A Halloween Post

“Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the arch-fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.”

The Imp of the Perverse, Edgar A. Poe

Last night I watched the American Masters film documenting the life of Edgar Allen Poe (who actually went by “Edgar Poe” or “Edgar A. Poe” because of his difficult relationship with his adoptive father John Allen.) The above excerpt was cited to illustrate Poe’s struggle in life with what he viewed as his own self-failings. Poe might seem a morbid writer, but his work’s confrontations with death, love, and the struggles of living resonate with us all. What a contrarian yet human thought: that we might actually carry out “wrong-headed” actions simply because we know they are wrong.

Consider this completely different piece of text:

“Our mindfulness practice is not about vanquishing our thoughts. It’s about becoming aware of the process of thinking so that we are not in a trance – lost inside our thoughts. … To train in becoming mindful of thoughts can help us to notice when your mind is actively thinking, either using the label “thinking, thinking,” or identifying the kind of thought – “worrying, worrying,” “planning, planning.” Then, becoming interested in what’s really happening right here. Coming home to the sensations in your body, your breath, the sounds around you, the life of the moment.”

I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts, Tara Brach

AND

“A core teaching of the Buddha is that we suffer because we forget who we really are. We forget the essence – the awareness and the love that’s here – and we become caught in an identity that’s less than who we are.

When we are in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not aware of how much our body, emotions, and thoughts have locked into a sense of falling short and the fear that we’re going to fail. The trance of unworthiness brings us to addictive behaviors as we try to soothe the discomfort of fear and shame. It makes it difficult to be intimate, spontaneous and real with others, because we have the sense that, even if they don’t already know, they will find out how flawed we really are. It makes it hard to take risks because we’re afraid we’re going to fall short. … Right in the heart of the trance, there is a need to do something to be better, to avoid the failure lurking right around the corner.”

Discovering the Gold: Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion, Tara Brach

Wait a minute, are Edgar Allen Poe and the popular Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach onto the same thing? I think they are. They both endeavor to paint a more real picture of what it means to be human, not denying our self-doubts and contrarian thoughts, but accepting them so that we are not afraid to take the risks to become our true selves.

The experience of parenting seems only a magnification of the emotions and struggles that every other person on the planet is contending with as well. As parents we might forget to be self-forgiving, because we worry that every action we take could negatively affect both ourselves and our children. But self-acceptance also means not creating an illusion of perfection, because our children need to know that we are not perfect. They too will feel imperfect as they grow older and face challenges. We can model for them how to embrace human imperfection, so they have the courage to believe in the power of love and kindness.

Courage comes from facing these realities of life just as it comes from facing the realities of death. Halloween, All Souls’ Day, and Dia de Los Muertos all celebrate death as a celebration of life, because one does not come without the other. If we need any help considering death, Poe is our man. Here’s something that gets right to the point:

“The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.”

The Conqueror Worm, Edgar A. Poe

This might be too real, but part of the fun of parenting is the ability (and need) to be blatant. My daughter’s questions and comments regarding death and dying over the last year have been eye-opening (and often hilarious). Fear of death is often something that is taught, and I try my best to avoid instilling that fear in my own children. Instead I encourage them to accept the imperfection, self-doubt, and even death that comes with accomplishment, confidence, and vivacity. If we can teach a whole world of children this mindfulness, none of us need fear the perverse thought, especially that which might lead to the furtherance of good.

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Our Most Vital Mother

This weekend I feel so much pride; I’m proud to be the mother of two of the best girls on the planet. And I think about the stewardship of that planet a lot. This Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think about Mother Earth. The name Mother Earth transcends cultures and time, and it makes sense. If there is one thing that unites us all, it’s that we all have a mother. And beyond our (amazing, beautiful, brave and devoted) biological mothers, the mother we all share is this planet Earth. Mother Earth is like the mothers who birthed us: she is our life source, and much of what we depend on for physical survival comes from her. That dependence is still very much about biology.

Why then, has her protection become a political discussion? Issues concerning the protection of our earth, its biodiversity, and ultimately our very existence are being minimized, and important and hard-fought environmental protections established under previous administrations are being undone. Simple facts and information about things that affect our lives directly aren’t readily available, making us less equipped to protect our own well-being. Here are some things about our environment and physical health that you might not know:

Toxicity in mothers (via the food we eat, the air we breathe, or the water we bathe in) is often multiplied to fetuses in the womb, or to newborns via breast milk. This means fetuses are our most vulnerable population, and yet fetal studies are not always considered when state regulators set acceptable standards for toxicity.

