Breastfeeding Anxieties

There isn’t a lot many can say when it comes to having three children and drawing any sort of similarities out amongst them. I mean, leave it to being the mother of three to prove to you that each one, cut from the same cloth or not, is bound and determined to be their own being. And yet, there are just a few similarities I can say about all three of my boys: each of them came in the 41st week of gestation. In fact, I think damn near 41 weeks and 4 days if we’re being precise. All three waited until their 9th or 10th month to cut any teeth. All three were early walkers, Hooper and Van both in their 10th month, Sonny in his 9th. And breastfeeding; all three have followed the same path.

You would think that by the third time, I’d have it down. In actuality, it’s quite the opposite. For starters, time has passed. Older people joke that they can’t remember their grown children as infants. I joke back that I can’t remember my 4 and 6 year olds as infants. And it’s only a partial joke because there is truth embedded in that statement as well. I’ve forgotten.

My experience with Sonny up until a month ago was seamless. Not without effort, but certainly without bumps in the road. He’d eat when I offered and I’d offer often. If it was before a nap or before putting him down for the night, it would put him to sleep.

I’m seeing things more clearly now from hindsight and I can pin our latest struggles down to the following: he’s far more aware of his surroundings than he once was. He’s easily distracted and half of the time I feel like I’m forcing him to eat which seems silly having always prided myself on ‘on demand’ feeding. Some days I feel like I need a basket filled to the brim with various toys and knick knacks that I can dangle in front of him to keep his attention. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I fed him without holding something on my chest. I suppose I wouldn’t care so much about him refusing feedings if I weren’t so worried about maintaining my supply.

You see what’s happening here? It’s a cocktail I’m mixing.

I wouldn’t even know about my supply if it weren’t for working so much lately. I worked three days in a row in the hospital (which is the only time I pump) and became growingly concerned seeing just how little I would get from the pump. Sure, it’s argued (and presumably true) that baby’s are more efficient than a pump but instinctively I cannot help but be concerned when I used to pump a combined 4 ounces and now, only 1, maybe 2. It’s also stressful to take time out of my day when I’m working as a nurse to only bag a mere ounce (leaving my patients, walking to another unit, pumping, cleaning, storing, walking back… Point being, it’s a process that takes time and takes me away from my patients).

And now, from the position of hindsight, it’s beginning to dawn on me that the same thing happened with both Hooper and Van, around the same age. While I’m blessed with good sleepers, the 9 or 10 hours of consecutive sleep at night causes my supply to plunge.

It’s also right around this time, with all three, that my body begins regulating itself once again and my period returns. I mean all three, at or damn near the 10 month mark. And I know menstruation has ill effects on milk supply. Or can, anyways.

Combine all this – working more and therefore pumping more, the return of my period, and a baby who is distracted by everything and loves solids (and is eating those like a champ) and who is sleeping through the night and then some – and it’s clear to see why my supply is suffering.

I was beginning to talk myself into the idea that maybe he’s just weaning and while, sure, he probably is to a certain extent (definitely transitioning into the world of solid foods) he’s not done with breastfeeding. And nor am I. It’s my goal to make it to a year and now that I’ve gotten over this hump, I know we will.

So how did I get over the hump, you ask?

Well, I reached out and heard back from so many of you via instagram. Sometimes you just have to talk yourself through something to be able to understand the issues.

The consensus was this: the distraction at the breast is normal for this age. Several suggested feeding in a low lit room. While I find this to be helpful during feedings he needs/wants, the reality is that we’ve simply had to cut out some of the feedings we once had… which is fine. I try to cram in as many daytime feedings as I can because I know not feeding at all throughout the night has had an effect on my supply. I’ve also given up on multitasking, gone are the days I could send a quick email or scroll through instagram while breastfeeding. And I’m fine with that, it’s nice to give him my full attention.

My next realization is that we all have limits. At least one person that responded mentioned getting up in the middle of the night to pump which, I agree, would be helpful in breaking the 10 hour hiatus I take from feedings while he sleeps. But, with working two (sometimes three) jobs and wrangling three kids, I need a full nights rest. And I feel very fortunate that I get it. I do, however, wake Sonny a couple hours after I put him down for the night, before I go bed myself (around 10pm or 11pm) and feed him one last time. And I will continue to do so to alleviate the long lapse in not feeding him. That particular session is my favorite; it’s the only one that doesn’t require the extra effort. Very rarely does he even open his eyes. It’s sweet, the kind of feed breastfeeding cliches are made of.

I’ve also increased my water intake. Or at least most days I try to. The amount of water we should all be getting each day is kind of baffling and I firmly believe so many of us – breastfeeding or not – are walking around partially dehydrated. On the days I work in the hospital, I make it a point to down two glasses of water every time I walk into the patient nourishment room. At home, it’s a little harder to come up with something similar because I’m distracted and multitasking with no organization about 90% of my day when I’m at home. I could probably stand to eat more greens too, but hey, we all have limits. I’m trying.

I’ve also started taking calcium + magnesium as well as fenugreek. I tried putting it off for as long as I could because I don’t necessarily care for walking around and smelling like a pancake house. Please tell me there are others who agree that fenugreek makes you smell like maple syrup? I was sitting in a class and thinking that someone near by smelled weird only to get home and have Willy point out that that somebody was, indeed, me.

I’m back to my regular work schedule for the most part and in the past few days I’ve had ‘off’, I’ve found comfort in the fact that he is still taking a significant number of feedings. And while it’s hard to ignore the pump, he does seem to be more efficient and able to draw out more than the pump.

And at the end of the day, he’s healthy. And there’s loads of comfort in that. I worried so much when Hooper was little and his weight percentile dropped all the way down to the 10th percentile. But not the case with Sonny. He’s chunky enough, with thighs that demand to be pinched. All in all, if it weren’t for pumping and attaching a number to the issue at hand, I wouldn’t even second guess anything. And the realization that I’m not alone, not in my worries or in my hatred of pumping, is something too (I’ve enjoyed reading some other breastfeeding stories, here, which have made for a nice late-at-night-oh-hey-look-at-that-I’m-not-alone time suck).

The breastfeeding relationship changes so much in the course of a year and it’s as if you’re constantly having to adjust and re-assess. From the early days where it felt like I was a slave to feeding him to the current days where the anguish derives from just how little time he’s willing to sacrifice to eat. It’s enough to make my head spin. In any event, wish me luck this week as I’m scheduled for a couple 12 hour shifts and will be returning to the dreaded pump to learn my fate as if the pump is some magic 8 ball determined to tear my confidence down. Trying not to let it.

Would love to hear from others in regards to the changes in the breastfeeding relationship and how feeding your 9, 10, or 11 month old and so on is different than when they were younger.

Woman’s March

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Hot damn the topic of politics can bring out some rippin’ and roarin’. While the majority of what people posted on social media (and by ‘social media’ I mean instagram because I’ll be damned if I have time for anything else these days) seemed to be with good flavor, I have a twinge of a bad taste left from a few of the comments on one image I posted on our shop feed as well as some of the other less-than-supportive sentiments I came across on the feeds of others. And it’s just like those bad tastes to ruin your palate all together, isn’t it? In any event, we marched the good march; not so much in protest because what’s done is done. But we marched for solidarity.

I had intentions of attending one of the larger marches but having just come back from Arizona the night before after lying Willy’s beautiful grandma to rest, the local march here – in San Clemente – was about all we could muster the energy for. And in hindsight standing amongst our local neighbors and fellow sisters was meaningful in a way that I needed.

It was fast and rather uneventful; the boys chasing their sweet friend Hazel, Sonny drifting off to sleep, and the rest of us walking amongst the honking horns in a sea of homemade signs reminiscent of so many that came before them; we shall overcome, a women’s place is in the revolution, and so on and so forth.

Prior to the march, I spent time talking to the boys about what it means to be a woman, a human, and how we can better support women and each other. For me, it’s not about bashing our new President as much as it is about talking about what’s right, what’s fair, and what equality means. We talked about respect and compassion and what those seemingly cliche words mean. We talked about embracing differences and practicing tolerance. All concepts worth introducing, regardless of the weight they carry.

And so, they carried their signs, they gave some hugs, they marched. But mostly they ran and laughed and played. Because while we’re busy working on their future, they’re busy staying in the moment.

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An addendum: I think so many of us harbor good intentions but meet road blocks when trying to transition said intentions into any sort of meaningful action. The sheer volume that turned out to the marches is great, but for many, it ended when the march ended. And not so much out of apathy but out of paralysis; paralysis stemming from just how big the issues we’re facing are. So big that it’s hard for any one individual to conceptualize what needs to be done and so, many of us end up doing nothing.  I’ve been mulling over a few ideas in my head in ways I can help and contribute on an individual level. Aside from the teaching I’m doing at home, because that goes without saying.

