Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How are you these days?  Let me guess:  You're too busy, kind of exhausted, and not exactly sure how you're going to make it to next week. 

You are in good company, friends.

We're all so darn busy.  I don't know anyone who isn't busy at least almost all the time.  Even the people who have every excuse not to be busy seem to magically fill their days with obligations and expectations that inordinately can not be met by the average human.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Is there some gold medal at the end of it that I'm unaware of?  And if there was, is it worth it?

While I, too, am a zombie running on inspiration and caffeine, I'm also a huge fan of "boundaries" and trying my best to walk the fence of efficiency and sanity.  That's a hard line to tow, and it's rarely accomplished without falling off the fence entirely at times, only to climb back up with a few scrapes and bruises.

I like to be busy.  I thrive when I'm surrounded by goals and support; having something that I can keep my eye on and lean on at the same time.  But, as much as a risk taker as I am, I also tend to overcommit myself or stretch my efforts too thin before I figure out it's too late.  As I learn and grow in my boundary-setting, however, I'm beginning to understand that it's really never too late to establish limits for myself.  Breaking and establishing limits is a huge part of growing up, after all, and it doesn't stop just because you have two kids and a mortgage.

Busy is different for different people.  My kind of busy includes being a wife, mother of two, full-time grad student, freelance writer, and part-time worker at the mall, as well as soon-to-be taking on some internship hours for my degree requirements.  Yes, my plate is full.  And, your plate is probably equally as full, just taken up by more or less of other people/activities/obligations that you've set in motion.  Somehow, we're all doing something to fill our time, and we're all ending up tired, yet passionate enough to keep going.

When I first took on my part-time job at the mall (working at Pottery Barn Kids) it started as a seasonal, Christmas job.  I thought it would only last a few months, and I was just as surprised as anyone when they asked if I would consider staying on and I accepted while minimizing my commitment to just a couple shifts a week.  At first, I thought What in the world am I doing? thinking I was, yet again, doomed to my habit of overcommitting and going to have to back out within weeks.  But, that hasn't been the case, and I can tell you exactly why.

Keeping my little part-time gig has brought more relief to my schedule than burden.  I'll be honest, it's a lovely place to work.  The people are kind and considerate for the most part, the place is cute and clean, and while I'm hardly making any extra money there, it's just enough to ease my mind a bit when my kid's sneakers all of a sudden don't fit overnight!  (Life doesn't stop for growth spurts!)

But, what really has kept this in my hectic schedule is that the hours I work there have forced me to deliberately allow myself a mental break from life's normal chaos and greater obligations.  When I'm there, I simply can not check my iPhone, listen to my daughter's whining, do household chores, catch up on homework, or distract myself with some ridiculous thing online that I probably don't have time for anyway.  I have some very simple, straightforward tasks to busy myself with for the night (be kind to customers, help organize/scan merchandise, take out the trash, etc) that don't require much brain power.  As silly as it sounds, working at the mall is almost as close as it gets for me to having a night off.
Even Garfield gets it.

I have had to turn down other things because my schedule was full.  I have had to miss out on some opportunities or get-togethers because I've carved out this time in my schedule to do X-Y-Z.  But, I have also gained some new perspectives on how and why I do the things I do.  I am a big believer in "you do what you want to do" and the truth is, right now it is healthier for me to have this part-time job than not!  If you find yourself with a schedule full of things you'd rather not be doing, it may be time to ask yourself why in the world they are important to you?

I'm not sure how we're all supposed to juggle everything.  For each person who looks at another and wonders "How do they do it?" probably ten more are looking at them and thinking the same thing.  We're not meant to live someone else's life or juggle their to-do list for them.  I am taking life one day at a time, just like everyone else, and curious how the hours will pan out from week to week.  Time can feel like a giant puzzle when you are trying to grasp all that it has to offer.

Be busy.  Be productive.  But, don't forget to carve out some time for yourself to mindlessly incorporate something that can allow you some freedom from your busy-ness.  Don't get me wrong, I also require plenty of down time to completely shutdown and submerge myself into something purely relaxing (like, watching reruns of Modern Family or "reading" the latest Oprah magazine).

But, whatever it looks like for you, I can guarantee that the rest of your busy life will thank you when you allow yourself limited time to limit yourself.

Ace Is Wild

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I tend to fit in wherever I go.  This is because my usual spots consist of home, church, school, and our neighborhood McDonald's with the grimey indoor playground my kids can't get enough of.  So, when my husband and I recently jet-setted for the weekend to Los Angeles, we decided to make the most of it and stay at the swankiest downtown hotel recommended to us.

The ACE Hotel opened in downtown LA (#dtla) just a few months ago, and it is no doubt the diamond in the rough on Broadway.  This part of the city has changed a lot in the last several months, and it is still in the early stages of its hipster re-gentrification.