Synthetic air fresheners like Febreze contain known cancer-causing toxins that are not disclosed on the label. These are just one of many household products where known toxins are allowed in production and not adequately regulated by state agencies. These are products that can easily be replaced with non-synthetic or non-toxic chemicals.

The use of mutated seeds (commonly known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) often means a higher use of synthetic pesticides, some of which are already known to cause cancer. Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are dumped on the earth in the United States every year.

There is so much injustice in the world, that it’s hard not to feel frustrated and helpless that we can’t solve all of these problems at once. We all have families, full-time jobs, and frankly the need for fun and relaxation, so we can’t be expected to devote as much time as is needed to every cause. This is why we elect representatives to have full-time jobs (and the necessary staff) devoted to researching policy problems and developing meaningful solutions. Their jobs are to set up the necessary regulations (or deregulations) so that everyday people can live with faith that our health and safety is protected; freedom to explore our own interests and spirituality; and means to enjoy life.

But lately these representatives are failing us. Many of them don’t seek to represent our interests, they only seek to serve themselves and their greed. In some cases they literally attempt to write themselves out of defective legislation – thus not only creating bad policies for us, but protecting themselves against the effects of those bad policies. To me this is one of the prime examples of the undemocracy that we currently live under.

For these reasons, our work and our family lives are no longer enough. I’m not calling on every reader to become a community activist. When you are feeling overwhelmed with what role you can play in the community, remember that you don’t have to do everything. Choose one issue, and one way in which you can contribute. Even becoming more knowledgeable about one subject area can do a world of difference. Choose an injustice or policy issue that you care about the most. Read about it. Learn everything you can. If nothing else, you’ll be more prepared the next time you go to the polls.

More importantly, we must all start speaking up. Public policy can no longer be that topic that’s hidden under the dinner table, but it doesn’t have to be the dinner table where you talk about it. It also doesn’t have to be  – and really, to be more effective, shouldn’t be – combative. Just asking sincere questions or offering factual information at least encourages people to think more about their claims about social policies. You would be surprised how little it takes for someone to change their mind (it’s why there are undecided voters!). But, we are all human, and we do like to change our minds in private don’t we? Don’t expect to win an argument, but be satisfied that you spoke up.

Some of you have already devoted your careers (even lives) working for justice, peace, health and prosperity for everyone. If this is you then remember to give yourself a break too: take time to breath, meditate, and enjoy family and relaxation when you can. You’ll be that much more of a fighter if you do.

Enjoy Mother’s Day, whether you’re celebrating as a mother, a son or daughter, a grandmother, or a friend. Mothers are what tie us all together, so it’s really a celebration of all of us. Let’s make this Mother’s Day about loving each other, respecting our earth, and being true to our hearts. Let’s become that community that we can all be proud of.

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Send a Message with What You Buy or Don’t Buy: Five Easy and Fun Ways To Help The Earth

I consider myself a hard core Earth lover. Many people love the earth, but don’t know where to begin to reduce waste, preserve resources, or avoid the use of toxic chemicals. If you find improving your environment to be too work intensive, here are 5 things you can do that include an additional motivation: fun! This Earth Day weekend, pick one that you don’t already do and try it for six months. It will bring you joy to have at least tried.

5 Super Fun Ways to Help the Earth

1. Stop using plastic wrap.

Using plastic wrap to store something for one day is often needless waste. You can usually store your food in a container (I especially like glass containers with plastic snap-lock tops). If you run out of those or it just doesn’t seem worth it to use an additional dish, silicone lids work well and are super pretty.

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I have 2 in different sizes and they are easy to use, easy to wash, and take up very little room in the cupboard. Plus they brighten up your fridge with color!

2. Bring your own grocery bag to the store.

This is just an excuse to buy a beautiful tote! The key is to find one that you feel good using so that you are motivated to grab it before you go. Buy a simple canvas tote that you find appealing, or if you’re looking for something more practical, the insulated and other cube-shaped bags often sold at grocery stores work best because they lay flat but hold a lot of food when filled (and now come in many fun prints). Even if you just bring one large tote, you’ll reduce the number of bags you use by at least two. You will love not having to deal with as many plastic bags in storage or in your recycling container. Recycling is great, but it still uses resources and creates pollution to create plastic bags and recycle them.

