How To Protect Your Kids Even When You Aren’t There (Plus God and Wonder Woman)

 

The Stairs Are Scary When You Baby Has No Sense of Depth

I had a “how to protect your kids” epiphany this week as I was watching my one-year-old slide down our ultra steep stairs on his butt. In order to explain my realization, however, I need to give some background information.

Our stairs have a door at the top of them. When our little man became mobile we endeavored to keep the door closed at all times. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, it was open. More than once I chased him over only to realize that he was inches or feet away from a fall. A fall he probably would have instigated without knowing any better.

It was at this point, I realized, that even if I tried, I couldn’t always keep him safe. I was not the only person living in the house, my son would eventually be able to reach the doorknob, and sometimes the door didn’t latch … I knew the day was going to come when he would be faced with those stairs and I wouldn’t be there.

So, I Decided That The Best Way To Protect Him Was To Prepare Him.

We started at the bottom of the stairs. I piled pillows on the carpet near the last stair and we practiced climbing them. I helped him at first, showed him where to put his hands and how to move his legs one at a time. Then I followed him and caught him if he faltered. Then I watched from a distance ready to help if he needed it. Once he had mastered going up, we practiced going down.

L and I would stand at the top of the stairs and hold hands. He would run forward and try to leap but my hand kept him at the top. Time after time we practiced sitting down, scooting forward, and sliding down carefully one stair at a time.

This prep work wasn’t fast or easy. It took months to master and we are just barely at the point where he can go up or down without me. But long before he mastered it, he started being careful.

At one point he would carry a pillow to the bottom of the stairs before he tried going up. Later when he happened upon the open door at the top, he would sit down and yell for me. When I got there he would hold my hand and start scooting down.

Because I had taken the time to practice with him and prepare him for something, he had an idea of what to do when he was faced with the situation and I wasn’t there. Because he was prepared, he was safe.

Now, I am not saying that he won’t fall or hurt himself on the stairs at some point. Accidents happen. In fact, I tripped down several stairs not terribly long ago. I am just saying that he is far safer having learned how to deal with the stairs then he would have been if I had continued to try to keep the door shut and failed.

Take A Look at Wonder Woman (Spoilers)

Wonder Woman grows up in a happy, peaceful environment. However, her express purpose is to help those less fortunate, to fight warmongers, and help bring peace to others.

Her mother, wanting her to be safe and happy, attempts to shield her from this reality. She doesn’t want her to learn to fight or to understand her destiny. Her aunt, on the other hand, knows that the best way to protect her is to prepare her for whatever may happen. So, she trains her.

It is because of her training and extensive preparation that she is able to survive and fulfill her destiny.

War is not a safe place to be but it would have been even more dangerous for her if she had remained untrained and “blissfully” ignorant like her mother wanted.

Knowledge = Preparation = Protection = Power (Maybe not over your circumstances but over your actions.)

Back to Our Own Children

If preparation is the ultimate long term protection that we can give our kids, then teaching it should be at the top of our priority lists. Doors and baby gates can only go so far…

I took a minute to think about what worries me most during this phase of my child’s life (toddlerish years) and it turns out I am worried about a whole lot.

  • Getting Lost
  • Getting Hit by a Car
  • Chemicals
  • Falling
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual Predators
  • Pornography Exposure
  • Making Friends
  • Animal Encounters
  • And the list could go on and on…

Having had my epiphany, I realize that the best thing I can do is prepare my son (as much as possible for whatever age he happens to be at) for these frightening possibilities and/or eventualities.

He needs to know what to do when strangers approach him, or when he gets his hands on the Windex. He needs to spend time with other kids and learn how to share and be kind. He needs to understand his own body and what is and is not okay. He has to learn that the road is full of cars and isn’t safe (and then how to cross it safely at some point in the future).

If I want to protect him even when I am not present, I need to prepare him to the point where he knows what to do when/if he must face it alone.

Back to the Stairs

Catching your child every time they fall is impractical and impossible. Teach them how to prevent falling in the first place. Teach them how to catch themselves if they do fall. Then teach them what to do if they totally biff it anyway. Knowledge is power.

The Final Part of My Epiphany: God

In the last several months I have heard of several unexpected and heartbreaking deaths. I was not particularly close to any of the people who passed on, but I do know several of the people who they left behind.

I don’t really blog about it much, but I am a very religious person, so I shouldn’t have been caught off guard when someone I knew specifically asked me why God was taking away someone she loved so much.

But I was caught off guard. That is a big, heavy, hard question. I spouted off several things, all of which I believe with all of my heart but none of which were very satisfying answers to this individual. So I started doing research.

Why would a father in heaven let us face such hard things? Why wouldn’t he save everyone from early, untimely deaths? Then it hit me. He is our parent.

Like human parents, he cannot protect his children from everything (for our own good not because he can’t). We must be free to make mistakes in order to learn and grow. We need the opportunity to face our own staircases (which we may or may not make it up and down without incident). But, he doesn’t send us to the stairs blindly. He has prepared us for hard things and continues to offer aid if we will listen and accept it. (See this lesson for more information.)

My Point

So, the best way to protect our own kids, whether we are there or not, is to empower them with preparation and knowledge. This is exactly what Wonder Woman needed to face everything she was called upon to deal with and it is the same thing that our own Heavenly Father has done for us (even if we don’t always remember it.).

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10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Mom

I have been a stay-at-home mom for about a year and a half now and I think I have learned more in the last 17 months than I did during four years of college. The trouble is, my new set of skills is a less appreciated, taken for granted, not noticed, and often mind numbing.