While Umami Burger and the historic-Rialto-theatre-turned-Urban-Outfitters clearly designate this as a hip-among-hip part of town, Broadway is still home to many suffering souls huddled on the sidewalk and dilapidated office spaces waiting to be turned into the next Anthropologie or two-story H&M (it's really only a matter of time).  This is to say, LA wouldn't be LA if it didn't redefine hipster by keeping its dirty roots and taking its own sweet time to develop the next trend.

Headquartered in Portland, ACE also has hotels in New York, Palm Springs, Seattle, Panama, and London.  It seems to have found the perfect location to manifest itself in the historical United Artists building downtown LA.  With a vibrant marquee and ornate street front greeting it's guests, there's no question you're about to enter the Narnia of being too-cool-for-school when you walk in.  

As the guy dressed in flannel plaid and skinny jeans introduced himself as our bellhop, I could immediately tell I was not nearly hip enough for this place.  (Which only enticed me all the more.)  I get it, guy with the bolo and blonde mustache, and I am just going to play the part and let you think I don't have two kids back home who are probably watching Mickey Mouse and eating Tinkerbell fruit snacks right now.  

The black and white glam-deco lobby was sporadically spotted with little whimsical sketches.  There was a fat kitty in a bow-tie drawn over the elevator, a chubby bear falling with a cup of coffee between doorways, and little palm trees dotting the landscape up to the high ceiling above.  

This dose of silliness amidst the spectacular architecture was a sure sign to take a deep breath and enjoy my stay; nothing was to be taken too seriously in a place where hand-drawn animals were spying down.

The room we stayed in was pleasant, with the best part being the exquisite attention to detail.  I'm a total sucker for attention to details.  The tv screen said "Welcome to your room, Emily Pardy" and even the tiniest of items had some kind of ACE font/logo scripted on it.  

The colors were calm and consistent.  The lines of the room were minimal and clean.  The entire room was a crisp combination of industrial (concrete exposed floors and ceilings), post-modern/euro (blocks of muted color with sufficient, well-utilized space, but compact at best) and art deco (gold hardware, black lacquer, splashes of ornate detail hidden in the historic leftovers here and there).

The bed was cozy, the robes were divine (like giant, body-sweatshirts), and the service was fantastic.  While the ACE details were simply impeccable (hey, I worked just long enough in marketing to fall in love with typography and consistent branding) it felt polished, not pushy.

The feel of the experience was upscale, with just enough pretentious notes to make me feel like I got my money's worth.  And, while I didn't get to try the food at their slick eatery, LA Chapter located just off the lobby, I did partake in the Stumptown coffee (a nod to their Portland roots) offered at the adjacent bar. 

The rooftop bar, however, was a few steps beyond our cool factor.  While the view from the top was the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of (Hello, Skyline. Hello, hot tub.  Hello, that one B-celebrity that we recognize but can't quite place) the scene was still a bit loud and crowded for my taste.  

Thirty-something singles who can't remember they're not in their twenties anymore filled the rooftop long after their bedtime (Go home and watch Fallon, people).  But, I'd imagine the daytime being far more inviting with such a primo location (I didn't get a chance to see it in the sunshine).

Let's be honest.  We don't get out much.  This hotel is definitely in the top five of amazing hotels Josh and I have ever stayed at (the Roosevelt, another iconic place to stay in Hollywood, also ranking high among the list) and it was a refreshing getaway to play ultra-cool hipsters for the weekend.  All in all, it was totally worth it.  And, it was a great reminder to spend moments with the love of my life sharing experiences that usually only pre-kid-having-with-extra-money-spending-yuppies tend to splurge on.  

It's okay to reach beyond your cool factor now and then!  And while we felt like parents-in-the-wild who got loose from our cage of homeostasis, it was invigorating to stay somewhere we didn't totally fit in.  

If you're considering a weekend away, I say just Go for it, and take a chance on an experience you didn't think you'd ever share as a couple.  Travel beyond your norms and hold each other's hands like teenagers again.  Book a room with your spouse somewhere, and just get OUT for a night or two.  You might find yourselves sipping espresso, staring at silly animal sketches, totally giggling at how you are geeking out on the bellhop's bolo.  

It might be wild, and I think that's just aces.

The Great Escape

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring break, for me, has never meant bikinis and Coronas.  I don't state that with a shred of regret.  If I'm being honest, a cozy fireplace and a copy of Anne of Green Gables entices me much more.  But, apart from taking a few family ski trips in my childhood, I rarely looked forward to Spring Break mostly because I never had a good excuse to escape.

Well, my friends, my long overdue reason has finally arrived:  crazy children.  And, for the first time in forever (yes, cue the Frozen soundtrack here) both my husband and I actually get a Spring Break from school and work, AND we have a perfect excuse for a trip!  Josh is in one of his best friend's weddings this weekend, so we are flying to Los Angeles today for a weekend getaway.

I woke up early to write this blog, because frankly, it sort of feels like Christmas morning.  That is to say, we've known this day was coming for a long time.  We've saved, planned, purchased, packed, and made extraordinary arrangements so that everything goes without a hitch (well, one hitch if you count the wedding, anyway).  We will only be in California a mere 40 hours (plus about 10 hours total travel time) and I'm determined to milk every second of fun and relaxation out of it.