How about you? Any ideas of how to take action?

All images shot with my iPhone after taking my camera out only to realize I had no battery life. Ho hum. Long live the iPhone. 

On having kids…

San Clemente Family Photography-5717The other night our neighbor, who is an older man with no children of his own (by choice), gave the boys ice cream. As we sat together on our shared front yard he mentioned having not heard the boys all day, alluding to the fact that most days the chaos and ruckus that is our everyday filters it’s way over like the smoke from a BBQ.

The ice cream dripped down their cones and in true childhood fashion made for sticky hands and a rim of chocolate around their mouths. Our neighbor glanced over at his long-time girlfriend and said something along the lines of, “Now see, no need to remind me why I opted not to have children”. We made a few jokes about releasing the boys in his newly carpeted house and eventually we parted ways; they, presumably, to enjoy a quiet and peaceful evening and, us, to clean the chocolate off our kids’ faces, fight them on brushing their teeth, and remind them for the umpteenth time that it’s not nice to say that they “hate” us or that we’re “not their friends”.

I know life as a parent only from the mother’s perspective. And having children, for me, was a very innate desire. I spent my childhood training for motherhood; taking my cabbage patches to pretend school, filling out forms I’d take from the drawers of my dad’s office, and loving and cuddling any baby that came within a ten foot radius of me.

That night, I glanced over at Willy – who was struggling to get pajamas on one of the boys – and asked him if he’d rather have had it another way. His answer was true and sincere, he said, “I think I would have been perfectly okay if you didn’t want to have kids. But at the same time, I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world”.

It would be hard to argue that parenthood is where it’s at to a neighbor who realistically sees (and, errr, hears) you struggle nearly every day. I suppose it’s hard, in general, to make the argument for having kids to someone who clearly never wanted kids. And while the days are generally a struggle, all I can say is that the hard days, filled with relentless whining and tantrums, are all but forgotten in the second it takes for them to tell me that they love me.

I think any mother would agree; sticky hands, chocolate crusted mouths, booger filled noses n’ all.

Rainy day lessons

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San Clemente Family Photographer-35 San Clemente Family Photographer-36 San Clemente Family Photographer-38 San Clemente Family Photographer-40 San Clemente Family Photographer-46I’m coming to terms with the fact I’m not the craftiest of moms, nor am I anywhere near efficient in working with them at home on school-type stuff. Just today I felt like it’d be easier to french braid my own hair with one hand and my eyes closed than it would be to get Hooper to learn the numbers I was trying to teach him. My own mother would equate helping me during my school years to dragging a horse through mud. And, as the saying goes, payback is a bitch.

I’m learning as I go, as we all are. Some of the days that I sit down with Hoop are effortless and dare-I-say enjoyable. Other days, not so much. I feel like I’m at constant odds with myself: do you force a 5 year old to sit down and pay attention to a lesson or do you leave that for their teacher at school and encourage them to play instead? I can argue both sides. Like I said, I’m learning as I go.

Regardless of what the answer is, the other day I had one of those proud moments of motherhood. It was raining out and we were all cooped up in the house when Willy came in from the patio proclaiming that he had caught a lizard (catching lizards is a sport in this family, I swear). Hooper held it, examined it, and said, “hey, it’s a brown skink just like the one in my book”. And so, we got out his reptile book, found the skinks and talked some about what makes a skink a skink and, well, I felt like a winner.

It’s not like that everyday, but when all falls into place – especially on the cabin fever filled rainy days – it feels like you’ve hit the jackpot.

We released the lizard back to it’s home on the patio and watched it wiggle it’s way into it’s succulent oblivion.

Do you take the time to teach your kids at home or do you leave the learning for the school environment? And if you do sit down with them, do you ever want to punch yourself in the face too?

School Days

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I dreaded having both boys in school this year. Last year, because we newly moved to the area, Hooper attended a preschool that was 12 miles, albeit 30 minutes, commute. He went two days a week and waking him up and getting him fed and dressed in a timely manner on those days was torturous. And by the time I picked him up a mere 3 hours later, I’d had spent nearly two hours in the car.

Because of his birthday, this year we had the option of signing him up for preschool three days a week or enrolling him in the transitional kindergarten program. When I heard the TK program was 5 days a week, I almost immediately discounted it. And then I heard that it was state funded and, well, because money doesn’t grow on trees and because the local school offered the program, it started to look better and better.

The transition from preschool to TK has been a rough one for Hooper. The amount of things that confront you as a parent that you didn’t anticipate are vast. And I know I’m still speaking from ignorance because all I can do is laugh about how much more is in store for me. The truth is, and I think all of us parents feel this, is that none of us know what we are doing and yet we’re in these roles as mothers and fathers that give us the authority and responsibility over the lives of others. Somehow we’re supposed to raise these beings of ours to be good, decent people and it’s all based, more or less, on instinct; or, at times, on necessity — using the tools we have and picking up others along the way.

Willy and I dread picking up Hooper from school.

Each day, the teacher walks the kids out to the flagpole where all the children wait for their parents to retrieve them. And each day we get there just a bit early to sit and watch from the car as Hooper invades someone’s personal space. I spend a few minutes watching, wondering when this behavior will end and when I can quietly crawl out of my hiding place to claim this reckless child as my own. It reminds me of the infant stage when you’re in a restaurant and your child is screaming and everyone is looking at you and all you want to do is desperately pretend that the baby is not your own because you’ve tried every trick in the book and they’re still crying and you’ve reached the level of defeat where you’ve totally surrendered to their screams and almost don’t even hear them anymore but all these people are looking at you to do something to make it stop. Yeah, it’s like that.

The other day I picked Van up from preschool (he’s going two days a week) and his teacher told me how polite he is and how he’s such a delight to have in her class. What I wanted to say to Van’s teacher was, “well it ain’t nothin’ I’m doing at home because my other kid is supposedly a dick”. And please know I’m obviously being facetious when I refer to my sweet, first-born, number one cuddler (who nailed me in the ear with a shoe the other day) a dick. I understand that he needs time to transition and that behavior doesn’t change overnight (side note: it’s gotten a lot better over the last two weeks, yay). I also know better than anyone the inner workings at play… the fact he only very recently dropped his nap, yet will fall asleep on any afternoon car ride even if it’s only 10 miles away. The fact is, we can all make excuses until we’re blue in the face for our children. The reality is that they are human and just like us, they are figuring out the ropes. I’m trying my best to be consistent, though admittingly at times I feel like a fumbling idiot.

We’ve all shed tears. We’re all learning, we’re all growing.

But I’ll tell ya what… Tuesday morning, when both boys are in school at the same time? Yeah, it’s my new favorite day of the week.

And as a side note, so much love to all the teachers out there that find it somewhere deep within them to have patience and even love for a wild little boy like my own. So much appreciation, my heart swells.

And as a side, side, note, there are just too many kids and not enough teachers in public schools. How’s that for ending a post with a loaded statement?

Sometimes it’s good to talk to strangers

strangersWe were all raised with the ‘do not talk to strangers’ rule, but do you think it was actually useful? Sometimes I think it would have been more helpful to hear ‘listen to your instinct’.

Sometimes, when Willy wants to do something I think is crazy, I say ‘if you think that’s the best idea for our family, go for it’. Like when he wanted to get another dog and accused me of being a dog hater and fun killer because I made it known that I didn’t think it was a good idea. Rather than fight him on it, I threw the control back on him- if you think that’s a good idea, go for it. I trusted him to trust his own instinct and in the end we both agreed that another dog in a townhouse probably wouldn’t be a good idea.
The thing with rules is that they’re very black and white; they don’t allow for a lot of self introspection. And the beautiful thing about introspection is that, when used, it helps one build their trust in their instinct. And when you trust your instinct, you develop this beautiful sense of confidence.

I truly believe that the majority of people of good. Sure, there are a few bad seeds, no doubt. But it feels instinctively wrong to make rules based on the few bad seeds when the the majority are good.

I encourage my boys to talk to strangers. It feels like I should censor that statement or that it should be included in some post of horrible mom confessions or that I should find a more subtle, careful way to announce it… but it’s simply that; I encourage my boys to talk to strangers. And minus the one homeless lady with a questionable mental illness that combs the San Clemente streets, we’ve never had a bad experience.

When we attended the Music Under The Stars events at the Mission over the summer, Willy and I would take the boys around and offered free hugs to all. The joy it brought people was incredible. I feel we lack so much human connection; we’re all so distant from the people right around us. And the self-confidence I saw on my boys’ faces as they hugged hundreds of strangers on those nights brought the biggest smiles to our faces.

Meeting new people and bringing joy is important.