I know that sounds kind of harsh but I truly feel like mom skills are often disregarded completely. They are glue, they are necessary, they help everything function, but they are kind of invisible (unless they are not done).

I am the magic laundry washer, dish washer, dinner cooker, grocery buyer, and high-chair clean up patrol. These things get done every day, the house stays clean, my family stays happy and taken care of. It never ends. (Read 7 Tips Guaranteed to Make Your Home Feel Cleaner)

Before I became a mom, specifically a stay-at-home mom, I just had no idea what it entailed. My rosy vision of life after my baby came was far from reality. So, with that in mind, here are ten things that I wish I had known before becoming a mom.

It Is Hard

I gained a whole new level of appreciation for my mother after I became one myself. It really is a tireless job. I don’t think there is any other job that requires you to be on call every hour of every day. There is this tiny person who depends on you for everything. Then, if you breastfeed, that dependency seems even greater because that tiny person literally needs you near all of the time (Read 9 Reasons I Hated Breastfeeding and the Five Things that Helped Me Keep At It). Then there is a home to look after, and meals to cook, and a million things to do and remember each and every day. Motherhood is no walk in the park and is not for the faint of heart. This is hands down the hardest job I have ever had.

There Is Not More Time

I specifically remember a day when I was sitting at work rubbing my pregnant belly and thinking how nice it would be to not have to get up early and to sleep in and play with my baby. . .I know pretty bad. I was very naive. As a new mom, I did not have time for exercise, or leisure activities, or showering, or sleep.

There were many things that I thought I would suddenly have time for once I quit my nine-to-five and stayed home all day but I just didn’t. I was busy every minute of every day and I could never quite pinpoint what I had to show for it. Rather than having more time, I found I had less and that it was very precious. (Read Me-Time Hobbies for Brand New Moms)

You Will Miss Going to Work

In the beginning, I was so jealous that my husband got to go to work each day. He got to go and use his brain, speak with other adults, contribute to society, get paid, and most importantly, leave the house.

Now, I am not saying that stay-at-home moms don’t use their brains or contribute to society (I think they probably contribute to society more than any other profession) but in the first few months it was hard to realize that. I had to tell myself each day that my baby was alive and well and that I had done a good job. I also had to reconcile myself to a new working standard and come up with ways to make motherhood a job that I wanted and could handle (Read 5 Secrets That Can Make You A Successful Stay At Home Mom).

You Will Feel Lonely

Going from a job where I was engaged with people all day long to hardly seeing anyone was tough. I had days and weeks where I just felt lonely and trapped. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my baby more than I thought possible but mentally and emotionally it was a huge adjustment.

You Will Feel Stagnant

Like I said earlier, I have learned tons of new skills as a mom. I can change a diaper anywhere, I can clean my house, I garden, I understand kids clothing, I can get stains out, I cook much better than I used to, and the list could keep on going.

Despite these new skills, I often used to feel stagnant. I wasn’t going to school, I wasn’t creating (much), I just didn’t feel like I was moving forward and learning (even though I was). Mom learning was just different than the academic learning that I craved. (Read Me-Time Hobbies for Brand New Moms)

You Will Get Better at It

Time, practice, and necessity make motherhood easier. Eventually, you will be able to go to the grocery store without fear and sleep again and have a hobby. As hard as it is at first, it gets better and more enjoyable as time marches on. (Read 5 Secrets That Can Make You A Successful Stay At Home Mom or Easy 2-Step Time Management)

You Will Give Unconditional Love

I try to give and get unconditional love to and from my husband and I think we do a fairly good job. However, the love I give and get from my baby is a little bit different. Mostly, I think because it was so automatic. I knew as soon as he was in my arms that I would do whatever I could to keep him safe and make him happy and help him to be good. Before having my son, I had heard plenty of stories about instant unconditional love and for me, they were right. (Which surprised me since I am not really a baby person.)

You Will Get Unconditional Love

This is the one that surprised me. I knew (or at least really hoped) that I would love my baby but I didn’t expect or think about, the fact that he would love me too.

When he was little he was always happiest in my arms. Now that he is bigger, he gives me his biggest happiest smiles. He runs to my open arms, he hugs my legs, he calls my name when he is sick and sad and tired, he climbs into my lap, and he looks at me like I am the most important person in the world.

My husband is top notch and loves me with all his heart but there is something to be said for all of the love and trust that you get from a child who is completely dependent on you. It is humbling and makes me a better person daily.

 

You Will Have Magical Moments and Days

For ever monotonous, unappreciated moment there is one full of magic. Being home all of the time is often very dull but it is often wonderful. The law of opposition is definitely in full force for stay-at-home moms.

Keeping a home and raising a child requires that many of the exact same tasks be done over and over again. Laundry. Dishes. Cleaning the bathroom. Wiping down the dang highchair. However, being at home all of the time also allows you the opportunity to see many firsts and to know that you were a huge part of them.

I got to see my little boy roll over for the first time, take his first steps, say his first word, paint his first picture, smile for the first time. I get to see the look of pride and accomplishment on his face when he learns new things, I get to be here as his sense of humor develop, I’m the one who secretly watches him from the doorway when he pretends to read to his toys. So, as hard and sometimes slow-moving as motherhood is. I wouldn’t trade it for something else.

 

It is Worth It

Motherhood is hard, tiring, lonely, and busy. It requires more love, patience, and faith than anything else I have ever done. It takes all of your time and so much practice. But it is worth it. There is not a more fulfilling, life changing job out there and don’t let the world convince you that your time could be better spent. This is where it is at.