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3. Use recycled plastic or compostable trash bags.

In college, I once visited a landfill for an environmental studies class. Overwhelmingly, the waste that visually dominated the landfill was plastic bags. So I started using cloth bags at the grocery store to reduce the number of plastic bags that I use. I do like having a liner in my trash cans, but recently I switched to recycled plastic bags. They look prettier than the plastic grocery bags that I used to use, and I feel a little better about using them in the trash. Another option is using a compostable trash bag. Yes these are all still plastic and there is even some disagreement about whether compostable bags will actually compost in the landfill, but my philosophy is if there is a routine in your home that you can improve upon even if it is not perfect, then do it.

4. Use cloth napkins.

Again, this is an excuse to buy and use something pretty! Further good news is that you’ll never have to buy napkins again. Cloth napkins work better (you need only one, unlike paper napkins where it seems you need 5 per meal to get the job done), and they add decorative style to your table. They do add another load of laundry to your life so if you hate doing laundry this might not be for you. Hint: wash your cloth napkins and other kitchen linens with dish detergent (only a tiny bit!). It gets out the grease and helps them dry faster.

5. Use earth friendly, plant-based soap.

There’s no excuse to use harsh cleaners with synthetic dyes or fragrances (made by companies using unsustainable practices) anymore, because there are so many brands that produce biodegradable, natural soaps at varying price points. They smell delicious, are more gentle on your skin, are healthier for your body, and usually come in pretty packaging. Look for earth friendly cleaners for all areas of your home. But don’t buy something only because it’s labeled “natural.” Read further to determine why it’s better for the earth. Some key words to look for include biodegradable, and non-synthetic fragrances or dyes.

 

Remember Earth Day is a day to celebrate the importance of nature and to make a commitment to the sustainability of our planet. The most important thing a parent can do this weekend is to go outside with their kids in nature. Happy Earth Day!

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Be Thankful for Yourself (Revisited)

I was looking through old posts and came across this. Today is a special day for me, as I am achieving one of my lifelong dreams: an art/anthropological project I’ve been thinking about for several years. It’s coming together with the immense support of friends and family, a renewed understanding of setting priorities, and an appreciation for how long achieving your goals can take. I’m feeling very thankful today.

Be Thankful for Yourself (First published November 28, 2013)

After Alzette was born I threw away my to do lists.

Not all of them of course. I’m not talking about the “take out the trash, launder the cloth diapers, and schedule a dental appointment” list. I’m talking about lists that looked like this:

Radio documentary with interviews of former prisoners
Research microfiche of Madison underground 1960’s newspaper
Start after school program for youth centered on art and music

It all started when I was in middle school, when I had a science fiction dream and decided it would make an awesome novel/movie. That’s the day I started my list with “write science fiction novel. “*

Of course I never wrote the novel, but it was always in the back of my mind to do so, and for years I felt horribly guilty and anxious about not getting around to doing it. Looking back, I think it’s a tragedy that an overachieving middle school girl spent so much time stressing over a project that she clearly wasn’t as interested in completing as she had convinced herself she was. I blame this atrocity on our society’s obsession with convincing children that they can “do anything” and should do as many things as they possibly can. Moreover, this message is sent without emphasis on the time and work that needs to be dedicated to those achievements in order to complete them. This message carries through to our adult life. The science fiction novel was only the beginning for me. From then on every time I had a big idea I immediately added it to the list, and I filled my head with aspirations that I would never achieve. In hindsight there were simply too many of them, and my need for constant achievement actually worked to my disadvantage because I never had enough time for anything.

Fortunately, giving birth to Alzette put an end to all of this, and provided the freedom I had been searching for to give myself a “clean slate” as far as my achievements in life. Not to say that I won’t continue to pursue my interests, but I have a much better perspective on pursuing things more naturally and at a reasonable pace. When I became a mother I did what I now think of as “letting myself off the hook” for all the things I always thought I should achieve but hadn’t.

But what I noticed after Alzette was born, and much more so after I quit going to work and started taking care of Alzette full-time, was that the rest of the world started letting me off the hook as well. Now people are always telling me how great it is that I am raising a human being, and contributing to the world by supporting the health and development of a great person, and that every day as long as Alzette is healthy and happy I should feel a great sense of accomplishment.

