September 15, 2015

Date Night

Street lights glowing overhead, we stood at the crosswalk watching the cars pass. I grabbed his hand and we looked into each other's eyes. "That was one of the best dates I've ever had," I told him. He smiled, gripping my hand, and we proceeded to cross the street.

Exactly 90 minutes earlier, we had managed to escape the family and spend some one-on-one time at a local Mexican restaurant. It was early on a Tuesday, not too busy. We chatted enthusiastically while sipping drinks and crunching tortilla chips. Tacos and shrimp arrived quickly, and, as expected, were eaten at a snails pace... "Take a bite," I reminded him several times in the pauses of this long-awaited conversation.

We try to have a date night (or day) once a month. Scheduling can be tricky, but I make sure it happens. We deserve it. HE deserves it. He deserves my undivided attention, at least once in a while.

With three kids, I'm always struggling with this concept; of how exactly I can give myself to everyone at all times. To pay attention, really pay ATTENTION. To press the pause button on the chaos, and momentarily zoom in to one child's world: to hear them, respond to them, give to them—and only them. Some days I am shocked by my inability to find even one minute to do this, which can result in an overwhelming sense of guilt. But I'm only one person, and this mothering/working thing is pretty darn crazy. So, that's why I go on dates with my sons.

With a date night on the calendar, we all feel a sense of relief. The kids know they will have their time. And I look forward to these dates like nothing else.

Last Wednesday morning (after our date), I looked at Wesley and thought: Wow, this kid is the real deal: kind, sweet, goofy, smart, and incredibly attentive—honest to goodness, an amazing date. Plus, he thinks Shirley Temples are the best drink ever. Doesn't get any cuter. ;-)

May 18, 2015

The One Who Keeps Me Up

Sometimes I'm in bed, floating in that dreamy headspace just before sleep, when, from out of nowhere, my thoughts turn to distress. In a millisecond, a sudden, anxious nightmare plays out—the worst possible visions of my innocent child getting hurt. It startles me to consciousness, and I lay there, heart racing, reviewing the scene in my mind... he ran into the street without holding my hand, the car is coming too fast, he didn't look both ways... Stop, I tell myself. Stop. It's just my mind playing tricks. Back to sleep I try, but all too often the nightmare continues or repeats itself, replaying every detail until I'm left sweating, fully awake with a knot in my stomach.

I've endured these pre-sleep nightmares for about 4 years. And, assuming I might be mentally insane, I never mentioned them to anyone. But, since this is a year of honesty for me, I decided to tell a few friends last week. To my surprise (and immense relief), they said they suffer from exactly the same thing; sudden, nightly, gasping thoughts of worry for their children.

I've never indulged these intrusive nightmares with further analysis or worry. I now know it's just anxiety working its way through me, via a complex network of fears and responsibilities I feel as a mother. Maternal stress. I get it. However—there is one detail that always strikes me about these nightmares. It's one small aspect, but significant enough that I can't ignore it. And, in full disclosure, it's hard to admit.

The truth is that I've never had an anxiety dream about Wesley. Or Edith.

It's always Chandler. My sweet five year old—my little Charlie Chaplin—is the one I worry most about. I'm not sure why; it's certainly not intentional. It's just how it is.

How do I say this? He is that child—the one that cuts to the core of me, every day, on every level. I love my other children just as much (and on some days, I prefer their company—believe me), but he's the biggest challenge I've faced as a mother. And despite my reluctance to give over that much power to a child, I know he is the driving force for most of my days. He is equally the sweetest child I've ever met, and the most demanding. I have to accept both parts, because that is who he is.

It's hard for the outside world to understand the whole of him; he's complicated. He has an unusual drive for creativity and perfection for his age; a nuisance at 5 years old, particularly since his peers don't understand his standards. So he hits them. He might even bite. The consequence of building a (truly remarkable) Lego skyscraper in a room full of inquisitive pre-k kids.

"Use your words," we say, on repeat. "I DID," he insists, "They didn't listen. But look at what I made!" Much of our days are filled with beauty and discipline, beauty and discipline; a markered masterpiece followed by a long talk or time out.