So rather than teach my boys not to talk to strangers, I encourage the exact opposite. Instead, I emphasize the importance of trusting their instinct… Because I want them to be good decision makers more than I want them to be good rule followers.

How ’bout you? How do you navigate the realm of stranger danger?

*Images found on Pinterest

An Interview

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In June, you may remember that we stayed with Willy’s Aunt Kathie in Montana. We spent a lot of time in the car and a lot of time cooking and drinking and watching the changes of weather and I knew in that time that I’d want to interview her here on my blog because much of what we discussed, I wanted to remember. And to share. Kathie has lived an interesting life, some may even say a life against the grain. Much of it has been in Montana, hundreds of miles from where she was raised. She’s worked on Indian reservations and has a story to match any crazy story I could manifest off the top of my head. She wears one earring because she believes in the beauty of asymmetry and she grows garlic partly for a living and partly because she enjoys it. She raised her son Joseph for much of his life as a single mom, but all of this is really just the bullet points. Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy her point of view and learning a little about her as much as I did.

 

You raised your son in a very small town. Can you discuss your decision to do so and the factors that contributed to your decision?

I moved to Montana in 1983 and after moving around a bit, settled in to teaching social studies at Sweet Grass County High School in Big Timber after getting married in August of 1991. We moved to our home on the Yellowstone the fall of 1992 and I discarded the worn boxes I had been packing and unpacking since about 1980. When I found out I was pregnant in 1994, it seemed like a good idea to continue setting down roots and having grown up mostly in Phoenix, I was thrilled to think of raising my child in a rural place!
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Some say small town, small mind. What are your feelings on more progressive topics like the legalization of marijuana and gay marriages? Would your son agree? Do you opinions isolate you at all from the community you are a part of?

Ahhhhh, we do reflect our locale and the geography of place is real. I support the legalization of marijuana and jumped for joy this summer when the US Supreme Court decided in favor of protecting the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation! (Aside:  Jeannette Rankin was elected to US Congress in Montana in 1916, before women had the right to vote in US.) Montana is an interesting mix of “small” and “wide open” – haha!

I believe Joseph supports both, although he is personally opposed to indulging in alcohol and drugs.

Sweet Grass County is one of the most conservative in the State… Yes, my opinions could isolate me from the community. I taught US Government, History, and Geography.  All seniors are required to take a year of US Government and I did compromise my politics in an effort to teach students to think, analyze, and learn about democracy. Most everyone knew at some level that I am liberal but I kept my politics to myself…mostly.  Education is really a liberal idea.  Souther California Photographer-204

Speaking from hindsight, are you glad you raised your son in a small town? What do you think were the pros and cons?

Without a doubt, I am happy and grateful to have raised my son in rural Sweet Grass County.  

Cons:  lots of driving, limited exposure to diversity, not  “street smart”

Pros: great network of people who care and taught him firsthand about “community” and the ups and downs of everyone knowing everyone… (ie lots of eyes and genuine interest and concern for each individual, also gossiping nature of a small town where everyone knows your business, sometimes before you do – haha); living in the country, he had lots of room to roam in the natural world; he spent most of his free time at home… he learned basic skills of rural life, like tasks involved in heating with wood, fencing, irrigating, winter survival Souther California Photographer-28

You mentioned that you’re glad your son has left Montana for California. You’ve always encouraged your son to travel and live and explore. In a way I feel like you raised him in a small town, but ingrained in him big world ideas, which is really noteworthy. Please elaborate. 

The natural world is just that and we are a part of it– although our modern world tends to make us apart from it.  (We are animals you know.) Seeing the Milky Way Galaxy spread across the sky most nights helps remind us where we may fit into the picture of the universe. We are a small part of a tiny light in this great universe and yet each of our lives is a miracle and we are present for a short time, graced with life and gifts to cultivate and share. I wish for my son a full and beautiful life where he may grow and blossom and become one with the earth, not fighting with it always.  Knowledge is power and tends to bring light to the darkness. We need light and hope and love in our world, always, and my goal has been to raise Joseph with this in mind, well, in his heart, too.

We spoke about how technology allows us to be very individualistic; you no longer have to listen to music you don’t like or watch commercials you don’t want to because of things like playlists and DVRs. Can you discuss this further and the implications you feel it has had on society? 

Yes, we have become most individualistic and yet tethered mightily to electronic devices that allow us to forget that we are all connected in a very basic, cellular way (no pun intended, really!)  Even our language has duality… We must remember that we all are human beings who basically want to have enough food, shelter, and clothing to survive, we want to be loved and accepted, and we want our children to grow and thrive. Technology can be used to make our worlds more connected through communication and transportation; it can also separate us by spreading misinformation and fear. It is our choice and our responsibility to use it wisely.Souther California Photographer-301

You worked for years as an educator. I’d like to ask a few questions specific to this topic:

-What do you think the goals are of early education?

Education begins in the family unit – and “parents” and their immediate network start the process. Brain research suggests that years 1-5 are critical for developing healthy patterns, there are two more times when the brain establishes fairly critical patterns that tend to become lifetime habits! (I can look this up to confirm the two later age spans) Teaching values is a big part of this first period – like honesty, “good” and “bad” as defined by individuals and the culture in which one lives, most of this is taught simply by lifestyle habits of the family. Socialization occurs here, too, how to get along with others. Of course, reading, interacting, and playing are the ways that young children learn. Have fun with them and teach them along the way.  Everything counts and from the beginning until our kids are grown, they are always watching us and learning from our examples!  (great book – “Our Children Are Watching”) 

-Can you discuss your observations and experiences of/with children that were homeschooled? What are your general feelings on a homeschooled education?

Ha, trick question for a public school teacher who enthusiastically supports free, quality, public education for everyone.  Numerous homeschooled students I’ve met in high school are nowhere near their publicly educated peers, academically and/or socially.  That said, I can name some individuals whose families actively and consistently educated their sons/ daughters at home AND with the “outside” world – not simply their like-minded, homeschooling group (remember the playlists and DVR’s that let us block out what we don’t want to hear and see???)-and these young people have been terrifically successful as they move into adulthood. Life is full of adversity and I believe that it is at home that our children are best-able to process their early experiences with adversity if we allow them to experience life and if we communicate openly, honestly, and age-appropriately with them. Souther California Photographer-354

We talked briefly about ‘unschooling’, where children are kept out of school and are free to learn on their own at home, in the absence of any curriculum. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, if the individual is motivated to learn and the family has the means to support them if they choose to continue a life in this manner, I suppose it can work. I am skeptical of these individuals finding a satisfying life in society as we know it. Maybe this will change if there are more people who are “unschooled.” Remember, knowledge is power and if your kids don’t have knowledge, those that do will end up making the decisions for them. I do believe this and if you look at history, this has been the pattern…

-What do you think is the best way combine the freedom of homeschooling, the autonomy of unschooling, and the structure of standard schooling? 

Can you have your cake and eat it, too?  

Have your kids go to a neighborhood school. Actively support the school and/or work to make it better! If you take off for a long weekend or whatever, have the kids learn along the way.   Teach your kids when they are home or let them learn on their own, the unschooling part. My son played a lot on his own. We had a list of “bored chores” just in case he wasn’t able to figure out something to do on his own. As he got older, he had chores that were important to the household. He learned along the way. 

Parenting was the most important, challenging, and rewarding work I have ever done.  It is a short and fleeting time-savor this time with your children.  My Dad said that when there is a challenge or obstacle in my life to try to make a game out of it and figure out how to win the game… I think parenting may be a bit like this, if all else fails, make it a game and do your best to win! Of course, remember that you are the adult and it really isn’t you against the child, it is you and the child winning the “game” of life together☺
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You can view more pictures of our time in Montana by clicking here.

The Disease of Being Busy

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When someone asks you ‘how are you doing?’, how do you respond? It’s such a simple question, asked with almost every greeting, but I always stumble over my own answer. I over-think it, or maybe I don’t; maybe I just think about how I would honestly answer the question — reluctant to give way to the typical ‘good’ or ‘really busy’ answers that so many of us say without much thought or consideration. Sometimes I internally scratch my head because I haven’t honestly taken the time to even consider how I actually am because, well, I am really busy.
I’ve been wanting to slow down a lot lately; I feel the pull of a slower pace tugging at my pant leg. I observe people and I can’t help but notice how buried we all are in our own worlds. The last time we were at the airport, I whispered over in Willy’s ear, “look at everyone here… everyone has their head down, staring at their devices”. It spurred a brief conversation about this crazy technology driven world of solitude where we seemingly live alongside one another but not with one another. The idea of being part of a community feels like a notion from the good ol’ days.
I’m not excluded from the people I observe.
My sister sent me an article written by a man named Omid Safi called “The Disease of Being Busy“. He, too, notices that people often answer the question of how they are with an over-exaggerated response of ‘too busy’. He goes on to discuss how children, too, are over scheduled; school, homework, and a multitude of extracurricular activities filling all of their calendar days. So much so, he says, that nobody – kids and adults alike – ever attest to being bored anymore; or even simply being, for that matter. Safi states, “What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?”.
I’m not sure, but man I long for some of that slowness.
The following excerpt from his article is my favorite, he writes,
“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, ‘How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?’ When I ask, ‘How are you?’ that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.”
So how are you today? I’m in a dream state with my concentration on how to make what is possible an actual reality. I’m feeling grateful for our community of friends and family and even neighbors, who have become friends, that add to our larger sense of belonging. And I’m feeling frustrated by two boys that should be napping right now, only one just pooped his pants and the other is whining because he wants out of his room so he, too, can poop.
Safi ends the article by saying, “Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, ‘I am just so busy,’ we can follow up by saying, ‘I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.'”
Beautiful, no?