Couples - you gotta get away.  I'll admit that if my husband wasn't in the wedding, we'd find every excuse not to go.  It's expensive, inconvenient, time consuming, and involves leaving my children with other people which is stressful and guilt-ridden.  BUT, while I've been fighting the dread of anticipation and worrying about how my children will do for the two days their out of my care...I've also been gearing up for a much-needed break away and giddy with romance to spend it with my husband.

This break couldn't come at a better time.  After months of living one of the most insane years of our lives, Josh and I can't wait to be away together.  We've crossed a lot of milestones this year (moving across the country, me starting grad school, buying our first home together) and kept up with the daily grind of work and caring for two lovable hellions along the way.  It's taxing, and we're in the life stage when stress is at its highest.

I'm looking forward to the 4+ hour plane ride in silence.  Not having to worry about whether my child is the screaming banshee everyone gives the stink-eye to on the plane.  I'm looking forward to the hotel.  A posh setting at the ACE Hotel in downtown LA where I'll be writing an upcoming review so everyone can get a sneak peek at why it's worth splurging on your stay away.  And I'm looking forward to seeing and hugging some of my dearest soulmates on the planet whom I miss terribly.  I know it will only last a flash, but there's nothing like actually being back in the presence of people who love and know you well.

And I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my spouse over things like coffee and SkyMall magazine and hotel slippers and fixing his bow tie...instead of just half-telling a story through interruptions of yelling at our kids, fixing dinner, folding laundry, and the girls incessantly talking/screaming/humming/dancing/singing/askingWHY in the middle of it all.  Ahhhh.  Deep breath.

Yes, this is going to be wonderful.  And, while I've stressed about parting from my girls as every mother would, I'm incredibly grateful to live near family who is willing to take them in for the weekend and keep them alive and well while we are gone.  Honestly, the girls are thrilled and couldn't pack their bags fast enough!  Hey, maybe they are equally ready for a break from their parents!  Haha.

Leaving the house, beyond just a regular date night, is not an easy thing to do.  I know it has taken me months to coordinate everything so we could make this happen.  But, I can't encourage you enough to start planning some kind of trip with your spouse.  People will watch your children and keep them alive.  Hotels and flights will have sales that won't break your budget.  Work will wait for you when you get back.  And if you're in a life phase like we are where the majority of your time is spent on nurturing others or looking outside your couplehood, then you truly need to set aside some time/money/energy to invest focus on the foundation of your home:  your marriage.

You don't have to stay at the ACE Hotel (though after my review next week, I hope you do!) or fly across the country to create your escape.  But, however you two can manage to pack a couple bags and look at each other's faces longer than just asking for a diaper change or a refill on a sippy cup, you gotta do it.  Maybe you can even use a wonderful excuse like we are - someone else's wedding - to turn it into a weekend away instead of a family affair.  Too often I feel like I have to wedge my children into every corner of every part of my schedule...but, the reality is, it's perfectly okay (good, in fact) to allow them their own space as well.  This short break away is worth more in the long run than anything I could offer them in the next two days.

And, when we return, ready for hugs from our girls and with stars in our eyes for each other, I'll know we've given our family a great big dose of security and love that nothing else could provide.  A weekend reboot on sanity and romance is not only a fantastic way to spend Spring Break, but it's one of life's necessities for sustaining a solid relationship.  Here we go!

How can you escape with your spouse this Spring Break?  Can you look forward to planning something now for the Summer or Fall?

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This last weekend, I finally got around to doing something I've wanted to do for the past several weeks:  make cookies for my new neighbors.  Ever since closing on our new house just over a month ago, we've been fiddling and dilly-dallying about our home like little squirrels preparing for winter.  Fix this, repair that, paint here, unpack there, and so forth.   I'm sure our neighbors have been wide-eyed at their windows a bit, wondering just who we are and what we're up to.

I'm not used to neighborhoods.  I grew up on a farm in the middle of Kansas, where our closest "neighbor" was a couple miles away and I only saw them if they needed to borrow a tractor or let us into their cellar for a tornado (no, I'm not kidding).  Needless to say, I didn't grow up with that "Wonder Years" experience of riding bikes until the street lights came on or strolling down sidewalks on my way home from school.  

Since then, I've either lived in dorms or apartments, and while we've experienced community throughout the years, this is our first true neighborhood that we can call our own.  Yay for neighbors!

I wasn't exactly sure how to get to know my neighbors.  I've officially met a few of them as we got our mail at the same time or arrived in our drive ways coming and going.  But, there were still many houses on our block that I had yet to see whom lived inside.  I wanted them to know that the new residents of this little house were happy and loud, and obliged to offer an extra egg or cup of sugar should the need arise.