This boy is the reason I have gray hair and have read every parenting website and book. He's strangely clumsy and sensitive for such an active, extroverted kid. He gets hurt so frequently that I often do not flinch when he screams. (I'm the mom ignoring their crying kid at the playground.) His cry has one volume: ear piercing. I'm almost certain he is the cause of some recent hearing loss. When he's really chatty, his speaking voice can be heard for blocks. And let me be clear: he wants it to be heard for blocks. He wants you to look at him, standing in his self-induced spotlight. And thank goodness for that, because charisma practically pours out of this kid. I can't keep my eyes off him.

He says he wants to "grow up fast." He shares with me his dreams of playing drums, traveling on road trips, living in Hawaii and visiting Bora Bora. "Chandler, you can do that. But you are only five. Enjoy it." I say, holding back tears of dread for when he is old enough.

Chandler carries with him the burden of being the one to whom I give my deepest love, but also open my deepest wounds. He knows I would carry the weight of the world for him. And I do. I know this is as exhausting for him as it is for me. We let each other know these things in various ways, and it's not always pretty. Or quiet.

A few weeks ago he told me he had a nightmare, and I could hardly believe his words. "Mommy, I was crossing the street and forgot to hold your hand. You screamed for me and I ran back to you."

"Chandler, please, please always hold my hand," I reminded him urgently, forgetting to say all the appropriate motherly things, like 'It was just a dream,' or 'That must have been scary.'  Because I worry so much that one day he will forget to hold my hand, and—even worse—he might not run back to me. And I need to make sure he does.

I suppose that's why he's the one I worry most about.

February 9, 2015

10 Tips for Surviving a Renovation (With Kids)

When we were planning our kitchen renovation last year, I spent hundreds (ok, thousands) of hours online, in glorious, creative bliss. The inspiration! The ideas! For the greater part of a year, my browser was permanently opened to Houzz, Pinterest, and Apartment Therapy. I'd be in the middle of writing a work email and suddenly interrupt myself to research back splashes and wall sconces. I was completely obsessed—and nervous as hell. I knew from experience that a renovation is a BIG deal, and this time...well, this was going to be my dream kitchen. 

Our plan was to knock down the wall between our dining room and kitchen, remove a wall between the back hallway and dining room, and remove the back (unused) second staircase. Everything would shift and open up to create a large living space, adding a much needed area for adults to lounge while our kiddos enjoy the family/tv room. 
{before: our old dining room and tiny kitchen}

We knew we couldn't do it alone, so we enlisted the help of our talented friend Bonnie, a kitchen designer. When the plans were approved, we hired a contractor and had a start date. It was all coming together, so exciting! But then reality hit me like a rock in the face. In order for my dream kitchen to become a reality, we would need to live without our current kitchen. Without a lot of things, in fact. What in the world were we thinking? We had a crawling baby, two energetic boys and a dog. How were we going to live in a construction site? 

Moving to a rental was not in the budget. Accommodations in our town range between $2-$3k per month (the cost of a new stove and granite countertop). We decided to stay put, suck it up and get creative. And that's what we did. Aside from a weekend away, we stayed in our home for the entire renovation... nearly ten weeks. From September through November we lived without a kitchen, dining room, foyer, coat closet and washer/dryer. For much of the time we didn't have access to our living room, cable, internet, the driveway and our backyard. 

We were lucky: ten weeks is not long by construction standards. It flew by. Well, kind of. Alright, to be brutally honest, it was a dirty, noisy, unrelenting, post apocalyptic dust bowl that I could not imagine tolerating for any longer than we did. (And I know that many, many people do.) But when it was over... it was worth it.

 To my friends embarking on a renovation, here are my 10 tips for surviving it: 

1) Talk about the renovation. Discuss it with the kids. Make it a topic of conversation for at least a few weeks, so they can really process the information. We talked about how noisy and dirty things would get, and what kind of food we could eat without a range. We let them draw on the walls. Additionally, it's important to discuss your plans with neighbors. Tell your family, friends, your children's friends—and their parents. You will need as much advice, support and encouragement as you can get.