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Thoughts on having a third | Perspective

Souther California Photographer-281 Souther California Photographer-285If you’ve been a long-ish reader of my blog, it’s no news to you that I’d like to have another child. I wrote about it here. It has nothing to do with how I view my ability to handle having three kids because I know better than anyone else that most days consist of varying levels of stress and self-sacrifice and that our home, the place we rest our heads most nights, is wickedly unforgiving. Just ask the dust balls on the stairs. There is no rational rhyme or reason to my madness, just the simple fact that I feel called to mother another child.
Willy looks at me from across the kitchen table perplexed as to why I’m not in a padded room; chaos surrounding us… toys everywhere, dishes piled up, a four-going-on-five-year-old who still requires to be spoon fed from time to time should you want anything to actually make it’s way into his stomach, and a two-going-on-stubborn-year-old that will slap you if he doesn’t get his way. Willy can’t help but question why I would want to add to our current situation when our current situation sometimes feels abusive (parental abuse should be a thing), overwhelming, and trying. We’re like underpaid, unappreciated workers.
I nod my head in agreeance each time because I can’t argue with things I agree with. But the pull to have another remains strong, regardless. And it wasn’t until recently that I was able to hit the nail on the head.
My sister sent me this blog post, which sums it up perfectly.
The author writes, “The first time a kind stranger peeked at my newborn baby and gushed, “Oh honey, treasure every second!” I almost burst into tears. Not because I was so touched, but because I was so tired. We were standing at the entrance to the mall–me, my baby, and my Shamu-sized postpartum belly–all three of us staring at this sweet lady with her abounding supply of freedom. I wanted to say, “I’ll try!  I’ll try to treasure every second, and you try to treasure every second of the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep you’re going to get tonight. And treasure every second you’re going to roam this mall in total freedom, buying clothes that will fit your skinny waist, and shirts that aren’t breastfeeding accessible. And while you’re at it, treasure all the discretionary time you’ll have in the next decade while I watch Dora, and take temperatures, and settle fights, and pretend to be a human jungle gym, and birth more babies, and clean puke off my clothes.”’

I can recall feeling the same way. Being told to treasure every second was my first experience of mom guilt. When I’d here those words, “treasure every second”, I’d feel this impending feeling of doom — I was not only expected to wake every two hours to feed my newborn, but I was also expected to enjoy it. Hell, forget enjoying it, we’re told to treasure it. Can you imagine being dead asleep following a sleep derived night before only to awoken by that ever-so-subtle newborn whine that not-so-slowly grows into an all out adult scream and think to yourself, “lucky me, it’s that time to nurse that baby again“. Those people that insist on such ridiculous notions clearly have had a better nights sleep. They’re clearly speaking from hindsight. They clearly have something all new parents in their delirious, over-worked, under-appreciated state have; they have perspective.
The author of the aforementioned post went on to have three children, all girls, and had to this to say following the birth of the third: “This time, if a kindly stranger tells me to treasure every second, I think I will burst into tears.  Not because of my lost figure or freedom, but because I so ardently understand that the seconds truly are numbered. They are grains of sand slipping through the hourglass, never to be returned. That’s the funny thing about motherhood. You start off with so little on your plate, and it feels like you’re absolutely drowning. And yet the more you add, the more joyful it becomes. Because somewhere in between adding more babies, and more diapers, and more laundry, you also add more perspective. You realize there are worse things than a long night, and challenges really do pass, and tiny toes don’t stay tiny forever. You know cribs turn into beds, and strollers turn into bikes, and the chubby cheeks making fish faces today will be wearing your makeup tomorrow.”
And so when Willy looks at me from across the table I remind him it won’t be like this forever and hell, when it’s not like this, we’ll miss it. Parts of it anyway.

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Fear

ashley-118Venice ashley-116VeniceI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance, for me, to let kids be kids; to openly explore their environment and to – more or less – take a back seat approach when it’s appropriate. But battling this outlook is an underlying fear I think we all face as mothers; an innate versus society-induced drive to coddle, to protect, and to give our children every ounce of our attention.
Before becoming a mother, I lived without any inhibitions (I’ve probably made my own mother’s head spin all the way around once or twice). I’ve been sky diving twice, I attended big outrageous parties in the middle of the desert that were not – shall we say – legal, I visited India (just Janet and I) and ended up – after many stops at checkpoints that contained several men with not one but two machine guns slung over each shoulder – in Pakistan at a time it was not – shall we say – safe to be there. And those are just the things I’m willing to admit here publicly.
And so, as a mother, I try to hold on to the notion that it’s okay to make mistakes and okay to explore and – more or less – trust the world; And that doing so will build a stronger human being based on the notion that I identify greatly with all I have done in my life and believe deeply that it has shaped what I trust to be a healthy perspective on life and a humble confidence in myself and my fellow man.
I don’t believe in parenting from behind a screen door of mesh made of fear. And yet, as I reflect on things that have happened over just the last year or so, I wonder if I’m really confident enough to practice what I preach because, well, I struggle with my own fears too.
My grandma died just a day or two after I had my spinal fusion. I was in the hospital when I learned that my dad had found her, still somewhat conscious, on the floor in her home office. She was 96 years old and despite her age, it came as a shock to all of us. She showed no signs of slowing down, refused all help, and lived alone completely independently.
When I came home after two weeks in the hospital, I experienced horrible opiate withdrawals. I had been on IV dilaudid for the full time I was in the hospital. If you google dilaudid, you’ll read urban dictionary’s definition: medical heroin. And it’s no joke; it’s something like one chemical compound off of heroin. It didn’t live up to the hype, but I think I was in so much pain that it did nothing more than knock me out and allow me to rest for an hour or two until I woke up in dire pain and repeated the process all over again. By the time I was home, I felt nauseous, couldn’t eat, and was still in horrible pain. Two months after coming home, I did something awful to my neck; so awful that I can say I was in more pain than I ever had been. Meaning it topped two natural births to large babies as well as the pain I experienced immediately post operatively. I laid helpless in bed for about two weeks and got a glimpse of what it would be like to be chronically disabled. A few weeks after healing from that, I got a stomach virus that made me so dehydrated that I passed out – completely – at home. An ambulance took me to the hospital, where I spent another few days loading up on IV fluids.
Prior to moving – as many of you already know – we watched helplessly as Sarah (our dog) got hit by a car. The vision still runs over and over again in my mind. And, more than anything, pointed to the fact that life can change in an instant right before your eyes. Following her death, the way we started talking to one another changed; “Have a fun trip” turned into “Please make sure you drive safely and that the kids are strapped in well”.
Just after moving to our new home, Willy came upon a scene where a pedestrian had been hit just a mile from our home. She flew at least 60 feet. The look on the faces of the two bikers that witnessed it is imprinted in Willy’s memory; I can almost see it myself, and I wasn’t even there.
While in Hawaii last year we got word that Willy’s grandma was in the hospital. Again, it was – more or less – unexpected. She was discharged and placed on hospice care with a poor prognosis. Thankfully, she’s still with us and fighting the good fight.
I came across the loss of the sweetest red-headed boy on Instagram and haven’t been able to shake him, or his family, from my mind. Ryan was three when he chased a Frisbee into the street and was hit by a truck. It was so painful to read about, I couldn’t even muster up a few words of condolences to his family. It hits home, as I’m sure it does for all of us.
And, of course, my recent car accident on the freeway… where all three cars involved were a total loss. I can still see that pickup truck coming straight at me. I wasn’t my fault, though at times I think it would be easier to deal with if it had been; It’s easier to say things like “I’ll never travel that close to the car in front of me again” or “I won’t ever check my phone while driving again” because statements like those insinuate some degree of control. Instead, all I can say is “I hope a truck on the freeway doesn’t fly into me out of nowhere again” and, well, that’s not very comforting — to know that I, or none of us for that matter, have control to stop things that are out of our control is scary.
The sum of all these scenarios points to one brutal conclusion: life is fragile, pain is real, and the paths we all walk are never straight. And these aren’t conclusions you want to hear or face or – dare I say – accept as a mother. We want life to be hardy and safe and dependable so we can let our children off of our proverbial leashes and enable them to make mistakes and learn and grow.
I’m reminded of a quote I recently read over on The Ma Books: “Only later did I come to understand that to be a mother is to be an illusion. No matter how vigilant, in the end a mother can’t protect her child – not from pain, or horror, or the nightmare of violence, from sealed trains moving rapidly in the wrong direction, the depravity of strangers, trapdoors, abysses, fires, cars in the rain, from chance” (Nicole Krauss, Great House). That quote brings tears to my eyes, every time.
I really do believe in letting my kids be kids; I believe in allowing them to make mistakes. I believe in allowing my kids to fall and struggle and learn and grow. My hope is that I can raise them to be independent and confident. But there are cracks in concrete just like there are holes in fences and sometimes little bits of life happenings become weights, each of them stacked upon the other, weighing me down and trying to force me into surrendering to fear.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t have a conclusion that suggests it’s all okay; I only have the truth that it’s not always okay and that things can change at the drop of a hat. I guess the take home message is that you can’t plan your life around unexpected tragedies nor can you plan your life around the idea that everything will be okay, always. So I guess you can dumb it down even further and simply say you cannot plan life; You can merely enjoy the days, the moments, and surround ourselves with those we love with the harsh reality that none of us will be here forever.
Photos by Tish Carlson

