Monday, February 25, 2013

Less Than < Equal To > Greater Than - Enough. Or, Some days are like that, even in Australia.




Alice wanted Jon to read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to her the other day. I loved that book when I was little; the illustrations and the minutia of his terrible day. I've read it to Alice as an adult and it's actually really depressing. He really does have a terrible day and no one cares, even when he tries to tell them how rotten he's feeling.


Some days are like that, I know. Some days, you find yourself crying while you chop broccoli for a dinner you don't even want to make, the tears blurring your vision so badly you can't even see the cutting board and you should probably stop before you cut off your thumb, but you don't. The days that you don't tell anyone you're having a rotten day, that you don't ask for help because you don't even know what you need, except that what you need is for your kids to eat their food and go to sleep but no one can help you with that. And no one can help you with the guilt you feel for wasting a whole day being mad at your infant and toddler because they both woke you up with crying and won't close their eyes and go to sleep when you command them to even though you are all just. so. tired. 

How sad not to have anyone that would care if you told them you were having a rotten day. Luckily, though, I have a husband who cares, who's watching for post-partum depression. Who can tell when I'm miserable, even when I try to hide it.  Who knows when I'm crying (mostly) silently in another room. Who takes the kids outside and tells me to do something that will make me happy. He tells me to take a nap, but I can't because then I really won't be able to fall asleep at night and I'll be even more tired and miserable the next day. So I sew, even though it makes me cry more, trying to understand the geometry of a sleeve, trying desperately in the precious few minutes I have two hands free to finish the simple shirt I'm trying to make for myself so I have four shirts I can wear, instead of just three. 

Luckily, I have friends who understand when I shoot off a text/email/fb message and vent that I'm going to lose my shit and that I'm stress-eating, shoveling cookies in my mouth like I'm chain-smoking them. Friends who write back that they are having the same kind of afternoon and are taking solace in cupcakes and wine, and then apologize for replying with a rant of their own. 

But that is just what moms need, someone who really understands, who is living it too. Because this is the thing: motherhood is messy. It is fearfully wonderful and it is also full of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Other mothers understand and we need to talk about it in a different way than we talk to our husbands, our partners. I don't write about the day-to-day often enough here. I want to record more of the tiny, miraculous moments with my beautiful daughters and I want to record the times that are purely awful - if not so I can turn them into something useful, then at least so we can all laugh about them later. 

Much has been written about and many a mom-blogger has lamented how easy the internet makes it to compare one's self to someone else's seemingly perfect life. I don't want this space to give the impression that anything at my house is ever perfect or always wonderful. I hope that anyone who knows me, for real or through this blog, knows that my life is perfectly imperfect and that I am completely satisfied with the imperfect perfections and the perfect imperfections. I think I make this clear in my real-life conversations and I try very hard to make my online presence a faithful representation.


The thing is, there is a distinct difference between sharing or commiserating in the shitty parts of motherhood (or life) and being a miserable, annoying whiner. Much like Kurt Vonnegut cautions, I've learned to be mostly positive and optimistic by pretending to be mostly positive and optimistic. I try to edit my perspective - whether internal, online, through my camera lens - to focus on the details I want to see. Sometimes the ugliness is impossible to ignore. I've learned that it's best not to ignore it, and that it's easier to face it and push through with a positive attitude and a support system of other positive individuals who can relate, sympathize, lend a hand, push and pull you along, and laugh with you while doing it.

The internet is a remarkable place to make and maintain these connections. You can put your authentic self out there, solicit and offer others a little validation, support, and/or emotional connection. Anyone can hear your message (or not) at their convenience, and respond with their own message of validation and support at their convenience. You can maintain constant contact - as superficial or in-depth as you choose - with close friends who you may not otherwise get to see very often. This mom writes well about it here; that we are more connected than ever but yet we feel so alone. Let's change that. We can start by being honest with ourselves, with each other, and sharing the real parts of our lives.