2) Invest in supplies. We would not have survived without a mini fridge, keurig, microwave, packaged food, paper goods, plastic cups and utensils. Disposable wipes were absolutely indispensable. It's not the most environmentally friendly set-up, but give yourself a break. It's temporary.
{the kids loved drawing on the walls before demo; we set up a mini kitchen and playroom in our 3rd floor office.}

3) Get your contractor on board. Make sure they are truly supportive of your decision to stay at home. Talk to them about your family's needs, including dust and dirt containment, your waking and sleeping hours, the times you will need access to the driveway, and your absolute essentials during the week and weekends (i.e., water, heat).

4) There will be dirt. There's no way around it: you will not have a clean house. Dust, dirt and debris will permeate every crevice of your home—long after demolition. Use your existing broom, mop, sponges and dusters during the renovation, and expect to buy new ones after. 

{weeks 1-6: a plastic sheet helped contain the dust; demolition; framing; drywall ready for plastering; testing stains on new wood floors; beautiful (but stinky) newly stained floors after a weekend away!}

5) Know your foreman. Our foreman, "G", was amazing. We were in communication nearly every day—for better or for worse—which helped connect us to the process and feel somewhat in control. Some of the workers would talk to the kids, show them tools, and tell jokes about the holes in the walls. The guys led my boys safely through the site and showed them the inner workings of our home: the studs, wires, pipes, and beams. 

6) Accept help. To our amazement, we had neighbors and friends who happily hosted our family of five for dinner at least once a week. It was so nice to get out of our cramped quarters and eat real food cooked on a real stove. We also had a friend take Penny for doggie play dates at her house. 

7) Have realistic expectations. What I mean is: prepare yourself. For instance, doing dishes in the bathroom sink or bathtub is only fun the first time. After that, it's a terribly confining and disgusting task (no garbage disposal or strainer). Also note: a mini kitchen is not that cute when you must simultaneously make breakfast for five people and school lunches for two. 

{weeks 7-9: cabinets, granite and sink installed!}

8) Find little luxuries. Amongst the chaos, find at least one thing that makes life easier. I discovered a drop-off clean and fold laundry service. Who can go hang out in a laundromat for hours with 3 kids? We also spent the last few weeks of the renovation getting a breakfast of muffins and coffee at our local coffeehouse. 

9) Plan time away. You will need to get out. A lot. Take day trips. Go out to lunch. Go out to dinner. Spend more time at the playground or the gym or IKEA. The contractor may ask you to leave your home overnight at some point. We had to stay away for 2 nights while our floors were being stained. 

10) Deep breaths. You will undoubtedly feel like you're losing your mind during the course of construction. No matter how prepared you are, it's inevitable that something—or someone—will push you over the limit. Just remember to take a deep breath and keep your eyes on the prize. It will be over before you know it. 

We've been through several renovations before, but this one takes the cake. We love our new space so much, and can't imagine living anywhere else. 

How about you? Have you lived in a renovation with kids? Do you have any tips?

{the result: totally worth it.}

January 5, 2015

The Year I Turn 40

I never stick to my resolutions. Honestly, never. Not a single one in my adult life. Despite knowing this, I eagerly create a long list of resolutions every single January—legitimately motivated and excited by the prospect of self-improvement. I'm not exactly sure why, but within weeks (days) I always convince myself it's perfectly ok to give up. It's not really my fault, I say. I was born lacking the requisite steadfastness and willpower. (Truly, I was.)

I'm not sure if this makes me pathetic, rebellious, or just plain normal. Either way, it's the same story year after year. Diets canceled, dress sizes unchanged, good deeds incomplete, bad habits continued. And up until now I haven't really cared or apologized for any of it.

But this year is different. It has to be. This is the year I turn 40—the age I've been subconsciously saving all my resolutions for—the one that really matters. In my head, this age carries so much responsibility and promise. In the most exhausting way, I will not—cannot—quit anything this year. Amazing or unsettling, failure isn't an option. And it's stressful as shit.

Part of this stress stems from one (particularly influential) childhood memory:

It was 1984. I was 9 years old and at a sleepover with a group of girls—my first real girlfriends. It was late and (after playing Truth or Dare and Light-as-a-Feather-Stiff-as-a-Board) we started talking about the future. As in, the VERY VERY FAR AWAY FUTURE. We fantasized about where we would be living, what our jobs might be, and—most importantly—who we would marry. Our idea of the future was thrilling and, although I don't recall exact details, I know the conversation was too exciting to sleep.