So, we made cookies!  I figured, at worst, I'd rather be known as "that lady with the loud kids who once brought us cookies" than anything else they could come up with from witnessing me from afar.  What could we lose?  It might be awkward and uncomfortable, but at least they would know we tried to make an effort and introduce ourselves.

Most people weren't home.  We walked around on a beautiful Saturday, knocking, and eventually leaving a ziploc'd plate of cookies tagged with our "Happy to be in the neighborhood" slogan written on top.  We did meet a few new people, who informed us of their joy of living in the neighborhood.  We were also thrilled to find out that a total of three police officers live within a block of our house, which made us feel all the more safe living in our cozy nook.

And, then, we walked up to our elderly neighbors with whom we very nearly share a yard.  While our yard is fully fenced, on one side of it it slopes up to another yard which we both have clear views of from our homes.  I had met the wife who lived their, and she was quite happy to meet us and our little girls, glad to see someone using the yard with such jubilant delight.

There were a few people standing outside the home as we approached with our cookie-giving entourage, and we noticed an unusual amount of cars in the driveway.  My first thought was, "Oh, how nice to have people over on such a lovely day!  I hope they like the cookies!" which quickly turned to sadness as I got closer.  The elderly husband had passed away that same morning, just hours before.  

We politely handed over our feeble plate of cookies and sent our prayers and sympathies to the family as we left.  My goodness, it was such a shock, we were so very sorry for disturbing the moment.  Nevertheless, I was grateful to know of the news and glad we could offer our condolences. 

You just never know who you will touch, what timing might be set up before you, or exactly why you might be prompted to take action.  I had meant to deliver those cookies weeks before, but if I had, maybe I would have never known about our neighbor mourning.  And, what if I never bothered to introduce our family at all?  Who knows how those little cookies might be used...but, at least that morning they made a difference to one family, no matter how little a piece of distraction or joy it may have brought.

Later that day, while I was out running errands, the sweet neighbor lady came out to the yard and spoke with Josh, thanking us for the neighborly token.  I sure hope this is only the beginning of how we integrate ourselves into this little neighborhood.  It might be a long time before we get to know everyone, but it only took a morning for us to let everyone know a little bit about us.  

Sure, years ago it used to be common for neighborhoods to be the one to bring cookies to the "new kids on the block", but we just don't live in that era anymore.  I'm thrilled to flip the tables and take the opportunity to reach out and see what happens.  Yep, it was awkward.  Yep, it took time and energy.  But, I'm thankful God prompted my heart to take that step outside my comfort zone and privileged to have witnessed the difference it made already.

It was a good reminder to me that sometimes you don't need to wait for an invitation...you just need to step out. The truth is, you just never know who might need a cookie. 

Empower Tools

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

This last weekend was P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-V-E.  Whoa.  My folks were in town and we all went full-throttle on some home repairs/upgrades that required the expertise of my dad's handyman skills.  My husband, Josh, and my dad truly went above and beyond.  They put up bead board, assembled a dresser, built an entire playground in our backyard, fixed a mower, and the list goes on.  If there had been a camera crew here, it would have been "Home Makeover:  Pardy Edition" no doubt.

When Josh had to go back to work, I took over a couple chores with my dad to finish up some of the smaller tasks.  We hung doors to our laundry area, installed a dimmer light, and hung curtains.  But, when my dad stepped outside to look at the mower, I decided to tackle some simple shelving for myself!

In the spirit of March being Women's History Month, here is my feeble attempt at addressing feminine empowerment.  We live in a privileged age:  amazing women before me have gone to great lengths to provide paths for voting, education, and work equality that I take for granted daily.  I don't necessarily consider myself a feminist, but I certainly consider myself privileged to be a woman.  (Roar.)

As a married gal (going on 8 years, woot woot!) I conveniently defer difficult, "icky", or muscle-requiring tasks to my husband.  While our marriage is rather egalitarian, it's practical and easy for us to slip into traditional gender roles when it comes to chores.  He takes out the trash, I do the cooking, that sort of thing.  No bigs, whatevs, it works for us. *shrug*

But, this weekend I was reminded at just how long it had been since I had picked up a drill and hung my own darn shelves.  A LONG TIME.

I love that I have a husband who will hang shelves for me.  I love that I can count on him to care for me through acts of service that help make our house a home.  But, I also love the fact that way back when, my daddy taught me how to use a drill, hammer a nail, and learn the difference between bits and pliers and nuts and bolts.  So...this weekend I hung some silly shelves all by myself and high-fived my feminine self. (Yes, drilled, anchored, screws and all - and perfectly level and centered.  This might not impress you, but I am proud, so let me have my moment!)

The thought occurred to me that as I am raising two girls, they should see their mother hang some shelves now and then.  It's awesome and important for them to know that they can depend on their daddy and to see his skills at work; but, if I always defer to him in my need, how would they ever even learn the fact that I could, indeed, hang the shelves if I wanted to?