My question for you. If you could give your pre-mom self one piece of advice, what would it be?

 

Me-Time Hobbies for Brand New Moms: The First 4 Months

As a brand new mom, I didn’t have time for any of my former hobbies. I was too busy trying to decide whether I should sleep, eat, or shower because only one, or if I was lucky, one and a half of those things was going to get accomplished.

Going from a full-time job and enough free time to pursue the things that I enjoyed, to being barely able to shower was a something like a slap in the face. My hobby list pre-kid included things like painting and hiking and traveling. My hobby list with a newborn was sleeping, eating, and getting clothes on. Seriously, I didn’t even wear a shirt some days what with the never ending breastfeeding (see my post on that here).

The loss of freedom, me-time, and hobbies made the first three months of my son’s life some of the hardest of my life. Now, looking back, and reflecting on what I have learned about being a successful stay-at-home-parent, I know that it is important to take care of yourself.

That being said, my hobbies probably won’t be what they once were for many years. I can no longer leave my paint out for weeks at a time or hike whenever I feel like it or drive down south out of the blue. However, just because they won’t be the same as they were, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still important.

The list below comprises five hobbies that even brand new, sleep deprived, overloaded, parents can do to get some “me-time”.

Easy Brand New Parent Hobby Ideas

Read

I hadn’t ever used my tablet like a book until I was nursing. It was far easier to prop it up and turn the light down while I tried to learn how to breastfeed than an actual book would have been. I got reading material by installing the Kindle app on my device and signing up for Book Bub to get free and discounted books. The quality of what I read went down a bit because I wasn’t able to read anything very deep in my slightly comatose state. But, I was still able to live someone else’s life for small snippets of each day giving me some “me-time” even whilst a small human was attached to me.

Another way to get e-books is to look into what your library system offers. The Salt Lake County Library System uses an app called Overdrive that can be used in conjunction with your library card number to check out e-books. (Many libraries use this app.)

Walk

The first few months after baby are tough on your body. There is a lot of recovery happening as well as a lot of being a milk factory (if you choose to breastfeed) or turning off the milk factory (if you don’t choose to breastfeed). Walking, for, me, was an easy way to ease back into some kind of workout and routine. I use the word routine loosely because for us it just meant we walked in the morning after one of L’s feedings (roughly between 9 and 12).

I walked with him in the sling and in the car seat/stroller combo business. I started out going around the block, then two blocks, and so on until I could walk without hurting. I  stayed very close to my house at first in case we needed to head home for either of us.

I just walked by myself for the most part and sometimes that was great. Fresh air and peace are very rejuvenating. But, in retrospect, I wish I would have occasionally used the time to listen to talks or books or to call a friend. Walking with another actual person is great too, if that is an option for you, I highly recommend it.

Learn

If you are like me and always like to be learning something new, use the time you have nursing or pumping to learn an entirely new skill. I have found Lynda.com to be a great place to study new material. The site has courses available on many subjects and can help you continue to develop new skills in your sleep deprived state. The site does cost money but if you live in Salt Lake County, you can sign up for a library card through the Salt Lake City Library and get free access to the site. I suggest looking into the photography courses because you now have an excellent subject to work with.

Other learning options I have enjoyed are:

  • Free College Courses are offered at various places on the internet. They don’t give you college credit but they do give you college knowledge. Edex.org is a good place to start.
  • E-Courses. Pick a subject, google “subject” e-course and you will have plenty to choose from. Some are free some are not.
  • Informative Blogs (there is a blog for everything). If you like knitting find a knitting blog, if you want to be more fiscally responsible there is a blog for that. Find a good one and start learning.

Cook

When I got married I couldn’t cook a thing. Learning to make food was just not a high priority for me ever. I don’t know why . . . I love to eat. After I got married I mastered casseroles (which I later found out my husband just barely tolerated). I slowly got better over the next five years but have improved drastically since I had my baby. I figured I was home and making food anyway so I might as well make it good. I started using Pinterest like a recipe book and learned how to make a ton of new meals.

Experimenting and cooking more regularly has also come with the added benefit of making me more comfortable overall in the kitchen. I’m not scared of raw meat anymore and I can look at the food in the fridge and figure something out every time.

Watch TV

If your brain is too tired to learn something new, which makes a lot of sense, picking a tv show to help you through the hard months might be a viable option. I am not generally a big tv person. We have cable and it isn’t even hooked up. When I was nursing though, I watched a couple of different shows that helped me survive the transition to mommyhood. TV was another one of those things I could do that didn’t require much brain power or effort but still helped me get a little bit outside of myself. My personal favorites are Psych, White Collar, and Boy Meets World . . . for reals.

Please comment below about hobbies that you would recommend for brand new parents.

The links in this post are not affiliate links as of June 2017. They are links to products and services I used and enjoyed.

 

 

A Beginners Guide to Sleep Training

Sleep training was and is one of the hardest things we have faced as parents. I often feel like being a parent comes with a lot of guilt. Guilt about stuff I never even thought about before I had a baby. There is just so much new territory to cover and it’s hard to know where to get directions from. Books? Websites? Friends? Family? I have spent a lot of time wondering whether I am doing what is best for L and whether or not I am messing him up. Sleep training was and still is one of those times.