These people are so right. I should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Making food and keeping a happy home and spending time with those I love and simply living are more important than anything else. My only frustration is that everyone else should feel great about this too! Why is it that when we are working our achievements never seem to be enough? It feels as though we must constantly prove our success (however that is defined) and accomplishments to the world and to ourselves, yet we never seem to measure up. What does it actually mean to “give 110 percent” anyway? Perhaps more than 100 percent is too much. Our to do lists just keep getting longer, so that even during our vacations and down time we have this nagging feeling that we’re not getting anything done.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m suggesting you do what I’ve done: let yourself off the hook. Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s enough. The best thing you can do for yourself and the world is to be a caring, thoughtful person. The true measure of your life will be whether you were kind to others, and the time you enjoyed doing things like reading, walking in the forest, sitting on the beach listening to the waves, or sharing a meal with your family. At the end of the day, we’ve achieved a lot just by being human. So be thankful for it.

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*For those interested, my dream was about this blob that two scientists had created that could be shaped into anything and manipulated with people’s minds. In one scene the blob was a spoon and someone was bending it with her mind. Yes, I am saying that I dreamt that scene in The Matrix eight years before the film was made. Matrix fans should be appropriately freaked out – let’s just leave it as further proof that living is enough.

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Tips for Snow Globe Making

This year my daughter and I made snow globes. It was her idea. She saw an episode of Daniel Tiger where they were making them, and she bugged me about it until I saw the light. “Mom, we should make snow globes! It’s super easy, you just glue a little toy on a cap, put water and glitter in the jar, and then close the jar!”

Well, it really is almost that simple. I did some googling and found it works best if you add a touch of glycerin to make sure the glitter stays suspended. I also realized that I needed a hot glue gun, an item I’m almost ashamed to say this Midwestern mom still did not have in her possession. So after a serious trip to the craft store one day, I picked Alzette up from school telling her that we had all the supplies needed to fulfill her dream.

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We became a snow globe making factory! Each of her friends received one this season. She had so much fun choosing the figurine and jar for each friend. Along the way we learned a lot about the art of snow globe making. The first globe we made we used the wrong glitter. Who knew there was right and wrong glitter? Hard to describe but the wrong glitter is more like tiny sequins, kind of plastic-like and sticks together with static. So it just clumped together looking more like bubbles than snow (fate would have it that the first figure we used was a mermaid, so the bubble effect worked anyway). You need the powdery metallic stuff to get the right look. Also gold glitter looks more like a sandstorm, and rainbow-colored glitter just looks kind of dirty. Silver really does work best.img_0586

If we put too much glitter it was super fun to shake that much into the jar, but then it was hard to see the figurine. Also, Ball jars are quaint, but really too big for a successful homemade snow globe (unless you find a tall enough figurine). The figures we had were tiny, so the Ball jar lids were too set back and the figurines got lost. They were fun but did not look as good as baby food jars, which make much better snow globes. The caps are almost flush with the jar itself so the figurines are easy to see. If you don’t have a baby in your life get jars of organic apples, it’s just a single serving of really good applesauce!

Next, remember that they each turn out differently, and it’s a homemade snow globe so it’s not going to be perfect. Some of them leaked (the baby food jars have a strange cap so I sealed them with hot glue), and after enough shaking most of the figurines dislodged. For some of them it still looked fine, the figurine is just now part of what you shake along with the glitter. We had a blast making them and it felt good to give people we love something we took time to create with our hands.

Tonight is a special night for our family. Stockings are hung, presents are out, and we’re looking forward to a day of family and relaxation. It’s the end of a big year, and we’re ready to start a new one. So, to review, here are my tips for snow globe making. You might find them useful this holiday season:

1. Keep it small and simple.
2. More is not necessarily better.
3. It won’t be perfect, but that’s why it’s beautiful.
4. Nothing lasts forever.
5. The whole point is doing something fun with or for someone you love.

Merry Christmas and many wishes for a peaceful and happy new year.

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Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and Being Real

Sometimes all it takes is a margarita. In this case it took three.