I want my girls to grow up with several skills in their toolbox for life.  I want them to witness and learn many things that they decide to develop for themselves.  I want them to understand that skills like empathy, compassion, and forgiveness are vital to relationships.  I want them to feel worthy, valued, and understood when it comes to being well-rounded humans.  And, I want them to know that they can learn any skill they like, and the fact that they want to learn is far more important than how good at the skill they actually are.

Ladies - maybe you are the "handywoman" of your home and your children get to witness those kinds of skills daily.  Or, maybe you are like me and there are some foreign areas of your life and skill-set you haven't visited in a while because you got stuck in a rut!  Regardless, I hope that this little reminder serves as an example of how important it can be to step outside our comfort zone and show our girls that we weren't always people who waited for someone else to take out the trash.  And, let it be a reminder to us that it's okay to let our hubbies off the hook now and then and step up to the plate.

We've come a long way, gals.  Let's continue to make steps (even tiny, baby steps within our home!) that help raise up another generation of strong girls who will care well for themselves and others.  One of the greatest things we can give our girls in their tool box for life begins with empowerment at home.

TBT: The Sleepless Wonder

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I know no more about how to get a child to sleep than I did a few years ago, but my compassion for parents/zombies has genuinely deepened.  Take heart, tired folks.  I'll keep the coffee brewing.  Enjoy this throwback from 2012 and know my prayers for rest are with you!

This week has been rough to say the least. Matilda is on her second bout of the stomach flu this week. The poor kid has been through the ringer. Not to mention, I've earned my fair share of badges in the categories of "clean up" and "disinfecting" over the course of the week. But, my other precious child has actually been the one keeping me up at night. Yes, this post isn't about Lysol, Listerine, and my Pursuit of Healthiness. Oh, no, this is going to be about my sweet Daphne, or as she's known around these parts: The Sleepless Wonder.
Was baby Daphne really this little?

What is it in my genes that has brought me these two precious bundles of joy that somehow have the will and wherewithal to keep themselves permanently awake. I say my genes, because, apparently my husband has always been a totally sound sleeper. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it is in his genes to magically rest undisturbed through just about anything...an earthquake, a nuclear missile, or say, even a screaming baby in the middle of the night. Whew. (Don't get me wrong, this dude is my ROCK...it's just the fact that he sleeps like one too makes me totally jealous!)

I have never been a good sleeper. My mom tells stories of being a zombie, nursing me as a baby night after night until one of us lost our minds and finally gave up the ghost and crashed. Even as a youngster I would hate going to bed, hate staying in bed, and insist that I just Was. Not. Tired. Which, as any reasonable adult comes to understand - is completely false. I'm pretty sure I spent most of my twenties trying to catch up on that lost sleep...but, it didn't matter. Now that I've finally found my desire to sleep - I'm once again thrown into a roller coaster of total snooze deprivation. Yes, yes...what goes around comes around and all that...hilarious, isn't it?

My babies just don't sleep. Matilda woke up every 2 hours for eight months straight. Even after I went back to work after the first three months, yep, she was up and at 'em like clockwork, and I would somehow drag myself into the office, being sure to keep extra toothpicks in my purse in order to keep my eyelids open at all times. It wasn't all terrible, I'll admit. I enjoyed our special bonding time in the middle of the night. I would gaze at her face, sweetly nursing back into dreamland, and try to memorize each little contour of her cheek in the dimness of the nightlight. I loved watching her little expressions - especially the jerky little smirks and smiles her lips would make while she drifted back to sleep, totally unaware of my staring at her. I genuinely missed those moments when she started sleeping through the night.

But, before that, you know what else I missed??? Sleep. I missed sleep. I missed not having to wake up in the dead of night with my heart racing as if a cannon had just gone off at the sound of my infant screaming like a banshee. I missed waking up feeling like I was ready for the day and not having to seriously concentrate to pick out matching socks. I missed drifting off to sleep peacefully instead of completely paranoid that the sound of my own heart beating would somehow awaken the beast from her delicate slumber in the crib down the hall. I missed choosing to have coffee in the morning instead of it being medically necessary for me to function or operate a piece of machinery (like a curling iron). Is it selfish to miss sleep? Is it unreasonable? It didn't even matter...I was too tired to care.

And, guess what? I'm dangerously close to approaching that level of sleep deprivation again. I think every parent or parent-to-be has pretty reasonable expectations about the first few weeks. They know it will be hard. They know they will be up in the middle of the night. But, God gives us that amazing amount of grace and compassion in our souls that are so incredibly in love with this new creation that we can't help but want to wake up again and again and care for this helpless little creature (who happens to be insanely adorable) and get to be the solution to all their problems...Yes! I can change you, sweet one! Yes! I can feed you, you cute little punker bottom. Yes! I can burp you, oh kissable little cheeky monkey butter bear blossom baby. (Well, the nicknames get a bit incomprehensible around 3 or 4 in the morning, see?)