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At about five months, our pediatrician told us that the cry it out method was what would be best in the long run. He assured us that L would suffer no psychological repercussions from being left in his crib alone sobbing. He also told us not to feed him every time he woke up at night because he should be able to make it 6-8 hours. According to him, feeding the baby teaches the baby to fall asleep to the bottle and makes it difficult for him or her to self-soothe. We were given a handout that explained that we should let him cry for 5 minutes, check on him, let him cry for seven minutes, check on him, etc.

A friend described her cry it out method which was basically put the child in his/her bed and don’t go in for any reason. She has extremely well-behaved, obedient children that don’t seem psychologically scarred.

My own mother and many other women I know told me that they just couldn’t or chose not to do the cry it out method. They favored cuddling, nursing, sleeping with the baby, or watching movies as an alternative. I turned out fine, I think, so that must work too.

The internet was full of variations of cry it out methods, no tears methods, shuffle methods, and just let your kid sleep in your bed until they are 10 methods.

It is hard to know what to do.

So, after much anguish and advice and study, we decided to try the doctor’s handout first. The first time we left L in his room sobbing I sat on my bed sobbing. Nick told me that he really couldn’t handle both of us crying at the same time. So, I went and got him and we both cried and I  thought about what I should do for a few more days. We decided to try it again but I had to leave.

For several days I hung out in the one room in the basement that is quiet regardless of what is going on the rest of the house. And guess what? L started going to sleep on his own. There was crying for a few days but then he started just going to sleep. And we had it made. . . .

Nope, then he learned to crawl and sleeping was no longer on his agenda. So, we did it again. For a while when he was learning to crawl I had to put pillows next to the bars in his crib so that he wouldn’t repeatedly ram his skull into the wood. Then I would watch him on the monitor until he stopped ramming and sneak in and move the pillows. (I am not advocating that, it is just what we did at the time.)

Eventually, he was retrained using a combination of cry it out and Shawn the Sheep (that is the highly sophisticated method of Daddy watching Shawn the Sheep on mute with him in his dark bedroom).

Then he got teeth, or learned to walk, or got sick . . . and everything fell apart again. But, we were able to fix it each time after a few days.

Solutions. . .

Now, I am not about to suggest that there is a right way or wrong way to sleep train. I know people in many camps who feel very strongly about their own methods. I think that the cry it out method can work. I don’t think it is inherently evil (I have heard that). I also don’t think that there is anything wrong with having a safe family bed. I have come across research backing up both methods (not to mention the five billion variations of each).

What I do want to say is that there are two questions you should ask yourself before you decide how you want to go about sleep training (or not training) your child. The first question is: What can I live with? The second is: What does my own child need?

 

What can I live with?

When I was studying methods and alternatives for the “cry it out” method. I came to the conclusion that I could not live with a perpetually screaming child. So we decided that ten minutes was our max time. If he made it crying for a whole ten minutes we would go in and check on him. We also decided that if he was sick or having a particularly tough time, that there was nothing wrong with extra loves and cuddles.

On the other hand, we decided that we could not handle being up with him late every night like we had been. We both needed some time at night to do our own things and regroup. I am also the type of person who needs a good chunk of sleep to function and be civil. I never got used to that newborn stage of no sleep and it was hands down the most difficult part of L’s life (for me). So, we needed our own time at night and more uninterrupted sleep.

 

What does my child need?

After some sleep training experimentation, we figured out that there were a few things L needed to have a successful nights sleep. Food was the first. So, having a bottle became part of his night time routine when we put him down at 8:00 pm. We didn’t put it in his bed or let him fall asleep with it. We just fed it to him while we read scriptures. Then, we figured out that if we woke him and fed him another bottle around 11:30, more often than not he could sleep until 8:00 am.

We also realized he slept better with the sound machine on. Then later he needed a nightlight and eventually a stuffed animal. As he has gotten bigger and we have gotten better at listening, we have also learned that he has different cries and can recognize them. He has tired cry and we are comfortable letting him cry longer than 10 minutes if it the tired cry. He also has a panicked cry and a sick cry and a pain cry. Those cries merit more immediate attention depending on the circumstances.

Our Solution

After a lot of trial and error and guilt, we finally have a system that works for us and L (it also changes slowly as he gets older). Figuring it took some time but it was worth it because it is a large part of what keeps us sane.  I need that three hours at night to have something akin to an adult life. I love playing with L all day, and keeping up with the house and yard aren’t bad, but it is so nice to have a few hours of time each night to spend with my husband or develop my own skills or work on projects. To me, those three hours were definitely worth training L to sleep at a specific time in his own bed. The sleep training also helps us get large chunks of undisturbed sleep. That is what we can live with.

That being said we are not super strict. We listen carefully. Sometimes he cries, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes we get him sometimes we don’t. Occasionally we watch Moana until ten or go on a walk if the night is really hard (see post here). We can all live with those choices and L goes to sleep without issues 6 out of 7 nights. Those odds work for me and my family.

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The Point

Do your research but don’t expect to find a magical correct way to sleep train. There isn’t a right way for everyone. Do what works for your family. Be prepared to be flexible if the need arises. Stop feeling so guilty, you are doing your best.

I am not a medical professional and don’t submit this post as medical advice. This is just what I have learned after 15 months with kid one.

Comment below with sleep training tips and methods that have worked for you.

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Five Ways to Get Exercise With a Toddler (Who Loves the Outdoors)

The other night, my son woke up screaming at about 10:30 pm. Now, sleep training and crying it out are a whole other matter that I will get into later. Suffice it to say we fall into an in-between camp and pay close attention to what his crying sounds like. We always go comfort him when it is his panic or pain cry. This was his panic cry, which we have come to guess coincides with nightmares (it is very distinct), so I went. He put his arms around my neck and sighed and started speaking rapid baby to me.