I don't want to be friends with miserable, negative people and I certainly don't want to read their blogs. I want to surround myself with positive people who see, find, and share the good in everything, even the ugly and miserable bits. But again, there's a difference between being authentically positive and putting on a false persona in public. I want to be positive and authentic and to make real connections with others that are really authentic. My dearest friends are positive and authentic, and my reader is full of authentically honest blogs that are able to find and create beauty and positivity in the hardest parts of parenthood.

The most important things I read online are the courageous words of women who hire help to do it allwho take medication to be a better momwho wanted to diewhose family didn't turn out like they had expectedwhose child has special needswhose child has cancerwhose child diedwho lost all the photos of a child's short life. These stories hurt but they are exquisitely beautiful. And they remind me that we needn't bear any of our hardships alone. Somewhere, someone else understands and has lived it too. Reading these stories makes me believe that it is possible to live through the hardest of hardships and, should I find myself in any of these situations, that I can find words to offer guidance and comfort, if not also a hand to hold.

My RSS and Pinterest feeds are also full of people sharing their beautiful and amazing lives, homes, careers, DIY projects, awesome crafts, delicious-looking meals, gorgeous photography, perfect children, adjective noun fill in the blank here. These words and images are like tiny, shiny little gems I get to pluck out of the interwebs whenever I have a moment and/or need a pick-me-up. I use this content to help me feel happier, more creative, more motivated, to be a better parent, to plan my next meal or treat, to learn how to make something new and wonderful. This beauty, this abundance should never be allowed to make me feel inferior or unworthy, I only allow it to inspire.

Some of what I see is completely unattainable (like many of the homes I admire) or simply impractical (open kitchen shelving - we have earthquakes here; all-white interiors - we also have kids/cats), but I don't let this stop me from appreciating what others may enjoy. And I don't believe - not for one second - that the beautiful interiors I see online always look that perfect and polished in real life, no more than I believe real human beings can look anything the way media + Photoshop wants us to believe they do. I don't believe that every blogger's kids are always adorably dressed, sitting still, smiling nicely, or otherwise generally cooperating for the camera (and I love when they prove it!). I know better, my own computer is full of the thousands of photos I've taken of my kids in order to get the small percentage that are frame-and share-worthy. I know that no matter how good things appear online, real-life is always lurking behind the scenes.

Use the internet to find inspiration instead of instilling insecurities in yourself. Make real connections and be authentic. Find other bloggers/moms/dads/people that you know or admire and reach out to them. All of us, especially parents, need a support network to make it through the terrible, horrible, no good very bad days and the internet is an amazing tool to cast your net further than any generation of parents have ever been able to. Just don't let anyone else's online content make you feel less than and don't act like you are better than anyone else. Your life is enough, you are enough.

image and print found here.


We all have our own journeys, everyone is fighting a hard battle. Don't indulge in the comparisons, competitions. Be joyful, be inspiring, be supportive, be compassionate, be confident, be positive, be authentic, Be part of the conversation with others like you, others different from you, and others you do not yet know. Be there for others so that there is someone there for you when you need it, and you will need it. Because some days are like that, even in Australia...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Conversations with Alice

Alice's language skills have really exploded these last few months, especially since I've been home on leave. I've heard that listening to two+ people converse is more beneficial to language development than just listening to one person speak, or simply speaking with one person, as is the norm when Alice is home alone with Jon. I think that listening to Jon and I, and to all of our visitors, must have given her language skills a big push. It's amazing to find out what she's paying attention to and absorbing, and to realize she's learned things we didn't know she knew. I love hearing her use a complex phrase or piece of grammar or turn of speech and wondering how and where she picked that up.

She's also started recognizing and pointing out the similarities in a pair of words. She'll say things like "Cat is the same as hat!" and "Microwave is the same as microphone!" So clever. The other day we were talking about raspberry tarts and later she was pretending to bake or eat a tart in her little kitchen and I heard her saying "Is it a tart or is it a heart? Is it a heart or is it a tart?" So Wonderland-y!