So...what's to be done? How to get a baby to sleep through the night is such a mind-boggler for so many people, it's right up there in the "eternal question" category somewhere between "What is the meaning of life?" and "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?" There are books and books and books and now blogs and articles and whole websites dedicated to just how you can solve all your baby's sleep problems (in three easy payments/steps/nights, etc...)

I've read my fair share. Believe me, I'm no stranger to research. When I want to know something, I put my heart and soul into it and seek out every last drop of advice I can get my hands on. I'm certainly no expert, so I've taken the time to actually look at what the "experts" do have to say. From "Ferberize" to "Baby Wise", from the "Baby Whisperer" to the "Happiest Baby on the Block". Just google "get baby to sleep through the night" and you will be up to your eyeballs in "do's and don'ts". And...my conclusion? The experts know absolute crap about my kid.

The experts know crap? Yes. All of them. No matter how educated or renowned they may be, you can absolutely find an "expert" to support anything: Swaddling is good. Swaddling makes the baby feel constricted. Don't sleep with your baby. Co-sleeping helps the baby feel secure. Pick up the baby to keep them from feeling unloved. Never pick up the baby or they will always cry to get your attention. Never let the baby fall asleep on you. Never lay the baby down awake. Always lay the baby down while still awake. Let the baby cry to help learn soothing techniques. Letting the baby cry only confirms to them that you think they are unlovable. Give the baby a pacifier. Never let the baby sleep with the pacifier. A baby needs a trigger to give them routine. Don't assign a prop to a baby or they will become dependent on it. There is no difference in a baby's ability to sleep through the night, they have to learn it. Every baby will eventually sleep through the night if you allow them to find their own pattern.

Drowning yet? Exactly. It's overwhelming. And all of the above information is straight out of "expert" advice. Well, the only thing it taught me was that apparently I've been doing everything wrong, no matter what I've been doing! Sigh.

Have a baby? Or going to have a baby? Take a deep breath. It's going to be okay. Put down the baby book, make some coffee (decaf if you must), hug someone (I won't tell if it is your cat or favorite pillow) and pat yourself on the back. Why? Because, congratulations - YOU know your baby best! You are all the expert you need.

I've read and read and read. I've asked a zillion moms (including my own, since, well, you know - she raised me and lived to tell about it). I've listened and learned and have a LONG way to go (if that wasn't obvious). But, if I know one thing, it's that those experts are NOT around in the middle of the night to pat me on the back and hand me a cup of coffee and reassure me that even if I pop her paci back in her mouth it is most likely not going to turn her into the next president OR the next serial killer. Deep breath. I have to stop thinking if I swaddle her wrong, surely she'll be scarred for life. If I let her nurse to sleep that she will surely grow up to be a hippie or cultist or libertarian. If I let her cry it out she will need extra therapy sessions, or maybe become the next American Idol (here's hoping that set of pipes goes to some good use!) Nope - there are no guarantees that my child will or won't turn out the way I think is best - or worst. I love her. I will care for her. I will provide for her. I have hopes and dreams for her. And right now, I hope that she sleeps and dreams her way through more than two hours at a time!

The fact is, these "experts" never address the one thing we are really all wondering but don't want to ask: How can I survive this? One night at a time. That's the truth. Some nights you will have extreme compassion and be able to rock your baby to sleep and she will still wake up every 20 minutes. Other nights you will want to throw your baby through the window because, just when you thought you had it all together, your sweet little bundle of joy discovered your wit's end and is now clenching onto the last nerve you never knew you had - and biting your nipple at the same time. And still, you love her. You survive. You have ups and downs. You have a perfectly scheduled routine one week, and the next week you find yourself eating cereal out of the box at 2pm and discover you've put on yesterday's dirty yoga pants on backwards. Someone will question your methods. Someone will do it better than you. Someone's kid will magically sleep through the night at 2 weeks and tell you all about how easy it was and you will want to punch her in the face. But, you will survive. I will survive. And so will Daphne.

Tonight we are going to let Daphne cry it out. She will wail and my heart will break. She will scream and my breasts will ache with the need to feed her and my soul will be crushing with the utmost of guilt. (Can you tell I'm looking forward to this?) It totally sucks. I hate it. But, when I look at my red-ring-eyed baby and see how insanely overstimulated she is, I know it is best for her. Am I selfish? Am I abandoning her? Am I crazy? All this and more will be haunting my thoughts tonight. But, echoing between each cry, each gulp, each beat of my heart will be the resounding truth: I love her. Trust me, we've tried it all. The co-sleeping, the triggers, the only-go-in-every-ten-minutes-so-she-is-reassured, and the list goes on. This is the last resort and this is what it came to with Matilda as well - and, after 3 nights of utter horror - Matilda was sleeping a full 12 hours straight. Whew - so, here we go again.

I don't want anymore advice. I don't even want sympathy. I want a good hug and a high five and a strong, strong cup of coffee. And prayer. And sleep. Good night.

The Myth of Balance

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Like many children, my girls love playing with blocks.  Well, not so much blocks as a leftover Jenga game that went unplayed for years until they discovered it in the back of a closet one day and deemed it "Castle Maker game".