 

I wasn’t smart enough to teach him sign language early on, so our communication consists mostly of the word da (with various emphasis and intonations) and lots of pointing and hand gestures. This usually works well enough but exhausted charades in the dark was a bit too much for both of us. He was sobbing again before I realized that what he wanted was not his stuffed animal, or a story, or a bottle . . . he just wanted to go outside.

I tried to explain to him that it was dark and that it was night time but he just pointed at the window and cried. It was at that moment that his Daddy came in and realized what it was he wanted. Before I knew it, he was being wrapped in a big blanket and Nick was taking him out the door. The three of us ended up on a short walk around the block in our pajamas.

Being outdoors has long been a source of comfort for him and he calmed down significantly on our short nighttime adventure. When we got home, he gave us each a hug and went right back to sleep.

My point is, my toddler loves being outdoors. I am incredibly grateful that the thought of going outside brings him comfort and happiness because I am the same way. This being said, we have been experimenting with safe activities that allow us both to be outside to get exercise and fresh air.

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Hiking

I am blessed to live in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains and we take advantage of that gift at every opportunity. I wrote a post about what I learned hiking with my baby and most of it still applies to a toddler. But let me tell you, hiking with a toddler is so much more fun. I love watching his eyes light up when he sees new places and things. He loves to throw rocks in the water, watch animals, collect sticks, and touch trees.

In order to help us both get our exercise and outside time, I hike for a mile or two then let him out of the carrier to explore.  The key to a successful toddler hike (in my mind) is three-fold. I get exercise, he gets exercise, we both have fun.

Notice, I didn’t say we make it a specific destination. Pinning your hopes of waterfall grandeur on a toddler is not wise. Hike for the journey, not the destination.

Biking

Before I got pregnant, I used to ride my bike all over. However, after months of puking and no exercise, I had to give it up for a bit. Then I had the baby and surprise . . . babies can’t ride bikes or even sit in bike trailers right away. Then it was winter. So, now that he is 14 months old we are starting our rides.

He loves feeling the breeze and watching the nature right outside of the trailer and he keeps himself busy eating snacks and reading books while I ride. Each time we go, I try to make the halfway point a park. That way he can get out and run around and play before heading back. Once again, we both get exercise and enjoy the outing.

Walking

I know, pretty basic, but sometimes it is all we have time for. Hiking and biking both require a certain amount of preparation and a larger time commitment. Walking just requires some tennis shoes and the stroller. We like to go early (by early I mean before noon) when it isn’t too hot. I try to walk all of the blocks near my house so that we are never too far from home should an emergency arise.

I let him get his exercise either at the park as our halfway point while I stretch. Or in our backyard when we get home.

 

Gardening

My son loves our yard and will run through our juniper trees with his rake for hours while I get everything weeded and cut. If you are thinking to yourself that gardening does not count as a workout, then you are not doing nearly as many squats as you could be while weeding. I just figure since I am already bending over to pull weeds, I might as well do squats and stretches. Gardening often leaves me more sore than any of the other activities.

Playing

Okay, here me out. This, like gardening, is not a workout in the traditional sense of the word. But it can definitely provide some exercise. When I stop worrying about being an adult and play with my son (be it at a park, in our yard, on the hike, in the garden, in the basement, whatever,) I find I am exhausted.

Playing with a one-year-old requires lots of running and crawling and lifting and stretching. A good half hour session of free play burns calories and builds relationships.

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How do you exercise with your toddler?

 

5 Secrets That Can Make You A Successful Stay-at-Home Mom

My stay-at-home mom journey started about a year ago. It feels like yesterday that I left my empty end of year classroom for the last time. I had already packed everything up and hauled it out. My baby was 3 months old and I was just there to finish up the year and say my goodbyes. The summer loomed ahead of me and I was both dreading and excited for it.


 

The Transition

After having been a parent for three months I knew that parenting was harder than I had anticipated. I distinctly recall thinking that it would be so nice when I didn’t have to wake up at 7:00 and go to work. For some reason, I had it in my head that I would be able to sleep in and play with my cute baby at my leisure. . . I was clueless.

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After three months of maternity leave, I knew that being a parent was harder than being a teacher (and teaching is mentally and emotionally exhausting). In fact, being a full-time, stay-at-home mom was hands down the most difficult job that I had ever had. Breastfeeding was awful (see my story here), I was never off the clock, I hadn’t slept for more than four consecutive hours in months, I felt like nothing ever got accomplished anymore, my cute little baby wouldn’t play at all (let alone at my leisure), and I felt like I was disappearing.

Teaching included a lot of 10 hour days, extra meetings, planning, preparation, and pressure from everyone (students, parents, administration, legislature, etc.) . . . but it gave me sense of purpose. It was also easy to look at a day of teaching and see what had been accomplished. Furthermore, I got to sleep at night. For me, sleep seemed to be key to my well-being.

As I closed the door to my classroom that last time, I wondered if my new job was going to kill me. Going from full-time teacher to full-time mom permanently had suddenly become a very daunting task.

The Secrets to Success

Success is defined by many people in many ways. My definition of success coincides closely with my family’s health and happiness. That includes me. I have been home for over a year now and through a lot of trial and error (and exhaustion, and tears, and loneliness) I have figured out five things that keep me sane, make me happy, and leave me feeling successful.