The first one was with my family last Friday. Scott had taken the day off and it was a gorgeous Spring day. We did some errands, spent some time at the park, and found ourselves lunching at Pasqual’s, a restaurant in our neighborhood with a huge outdoor deck. They were serving special grapefruity margaritas for Cinco de Mayo. Alzette enjoyed a taco and Luna slept through most of the meal. Sure the deck overlooks a parking lot, but when it’s nice out and you’re drinking a margarita and from where you’re sitting you can see the yellow slide at the local nursery where your daughter sometimes plays, it’s hard to notice. These are the moments I live for: relaxing, eating, appreciating the people who matter most to me.

The next day we took a mini-road trip to La Crosse to meet up with my sister and her family. Her baby is only one month younger than mine, and I finally met her at 8 months. We had tried to visit each other prior to this, but when you live 6+ hours apart, if one or both babies get sick you have to cancel travel plans. We finally had a chance to meet somewhere between our two cities and had a great day – we visited the local co-op, had a picnic lunch, strolled along the river, and checked out the toy store at the La Crosse children’s museum. We live in Madison, a pretty affordable city, but it’s nice to be reminded that there are other communities with equally fun things to do at an even lower price tag.

Finding lots of other moms to talk to makes a big difference in meeting the demands of mothering. This is because every child is different, and parenting presents so many different types of challenges and unexpected scenarios and every parent has a slightly different approach to handling them. So talking to as many parents as you can helps you figure out how you want to approach things. Most importantly it helps you stay sane knowing that you’re not alone in sometimes feeling confused, frustrated, anxious, or sad. My sister has been a mother for 8 months and we’ve already shared a lot of important moments – some filled with tears, but most filled with laughter – bonding over how unexpected, difficult, joyous, nerve-wracking, and beautiful motherhood is. In fact on Saturday as we all sat on a picnic blanket, me with my family and she with hers, she chuckled and said “Well, I never could have predicted this moment.” We all burst into laughter, it seemed to perfectly summarize everything about our lives.

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My extremely adorable niece shares a special moment with her cousin.

It was so nice to see my niece’s mom and dad in action: they work so well as a team and seem to be truly enjoying the ride of being parents together. Later that evening as we grabbed a quick dinner at a local wine bar, my sister and I shared a margarita. It was a fun but hectic dinner, I think she and I each had only a few sips. Sometimes when you’re on the road at the end of a fun-filled day, facing a night of driving with a baby, a few sips is all you need.

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Then came Mother’s Day. I slept the entire morning. It wasn’t the morning I had planned, but it had been a long couple of days and I was beat. I stayed in bed until noon while Scott watched the kids. I woke up and said: “I only have one goal for the day: that we get the garden tilled and ready for planting.” It was another beautiful Spring day. Scott and I took turns weeding, tilling, holding the baby, and digging out compost. Ok so I didn’t even take a shower that day, and I didn’t go out for brunch or hit the spa (from previous Mother’s Day posts you know where this is all going…), but I had a great weekend with family and spent a lot of time outside and at the end of the day we had a nice strip of fertile soil in a sunny part of the yard where every year we try to grow vegetables. I was satisfied.

Then my best friend showed up with margaritas.

Last July my best girlfriend moved from Washington, D.C., to just one block away from me. This has pretty much changed everything. My friend works part time from home, and her daughter is one and a half. To describe fully what it means to live one block from your best friend and also become a mother with her is subject for another post. But the daily perks are obvious: the two of us and our girls hang out regularly – going to the library and play groups, taking walks to the park, or just making each other lunch at our homes. Between her house and mine is just a backyard: that of my friend and neighbor whose daughter is Alzette’s peer and playmate. This mom and I often take turns watching each others kids. If this all seems like a dream it’s because it is.

So this Mother’s Day, my best friend and her family showed up on our deck with margarita ingredients to celebrate the day. The kids played and snacked, the parents talked and drank. Later my neighbor arrived home from a barbecue with her family. So then we had more kids laughing, dads chatting, and the night ended with three tipsy moms standing on the sidewalk bonding over Mother’s Day and life.

We circled around one topic: being real. We talked about how there are some moms who seem to only want to paint a rosy picture of life as a mom, and some who love being a mom but also appreciate that not everything about it is easy and are able to talk freely about both the beauty and the hardship. It’s from those moms that we learn the most. We don’t need someone to tell us how much we’re going to love our kids, or how joyous we’ll feel when we see them happy (although sometimes on a bad day it helps to be reminded of these moments), and we definitely don’t need to be told (for the thousandth time) how quickly it all goes by. We know all that, or at least we’re about to learn it really easily.