We've taught her to say "Excuse me," when people are talking, instead of just talking over them, but now she just shouts "Excuse me!" until we stop talking and pay attention to her. We're working on waiting until there's a pause in the conversation, and then saying "Excuse me" only once and waiting until it's your turn to speak. We'll get there eventually, I'm sure. She does say "please" and "thank you" quite regularly. When Jon makes (or picks up dinner), I remind her to say "thank you" to daddy for giving her dinner. Jon's parents were over recently and made us dinner. We were all hanging out while Jon's dad BBQd some chicken and Jon's mom whipped up some delicious side dishes. As we all sat down to eat, Alice said "Thank you for dinner, Jeff!" without any prompting. It was hilarious and adorable.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that kids say the darndest things, but I want to start recording some of the choicest bits of conversation we have. Here's the first installment.

***
A: Pacifiers are kind of like nipples, and nipples are kind of like pacifiers!

***
A: If my harp comes out, I will play it for Marie (her stuffed kitty).
E: (confused) If your harp comes out? Where is your harp?
A: (pats her chest, over her heart) Right here.

Showing me and Marie where her "harp" is.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

We don't really celebrate Valentine's Day at our house, at least not in the flowers/chocolate/commercial manner, but Alice has been enjoying holidays so much lately (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Disneyland Christmas) that I wanted to do something special for my little valentine.

A blogger I follow (I can't remember who, now) wrote recently that her mother always managed to celebrate every holiday with some special food, though she wasn't much of a cook. I remember my mom making us some special holiday-themed dishes like green eggs and ham or April Fool's pancakes. Maybe not for every holiday, every year, but often enough that I have fond memories of it. She also used to draw something special on our brown paper lunch bags, once we'd outgrown character-themed lunch boxes, and you can be sure that she drew something special for the holidays.

I want Alice to have those same kinds of little, special memories and though I know she's a bit young to actually remember anything we're doing now, I want to start these traditions early. So in my overnight breastfeeding/Pinterest sessions, I've been stockpiling fun ways to celebrate any holiday. I came up with a cute and easy heart-themed menu for Valentine's Day.

I busted out my tiny heart-shaped egg pan, a gift from one of my dearest friends many years ago, and made heart-shaped buttermilk pancakes and bacon. I was inspired by this heart-shaped bacon but I didn't fold mine quite as neatly as that photo and mine didn't much resemble hearts once they'd cooked down. But bacon tastes good, no matter how you fold it!

Breakfast was a little harried because we had to get Jon and Alice out of the house by 10am for Alice's toddler gym class. I woke up a bit late and my timing for everything was all off and then Ivy needed to eat right in the middle of the critical cooking period, and then she wailed through much of breakfast. So instead of a smiling family of four sitting at the table in front of three plates with adorable heart-shaped foods, everyone sort of ate whatever thing was ready at the moment while Jon and I traded off tending to the stove and the baby. And, for the record - despite many internet claims to the contrary - vinegar in non-dairy milk does not make a great substitute for buttermilk. But it was all yummy and Alice enjoyed eating heart-shaped food, so it was worth it!
For lunch, I carved up a carrot using this inspirational photo tutorial, and made tomato hearts using this inspirational photo tutorial, and cut a heart from a PB&J sandwich. It was nowhere near the masterpieces some mamas make, like these awesome pancakes, or these amazing lunches, but it was super easy and super cute and Alice even tasted the tomatoes.

So that's how we celebrated Valentine's Day over here. I hope Alice enjoyed it and that I can continue these kinds of traditions to be something that she and Ivy remember fondly from their childhood and maybe even carry on with their own children. Someday Alice and Ivy will understand that I love them more than any heart-shaped food can ever convey. I hope Jon already knows...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Haircuts

I've been trimming Alice's bangs since she was about six months old but they'd recently reached a point where they needed some professional attention. I had lost control of where they started and stopped and they looked crazy when I put her hair in a ponytail. Since she's got a bigger head now, and it's FULL of hair, I figured her bangs probably didn't need to start all the way at the back of her head. I just didn't know what to do about it.

I get my hair cut about once every 12-18 months, when I can't stand how long it is and get so fed up that I almost cut it off myself. That's where I was a few weeks ago, so I decided to take Alice to the salon with me. We talked about it a bunch beforehand and I told her all about the "beauty salon." She was calling it the "haircut store" for a long time until all of the sudden, "beauty salon" was the only term she'd allow. She won't even let us say "beauty parlor" without correcting us.