1. Take Care of Yourself

This is a difficult task physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is often physically difficult to leave your baby if you are breastfeeding and most of your free-time tends to go towards things like sleeping, eating and showering. Mentally the days and nights blur together and it’s hard to think outside of the necessities. Emotionally, it’s easy to feel guilty for even thinking about putting something you want or need to do above something your baby or family needs.

It wasn’t until about four months in that I realized I needed to do something that was genuinely for me. Hiking was what I missed the most, so asked my mother-in-law to babysit so I could go to my mountains. IT WAS REJUVENATING. When I got back after the two or three hours, I was ready to be the mom again. I missed my baby, I suddenly had some energy to spare, and I was happy.

The saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”, is so very true. It’s okay to leave your baby somewhere safe and take care of yourself sometimes. My mother-in-law graciously offered to watch my son at the same time every week. My husband agreed to go to work early every Thursday. Both, so that I could do what I needed to do for me (hike). I look forward to those four hours all week and boy can I tell if I don’t get them. I know that I am a better mom and wife when I take some time to do the things I love.

2. Create a Schedule (But be Ready to be Flexible)

The combination of not having to get up and be somewhere at a specific time every day and a tiny human who does whatever he wants whenever he wants can really throw a person off. A few weeks into Mommyhood, I sat down and wrote out a very ambitious weekly schedule for myself. It was a very teacher-y thing to do. I had my days planned down to the hour and more goals than I probably could have accomplished in a month at that stage. I realized fairly quickly that that wouldn’t work and came up with a simpler system. I have one BIG goal each day and two to-do lists.

My big goals repeat weekly so that we both have consistency. My first to-do list is full of things that I need to do each day.  The second to-do list is full of things I would like to do if I manage to find some time. I keep all three lists in the same app on my phone and check them off as I go.

I love a good checklist. Something about watching an item disappear when I check the box gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Some of the things I check off each day are fairly basic. BUT I STILL DID THEM.

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Some days are super successful and I make it several items into my second to-do list. Some days I throw everything to the wind and do something spontaneous (there are some perks to being a stay-at-home parent). Other days I can’t even accomplish my one big goal. Regardless of the daily success or lack thereof, the lists and basic schedule help me use the time I do have to do the things I want to do.

3. See Other People

After my husband went back to work, the loneliness set in quickly. It was just me and this tiny guy who didn’t do much of anything for hours and hours and hours. Most of my friends were at work and I felt really alone. I spent a lot of time waiting for five to roll around and my husband to be home.

Eventually, I decided that I needed to find ways to get out and find people to talk to. (so what if the people I was most comfortable with were still working a nine to five?) I started by visiting my parents and in-laws. Next, I planned play dates with my friends who did have kids. Then, I started going to library storytimes and group activities. Later, I started my own play group and found some community service to participate in. It has taken time and effort, but I have found that finding ways to be around people is super important for my mental health. 

4. Listen Politely to the (crazy) Advice that You Get . . . Then Decide What Works for Your Family

I have heard a lot of different advice. Some of it has kept me up nights because it made me feel like I was parenting wrong. Some of it was exactly what I needed to hear. People tend to mean well and assume that what worked for them will work for you. That may or may not be true. Only you can figure that out.

Remember that regardless of what your best friend’s sister or second cousin insists upon, you have to do what works for your family. That will probably take some guessing, research, and more than one attempt but you will figure it out. There is no perfect way to be a stay-at-home mom.

5. Don’t Ever Forget the Reason that You Decided to Stay Home in the First Place

It is terribly easy to get caught up in the day-to-day craziness that is the life of a stay-at-home parent. It is also easy to become disenchanted with the monotony of the everyday routine. Do yourself a favor and take time each day to remember why you are home.

For me, that reason was that I wanted the opportunity to be the one who raised my son. I wanted to be his teacher and his exploring partner and his soft place to land. When I take the time to think about my original goals, the hard parts of staying home suddenly seem worth it.

 

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What are your reasons for becoming a stay-at-home parent? Or, what is your best advice for a new stay-at-home mom?

8 Things I Learned Hiking With My Baby

 

Before becoming a stay at home mom I was a teacher. Now, I truly loved the school year and all that came with it (most of the time) but even more than that, I loved the summer. June, July, and August are great reasons to teach. Pre-baby, I would spend my summers hiking and biking and reading. After I had L, I didn’t want too much to change in the way of adventures. I took him on his first hike at five weeks old (end of April) and we haven’t really stopped since. Here are eight things I have learned about hiking with a baby (5 weeks – 12 months).

Take someone with you. 

I have probably taken L on over 30 hikes in his first year of life and I have only ever done three alone. Taking a willing buddy makes everything from moving the baby, to changing a diaper, to carrying all the baby gear easier.

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Breastfeed if possible.

Now I know I have a whole post about how I hate breastfeeding but hiking is one of the few times when I wished I was better at it. There is nothing like hauling bottles around in your backpack especially if they are full of pre-pumped breastmilk. Depending on your hike, your baby will drink butter if you aren’t careful. That being said, I did haul bottles around because I was terrible at breastfeeding.

Pack milk carefully with an ice pack and bring more than you think you will need.

In order to avoid the aforementioned butter, pack milk carefully. If it is breast milk, I suggest bringing at least two bottles in an insulated bag with an ice pack. Formula is much easier to pack than breast milk. Just have your bottles of water ready to go and have the formula premeasured. I love these containers for formula.

