childhood’s magic

This summer has been peppered with nostalgia. It’s one of my favorite things about being a mom: as my children experience things, I get to relive days that were simple, innocent, full of a special kind of awe and beauty.

Just today I caught a whiff of the humid summer air, in between rains on a very wet day, and was transported back (you know that whooshing style movie flashback) to my grandparents’ farm in the country, the air still and silent around me. I see Queen Anne’s lace dotting the borders of fields, and hear the gurgling creek, and remember the big backyard of the farmhouse that backed up to bins and sheds and simultaneously held both a sense of adventure and peace. I was reminded of my Grandma. And of being a kid, surrounded by siblings with not a care in the world.

Childhood is so vivid.

The sound of morning doves takes me back to our big green front porch on a hot summer morning, the day ahead full of potential. The glow of fireflies puts me back in my childhood bed, in front of the window on the second floor, counting the blinking bugs instead of going to sleep. The taste of sweet peas brings me back to our backyard garden, where we would just stand there in the dirt, bugs buzzing around us, and eat the peas straight from the plant.

I was thinking about why childhood tends to be so clear like this, and here’s what I concluded: the memories are sharp because the life is simple. When you don’t have to worry about bills to pay, meals to plan, deadlines to make, laundry to do, all you have to focus on is what’s in front of you. And what’s in front of you as a child is a world of wonder and a day full of play. All your needs are taken care of. There’s beauty in this. The complete trust a child has in his parents’ ability to look out for him enables him to truly enjoy his life.

The other afternoon I watched Simona sit at the dining room table as the afternoon sun streamed in through the windows. She was narrating an imaginary story, as she usually is, completely happy and oblivious to anything else but her game. I was struck by the thought that she is exactly where she is and nowhere else. She is not thinking about her to-do list and if she can somehow multi-task as she sits there. She’s not wishing she could be doing something else. She is perfectly happy to be a kid at home on a Thursday afternoon in the summer.

But somehow adulthood can get a bit cloudy. Maybe it doesn’t hold the vividness and clarity of childhood because we have become bogged down with duty, too busy to notice simple beauty, too jaded to be carefree. We have stuff to do. We don’t have time to just be.

The other day my mom came over to watch the girls, and as she came through the door, greeted by little footsteps and voices, she said, “Ah, it’s so nice to step into the world of a child.” And I had this moment where I felt kind of guilty because so often I just don’t think about it like that. I think about parenting, adulting, when I’m going to get my next break. I don’t put myself in my kids’ shoes very much. Selfish mom award, right over here. 

Being an adult is hard, and mothering is certainly no exception to that. I have lots of ‘bad’ days where I don’t think I have what it takes to do this intimidating, wonderful task that is raising a child. I try to balance it all—I do the dishes while listening to the story Simona is so intently trying to tell me, I squeeze in a load of laundry while the girls are playing in the basement, I play ‘tag’ with them in the house while actually picking up things to put away as I run by them. 

But lately I’ve found that my best times are the ones where i actually do step “into” childhood with my girls. I put down my phone. I get out of the “what’s next” mindset and banish the mental to-do list. I do nothing else but whatever simple thing they are doing. We watch two ants try to carry a dead beetle away. I wait as Helen bends down to play with the rubber in the sidewalk crack. I sit and watch Simona act out her “character movie” for the 37th time. This is a really hard thing to practice and I don’t it nearly as often as I should, because I’m a mom and therefore my brain is hardwired for multi-tasking, but I want to keep trying. 

Naturally there are always going to be essential things that need to get done for the health and happiness of your family (you can’t ignore laundry and grocery shopping and cleaning forever), and your children need you to do those things probably almost as much as they need you to spend time with them (though they may or may not realize it). I’m only here to remind myself (oh, and you too, if you’re reading) to try to see childhood again for what it is. To not forget it’s simplicity and how the small things are actually the big things. To once in awhile stop trying to avoid or clean up the mess and get right into it.

teaching children

Disclaimer: My husband is an extremely wonderful parent and teaches our children in a beautiful way, and I sincerely thank God for him all the time because I feel like anything that is good or that will be good about my kids comes from him, but for purposes of this article I am talking about my parenting skills alone.