Our young minds found the concept of living in a new century completely unfathomable. So we sat up in our sleeping bags, doing math out loud in the dark. We calculated what year we would graduate from high school, how many years we'd date our boyfriends, and what year we would travel to Paris or New York. Then we figured out our future ages: How old would we be in 1999? 2010? And 2015?

In 2015 we would be 40. I remember our reactions like it was yesterday. 40 was completely beyond our grasp. 40 was old and EVERYTHING—all our dreams—would be accomplished by then. 2015 was the furthest we reached into the future. There was nothing more to say that night, and I'm pretty sure we fell asleep shortly after that.

So here we are. I'll be 40 in May. Which means that I'm living into—and beyond—a time that my younger self couldn't comprehend. And even though I've had 39 birthdays leading up to this one, I still feel distinctly immature, that 40 is STILL beyond me. Not because I can't imagine it, or that I haven't lived the life I dreamed of, but because I am. And that's scary to me.

My husband, my children, this home and career; they are all so real and present. And I'm responsible for all of them. Which means I need to GROW UP even more than I already have—to be that person who actually commits to things, and is—dare I say—a healthy, happy role model. Coming from a person who can't even stick to one resolution, it really is stressful as shit. But I knew it was coming, so this year I'm going to count my blessings and, for the first time ever, stick to my resolutions. Luckily the list isn't that long. :-)

September 18, 2014

In The Thick Of It

Ten months have passed since this little princess arrived. Ten LONG months. Wonderful in many aspects, but definitely long. I have to say, time does not fly when I'm postpartum. Like a wet slug, each day drags along a foggy trail of seconds, minutes and hours. Slow and exhausting. 

As any mom will attest, the months after birth can be a blur and easy to forget. One day you look at your toddler and think, Wow two year olds are so hard. Remember when she was just a little newborn, so new, so portable, so easy? Funny how that happens. Mother Nature is a big trickster, changing our memories like that. 
So let me capture a little postpartum moment in time: Edith is 3 months old. I'm in the rocking chair, blinking my eyes, staring at the clock—eyelids drooping with a heavy coat of fatigue and anxiety—and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out if it's 11pm or 11am. For several minutes I honestly do not know. I lower my gaze to watch her nurse, questioning if she is getting enough milk. I close my eyes. I open them again. It's 12:30. Desperate to pee, I attempt to break her loose, but for fear of losing a nipple I keep her on the boob. 

I proceed to the bathroom with the little one attached to my chest like a large tick. Impressed with myself after successfully wiping one-handed, I notice she has a really good latch. So I stay seated. 

Moments later (still on the toilet), I begin to fantasize about sleep in a way that nears sexual fantasy, and realize that everything—absolutely everything—would be better, if I could get some. If sleep can't happen, then I'll settle for a shower. The idea of a hot shower brings tears to my eyes. I decide to make sure I shower as soon as she's asleep. Or at the very least brush my teeth and put on clean underwear.  

Finally she's off my (very sore) nipple. I stand up and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror for the first time in days. Alas there I am—and it's worse than I thought. Much worse. Irreversible damage has been done. Who IS that woman in the mirror wearing my clothes? Too depressed to investigate, I place Edith down in her crib, and decide to use my spare time to put in a load of laundry, for which I reward myself with a bag of chips (because after all, I'm nursing and can eat whatever I want right?). 

After more chips (and chocolate), I begin to make a list of things I must do immediately to change the way I look and feel: make hair and nail appointments, hit the gym, get a sitter for date night, get dressed up and do pretty girl things like wear make-up every day. Oh yeah it's all going to happen I say out loud, perkily. I'm going to be THAT MOM. The one who totally has it all together, looking gorgeous with a perfect newborn girl and two wonderful boys in tow...

But, before I can even pick up my phone the baby wakes up. 
And I didn't even brush my teeth. 

Edith is ten months old this weekend and the fog has lifted (well, almost). It took a while this time around, but just like my other two sweeties, she is showing me how big my heart can be, and why it's all worth it. And anyways, just look at her. 