Anyway, I debated taking her to a kids' salon but it was just more convenient to take her with me and kill two birds with one stone. I'm glad I did, because she was pretty impressed - particularly with the pink walls and sparkly popcorn ceiling. It's kind of an edgy salon (the logo is a skull with scissors crossbones!) and I always feel pretty straight-edge and boring next to all the very tattooed, rockabilly-esque stylists. I've seen someone different each time (because I'm too short-sighted to schedule in advance and too impatient to wait for an appointment) and they've all been great. I've always been really happy with the cut, which is rare for me when seeing someone new. And as edgy as the place is, they still had a princess smock for Alice to wear, and she was thrilled.

Alice was super polite, shaking the stylist's hand and saying, "Nice to meet you." She sat on a booster seat in the big chair with her princess smock on and closed her eyes while the stylist trimmed her bangs.  No wiggling, no tears.





 I didn't get a great "after" shot in the salon but here's one from a few days later showing the new sophisticated shape. You can't tell here, but there are a few pieces that need to be trained out to the sides and grow out a bit. They keep falling in her face and making her look even more like a ragamuffin than usual...
After witnessing and documenting the first "real" haircut, Jon ran out to do an errand. Alice sat in the broken chair beside me and mostly behaved herself while I had my turn. At least until Jon got back and then they hung out on the couch up front and occupied themselves with an iPhone... I remembered to snap a quick shot of my cut when we got home.

freshly cut.
I enjoy having a salon-fresh style but I'm always anxious to see what the cut is going to look like the next day - after I sleep on it, wash it, and style it myself. I've been experimenting with blow-drying and air-drying, learning how to use velcro rollers and how to curl with a mini flat iron. I was recently stuck in the bathroom with Alice while she took care of some business, so I used the opportunity to work on my technique. I am terrible at styling my own hair so I was shocked that I was easily able to get the hang of the flat iron curling and actually produced a hair style that I would wear out of the house. I was so shocked, I actually took some photos. And because I am so enthusiastically embracing the spirit of New Year's Resolution #3, I didn't even put on eye make-up or edit the photo after. You're welcome.
 

So Alice and I are both feeling fancy with our new hair. Maybe someday I'll give Alice's curls a trim, or even cut it "short like mama's," but I don't think I can handle that any time soon!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Year's Resolutions 2013

So, since I was doing this on New Year's...


...I've been a little behind on 2013 already. But since it's February now, I figured it's time to catch up and make some New Year's Resolutions!

I don't remember making any New Year's resolutions for 2012. The only evidence I can find is the comment on this post, where I said I might resolve to work on handmade gifts all year to ease the pressure in November/December. I can tell you I did not do that. Of all the years I should have done that, this was the one, and I did not. I can, however, tell you that I DID briefly reach my goal weight before I got pregnant (and gained it all back) AND I have succeeded at about 25% of my resolutions and goals from 2011.

I stopped consuming mainstream "news" and while I am totally out of the loop on most important or entertaining events, I am considerably less fixated on all manner of horrible things that have happened or could happen. I also learned to sew and made lots of adorable things for Alice. Unfortunately, I didn't share most of them on the blog... I didn't roll up my sleeves, per se, but I convinced Jon to roll his up and he made a bunch of awesome stuff for our house with his own two hands. He built gallery library shelves in our dining room, a console-style shelf for behind our couch, a big girl bed and shelf for Alice, and helped Santa build a certain dollhouse. Again, I didn't blog about most of those but I promise, they happened! I am aiming to put together a little round-up of our completed crafty/DIY projects... I also significantly improved my Photoshop skills but I still have tons to learn.

I've been thinking about what I might resolve to do in 2013 but realistically, I know that it will take up most of my mental energy to take care of a baby and learn how to manage a toddler and a sibling while being a working mother. However, I have had some ideas bumping around  the back of my mind and I think a few of them have emerged as worthy candidates.