I was at the pediatrician with the girls the other day and had some sort of sickening realization: I’m responsible for teaching my kids, like, a BUNCH of stuff.

Potty training alone was (is) terrifying. I was like, “man, if I don’t do this, no one will,” and that thought, for the baby of a family, is scary and new. But then realizing that I’m solely in charge of teaching them the basics of life, like how to clean up after themselves, wash their hands properly, get dressed, do chores, be a polite human being, that sort of thing…it’s a lot to think about. And I’m not even into the teen years when you actually have to coach them on big life decisions and things like HOW TO DRIVE. I’m in the little stuff. What is wrong with me?

So this realization at the doctor’s office came because he was asking me if Simona is recognizing any letters and I was like, uh, wait…SHOULD SHE BE? IS THIS SOMETHING I’M SUPPOSED TO DO? CAN I PHONE A FRIEND? I’LL GET MY SISTER TO DO IT. 

That’s not actually what I said. What I said was, “well…we’re still working on that,” or something similarly ambiguous. Then we rushed home and cracked the preschool workbook and I told her we ain’t moving from this spot until she identifies an “A.” 

Kidding, kind of. But we did restart home “school” with a vengeance, which basically means 10-15 minutes of working on letters and stuff before she gets to watch her tablet. Bribery, I tell you. I’m really painting a great picture of myself as a mom, aren’t I?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m the youngest of five kids. Okay that’s not the secret. The secret is that I never much cared for watching children. Some people call it babysitting, I think, but given a choice between that and housecleaning, I would choose the cleaning job every time. Kids terrified me. They still do, sometimes, but less so. But I think it had to be because it was never my responsibility to take care of someone younger than myself. I was the youngest, the baby that was being watched. I only had to worry about my needs, or something like that. 

So growing up, I had this sense that things would just be taken care of. Usually by someone other than myself. If there was something that needed to be planned, or fixed, I was confident that a sister or brother would do it. So flash forward to being a mom, and I’m looking around for someone else to do the dirty work, and realizing that hey it’s pretty much up to me. Cue personal growth (hopefully). 

I forgot to mention that after our little doctor visit, I googled “when should kids be able to identify letters?” and it said somewhere between age 3 and 4 and I was like “phew, we have 2 months to learn THE ENTIRE ALPHABET.” But then I was reading on some message board (not usually a good idea) and there were all these moms saying that their kids could identify all 26 letters at age 23 months, along with the 6 bonus letters that aren’t in the alphabet, and that they focused on teaching letters every day, along with shapes and colors, and so on and so on, until I stuck my head inside a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and cried chocolate tears. 

Once upon a time I dreamily thought I’d homeschool my children. I mean, my mom did it for the five of us, and it seemed easy enough (HA!). Besides, public school seems so scary these days. I like to feel a little bit in control (bigger HA).  And homeschool gives you and your kids such freedom to learn at your own pace and in your own way, I mean…ideal, right?

But now I realize in a new way how amazing my mom is. Like, next level amazing. And I know that, barring a miracle, I likely will not be homeschooling my children. I don’t think I have the patience or the demeanor (or the selflessness?) for it.

The other thing that kept coming up on that message board was the saying that “every kid is different” and that they learn at their own pace, and each one has a different learning style, etc. Which is somewhat comforting. I guess I just need to find out how Simona learns best. I mean, maybe she is way more advanced in other areas and she just doesn’t have space in her brain to think about regular learning. She is too busy living in “character land”, with her eight imaginary friends, one of whom she is married to, and they have a child together named Bono. I’m not kidding.

Maybe I need to crack down. 

Maybe I need to make her focus when I’m trying to teach her. She always starts drawing a picture on the side, or coming up with a story while I’m trying to cement a letter in her brain. But she’s three. Should she be focusing on book learning, or should she just be learning as she plays? I mean, she already knows so much and I haven’t sat down with her to “educate” her. I’ve just played with her. Isn’t that childhood though? Children are learning constantly, whether or not we realize it, whether or not we try to teach them. 