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What did your mom do?

338A1117-27 338A1118-28My sister recently told me about an elaborate hot wheels themed party her co-worker threw for her 5 year old son. She mentioned staying up late to finish the handmade decorations, complete with the personalized license plates she had made for all the kids in his class.
Don’t feel sorry for me when I tell you that I don’t remember one of my birthday parties before the age of 16. I honestly don’t. I think there’s a few photos in the family albums to show proof that they took place, but I don’t have any actual memories. And I don’t feel any less loved because of it.
I recently read an article by Jen Hatmaker (why she’s an author and not a hat maker, I don’t know) that talks about how “precious” parenting today has become.
She writes, “When I think about upping the joy in parenting and diminishing the stress, I propose that much of our anxiety stems from this notion that our kids’ childhood must be Utterly Magical; a beautifully documented fairytale in which they reside as center of the universe, their success is manufactured (or guaranteed), and we over-attend to every detail of their lives until we send them off to college after writing their entrance essays”.
I think social media has a lot to do with this. Sites like Pinterest can make one feel like cupcakes made out of a box are a piece of shit. If you follow me on instagram, you may remember me bitching about spending some $25 on Hooper’s Valentines for his class; I fell victim to the Pinterest trap. We’re constantly seeing other things moms are doing on Facebook and Instagram; many fall victim to constantly comparing and I think many feel guilty or develop low self-esteem when they feel like they can’t measure up.
Hatmaker states, “Nothing steals joy away from parenting more than believing you are doing a terrible job at it”. She goes on to say that her trick for holding onto the joy and letting go of the stress is to ask herself what her own mom would have done.
I pose this question to anyone reading this post: what did your mom do? What were your birthday parties like? What’d you do when you got home from school? How did you spend your summer breaks? What kinds of things in your childhood do you remember your mom taking an active role in?
My birthday parties were usually in the backyard and the attendees were usually the neighborhood kids mixed with a few close friends from school. I spent much of my after school time at the gym. Gymnastics was my life because loved it. My parents never pushed me. In fact, I can remember them suggesting I call it quits after each broken bone. I also remember them griping here and there about the cost per month. My parent’s never patrolled my homework. Rather, when report cards came and I didn’t do so well in a particular subject, that’s when we’d have a talk. I have lots of memories playing with the neighborhood kids; house hopping and riding bikes and teaching a neighborhood gymnastics class in my front yard, selling lemonade, roller skating in the garage, trying to set a leaf on fire with a magnifying glass, and so on and so forth. It’s not that my parents were negligent or not involved, it’s just the way things were. I never doubted their love for me, ever.
But it’s not really like that anymore. Today, parents seem to think that “chopper” parenting is somehow more beneficial and responsible and that hovering over every move their kid makes is some sort of proof of their love for their child.
I rarely bring my kids to parks, but when I do, I bring a book. Sometimes I actually read it, sometimes I just pretend. But I do so intentionally to allow my boys the freedom to figure shit out on their own. Everything from how to get down from the ladder they climbed up to dealing with other children in both positive and negative ways are things I want them to figure out on their own. The way I see it is like this: It’s my job to teach them in the home how to behave, how to ask for help, how to be kind, etc and then, when they’re out in the world, it’s their job to practice; which includes making mistakes.
I would raise a girl the same way.
Have you ever been mean to someone? I’m sure we all have some recollection of saying or doing something we regretted. I want them to feel that, on their own, without me jumping in. If I notice them not sharing, it’s something I prefer to talk about on the way home, after that presumed shitty innate feeling of being a dick has had time to set in and register.
In reflecting back on her own childhood, Hatmaker writes, “They didn’t worry endlessly, interfere constantly, safeguard needlessly, or overprotect religiously. They just raised us. And we turned out fine… It never crossed my mom’s mind to ‘entertain us’ or ‘fund expensive summer endeavors’ or ‘create stimulating activities for our brain development.’  She said get the hell outside, and we did.”
She goes on to raise some important questions, “Could it be that we are simply too precious about parenting? Have we forgotten the benefit of letting our kids fail? Figure it out? Work hard for it? Entertain themselves? We put so much undue pressure on ourselves to curate Magical Childhoods, when in fact, kids are quite capable of being happy kids without constant adult administration. I would argue that making them the center of the universe is actually terribly detrimental. A good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child. We can still demonstrate gentle and attached parenting without raising children who melt on a warm day.”
I want my boys to be strong. I want them to be able to navigate around all the lemons life seems to toss out. I want them to be self-aware and independent. I don’t want them to melt on warm days, for goodness sakes. I strongly believe that by doing less, I’m doing more. And it’s a relief. I see entire blogs dedicated to featuring spectacular kids birthday parties and I giggle to myself. I think of the sense of entitlement I see so many young people enter the work force with and the dots start to connect themselves. It baffles me that in a time where we’re seemingly doing more than ever as parents, so many of us feel like we’re not doing enough.
Hatmaker ends the article with a healthy reminder that we have everything our children need for success, “…kisses, Shel Silverstein books, silly songs, kitchen dance parties, a backyard, family dinner around the table, and a cozy lap. They’ll fill in the rest of the gaps and be better for it. Your kids don’t need to be entertained and they don’t need to be bubble-wrapped; they just need to be loved.”
I’m constantly reminding myself to let go; to allow them the space they need to explore and to celebrate their independence. Because at the end of the day, they aren’t going to remember the decorations you made for their party or their custom baked birthday cake, they’re just going to remember that they were loved.