When you’re a new parent you need someone to warn you that children will bring out the best in you, but also the worst, and so be ready to face that part of yourself. We need someone to break down for us what parenting is really all about. An obvious source would be our own parents, but they find it difficult to be real – I think – because they don’t want us to interpret their difficulties as meaning they love us any less. But parents could tell other young parents about it! And our peer groups should do the same. For example, I remember when I was pregnant the first time I really didn’t understand why having children would be so tiring (yes I realize this is laughable now). Once my baby was born, I wish someone had written down in more plain terms the practical realities of why it is such an energy-sapping experience. (I try to share these kind of realities in some of my posts, such as this one.)

Recently one of my favorite blogs, The Ugly Volvo, posted a piece about the realities of pregnancy and how it’s not always a pleasant experience, and how sometimes a mother can feel pressure to speak more positively about her pregnancy than she actually feels. As the post points out, not being thrilled about pregnancy doesn’t mean you love your children any less (in fact I would mischievously offer that if you’re willing to go through a difficult pregnancy for them then perhaps you love your children more!), and so it shouldn’t be something you hide. When we’re going through a painful or difficult experience sometimes the only comfort we find is in knowing that someone else shares our experience. Only if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to share can we bring comfort to others and therefore ourselves.

We may not be able to divulge everything on a blog post (after all, there are children and relationships with partners to consider), but if you’re talking to your sister, your friend, or anyone else who won’t judge you, it’s important that we be as real as possible when it comes to parenting. If there’s a phrase I have said or heard repeated by many parents it’s, “I wish I had known…” Some things about parenting you really can’t fully comprehend until it’s happening. But if we’re real about the crazy unexpected challenges that come with pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, sleep training, diapers, and all the other aspects of having kids, then the next parent will be that much closer to being emotionally prepared to raise an awesome human being.

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But how is it Sunny While it’s Raining?

Anyone who has a three-year-old lives a life riddled with questions. Today Alzette asked me the above question and it struck me once again that my life with children requires me (thankfully) to connect with the natural world in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. I consider myself pretty in tune with nature, and I think about it a lot. I love walking and I try to connect my kids with the earth as much as possible. But the questions I get from Alzette sometimes awaken me to the fact that when it comes to thinking about trees, the air, animals, flowers, rocks, the moon, or any other natural aspect of the universe, I’m barely scratching the surface.

In educational programs as early as preschool, so much thought and time goes into teaching kids about plants, animals, Earth science, and the solar system. But how much time do we spend connecting with these ideas, or experiencing nature with our physical senses, when we grow up? People (I include myself in this broad category) are quick to blame technology for our disconnection from nature. But here’s one of many places where technology can instead brings us closer: When Alzette asks me a question to which I don’t know the answer, I of course just research it on the internet. I don’t just find the answer there but usually a video, song, or other teaching tool to help demonstrate the answer.

So why was it sunny today, even though it was raining? Seems like a simple question, but it’s usually not sunny when it’s raining is it? I didn’t look this one up. Maybe we will another day but we were in the car and it’s always a good idea to start with a few hypotheses anyway (Alzette usually joins in). I proposed that the clouds were full of rain, yet thinner than your average rain cloud and therefore the sun was able to shine through. I have no idea if that’s even remotely correct but the right answer doesn’t always matter. What matters is that we thought about the world around us, came up with some ideas, talked about how we might research the question, and shared a moment together. And yes I also advised her to keep an eye out for rainbows.

Here are some other questions my three-year-old has asked me. Think about them for more than a minute. Do you really know the answer? If not, do they change the way you think about nature? I invite you to choose one and have fun finding the answer on the internet. Then go outside and see it in action.

What is wind?
How do you make a ring [of metal]?
How does a snail get inside of its shell?
What do rabbits eat?
What is the polar bear at the zoo doing right now?
What is a moth?
What is a star?

 

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10 Tips for Bringing Your Baby to Work

Earlier this month I brought a baby to a board meeting. I’m on the board for a non-profit that runs after school programs for children. We meet monthly on a Thursday evening on the other side of town from where I live so I’m usually gone for 3 and a half hours by the time I go there, attend the meeting, and get back home. My youngest daughter is 7 months now, which means that she doesn’t easily sleep through the whole ordeal (while Scott carries her in the Ergo) as she used to. It’s not about hunger either. Bottle or no, she’s in a phase where she wants Mommy at night. The meeting before this last one she spent almost the entire time crying.