They start slowly and diligently, teetering and tottering their blocks on top of one another to construct pony palaces and Barbie mansions until, inevitably, one of the blocks shifts (or gets nimbly knocked by her sister) and the whole shebang come crashing down.

This is how I feel about every day as a mother.  This is the myth of balance.

People use the term "balance" like it's the new "amazing".  It's the little black dress of motherhood vocabulary, and if you can't find it then you must be doing something wrong.  You either need to relax more, or get more motivated.  You need to wake up earlier or get more sleep.  You need to work out more, or slow down and have a glass of wine.  Yo
u need to get out of the house, or you need to stay in for once.

We buy into the notion that "You're right.  If I just did _____ then I could settle into a routine and this whole thing would click together like a puzzle and I'd be able to calmly enjoy the whole picture in the present like I'm supposed to!"

But, we aren't playing with puzzle pieces - we're playing with blocks.  And what we want so earnestly to be a perfect fit that has the security of a concrete foundation, often comes tumbling down around us in the form of disobedient kids, play dates that cancel, cars that breakdown, jobs that fall through, relationships that disappoint us, or whole myriad of other unpredictable life events.

Balance is not found.  Balance is created.

So, how do we "create" this balance?  How can I possibly find peace or calm in the middle of a toddler's screaming tantrum?  What in the world am I supposed to do when I feel like a failure for bribing my child to take a nap or eat her broccoli?

I used to wake up almost every day thinking Either my children are worse children than any other children on the planet, or I'm a worse mother for not being able to handle them.  I am challenged minute-after-minute by motherhood, and I would berate and frustrate myself for not being able to get a grip on balancing it all.

Until I realized...every mother in the universe feels the same way.  Each one of our children have their challenges.  Every day there are times we would like to reverse time and redo the way we yelled at our toddler or overreacted towards their actions or something we snapped at someone else because we were simply at the end of our rope.  Ladies - you are in good company.  You are not alone!

We create balance by SPEAKING OUT.  We create balance by BEING HONEST, with ourselves and with each other.  We create balance by counter-weighting the expectations we have for our lives with the reality that doing the best we can is more than ENOUGH.

I don't know about you, but feeling guilty sucks.  It literally shuts me down emotionally when I already am exhausted by the practical things in life like making snacks and reading storybooks.  I have no extra energy to extend to feeling guilty when I turn on Netflix for my kids instead of reading to them.  I am simply too spent to pour into feelings of shame when I buy my kid a Happy Meal instead of sauteeing vegetables they will throw on the floor.

My energy is better spent elsewhere.  My energy is a precious commodity.  My energy is a limited gift that needs to be managed with the same gentleness with which I extend my friendship, time, and love.  And I'm so ready to use some of this energy to stir up some TRUTH and project it out into your hearts and minds to ponder and absorb.

The myth of balance can be truly detrimental to a mother's heart.  In the midst of such a beautiful and challenging season of life, I want you invite you to release with me the burden of balance.  Together, we can strike an honest chord of friendship and expose the myth for what it is.  Let's reach out to each other, share our stories, and sincerely create balance in our lives that encourages meaning, purpose, and perseverance in these young days of motherhood.

C'mon, mamas.  Let's build each other up with these building blocks of truth.  With enough of them, we might finally have a foundation to help change the world.

Welcome to the Play Room

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It's definitely taking quite a bit of time to figure out where everything goes in our new house.  As first-time homeowners, I feel a great sense of pride and obligation to give everything a very specific "spot" in our home so that we are surrounded by the feeling of "belonging" as well as trying my best to maintain a sense of sanity amongst the chaos.

With three bedrooms and two children, we had the choice of how to use the "extra" bedroom.  Would we split the girls up?  Would we use it as an office?  Or storage until another potential baby (or not) would possibly designate the space?  I'll tell you, it didn't take us long to decide to utilize this space for one thing we desperately longed for:  A PLAY ROOM.

Since the girls got bunk beds for Christmas, we gave them the smaller room to be their sleeping space.  This third bedroom, then, would be exclusive PLAY area for them to store their books, toys, and crafts.  I didn't want to fill the space too much so that it could never be used as anything else in the future, but I knew they had plenty to fill out the room that was there (spoiled much?)

This was the first room that we really put together, so that the girls would ideally have their own space to occupy themselves while we focus our attention to other areas of the house.  I'm excited to share pics of their new play room - a colorful combination of new and old toys, nods to both vintage and classic childhood belongings, and a nostalgic place that can be comfortably ruined by mischief and fun!

Make no mistake, I am NOT a designer or even suggester of how in the world to decorate.  I get my ideas from magazines, pinterest, and problem solving just like most moms out there.  I try to "shop my house" as much as I can before buying new things, and I'm all about utilizing spaces for multiple purposes.