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The Overprotected Child

playground4Every now and again I’ll write a post that really means something to me and I’ll let it sit, completed, in my drafts bin for months, even years. I haven’t quite figured out why. I think it bothers me to post something that I feel so deeply about only to have it soon be buried underneath future posts. But I also can’t stand for this post to sit in my drafts bin any longer…
One of my fellow Childhood Unplugged photographers turned me on to an article published by The Atlantic called, “The Overprotected Kid”. The subtitle states, “A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery – without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution”. The article highlights the transformation of playgrounds in the US from the 1960s and 70s until now, noting that changes were made due to safety concerns without much of a change in the number of injuries that have occurred on a playground between then and now. It speaks to how consumed we, as parents, have become with safety and how driven we have become by fear. This fear has led to very little unsupervised playtime, which the article states can be detrimental to the development of a child. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t agree.
So what is this “new” playground like, you ask? Well it takes up half an acre and consists of things like tires, mattresses, a creek with a faded plastic boat, mud, wood, and other materials that allow the “playground” to transform daily. Contrary to many of the playgrounds we’re used to, “there are no bright colors, or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide topped by a red steering wheel or a tic-tac-toe board; no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off; no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek)”.thelandplayground2
Childhood has changed. I was just having a conversation with friends when one admitted that, back in day (she grew up in the 60s-70s) when the cops used to show up to the parties, they’d simply hold their joints under the table and blatantly deny the presence of any drugs or alcohol. And the cops, who could certainly smell the marijuana in the air, would “take their word for it” and move on. In the same conversation, someone else admitted that he was in the car when his group of friends got pulled over for drunk driving (this was also in the 60s-70s). Instead of arresting anyone, the cop asked if anyone in the car was sober and took another kids word for it when one raised his hand and volunteered to drive the rest of the way home. I’m not saying I want my kids to be able to get away with doing drugs, nor do I think cops should turn a blind eye to drunk drivers; my point is only that times have changed and it’s affected the way our children interact with their world. The article states, “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70’s – walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap – are now routine”. It continues, “When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost – and gained – as we’ve succumbed to them?”.
The article goes on to say that somewhere along the line risk became synonymous with hazard and due mostly to fear of lawsuits, playgrounds began to change substantially. And now, they’re all the same. From one playground to the next, you’ll notice that all the slides are at the same heights and angles and many share the same accessories. There are no elements of surprise and whether you’re in California or Kansas, chances are your kid is playing on the same blue and orange painted equipment with rubber pavement as my kids. And if you’re kids are like my kids, the actual equipment itself holds their attention for a whopping 10 minutes or so. After that initial 10 minutes is up, I rely on them interacting with other children (fingers crossed there is someone there for them to play with), the sandbox, or – if they’re lucky – their bike / scooter I brought for them to ride around on. And am I the only one that gets annoyed by the constant signage, “use caution”, “intended for children ages 2-5”, “adult supervision required”, and so on and so forth? It reminds me of a comedy show I saw with Demetri Martin where he does this whole bit about signage and how stupid it is, in general. He talks about driving across a bridge in the summer time that has a sign that reads, “May be icy”. He suggested that instead of concentrating on the negative, signs ought to concentrate on the positive; like, instead, how ’bout it read, “May not be icy”. It translates to mean the same thing, doesn’t it? I digress.
“Two parents sued when their child fell over a stump in a small redwood forest that was part of a playground. They had a basis for the lawsuit. After all, the latest safety handbook advises designers to ‘look out for tripping hazards, like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.’ But adults have come to the mistaken view ‘that children must somehow be sheltered from all risks of injury. In the real world, life is filled with risks – financial, physical, emotional, social – and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development”. It’s as if we’ve taken the trust for our children to properly judge the safety of a situation away. I hate watching my boys in yards where there is a pool, for example. But rather than chase them all over the place, like those guys who tease the bulls with those red flags, I sit back and wait for them to fall in with the reassurance that I will simply jump in after them. I remind myself that a few seconds under water will not kill them. Maybe some people may find me crazy for doing such, but I trust in their ability to know that playing by the water’s edge is not safe. What I don’t trust is their ability to swim and that’s why I sit out there with them, at all times, carefully observing, or “loitering with intent“, as the article calls it. And to this day, neither Hooper nor Van has fallen into the pool while playing around it.
I agree that learning to negotiate risks is an important part of survival. I mean the human race has survived as a whole because of our abilities to defend ourselves, run from danger, and be independent. The article states, “Even today, growing up is a process of managing fears and learning to arrive at sound decisions. By engaging in risky play, children are effectively subjecting themselves to a form of exposure therapy, in which they force themselves to do the thing they’re afraid of in order to overcome their fear”.
Hooper became a bit more daring when he transformed from toddler to kid, but I would describe him as far from reckless. Both boys are terrified of cars in the street or parking lot. When Van hears a car’s engine start in the parking lot, he latches on to my leg. Because the fear is innate in them, when we cross the street or ride bikes I make it a point to educate them about crosswalks or looking both ways but I’m careful to instill more fear and I speak to them in a calm and matter-of-fact voice. I think it’s important to know your children and teach to their individual levels of understanding, or in this case fear.playground5
Even with the introduction of the safety handbook for playgrounds that subsequently led to the change of all playgrounds today (due in large part to fear of lawsuits in situations where the playgrounds were not up to the new codes), there has been little change in the rate of injury between then and now; “We might accept a few more phobias in our children in exchange for fewer injuries. But the final irony is that our close attention to safety has not in fact made a tremendous difference in the number of accidents children have. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which monitors hospital visits, the frequency of emergency-room visits related to playground equipment, including home equipment, in 1980 was 156,000 or one visit per 1,452 Americans. In 2012, it was 271,475, or one per 1,156 Americans”.
It seems that these days we are driven to shelter our children; encouraged to always hold their hand and guide them and supervise them. But, in-doing-so we can also dissemble them by making them reliant on us for safety and protection, guidance and direction. When you work at a job, for example, and show you are able to conquer a task with competence, you move up the ladder and are given more responsibilities and, as a result, you build confidence and independence and self-worth. The same goes, or used to go, for raising children; “Children used to gradually take on responsibilities, year by year. They crossed the road, went to the store; eventually some would get neighborhood jobs. Their pride was wrapped up in competence and independence, which grew as they tried and mastered activities they hadn’t known how to do the previous year. But these days, middle-class children skip these milestones. They spend a lot of time in the company of adults, so they can talk and think like them, but they never build up the confidence to be truly independent and self-reliant”.
The article concludes in differentiating between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness); “We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time panic rises”. 
It’s difficult to trust my boys at the age they’re at and I’m still adjusting to letting go and encouraging exploration; but I think it’s a battle worth fighting. I remind myself often of the big picture. I’m not raising children, I’m raising future adults.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you encourage your children to take risks? How did you grow up? Did you have a lot of unsupervised time as a child? And if you’re a grandparent, how do you feel things have changed (or not changed) since you raised your kids? 

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Instinct

338A7856-77As parents, especially as first time parents, we want to do everything right. We’re impressionable. We read books and blogs and take advice from everyone around us to heart. And then, at some point, a metamorphosis occurs and we realize that all along we had something more valuable than research or advice; we have instinct.
Sure, I backed my decision to try for a home birth with research I valued. But, as many of you know, for every research article there is supporting home birth, there’s another one to tear it to shreds. So really, it was never a decision based solely on research, but instead on my instinct that a home birth was right for me. It’s where I felt comfortable.
This post is not about home birth. It’s about instinct over research.
When my in-laws were in town, I listened as my father-in-law explained that there is a direct correlation between eating ice cream and drowning. When looking at the statistic, one is led to believe that if they eat ice cream, the chances they may drown in a pool of water are higher. In actuality, the two are related only through the fact they are both prevalent during summer. The statistic does not, however, even mention summer, which is the key ingredient, wouldn’t you say?
Nothing is as valuable as your instinct. I’ve never gotten lost from trusting my gut. Parenting has taught me that time and time again. I no longer rely on research, I rely on myself.
How about you? Were you influenced heavily by research / advice as a new mom? Do you value your instinct?

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Toys

338A4084-2I’d like to think that every parent falls into the toy trap at some point in time. It may be accumulating toys while you’re pregnant and in frantic nesting mode. I know I picked up one too many vintage toys during this time all built around this lovely image of my soon-to-be child playing with them. Or maybe it hit later, like during the toddler years, when you’re willing to fling just about anything in your kid’s direction to buy yourself a treasured moment of peace. And by moment, let’s not kid, I mean minute.
Hooper never had a lot of toys when he was a baby, aside from the vintage toys I mentioned that I ended up using more for decoration than anything else. He was always happy with real-life objects; water bottles, keys, junk mail. He’s still into junk mail, actually. So industrious, that one. When he did start showing interest in toys, it was in little toy cars which he would feverishly line up on one side of the sofa and then rearrange – again – on the other side of the sofa. Willy and I would huff and puff when trying to find a place to actually sit on the sofa, but it never stopped us from surprising him with a new toy car and, overtime, his collection of toy cars grew to okay-now-we-have-a-problem proportions.
And then, of course, there were birthdays and Christmas’ and visits from family  and toys started invading every crevice of our home. At one time we had a bike, a scooter, a tricycle, the little tykes cozy coupe, a plasma car, a balance bike, a vintage playskool wooden giraffe ride on, a wagon, and those are just what I can remember off the top of my head.
By the time Van started showing interests in toys, it was non-stop fighting. I remember Christmas of 2013 vividly; Hooper and Van were at each other constantly. As soon as things calmed down (and the new toys lost their “newness”), the fighting dissipated. It was in hindsight that we connected the two – new toys and non-stop fighting.
When we moved last year, we donated a lot of their toys. The select few that we decided to keep got tucked away in the coat closet downstairs. Ninety percent of the time we are at home, you can find Hooper and Van in the garage; Van on his bike and Hooper organizing the random inhabitants of the garage (Note the picture above: a neighbor gave us that 4 wheeler thing, which has since been donated, but check out everything he has stashed on there: traffic cones, a bike helmet, an empty Stella carton for heaven’s sake, a broom, dirty dish rags that were by the washer, his halloween bucket, part of the vacuum, a vintage suitcase, scraps of wood, his school backpack…). These kids clearly don’t need actual toys. And so, the other day when they were napping, I loaded the car with another round of toy donations.
Currently we have a few toy trucks and tractors that they play with often, a toy kitchen with toy food in their room, wooden blocks, heaps of books, and, of course, their bikes in the garage.
And it’s been more peaceful than ever. They’ve been playing together in all sorts of new ways; their bed has become a pirate ship, they have picnics, they use the tractors to dig the rocks out of our potted plants (grrrr, but whatever), they build “homes” with their blocks, and they ride bikes together… all in peace.
Not that they don’t fight anymore. They do. They’re kids. But I’ve definitely noticed a change.
We’re due for another purge. I know friends and grandparents and other family members enjoy surprising them with gifts – namely toys because let’s not kid, kids could give an f’ about clothes – and I would never be the kind of parent to ask that they not buy our kid’s toys. But when the newness wears off and pieces go missing, I donate or throw out.
And they never notice and never ask. In fact, Hooper has a better sense of when I’ve taken his junk mail (also known as his “work stuff” than when entire toys go missing — I kid you not).
How do you deal with the invasion of toys? What are your kid’s favorite toys?
And my apologies for the virus that infected my site and sent everyone to a viagra site… So frustrating. I believe it’s been taken care of. 