Baby Needs Shade

This may seem obvious but I am a bad mom and didn’t even think about it the first time. When I asked my pediatrician how much I could have L outside and what precautions to take, he told me, “as much as you want but make sure he is covered”, not in sunscreen, mind you, but in material and shade if possible. So, L usually hiked in a bucket hat and his light cotton PJ’s because they covered everything but his neck and hands (it is really hard to keep the bottom of a baby leg covered when they are in a front facing carrier). I also slathered him in sunscreen, after making sure his skin had no reaction to it, before and during every hike (especially his hands, neck, and face).

Use Hiking Poles

I was never one for hiking poles and didn’t start using them until I tripped while wearing L. I was lucky and tripped on nothing on a completely flat trail and nobody got hurt. But had I tripped twenty minutes earlier it could have been bad. Ever since that day I have hiked with poles because it just isn’t worth falling. Wearing a baby that moves of his on volition can throw off your balance.

Have a Comfortable Carrier

This one is so important. Use a comfortable carrier. I know some people love slings but I really don’t and I wanted something a little tougher for hiking. I think that because I am a hiker, I prefer to have the weight on my hips, not my shoulders. So, I did my research and found one that I thought would work for me. Admittedly, the one I got was kind of difficult to use when L was a little floppy newborn (I still don’t know if that was me or the carrier though). It did work, however, and I have absolutely loved it ever since he got to the point where he could hold his own head up. He is 32 inches tall now and I’m not sure how much longer it will work but it is still comfortable and we both like it. Anyway, do your research and find one that works for you. (Borrow some from mom friends first to see what you like.)

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Pick an Amount of Time to Hike Not a Place to Get To

Not only does picking an amount of time help you pack better but it allows for flexibility. Hiking with a baby requires a lot of flexibility and patience. So instead of deciding that you will make it to the top of a mountain, decide that you will hike for two hours. This allows for stretching breaks and diaper changes and tree touching (Link loves to touch all the trees)  without the fear of not meeting a goal.  It’s okay to have fun, introduce your baby to nature and take it slowly if you need to. Just remember that your baby might have different plans than you do. They might not want to make it to the top of the mountain or even make it for your planned two hours.

What to Take for Baby

I know it is hard to pack your own stuff and your baby’s stuff. Even if you have a willing helper who carries everything it’s hard to know what to take. The things I have found necessary for baby on a relatively short (1-3 hours) day hike after this first year are as follows:

  • Diapers and wipes: determine how long you will be gone and figure out how many diapers you will likely need, then take at least two more. Sitting in a carrier for too long against your sweaty body can irritate your baby’s skin, you don’t want them getting a diaper rash as well. Be brave and change them on the hike.
  • A spare set of clothing (or an extra pair of pajamas): L has completely peed and/or pooped out his clothing no fewer than four times on hikes. Something about that spread eagle position makes blowouts more common.
  • Food (bottles or boobies): see above.
  • Burp cloth: I always take two and tuck one behind him and one in front of him in the carrier. This protects me in case of a blowout and gives him something to suck on. Your baby might not want to suck on the front of the carrier but mine sure does. They also come in handy for other things (see swaddle blanket).
  • Sunscreen: I put the baby sunscreen in a travel size container and we both wear it.
  • A light swaddle blanket: These don’t add a lot of weight but they are super useful. I have used one as a changing pad, extra shade, extra warmth, a pillow, a prop for pictures, and we even stuffed one into the leg of his jammies to keep him warm after he peed once and we didn’t have extra clothes.
  • A jacket: I usually take a larger jacket for me and zip us both in.  During the last couple of months of his first year, I brought him a jacket each time as well.
  • Snacks: I didn’t need much in the way of snacks for L until about 11 months. He preferred the bottles on hikes. Know your own baby.

I would love to hear anything that you have learned hiking with your baby. Comment below with your own hiking tips!

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Nine Reasons I Hated Breastfeeding and Five Things that Helped Me Keep at It

Okay, so I don’t hate breastfeeding anymore, strongly dislike might be a better word. But when L was first born and breastfeeding was my life I dreaded it.

There were a lot of reasons to hate it:

      1. It hurt. L had been a powerful little sucker since day one. When he was born, he immediately put his thumb in his mouth. Anyway, it was painful. I called him my barracuda baby because he made me bleed so often and so much those first few weeks.
      2. It was my life. Breastfeeding was all I did all day and night. I would sit in my nursery recliner for what felt like an eternity hoping that he was getting enough to live off of. Then he would fall asleep and I would have to decide if it was worth moving him or if I too should just nap in the chair primed and ready for his next feeding in 10-40 minutes.
      3. I lost my freedom. Because breastfeeding was my life, I felt like I had to give up everything that made me me in order to be a milk factory day and night.
      4. It caused hours of agonizing guilt. I felt like I was a bad mother because I hated it so much. It became a vicious cycle. Due to hormones, or conversations with other moms, or a combination of the two, I was under the impression that breastfeeding was something I would eventually love and look forward too and I just absolutely didn’t.
      5. I felt trapped. I didn’t think that there was a way out. For the first two months, I swear I had to either feed L or pump every two hours. A pumping session took anywhere from 20-50 minutes leaving me with hour and a half intervals to live my new insane life. I had to pump every two hours or get clogged ducts.
      6. Clogged ducts, hurt me almost as much as giving birth did. There is nothing quite like having gigantic painful boob wedges that can only be relieved by, you guessed it, more pumping and nursing. This is why I felt so trapped. Every time I tried to lengthen the time between pumpings I would get clogged ducts which would make it so I would need to pump more often.
      7. The cycle. Pump every two hours. Try to pump every three hours instead. Clogged ducts. Revert to extensive nursing and pumping to relieve ducts. Have daydreams about early weaning. Experience guilt because of daydreams about early weaning. Feeling hopeless, “will this nightmare never end?”. Pump every two hours. Etc.
      8. No one really knew what to do about it. I read blog advice and medical journals and went to see a lactation consultant and a dermatologist (after 6 weeks of excruciating pain). There were many suggestions but nothing concrete. The lactation consultant said L was latched correctly. Great, it still killed. My dermatologist said that I had Raynaud’s syndrome and to put hand warmers in my bra. That made my boobs nice and hot.  Pump more? Yeah right. Oh, and clogged ducts just require a super painful massage to fix. No biggie.
      9. Then, to make matters worse my pump started making me just as sore as L did. This left me with no reprieve from the pain.