Last month I was gearing up for (read: dreading) the next board meeting, when it struck me that I could just take Luna with me. Two things inspired this thought: 1. A recent email exchange between two friends, one who has been bringing her babies to work at different stages (and for varying amounts of time) over the last four years, and another who is nearing the end of her maternity leave and considering bringing her own baby to work. 2. I view so many things differently than I did with my first child. The biggest is this: when it comes to needing to be home with your baby (or needing to have your baby with you) there is no shame, and it’s not because you are doing something incorrectly.

As a new parent you second guess everything you do. Add to this that when it comes to work, our culture is built around the idea that it’s no big deal to just leave the kids in care and put a priority on work no matter what. The truth is that being successful at work doesn’t always require total separation between work time and care taking time. As any parent knows, parent and child are intertwined, and “getting a sitter” doesn’t solve every problem of needing time to attend meetings, do work, or travel for a conference. (The separation attitude also reveals a complete misunderstanding of how breastfeeding works. Nursing isn’t just about eating, and the rhythm that develops if you are with your baby most of the time can’t just be turned off for a meeting.)

Given all of this, I sent a quick text to my friend (author of the excellent suggestions written below). It read: “Have you ever taken a baby to a board meeting?” She wrote back simply: “Actually, yes!” This was all the inspiration I needed. I hammered out an email to my fellow board members, asking if they wouldn’t mind if I brought my baby to the meeting. I went into detail about what we could expect as far as any interruptions and what I would do to make sure business would be put first (in summary, hold Luna in the baby carrier where she was most likely to sleep through the whole thing). I asked them to let me know if they had any questions or concerns. All but two board members wrote back in full support, the others stayed silent. I went with it.

Thankfully, Luna slept through almost the whole thing (I have to admit, this meeting included the presentation of our annual audit by the CPA, and I was kind of holding my breath through that entire phase of the meeting). After Luna woke up I held her in my arms and did some nursing and she barely made a peep. Something to note for next time: the other board members were more distracted than I was, since I was holding an adorable baby in my arms. But any distraction was far less than the emotional distraction I would have experienced knowing that my baby was at home crying for 3 hours straight. I call it a success.

Bringing babies to work is becoming more accepted, and its popularity will increase the more parents suggest it. It may not be for everyone, but for those considering the possibility my friend offers the following advice:

10 tips for bringing your baby to the office:

  1. I wear my baby a lot when he’s at work with me. I have an Ergo and he takes naps in it. Especially when he was younger he’d spend most of his time in it.
  2. I’ve made my desk into a standing desk (by putting my laptop on a Rubbermaid). This way I can stand and bounce my son while I’m wearing him.
  3. I use this website to provide some white noise for background during naps: rainycafe.com
  4. I have a pack and play in my office as well. He’ll hang out in there with toys.
  5. When he was younger and liked it I also had a bouncy seat next to my desk.
  6. Especially when they’re so young, nursing usually solves any problem (or a little change of scenery – step outside your office, the building, whatever).
  7. I often structure my week so that I am doing more active, moving type work when my baby is with me (e.g. running “errands” in my department like making photo copies, turning in paperwork/checking in with the department accountant, manager, etc). I never schedule formal meetings for when he is with me.
  8. Things change – something that might work for a few weeks will suddenly not work. As my baby (who is 10 months now) became more and more alert to the world and had a harder time napping when there were distractions (people walking into my office, the phone ringing) I started using the white noise maker. I sometimes will find an empty lecture hall or classroom during nap time and move my laptop into there so I can keep the lighting down.
  9. Just this past week I hired a sitter to watch my son at work. They go on walks but hang out nearby (I work on campus, and there is an area in my building near my office where they can play and hang out while I’m in my office). When it gets warmer they’ll go to nearby parks and the zoo. It was super easy to find a sitter using the UW Job Board since it’s a sitting job on campus. This became necessary since my baby is walking now and really doesn’t want to just hang out in his pack and play for very long. But it’s nice that he’s nearby and can nurse if needed.
  10. Here’s a website that may help you get your head around bringing your baby to work: babiesatwork.org

UW Madison is currently creating a policy regarding children in the workplace. My friend is on the committee and they are writing it in such a way to try to build in as much flexibility as possible – while respecting the integrity of the workplace and colleagues. Perhaps once finalized this policy could be used as a model for other work places.