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My beef with finding a pediatrician

338A1040-3 338A1047-5I’m not super choosy when it comes to my kid’s health care. Or at least I didn’t think I was. You can decide, I suppose, after you read this post.
Before we moved, we saw a pediatrician that our midwives loosely recommended. I say loosely because he was simply a name on a long list that they provided and they didn’t really seem to remember how he ended up on that list. A good friend of Willy’s ex-girlfriend’s mom also worked at the office, so he came recommended from her as well. We interviewed him when I was pregnant because it seemed like something google told us we were supposed to do. He seemed on board with our decision to birth our child at home and even threw out a few supporting statistics and articles he had read.
He was never very friendly. His bedside manner was average. He didn’t talk to either of boys in cute, high-pitch silly voices. Instead he was direct and to the point. He talked to me, not the kids. And he made really sound decisions; decisions that were always thoroughly thought through. And that’s what I loved most about him. He was conservative with antibiotics, quick to recommend natural remedies. More than that, he gave me – and several others – his cell phone number. I’d text him pictures of rashes and he’d tell me whether I needed to bring them in or not. He’d always respond within 12 hours. Always. And it saved so many unnecessary trips to the office (which was a 45 min drive from us, so I really appreciated that). He took appointments seven days a week and always left room for same-day sick appointments.
Then we moved out to Orange County and it seems like every pediatrician office is a corporation with a call center. I interviewed one pediatrician, which already made me uncomfortable because I’m not the interviewing type. She didn’t seem to offer that I-care-about-my-patients feel. Willy and I both decided not to go with her. I didn’t really want to go through the interview process all over again. I figured the boys are older and rarely need to go to the doc for anything other than vaccines. So I decided not to be so picky and made an appointment at an office close to us, based off some random parent’s recommendation. And it was fine. We went in, got our vaccines, and left.
But then there was that time that Van was struggling to breathe and I had to take him to ER in the middle of the night. He had several breathing treatments and a steroid injection before he was breathing a bit easier and without wheezing. The ER doc told us to follow up with our primary the next day and I agreed that it would be important to do so. As a nurse, I know you don’t mess with airway. Especially the airway of a child. So when I called the office to get an appointment, I was told they didn’t have any and was offered the alternative of going much further away to their other location. I was so furious. Then, recently, when Hooper came down with some bug that he seemed to have trouble fighting, I called again for an appointment and was once again told that they were full and again offered the alternative of going to their other office that’s much further away.
It’s not the drive to another location that bothers me, it’s the lack of continuity of care. And the fact that every time I call I’m talking to a call center, not office staff.
I ended up taking Hooper to urgent care, where they put him on antibiotics. And in hindsight, I’m not sure he even needed antibiotics.
I’m so fed up with the pediatricians out here. What’s it like in your area? And if you’re in the Orange County area and have a mom-n-pop pediatrician you see and like, by all means, hook a mama up.

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Education

I think a lot about my children’s educational future. I realize this can be a delicate subject as we all have our own opinions on education and ways to raise our children.  
The other day I was chatting with a friend who mentioned that her friend just pulled her children out of a highly rated public school and placed them in private school instead. She was upset because, apparently, “masturbation” was listed under some sort of description of the curriculum. Hashtag: why third hand information is dangerous. She has four kids, so you have to multiply the cost of private school by four. Here in Southern California, that means anywhere from $6K to $25K per kid, per year. The alternative costs nothing. Nothing.
I went to a public elementary and junior high. This may mean something different, depending on where you live. At the time, they were good schools. Sure, I remember the playground being vandalized with graffiti every now and again and the occasional playground fights that would send everyone running over to watch until someone of authority came to break it up. I don’t recall any problems with any of my teachers, nor do I recall either of my parents hovering over me. I know it was like pulling teeth to get me to sit down and do my homework and I do remember battles in this respect. I also remember my mom declining my english teacher’s suggestion to place me in an accelerated english class. My mom’s response sums up how I remember both of my parents attitude toward education; she declined saying this: “I don’t want the extra work”.
That may sound like a lazy response from a mother that doesn’t care about her child’s education, but it’s quite the contrary and, I think, one of the more important lessons I’ll take forward with me in guiding my children through school.
The lesson is this: Ultimately, success depends on the individual, not the institution. I see it as my job to set my children up to be successful, but I also know there is a delicate line between trusting them to get there on their own and pressuring them so much that, rather than them walking the path on their own, you’re dragging them by the seat of their pants. I hand it to my mom for acknowledging that I didn’t have the interest in school at the time. She knew advancing me in school would mean greater homework battles and she chose not to push it.
My sister, on the other hand, was very self-driven academically. She was that girl who graduated high school with a 4.7 GPA and had those like me scratching our heads and pondering, “I thought 4.0 was the highest?”. When she didn’t do well on a test, it was her sobbing and my parents trying to talk some rational sense into her.
I went to a private high school and the environment was drastically different than it was in public school. I was surrounded by kids who all came from affluent and successful families. My friends from junior high all went to the local public high school. And you know what? We all went to college and we all have careers of our own. So, in the end, public school versus private school didn’t really make a big difference.
And the same can be said about college, as well. I graduated from San Francisco State University and later went to a small college in LA for an additional degree in Nursing and I work along other nurses who graduated from Yale and others from Pierce (a community college) and we all make the same amount of money.
Point being, if you’re kid is driven, they will succeed no matter where they are planted. I hope I don’t lose site of that reality because I’ve seen the crazy-brand-name-school-driven parents and I don’t want that for myself or my children.
I got a good laugh over the holidays in watching how Hooper constructed his gingerbread house, on his own. It made me giggle to look around at all the other gingerbread houses the other preschoolers created with their parent’s help. I’m not against helping my child and I certainly have no ill judgement toward those that walked home with beautiful gingerbread homes, but I truly did appreciate Hooper’s independent effort and the truth is we ate it all before we got home anyway. The comparison will give you a good chuckle. Guess which one is Hoopers:
I guess the bigger questions are how to motivate your child, when to push and when to pull back, and choosing which battles are worth fighting. I’m obviously still figuring it all out.
How do you feel your education impacted your life path? Do you hold any resentment toward your parents for pushing you in one direction or another?

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The beauty of hindsight

338A7416-37338A7362-27Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t write posts about topics I don’t have the answers to. It sounds foolish admitting such, because who am I to think I know anything at all? Chances are I’m no different than you; I have opinions and experiences, but not always answers.
Do you ever feel like motherhood is best viewed in hindsight? Sometimes the day to day feels like nothing short of a struggle, with a rare glimpse of beauty or moment of peace. And I wonder how it is that I actually love this motherhood gig as much as I do. Because it doesn’t really make sense to always feel like you’re about to drown, yet love the near-death repetitive experience.
That’s when it dawned on me that things don’t always go great in the moment (or smooth, or easy… insert the adjective of your choice), but looking back on whatever the moment was, even if it’s a mere hour later (especially after the kids are in bed — who’s with me?), is a whole different experience. I can’t comprehend it and I won’t even attempt to explain it.
I suppose it’s because the good always outweighs the bad even if the bad outnumbers the good. You can go on a road trip with your obnoxious whiny kids who spill their juice all over the carpet of the floor, make you stop for feedings and changings, and whine more-or-less much of the way, but chances are that in a week’s time you’re not going to remember anything other than watching the sunset behind the vastness of the ocean with your family, all together. Even looking back on photos of a vacation or even just any old day that I remember to be draining and hard makes me chuckle; Like the suffering I go through literally becomes humorous. Only in motherhood.
This thought – of enjoying motherhood in hindsight – has popped in my head several times as of late. Most recently, for example, while I watched Janet feed her beautiful babies in Utah. It made me sentimental to watch them latch on and the way their tiny little hands held on to the side of her body. And yet the look on her face of exhaustion and frustration and the yearning for just a moment of time to herself brought me back to reality. I didn’t always enjoy that time either. But in looking back on it, in hindsight, I don’t remember the exhaustion, frustration, or the lack of time to myself; I remember my boys latching, looking into my eyes, and caressing the side of my body with their smooth tiny fingers. Motherhood makes you forget the bad and dwell on the good.
So I guess the million dollar question is how do you enjoy it when  you’re in the thick of it? That’s the answer I don’t know. But what I do know is that looking back on it all is really beautiful.