Simona is amazing. Sure, maybe she doesn’t know her alphabet yet, but she has a stellar imagination, and she’s sweet and loving and funny and loves to dance. Plus, she’s an expert on YouTube videos. If you ever want to know how to paint a My Little Pony into a Cinderella Princess, she could pretend to tell you how. Simona’s brain is completely unique, astoundingly different even from that of her sister. Helen might know letters by age 2. Who knows? It would be a miracle, because she gets even less one-on-one playtime than her sister did. (I used to do some really cool activities with Simona, make projects and crafts and forts…and with poor Helen it’s like ‘here, hope you can figure out this jigsaw by yourself while I insert this coffee IV into my arm and clean the kitchen.’) But that’s just the beautiful thing about all of us being made differently. 

So maybe I’m behind on this whole ‘teaching’ thing. Maybe I’m too lazy or selfish. But I’m going to keep trying—trying to teach her the ‘basics’, trying to enjoy her for exactly who she is, trying not to make her feel ‘less than’ if she hasn’t figured something out yet, trying to recognize the amazing potential that she has in this world and get her to do the same. 

mom guilt

I feel like I end every day with a lot of guilt (and, consequently, usually a large glass of wine).  

I raised my voice too much (something I thought I’d never do.)
I lost my patience.
I let them watch too much TV (something else I thought I wouldn’t do).
I didn’t get them outside enough (or at all).
I didn’t teach them enough.
I taught them too much. (JUST KIDDING about that one.)
I didn’t pay enough attention to them because I was trying to get other things done.
OR
I didn’t get enough things done because I was with them all day. 

See? I can’t win. Either way, and no matter what I do, there’s guilt to be felt if I let myself feel it. It’s nonsensical. Why do I do this to myself every day? I know that it’s wrong.

There’s not even time for me to feel guilty about my eating choices anymore. It’s just whatever I can stuff in my mouth is OKAY. I forgive myself for that, I guess. Maybe I shouldn’t, but that’s a topic for another time: self-care. Moving on. 

I’m just not that nice sometimes. Okay? You heard it here first. Sometimes when Simona makes an honest mistake, and says, so apologetically, “I’m sorry, mommy”, before I even react at all, I wonder if it’s because she thinks (or has experienced that) I’ll react negatively. And I kick myself. Am I that mean? I want to maintain a household where it’s okay to make mistakes, because, hello, I make enough for all of us.

I feel like I spend half the time making mistakes and the other half trying hard to be overly fun and nice to make up for my shortcomings. It’s a vicious and frustrating cycle. I feel like I’m a bad example to my girls. Children learn from example, right? Our voices become their inner voices, right? I don’t want their inner voices to speak to them through gritted teeth. I want those voices to be kind to them, gentle with their mistakes, encouraging them to try again. We need a world where people have inner voices that don’t constantly berate and condemn.

But don’t we all do this to ourselves every day? Aren’t we, as mothers, supposed to be the most amazing people in the world, and yet we are the ones knocking ourselves down the most? If there is a mom out there who doesn’t experience this guilt, I would love to meet her. I’m not saying that in a snarky way. I’m saying maybe I could learn something from her. Maybe she has learned what we all need to learn—that we can’t do it all. We’re human. We can forgive ourselves and we can try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Because mistakes are how we learn.

You know what else I end every day with? Besides a messy house? Grace. Forgiveness. It’s there if I can remember to take hold of it. I just forget sometimes that it’s so readily available to me. And if I would just add gratitude to that list too, maybe there wouldn’t be room for guilt. Maybe I can instead look back on the day and see the laughter, the growth (in all of us), the fullness of this life. It’s certainly not an empty life, and I think that is something to be thankful for. That, and the fact that tomorrow is a new beginning.

oversharing (and irony)

We live in a world of over-sharing. I realize that this is coming from a girl who has a personal blog and therefore may not be qualified to talk on this, but hear me out. Because I am also writing this article to myself.