Many thanks to my friend for sharing all of this. Her final advice could apply to almost any aspect of parenting, but it took me having a second child to accept it: Know that so many parents are in the same boat. Remaining flexible and responding to what you and your baby need is the most important thing. You may find it easier than you had anticipated. You may hate it. You won’t know until you try!

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Welcome Back, Mother

The reasons for which it has been almost a year since I last wrote are mostly irrelevant. Except for these: I’m pregnant, I’ve started doing some consulting work, and my daughter – seemingly overnight – turned into a toddler (this happened on the day she turned 2, and now she is almost 3).

Here’s a statement for the Book of Obvious: Raising a toddler is not like raising a baby. Suddenly you go from providing basic survival needs and general world awareness, to engaging in delicate discussions and laying the foundation for complicated social interactions. I found that it took a lot of energy and time to recalibrate and learn the new parenting skills required to face this new phase of childhood, so I turned my attention away from certain things for a while, and focused almost solely on mothering.

This is the first lesson you learn as a mother: that since nothing matters more to you than your child, things that took priority in the past are quickly put aside if they are preventing you from being the parent you want to be. So you sacrifice things off your own list of needs in order to provide the time and attention needed for your child. But just when you have this part figured out you realize that there’s a catch: if you sacrifice too much of your Self, you’re not going to be a good parent. So parenting is really all about the balance between ourselves and our children, and the family unit which is one whole. This could be true for anything in life. You can never sacrifice what makes you you, for the sake of something you care deeply about. Just when you think you are doing the right thing by devoting time to that project, person, or cause, you realize that what you are losing in your self is actually detracting from the passion and energy you need to give your best.

This has been my favorite Mother’s Day so far, perhaps because it has taken me three years to figure out what I really want. Today I got lots of extra sleep (there is never enough if you’re a mother, but especially a pregnant one), received homemade cards from my family, went on a brisk walk (alone), played with my daughter, went out to dinner, and wrote. Today felt like my own personal New Year’s Day. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what kind of mother I’ve wanted to be, have been, and want to be. I resolve to be better at taking care of myself, so that I can do my best at taking care of my children. I thought a good way to start was to write again. My posts might be shorter in the future (that might be a good thing), but I will try to make them more frequent. Thank you to the friends who have asked about my blog and asked me to start writing again. Blogging makes me feel good because it gives me clarity, but also because of the positive feedback I’ve received in helping others find clarity as well. Here’s to all the mothers who know what it means to sacrifice your all, and to everyone who seeks to find balance between dedication and self-preservation.

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Do These Things Now!

My friend is pregnant with her first baby, which is spurring ideas for all sorts of practical first parent advice. On the less practical side, I’m also thinking about how different life becomes after that first child is born. So for non-parents and soon-to-be parents here’s a list of five things you should do a lot and really savor while you don’t have kids:

1. Go to the movie theater! Go again and again. Although if your baby has a certain temperament this is something you should also try to do during the baby’s first two months. Also don’t forget to watch lots of movies at home during those first two months (this is a fun activity to do while nursing) because soon it will be really hard to find 2 consistent hours to watch a movie from start to finish (without wanting to use that time to sleep).

2. Rearrange your closet. Especially if you’re pregnant right now: Pick the household design or cleaning project that is most important to you and do it right now. You’ll never be able to do it again.

3. Take a shower, and launder your bed sheets and pajamas, all in one day. You know that crisp, clean, good-smelling feeling you get when this all comes together? There’s no way your laundry will ever be that coordinated again.

4. Go out to dinner with your partner and hear every word they say. After Baby arrives your conversations will go more like this: “So I said to my boss-honey don’t chew on that-and then I wrote a memo outlining-I’m sorry what did you say?”

5. Be in your house alone. I know right now you feel like you have plenty of alone time and you wish that when you got home from work your partner was already there so you could go out or make dinner together or talk, but really you should just be enjoying the silence; and enjoying the fact that you can walk freely about your home without someone crying for leaving them alone in the other room, that you can run down to the basement just to switch the laundry, and that you can read an entire blog post without having to get up to help the baby get back to sleep.

Of course, after your baby is here you’ll remember these nice things you used to do, but they’ll be replaced with other nice things instead. If you’ve decided to not have kids then read this and be thankful every time you do one of the above!

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