So, here it goes. Here are my resolutions for 2013:

Resolution #1: Do one thing at a time, do it now.

When you are a parent - especially one with toddlers and/or infants - multi-tasking is sort of unavoidable. But I want to try to avoid it whenever I can. I also want to resolve to just go ahead and do whatever it is that I have in mind. Chores, projects, fun stuff, special experiences; just do them. Don't procrastinate or put it off, don't save it for later. Just do it now.

Resolution #2: Invest in myself.

I am pretty good at prioritizing my mental health and happiness, even with the added demands of motherhood. I know that I can't be a great mom if I'm not taking care of myself physically and mentally, and if I'm not happy. I definitely believe happiness is a form of courage and I've spent a long time learning how to make myself happy, but my life has reached a point where I need to be more intentional about cultivating that happiness. I can no longer achieve happiness by way of sleeping in, blowing off my responsibilities, eating junk food and reading all day. And that's not really possible/practical anymore, with two tiny children depending on me. I need to invest in more strategic efforts.

The challenge is that as much as I value my happiness, I have a really hard time spending money and time on anything that I might need to accomplish that goal. If my family can't live in it or eat it, it's hard for me to justify the expense. I also hate spending time away from home and my family doing things for myself such as shopping for something I need, like shoes. I have precious little time with my family and I hate having to use it on things they can't enjoy or participate in. I shop online as much as possible but that doesn't always suffice and I can no longer rely on a quick trip to Target to meet all my needs. I need to prioritize a little time and money for myself in advance. For example, I need to make sure that I have clothes and shoes that fit and flatter, instead of waiting until I have a wardrobe emergency and buying the first cheap thing that is even remotely appropriate in the shortest amount of time possible.

Here are some specific areas where I'll attempt to implement this resolution.
  • My health and fitness:
    • Invest in time to exercise. With Alice, I waited until I was done nursing to really start exercising seriously again. I am ready to start exercising now, as soon as my body is healed well enough. While I'm on leave, I plan to start walking (maybe even running!) and to use up the classes on my gift card to a local yoga studio (they have mama/baby and mama/toddler classes!). And once I'm back at work, even if I can only manage 15-20 minutes in my living room before bed, I need to incorporate some high-return activities into my day. I'm really looking forward to resuming my bike commute! If I can spend time with my kids/hubby while exercising, all the better, but I need to make sure I find time to do it with or without them (but not at their expense!).
    • Invest in proper, quality tools. I just bought an inexpensive resistance band that I intend to use for portable access to all manner of exercises. When I start running again, I'll really have to invest in some quality running shoes from a proper running shoe store where they can diagnose my fit and needs.  I also need some well-fitting running clothes - like a good sports bra! - and something to secure my phone, which functions as my running trainer and musical motivator. When I first started running, I didn't want to buy a bunch of expensive gear if I wasn't going to enjoy and stick with it but I found that it's something I definitely want to continue. I still don't want to spend a bunch of money on fancy stuff but my body deserves proper support in order to do the best job for maximum gains. My running shoes are at least 8 years old and probably aren't even actually intended solely for running. My knees deserve better!
Shoes are supposed to have some soles. Preferably level ones...
  • My appearance:
    • Invest in my wardrobe. I know everyone wants to burn everything in their closet at some point. But I've felt like that for almost as long as I can remember now because my closet is filled primarily with drab, unflattering items that were cheap to buy because they were cheaply made. I want to revamp my closet and my style with well-made pieces that will last and make me feel comfortable and confident. This will largely have to wait until I reach my goal weight again, but I plan to look for creative ways to freshen my wardrobe in the meantime by thrifting, refashioning, and sewing for myself.
    • Invest in a hairstyle. I just got my hair cut again and specifically asked for a length that is too short to pull back into a ponytail. Because when it's long enough for a ponytail, that's the only thing I do with it - every day. And though a ponytail is quick and convenient, it isn't the most flattering style for me and it gives me a headache. So I'm resolving to find a cut that gives me an actual style and to invest in the time and ability to do it every morning. I'm happy to say that this current cut is about 90% of the holy grail I was looking for. It's too short for a ponytail, looks good if I let it air dry (HUGE deal for me, that is NEVER the case), is quick to blow dry even without sectioning it off or using a special brush, and doesn't need any straightening with a flat iron. So, it's almost as quick and easy as a ponytail! Plus, I invested in some velcro rollers and a 1/2" flat iron that can make waves or curls (counter intuitive to curl with a flat iron, I know), so that I can add even more variety to my style options. I've never been good at doing my own hair, aside from fancy braiding, so I'm investing some time now to learn how to use these tools so I can actually have a hair style. I'm in my thirties now, I think it's about time I had some style!
    • Invest in my skin. Again, I'm in my (EARLY) thirties. I need to figure out what my skin needs and how best to take care of it. Some day, I'd like to be blemish-free. I feel like I'm closing in on some things that are working, but I need to get creative and keep experimenting.
haircut, fresh from the salon. skin, in need of  a little TLC.
  • My Ideas:
    • I have a lot of ideas and I rarely do anything about them. I want to quit making up excuses why I shouldn't or can't pursue my ideas and start investing in reasons and ways that I can turn them into reality. I don't have have any great examples to share with you here, but I'll let you know if and when I succeed!
Resolution #3: Stay In The Picture.