Your hamburger makes it’s way onto Facebook before it makes it’s way into your mouth. You’ve posted more baby pictures of your child than you’ve actually seen of yourself (guilty). And everyone knows what kind of night you had last night. Shouldn’t have that last martini. Hashtag SoMuchFunTho.

Why do we do this? This question has been addressed by many, and it’s a complicated answer, but I think it has a lot to do with validation. If your life looks good from the outside (or the internet), and people see it, then your life must be pretty good, right? What is it about “likes” that makes us tick? Why do we need people to see what we’re doing in order to have a good time doing it? Could we try enjoying our life just for what it is…our maybe-not-so-glamourous, but beautiful, imperfect life that is ours to live?

Too often I see people hanging out together, at a restaurant or bar, or anywhere really, and rather than talking to each other, they’re looking at screens. I always thought it an ironic possibility that if they weren’t physically with the person they were with, maybe they would actually be communicating with that person on a screen from a distance. But since they are physically together, they are texting someone else, or telling the world that they are hanging out with so-and-so.

I try not to, but I’ve definitely been guilty of looking at my phone instead of the person I’m with, and I often feel a pang of guilt, but not more so than I do when I’m with my daughter. Sometimes I think she wonders why her mother is looking at this little screen, and I feel the worst when I can tell she just wants me to pay attention to her. I worry that I’ll look back and feel I missed some of her precious baby moments in favor of an online life that doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Why is it so hard to be exactly and fully where we are at that moment?  Be with your friends, and enjoy them for who they are. Look at that beautiful sky, and appreciate it because God made it for you to appreciate. In trying to document our life, we end up missing out on some of it. We miss the nuances – the sway of the trees, the old couple walking hand-in-hand, our baby girl discovering how squishy cheese can be. And yet sometimes we miss the big things too. And sometimes, worst case scenario, accidents happen because phones were watched instead of surroundings.

That article you’re reading can wait (unless it’s this one, of course). That funny video will be there later. Your followers likely won’t be on the edge of their seats wondering what you’re up to. (Unless you have super devoted followers, which I don’t, so maybe I’d think differently if I did. Who knows?)

So why, when something good or something bad happens to us, do we feel the need to tell the world about it? The other thing, I think, is that we just want to be known. We want to feel like we matter in the big picture, and this is more easily attainable than it’s ever been, thanks to social media and blogs. Everyone wants their corner of the internet (forgive me for using that phrase), and online fame is seemingly only a few hundred followers away. We sometimes put forth better, or even different version of ourselves because we think it will help us gain that following.

Thing is, you do matter. Your life matters and counts for a lot, followers or no followers. You’re worth much more than “likes” on the internet. You don’t need to try to be something you’re not. You were made to be a specific, special human that no one else can be. To quote the inimitable Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed, “Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.” Social media can be great for connecting or staying in touch with friends, but too often it hogs our time, or crushes our spirits, or gets in the way of our actual lives and true passions.

So in closing, I leave you with three questions to ask before that next post. (Once again, myself included.)

1. What am I trying to accomplish with this post?

2. Will this make someone feel bad about themselves or left out?

3. Will I regret this post later?

That’s it. Thanks for being you, and for reading this.

redecorating

My house is so beige.

Back when we got married 7 years ago (!), I was really into earth tones. Just hang out in my “pumpkin butter” painted living room or my latte colored bedroom, admiring the goldish curtains and the brown furniture, and you yourself might turn into a clay pot.

Lately I’ve just been really tired of it. Even my carpet is like this off-colored cream. But uglier. So I’m on a mission to de-beige my house.

I’m really into the look of white, bright, minimal decor (like everyone else these days, I guess). Here are some images that have been inspiring me lately. I hope to eventually totally revamp our living space and when that happens, I will share.

 Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

3 favorite recipes

I think I’ve mentioned before, my motivation to cook comes and goes. I’ll go along for a couple of weeks being Betty Crocker and then it will be takeout for a week. Everyone needs a break once in awhile, right? And a Kit Kat.