February 15, 2014

Before I Forget (39 weeks pregnant)

Written Monday, November 11, 2013:
I don't want to forget this pregnancy, in all of it's beauty and pain. It's the last time my body will grow and carry a child: a feat so crazy, miraculous, and emotional that one assumes you won't ever forget. But you kind of do. 

I remember my other pregnancies, but not completely. So I write this post today to help me remember... this exact feeling of fullness, tightness, breathlessness. And the strangely perfect combination of contentment and utter exhaustion. 

After all these weeks of braxton hicks contractions, acute hip and back pain, and annoying reflux, I'm feeling spent. Seriously. And
 I'm guilty of wanting to self-induce.  It's taking serious acceptance and patience—and a major mind adjustment... so difficult for any woman at this stage. Today, patience is impossible to achieve; I am restless, obsessive. I want to meet her now. I want to have labor today. I want to change a diaper tonight. Hold her at my chest and breathe a long sigh of relief that we made it, we're on the other side. 

But for now, I will rock on my birth ball and await things beyond my control, knowing next week could be very different. This baby girl will be born full term, healthy and ready. It's not easy, but we've come so far. And she'll be worth it. 

:: photo by the talented Leslie Kutzen

October 21, 2013

Bed Rest with Kids

{Running myself another bath. 35 weeks + 4 days.}

Bed rest seems to agree with our little girl. As of today, she has not yet made an appearance, and instead might be settling in for the long haul. I'm so relieved, after a month of stress, concern, contractions and... bed rest.

Prodromal labor started in week 31 with painful and frequent Braxton Hicks contractions that caused my cervix to dilate (only 1cm). Modified bed rest was recommended. Week 33 I lost my mucus plug, and then the cramping began, accompanied by constant 10 minute-apart contractions (which are still ongoing). To prevent further dilation, I've been told to keep my feet up until week 37, just in time for Halloween. I've never been so excited to go trick or treating with my boys!!!

So... ten more days of sitting around on the sofa, napping, taking baths, lying down, having my husband do the dishes, sweep the floors... Sounds like a dream, right? Far from it.

To the folks who said they'd love to switch places with me: let me assure you that bed rest is not what you imagine. Contrary to what the name suggests, it does not leave you feeling rested. In fact, it is both physically and emotionally exhausting. On many levels. I want to do SO much—for myself, with my children, in preparation for this baby, for my husband, my home—and I can't. I fantasize about going for a walk or a run, carrying baskets of laundry, lifting groceries, using my muscles (before they completely deteriorate). I've had a few "screw this" moments—only to find myself keeled over, breathless and contracting at the top of our third floor staircase. (Not worth it.)

Being on bed rest with kids is a challenge. Sitting around all day clearly doesn't promote great parenting, but it does actually force you to stay still, in one place. I never realized how much cleaning and running around I normally do. To be honest, I think the boys like me better this way. When they aren't at school, we have many, many hours to kill—and I've had to learn how to spend quality time with them, without putting them on bed rest too.

Some of my strategies for bed rest with kids:

  1. I keep their art supplies permanently on the dining room table, with stacks of paper, pencils, markers, scissors, and tape. Everything is ready for them to use, whenever. I'm not in there, but I can hear what they're up to. 
  2. I multi-task my pee breaks: during the short walk to the bathroom I fill a tray with snacks and drinks. If they need a snack, they come to me (instead of climbing the cabinets or scouring the fridge).
  3. I have fully embraced and accepted screen time (TV and tablet), but I try to break it up with reading them books, playing Lego, coloring. 
  4. They will sit with me and my laptop, watching nature or science videos on YouTube, Discovery or
  5. We sit and do homework. 
  6. I've signed them both up for They sit with me, either together or one at a time, for about 30-45 minutes to do the activities. 
  7. Scavenger Hunts. I write a list and they collect items. Very often I'll include items on the 3rd floor that I need, such as Tums or a blanket. 
  8. Play music. As long as I'm sitting and watching, my kids will sing, dance and perform for me. This is my favorite past time. 

I guess when you weigh the risk of having a premature baby with the complaints of a couch potato mom, it's clear that I can just suck it up for a while. And that's fine. It's only a week and a half. I totally got this.