the computer, e-mails, and work mindset when work ends, may result in disappointment. And those people may voice that disappointment in a public forum or e-mail.

Responsibility in these situations is threefold:

  1. Be amazing. Don’t be a disappointing employee; however, do feel comfortable disappointing people who have unreasonable expectations availability or abilities.
  2. Be firm. Re-enforce the boundary – without qualifiers or apologies. For example, if a colleague sent a late-night e-mail and expected a response, perhaps a reminder is in order: I’m happy to take a phone call to my personal cell if you have an urgent matter that needs my attention, but I am not on e-mail after the business day ends because that time is reserved for my personal life. 
  3. Be bouncy. In the words of my daughter’s swan song, let it go! Seriously.

Setting boundaries may be a constant battle. It may be a one-time effort that yields wonderful results. Either way, here is something to consider the next time an opportunity arises to advocate for boundaries that support quality work and quality family time: this one’s for the future.

Those mandatory nursing stations?

That protected leave?

The famed invincibility of a pregnant employee?

These are the fruits of our predecessors’ labors. Establishing, maintaining, and protecting a boundary may not just save your sanity – it may set up the next generation, or even the next hire, for a better experience.