When I am on a cooking spree though, for some reason I always am wanting to find and make new recipes, when I have like a ton that I’ve made and know are good and that Joseph would really be happy if I’d make again. I should work on that.

Anyway, there are a few that make a regular rotation in our house. Here are three:

1. Spaghetti Bolognese
This is just solid comfort food. It’s pretty easy to make and is wonderful as leftovers. My only changes are to halve the amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg and to use spicy italian sausage where it calls for regular pork sausage.

2. Spicy Black Bean Burgers
Great meatless meal. I usually serve these with avocado, tomato, lettuce and spicy mayo.

3. Salty Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies (picture by Bon Appetit)
This is my current go-to cookie recipe. Excellent cookies. Now, there are tons and tons of recipes out there for ‘perfect’ chocolate chip cookies. I even have at least two other recipes that qualify as ‘really really good if not perfect’ cookies, but these are what I’m making these days in a pinch. And there are a lot of pinches.

the early months / depression

Depression is a funny thing. And by funny, I mean really not funny.

Because when you’re in it, it feels so real. It is real. You feel like life is so hopeless and you lose your motivation to do anything. You lose your enjoyment of the small joys in life (and the big joys too, I guess). You don’t care about what food you eat, or if you see your friends, or what TV show you watch…if you even want to watch TV. You just don’t want to do anything, but you have to, because a tiny human is depending on you.

And by you, I mean me. Let’s just cut to the chase here. We all knew that’s who I was talking about.

I experienced a dose of postpartum depression. It could have been much worse, but it was there. There were moments when I would catch a glimpse of my former self, brief periods of happiness when I was out with friends or, let’s be honest, having a glass or two of wine. But most of the time I just slogged through life, just making it through each day, only to do it all again the next day – and that in itself was daunting.

The thing is, that though depression is real, oftentimes the things you’re depressed about aren’t real. Your life can be beautiful, you can have a beautiful baby girl and a loving husband, supportive friends and family, all your needs met, and you can’t even appreciate it. (Whoops, I’m doing it again. I mean me.) Life can feel hopeless when it’s really not. It’s very crippling.

I remember when Simona was somewhere around 4 or 5 months, and I was still having bouts of crying  and some of those same feelings of hopelessness. I thought, how can this still be postpartum stuff? Doesn’t that go away within the first couple months?

I guess not. I think it can last even longer than I struggled with it, which was about 5 months or so. Maybe even 6. I still have my days, even now at 9 months. But maybe that’s not related…maybe those are my own issues. Who knows? I have problems.

We considered getting help, but I felt embarrassed and like something was wrong with me, and didn’t want to share my feelings with a doctor. I felt like I should surely be able to conquer this…to just snap out of it. But as Joseph kindly phrased, “If your leg was broken, you wouldn’t feel embarrassed about going to the doctor. This is a real thing.”

Depression is real, but it isn’t really you. It may feel like you, it may feel like your new reality, but it isn’t. I remember a particularly bad night, feeling like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and Joseph telling me, “I know you’re in there somewhere.” That was hope in itself to me, because he was recognizing and letting me know that this wasn’t truly who I was.

I’m so thankful for my loving and supportive husband. Without him, I think I would have just been curled up in a corner somewhere, crying, with Simona somewhere nearby, crying too because her mom is a nutcase. Joseph was patient with me, and kind, as he always is. And so was God. And my mom. And now I feel like I’m making an Oscar acceptance speech. I’d also like to thank chocolate.

It’s a little odd writing these things now, especially since I feel pretty much like myself again. But I think it’s important to be honest and to share what I went through, just to prove, as Joseph kept (keeps?) telling me, that it will get better. You may be in a really dark phase, but it will pass. That’s just a fact of life. You’ll probably even get to learn from and it and grow too, or something like that.

3 products

These past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of family reunions and weddings. Well, just one of each, but then all the stuff that goes along with a 3-day family getaway and being in a wedding. All good, all fun, but there’s something nice about getting back into the swing of normalcy. For me, at least.