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Van’s birth story, from a different perspective

A few months ago my sister and I had a conversation about having babies and Van’s (pseudo) home birth story came up. It’s come up before, but as time has passed, I’ve been more open to seeing it through someone else’s eyes. I still have my own opinions on the day, but I do think that should a third be in our future it would not be born at home. That’s partly because Willy has already downright insisted that it cannot be born at home; but it’s also because I partly agree. Been there, tried that. Twice.
Anyway, here’s Van’s big day, as told from the perspective of my sister, who was there to witness it.
My beef with home birth
Before my sister (the writer of this lovely blog, the stork herself) got pregnant with her first, Hooper, I didn’t really think much about home birth. I kind of associated it with yesteryear—women in log cabins on prairies and shit. I mean, why would sane people have babies at home when they can take a car ride to a hospital?
But, my sister explained it to me and, with her nurse background, she was rather convincing. I get it. Women want to be in the comfort of their own home. They want it to be peaceful. They don’t want machines and drugs and interventions pushed on them by a medical team that is concerned only with not getting sued, insurance coverage, and turning beds as fast as possible. Home birth sounds very romantic. That’s all fine and dandy, but keep in mind that I once thought it was romantic to be 23, eating beans out of a can for dinner with my broke-ass boyfriend.
With Hooper, my sister ended up in the hospital, against her wishes. She was overdue and they had to induce her. Then she couldn’t get the baby out, so they wheeled her to the OR. Using every stubborn ounce of strength in her body, she had the baby naturally in the OR room. The whole thing was rather touch-and-go, as they say. Willy couldn’t talk about it for weeks.
The second time, I was there. I didn’t think I would be. Her due date passed and my husband and I left on a 7-day backpacking trip in the Sierras, planned months in advance. We didn’t have cell coverage. I thought for sure we’d come back to hear she’d had the baby, but no. She was overdue again. The morning after we got back—I like to think Van was waiting for us—we got a very calm call saying she was in labor. They were deploying the big tub at home, the midwife was on her way. I was in tears driving up through Los Angeles traffic. I was convinced I’d miss the delivery because of all those a-holes on their way to work. Little did I know that births aren’t as fast and simple as they look on TV.
When I got there, she was just starting to push. She was in and out of the tub. She was on the floor. She was moaning, screaming. home birth pic 4
My dad and I tried our best to distract Hooper, who was obviously worried. He insisted on wearing his toy stethoscope.home birth pic 1
After what seemed like hours, the midwife started whispering to her assistant and we all started to wonder what was happening. Once again, my sister was having trouble getting the baby out. In hindsight, the difficulty probably had something to do with the crazy curve in her spine, which shifted all of her insides. She’d mentioned the scoliosis to her midwife, but didn’t really stress the severity of it (after all, she’d lived with it for years—was it that big of a deal? Um, yes, probably). I was terrified that she would get the head out and the body would be stuck. I’d heard horror stories. Willy was terrified that his wife was going to die. Sure, he thinks in extremes, but I understood his fear.home birth pic 2
The midwife made the decision to call the ambulance. A couple guys showed up, put her on a stretcher, and she was gone. We followed behind in a car—my mom, Willy, and me (my dad stayed back at the house with Hooper). The three of us were shaking, terrified.
When we got to the hospital, we rushed to her room. The screaming was intense. I had a moment of feeling bad for any other moms delivering. It sounded like a horror movie in there. Willy was by her side, my mom and I in the hallway. We were crying at that point—scared for my sister and scared for the baby. I told my mom to try to smile, for Ashley. It was my job to document the day.home birth pic 7
We heard a big POP—the doctor pushing on my sister’s belly—and then the baby wailing. We started crying more tears, of the relieved variety. We rushed in and saw the baby—he was a big 9-pounder—and quickly understood that things were okay. Willy asked the nurse how scary it was, on a scale from 1 to 10. She looked at us, with almost as much shock in her face as was in ours, and said, “That was a 9.”
My sister hates when people pose for the camera. She likes real emotion. But I think we were all afraid to show the real emotion in our faces that day. We wanted to be strong for her. So we smiled. After all, things turned out okay (even though I thought Van looked like Golem from Lord of the Rings).home birth pic 8home birth pic 9
My sister wants a third. I’ve told her that if they decide to have that baby, it better be in a hospital. I don’t care if her spine is fixed now. I don’t care that she would love to have the home birth she always wanted. She can go drug-free in a hospital, around professionals who can help her if anything goes awry. My good friend is married to an OBGYN and he says, “Look, most births go totally great. But when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong.” I’m sure lots of mothers have beautiful stories of their births, but for me, as a loved one, my sister’s births were scary. When I got home the day Van was born, I climbed in bed with my husband and I sobbed. I didn’t feel back to normal for days.
I wouldn’t say I’d discourage anyone from doing a home birth. I think it depends on your medical history and all that. I would say to know the risks, and consider the emotional impact on the people around you on that special day. And, make sure to educate those people about what to expect. My sister didn’t seem disturbed by what was going on and that was probably because she had watched lots of gory videos and had talks with her midwife and knew what the hell was happening. I wasn’t prepared, period. I was very fooled by the easy births you see in movies. Even in real life, most women have epidurals and drugs so there is no screaming (seriously, the screaming was the worst part). I watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians occasionally (#sorrynotsorry) and there was an episode when Kourtney Kardashian gives birth. The room was, like, silent. Her family was in there chatting with her. Chatting. She may as well have been getting a pedicure. So, yeah, maybe don’t go into a birth scenario with the Kardashians as your reference point. And if you have romantic notions about home birth, just think it through. Consider all the things you previously thought were romantic that really aren’t—like eating beans out of cans with your broke-ass boyfriend.

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Chores

Van asks to help a lot. And by “help”, what he normally means is that he wants to make my job a thousand times harder and longer than it would be if I simply did it by myself. I feel like a punk every time I tell him “no”. And so, I’ve started giving him his own chores to do while I do mine in an effort to keep his little hands busy. And, by golly, it’s actually been – dare I say – helpful.  
Typically, when I empty the dishwasher, he wants to press all of the buttons and make the spinner under the rack go around in circles. It drives me insane. So now, while I put away the bigger stuff – plates and cups – I give him the silverware. You know that I rock feeling you get when  you know you’re doing something right as a mother? Well, every time I watch him put the silverware away, I get that feeling. He learned instantly how to differentiate between the sharp knives and the dull ones, the long forks versus the short ones, and when one utensil falls into the wrong section, he always fixes it. It’s pretty special to watch those little wheels spin and he’s pretty stoked with himself when he’s all finished. And hey, it’s one less thing for me to do. I don’t even care that every time I open the silverware drawer it looks like someone threw each piece in from twenty feet away. The disheveled appearance doesn’t bother me one bit.
He also helps me clean the counters. He loves spraying the spray bottle, so I show him where to spray and then I wipe it clean. Teamwork for the win.
The other day, he helped me pot some plants. It was something I was going to wait to do until both of them were sleeping, but I had lots of other things to do with that precious nap time so I decided to involve him instead. Hooper was at preschool. His job was to fill his plastic cup with potting soil and bring it over to where I was and fill the empty pots. My back, and knees, thanked him for not having to get up and down a thousand times myself. And, again, he enjoyed it.
Both of my boys fight over the vacuum. Now there’s a fight I don’t break up.
What kinds of chores do you give your kids to do around the house? It’s one of my New Years resolutions to continue doing this sort of thing. Too often it becomes easier to just do it myself, but I know the lessons embedded in the tasks are more important.

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Music & Motherhood

You know those moments in motherhood where you feel like time is wasted? Where simply sitting and watching your kid play feels more like laziness than being present? Me too. But, then Pink Floyd’s “Us & Them” came on the radio (yes, we own a radio — I know, I know) and time slowed and I realized that all motherhood needs is a soundtrack. 
What tunes would you put on your motherhood soundtrack?
I’m moderating the Childhood Unplugged feed this week on instagram and will be featuring some images of littles playing music. If you have any shots and would like the chance to be featured, use hashtag #childhoodunplugged_music.

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