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So, even though I loathed breastfeeding/pumping. It was not what I would call a magical bonding experience. I kept going because I literally could not stop. At one point, I was pumping over 62 ounces a day. This meant I had my super sore boobs hooked to the pump for over five hours in a 24 hour period. At that same time, I was also nursing L as often as he needed. So between nursing, pumping, and washing all the dishes that came with pumping, my life was consumed and I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into.

But then…

Over 1500 frozen ounces of breastmilk and 10 weeks of agony and endless pumping later, I was ready to try anything. It was then, that I managed to find a few things that saved my sanity and sore breasts.

  1. Lecithin: This was recommended by the lactation specialist I saw but it took about two weeks to actually start working. I had seen this mentioned on kellymom.com and several other blogs but didn’t try it until it was recommended by a professional. I only had one clogged duct after it started working. 
  2. Letting go of Guilt: I finally talked myself into pumping the majority of the time. This required me to let go of a lot of the guilt I was hauling around about giving my kid a bottle rather than a breast. Making that decision simplified my life. I spent less time with my baby attached to me which made me more excited to spend time with him in other capacities. It also gave me the freedom to leave and know that he was fine. Getting some me time back was rejuvenating and made me a better mom.
  3. Pumpin Pals Breast Flanges: I found these gems when I was desperately searching Amazon for something that would make pumping less painful. I ordered them and figured if they didn’t work I might just wean early. Lucky for L and I, they worked. These were almost as a big a game changer as the lecithin. I could pump and not even think about it. (Seriously though, sometimes I forgot I was pumping until I had a sizeable stain on my lap.)
  4. Pumping Schedule: Once the Lecithin finally kicked in, I was able to get myself on a pumping schedule. It took about a month but I got to the point where I only had to pump four times a day. This was infinitely better than 12. 
  5. Keeping the Pump Stuff in the Fridge: I don’t keep the actual pump in the fridge just the stuff that gets milk in/on it. That way I only have to wash it once a day instead of four times or, heaven forbid, twelve.

At month four, pumping has just become a part of my routine. I pump at roughly 5:00 and 11:00 in both the am and pm. I set my pump up by the computer for the 11 pm and 5 am session. This gives me time to answer emails, blog, play with gimp, and make movies. For the other two times, I take my pump with me or move it to where L is. Yes, I can change a diaper while pumping.

As a side note, I didn’t stop breastfeeding entirely. L still breastfeeds roughly five times a week. Now that he is a little bit bigger and the breastfeeding is less frequent it hurts much less and is more enjoyable. I like to cuddle him and I love how he looks at me. Breastfeeding is also a magical tool for when he is inconsolable, which doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is nice to have a plan.

Fast forward to 10 months. . .

At about 8 months I dropped one of my pumping sessions (the 5 pm one) and started being really lazy about the timing of my other sessions. Not having clogged ducts gave me the ability to push the sessions a few hours or complete them early. This did not help my milk supply at all. When I was pumping 4 times a day at almost the same time every day I was making about 40 ounces. Once I dropped one session and threw my timing to the wind, the amount I produced easily dropped to 30 ounces than 25 ounces within a few weeks. Luckily, I had hundreds of ounces saved up. This enabled me to feed L using just breast milk until he was almost nine months, at which point I slowly introduced him to formula.

Around this time, L stopped breastfeeding entirely, preferring the ease of the bottle. I remember the last time I fed him. Physically it still killed but I no longer hated it. I knew it was the last time and I was grateful that I had stuck with it as long as I had.

During his ninth month, I dropped another session because we went on vacation, I hadn’t intended to drop it, it just happened. I am now just pumping twice a day, twelve hours apart, and I only pump between nine and twelve ounces. This isn’t much but it’s close to a third of what he drinks in twenty-four hours. My goal is to make it to one year before I quit.

To some people, that might seem like a failure. However, making it this long, was one of the most difficult things I have ever done and I am proud of myself!

Month 11

At 11 months, I am officially done pumping. The amount I was making steadily decreased because I wasn’t consistent with my timing and I just wasn’t being careful about my supply at all. It got to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep doing it so I took a few weeks and slowly stopped altogether. Didn’t quite make it a year but I did make it a lot longer than I thought I would. Hopefully, this experience better prepares me for my next kid.

What I would do differently

  1. Keep my pumping four times a day schedule longer. If I could have maintained that I probably could have pumped for as long as I wanted (but it was hard and time-consuming.)
  2. Maybe introduce formula sooner?

 

Please comment below with your own experiences and suggestions.

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-This is not medical advice, it is simply my experience with breastfeeding.