These are three things I’ve discovered over the past couple of whirl-weeks that I’m really loving:


1. Small Talk 3/4-inch styling wand by Bed Head
I’ve been looking for waves like this for my short(ish) hair, and I’VE FINALLY FOUND THEM. Everything else I try leaves me with one or two weird bumps (in my hair) that go away the next day. Picked this up a couple days before the wedding and used it to do my hair for the big day, and the waves were perfect. Not too tight, not too loose. And they lasted until the next day, and even looked pretty good the third day, and now you know how long I wait until I wash my hair sometimes. The picture above was second-day waves.

2. Halo hydrating perfecting powder by Smashbox
Another pre-wedding purchase, as I’ve been looking to get a good powder for some time now. So…I didn’t plan on spending this much but the lady put some on me at Ulta, and by the time I had gotten home I decided I wanted to buy it. It’s just really good. It doesn’t look cakey or powdery at all and actually manages to even out your skin tone (and add glow too?). It’s kind of all you need on a daily basis, but then slap on some primer and/or foundation underneath it for special times. It’s the stuff.

3. Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber cooler
This is super refreshing and delicious. That’s really all there is to it. I think it’s new, cause I’ve never seen it there before…and that’s saying something. It’s a bit sweet, but I like sweet. And if you like cucumber water, you’ll love this.


Disclaimer
: No one is paying me to say these things…but they should be.

things no one told me about being a mom – episode 1

You learn so much as a new mother. You learn about yourself, your baby, your husband, and even your parents (there’s definitely a new appreciation there). Some things you (thought you) were prepared for, and some things completely blindside you. I’m going to share some of the latter in this new series.


1. YOUR HOME WILL NEVER LOOK THE SAME

I used to say I would not let the baby stuff take over my home. As I’m sitting here typing this, I can look to my left and see the baby bouncer, look in front of me and see a slew of toys and a baby gym, and look to the dining room to see a highchair and a pack ‘n’ play. It is virtually impossible to keep at bay. I would vow not to get bouncers and gyms and tons of toys, maintaining that my baby would be happy to play on the ground with a cardboard box and a measuring cup. All the time. Also she would never cry and be a perfect sleeper. And I would keep a perfectly clean home, just as before. Duh.

But somehow it happened. I didn’t mean for it to, but now I can buy toys with the best of ‘em, and I love my “lawn” for bottles, and I don’t know what I would do without the baby gym. So things change.

And things get messy. You may do a good job of keeping the baby gear away, but things will still be messy. There will be dried spit-up on the carpet, dried baby food on your clothes, God-knows-what in the carseat…and you won’t really care. The dishes may pile up in the sink you used to keep impeccably clean, and you just don’t worry about it like you used to. I used to get really hyper about cleaning the kitchen after a meal, or straightening up the house, but having a baby tends to rearrange priorities a bit. It goes something like baby, sleep, eat, work, housework, work out. Husband and myself are in there too, but I’m not sure where.

Having Simona has made me much less of a control freak about cleanliness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not living in filth now or anything, but I’ve realized it’s okay if I don’t get to clean to bathroom this week. Or next week. And the laundry will wait patiently while I scrounge for some good clean underwear. The dishes will get done. But maybe I want to sit on the couch first and have a sandwich.

It’s just inevitable that when you add a new person to your family, you add new things to your life, and new chores to your list. I don’t know why I thought I could get away with having a baby as a neat, poopless accessory. Of course there’s more to it than that, but you know what I mean. As minimalist as you are, you have to at least have clothes and diapers. And then you have to wash those clothes and change those diapers.

So your home will look different. Maybe just a little different, or maybe ‘overhaul’ different. It’s a home where a tiny human will slowly grow into an adult, and that’s a beautiful thing. It is a messier, more chaotic life, but it is one filled with joy and love and baby coos. It’s filled with tiredness too, but that’s another story for another time. The long and short of it is that it’s worth it. I’d never trade the literal bundle of joy that now resides in my house, not for all the clean carpets in the world.