I read this a while ago and it hurt because it's true at my house. And then I read this and it really broke my heart. I am the photographer in our family, so I'm usually behind the camera instead of in front of it. And I usually hate the way I look in photos, so I do tend to avoid having my picture taken, or block the photos I'm in from seeing the light of day. And the result is that I have precious few photos of me with my kids. And that hurts, a lot. So I'm resolving to change that. From now on, I'm going to stay in the picture. 

When I was near my ideal weight, I realized I no longer hated seeing myself in photos. That surprised me, mostly because that hadn't been the case in so long that I hadn't realized it was still possible. It's a huge motivation for me to get back to my ideal weight. Investing in my health, fitness, and appearance will surely make me happier with the person I see looking back at me in photos. Even if I'm perfect in my daughters' eyes and they don't see the same imperfections I see when they look at photos of me, I know that I'll smile brighter when I am confident in the way I look and feel. But I don't want to limit my appearance in photos to only those times that I feel like I look perfect. 

I've already made progress on this resolution by investing in a tripod and a remote camera shutter. I want both to be a regular fixture in our home and our lives so that I can capture myself in the sweet, every day moments with my girls. I've also started taking more photos with my phone (which is almost always within arm's reach), both of Alice and Ivy, and of myself with them. Though I resisted for a long time, I've finally started using Instagram as well and I'm finding that it motivates me to take more photos of our every day life and to actually do something with them.
 {L} Alice & I making "kissy" faces. {M} Just wearing a baby. {R} Keeping it real with my little baby burrito.

Resolution #4: Keep Creating.

It's important to me to be able to create things for my kids and my home. I'm so happy about the progress I've made in learning to sew, and with the things I've been able to make for Alice. I want to keep investing in the time to create all the things I dream about, and to improve my skills.


Resolution #5: Blog about it.

I want to blog more regularly. I want to be better about recording the little things that don't seem important until you look back at them months or years later. I want to record the things I create. I want to share the progress I make on these resolutions. I want to document our successes and our failures. I want this to be a better record of our lives and the love in our family. 

As with every year, I will continue to keep up work on my previous resolutions. I'm still trying to drink more water and wine, to watch all those classics and award-winners in my Netflix queue. I still aim to send birthday cards and other correspondence in a timely manner and hand-craft holiday gifts throughout the year. When I revamp my wardrobe, I will make a concerted effort to make sure there is more color involved. And I will try my best to blog about it all!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Definitely Sisters

Alice @ 2 months, Ivy @ 5 weeks.
I think they're definitely sisters, no? I took this picture of Ivy yesterday and it reminded me of one I'd taken of Alice around the same age and the similarities are pretty striking! I can't wait to see how Ivy grows. I need to dig up some more of Alice's baby photos, and mine, for some serious side-by-sides!