These shelves were CD racks in our last apt.  But, with cute matching books/characters and some fabric drawers, they add some sweet decor that is both useful and adorable.  Horton Hears a Who is my copy from childhood, and my grandpa made the wooden cut-out bunny and chipmunk on the right middle shelf.  

Love art!  I found these "Creative Thursday" prints about 6 years ago in Urban Outfitters and bought them on a whim to put up in a nursery long before I was ever pregnant with my first.  They hung in the girls' rooms until now, and they are the perfect compliment to this new ABC primary color picture I found on sale at Target!

Another "Creative Thursday" (there's another on the opposite side of the window as well) and these "new vintage" toys give a friendly nod to both generations in our home.  I already had everything, but just decided to display these choices.  I updated the lamp with a new shade that matches both the chevron curtain and the green chair, helping pull the room together a bit more.

And just in case you had any illusion that our play room was feeling more like a museum than an actual living space - this is what it looks like about 10 minutes into the day.  

WHEW!  Reality, people!  

Give EVERYTHING a space - including your children.  

Fun times get messy and crazy, but I feel much more sane knowing that there is a spot to put it all.  

Let's PLAY!

And the Award Goes to...

Monday, March 3, 2014

As former film students, my husband and I love to geek-out when Academy Award season rolls around.  Yes, I understand that this is an evening when all of Hollywood comes together to celebrate and focus on themselves, to fully indulge in beauty and facades, and to keep talk seriously shallow ranging from looks to performance.

Sure, there are plenty of more important things out there to think about other than "What is Jennifer Lawrence wearing?" or "Did Ellen just order pizza?" But, ever since childhood I have fully gawked in awe at the spectacle, and I thoroughly enjoy the production regardless of it's superficial flaws.

Every year, Josh and I print out ballots and do our best (okay, I'll admit I get frighteningly competitive) to pick who we want to win as well as who we think will win.  I warned you, we get into it.  (This is my Superbowl, people!) This used to be much more fun and filled with discussion surrounding our rationale behind our choices; but that was before children were in our lives, back when we actually saw  most of the films that were on the ballot!

Now, we sling-shot our answers blindly onto the paper, fingers crossed.  Needless to say I did poorly on my ballot this year, and it doesn't really matter apart from the fact that it made me stop and realize just how much the littlest, most trivial things in life have a tendency to change when you least expect it.

Parents of young children know exactly what I'm talking about.  Maybe it's not the Academy Awards for you...maybe it's music, or fashion, or just keeping up with the news on a weekly basis.  But, there's something about having kids (oh, wait, their incessant neediness is probably what it is) that completely sucks out one's ability to stay "with it" when it comes to things that so vibrantly used to impact daily life.

Do you know what I'm talking about?  Sometimes I feel like if I never made it to the grocery store or inside Target I really would have no grasp of what is happening outside of our little home.  I can tell you exactly how much cereal we have in our cabinets, totally recap the last episode of Curious George for you, and tell you every single My Little Pony character (cutie mark and all), but I have no idea if capris are a fashion no-no for the Spring or why I think American Hustle should have won more Oscars (I haven't even seen it yet!  But it still gets my vote for coolest movie trailer and best/worst movie hair!)

All this to say - we each have our little pieces of ourselves that we cringe about when we realize they've been gradually replaced by our children's needs/wants/loudness.  It's good and bad.  It's wonderful and disappointing.  It's frustrating and rewarding.  IT'S NOT FOREVER.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that it's okay to hang onto the silly parts of me that simply just make me ME.  I'm a gal who LOVES the stupid Hollywood gossip mags at the hair salon (which, no, I have not seen the likes of for several months) and looks forward to the Academy Awards each year.  I'm sure you have your own stupidly wonderful guilty pleasure, and part of being a parent usually means laying some of that to the side (or drastically compromising) as your focus is needed elsewhere.

While the Oscars are a fun night to gawk at Hollywood glam, it was a good reminder for me to take pride in even the tiniest of things that make up what I like and don't like.  Sometimes, as a mother, it can be so easy for me to lose sight of the importance of this.  Mothers are so busy placing their attention on others that we tend to drown out our own voices by the loud and distracting mix of those around us.

I might not have a gold statue to show for it, but I'm determined to hang onto these tiny parts of self.  The reward of nurturing my own needs will infiltrate the course of my parenting.  While this might look like knowing My Little Pony characters now, it won't forever.  Just noticing and acknowledging the little things in my life that help define my preferences will empower my own daughters to create their own.

Don't let go of those trivial things, even if you lay them to the side for a bit.  There's nothing trivial about knowing who you are, and when your kids grow up and start making decisions for themselves, they need an example of someone who isn't waiting on another's expectation.

While I'm vicariously living through the glamour of Hollywood from the comfort of my own pajamas, I'm convinced that the real award of the night is going to be found years later, when I don't resent my kids for changing that young mother who used to love film.  As sweet Lupita Nyong'o (how gorgeous was she?) said at the end of her acceptance speech, "...no matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Proudly designed by | mlekoshiPlayground |