Thursday, February 23, 2017

Goals for Grace, Grief for Me

"We have joy in our days. There’s sadness, too, but we move on." - Scott Watkins on his wife's life-threatening allergies (including to himself).

This line really struck me. I am currently going through a grief cycle with Grace. As I read in another blog post, the grief will probably never end. It will come and go in waves, and just as I adapt to the "new normal", she'll have a new bridge to cross, and we'll figure out another new normal.

My number one goal for her is to be independent. She is a strong, brave toddler. In fact, as I was typing the earlier part, I noticed how quiet she was... because she was in the kitchen, pushing a chair to the counter to get gummy bunnies. Instead of this being a mama's fear, it becomes my pride and joy. I tell her not to push a chair in the kitchen and to ask mom for help; she is rewarded with gummy bunnies. (But just one pack.)

Grace exploring after pre-school yesterday

My number two goal is for her to know her own dignity and strength. Before driving to Ohio for a wedding, we tried a dress on Grace. She exclaimed, "I am so beautiful!" I love that. We should all think so highly of ourselves. On the other side it, I am trying to teach Grace to trust her body more. She has the strength and the ability, but her balance is weak. We work on stairs a lot. I'm trying to teach her to be okay with falling. We all fall, physically and otherwise, because we are human. It's the attitude about falling that separates us between existing and thriving.

Grace on a trek through the snow
My number three goal is to keep up a "try" mentality. There are always going to be experiences and people telling Grace what she can and cannot do. My parents used to tell me that I wasn't a math person because I've always struggled with numbers (turns out I have dyslexia, but that is a different story). I recognize that they were trying to lessen the brunt of my struggles. The more they told me that when I struggled, the more it cemented. The more I became resigned to a calculator. My brilliant husband, on the other hand, constantly challenges me to do mental math and introduces me to games to help me practice these mental olympics. By pushing myself as an adult, I feel the importance of continuous trying.

A while back, I posted this story on my instagramOne of the biggest question marks for me is how best to push Grace in practical ways. There are so many things we do with both hands!! Fortunately, Grace is extremely self-motivated and always asking me how she can help. So when she asked to peel the clementine by herself tonight, my heart leapt. This happened, of course, after she initially fell off a chair trying to get a second clementine first. Grace cannot catch herself on her right side, and this can be very scary. She fell and cried, and we picked her up and told her she was so brave. Then she said, I try again? YES! Of course. And she climbed up and down without incident. Now, with only a little help to start, she peeled and ate the fruit by herself. Grace, you're amazing. Innovate your abilities, people.

Maybe you are thinking, I want this for my kids too! Or, Don't you want this for your other kids too? Well, of course. But here's the difference: typical kids do not have to learn how to use their muscles. Typical kids do not have to learn to use one side of their body. Typical kids do not have to overcome a stroke. And this is why I am grieving. I want to give Grace everything. But I can't. She has to propel herself. Sometimes, she asks to be carried down the stairs and I say no. Not because I am a heartless wench - but because I want her to thrive. I stay with her while she walks slowly. She is three years old, after all.

Family walk.
Grace, in short, must learn what it means to be human. She has been given a gift of empathy, innovation and trial. She has suffered much in her short life, and she will suffer more. I cannot stop this from happening. Even now, we are introducing her to walk-aid, which is an e-stim for her leg. She will get electronic current sent down her leg to signal her dorsal flexors to work properly in her right foot. The hope is that, in the future, she will not need her brace. We do not know if this will happen, but we try anyways.




A final note on grief: I am not crying every day. I am not in mourning. I do feel a deep sorrow in my soul out of love for my child; but I cannot let this grief stop me from letting her live life to the fullest. It is certainly a teeter-totter of emotion! I am (still) learning to trust myself as her mother, I am learning to try again, and I am learning the dignity and strength in being the caretaker of someone who requires extra needs.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

True Grit: Three Kids Under Three

This month has been one of grind. The grind of taking care of sick children, the grind of preparing for classes, the grind of gritting one's teeth and doing SOMETHING because you are the person who makes things happen. The grind of fixing food and watching it being thrown to the floor, the grind of keeping the kids on a schedule, the grind of cleaning up again and again and again... We moved the girls' dresser out of their room, but during one nap time in the guest room, Grace climbed out of bed and removed all the clothes, where they remain today. (It's been weeks of mess now.)

Grind.

Recently, I ground coffee for the first time. I am not sure how I feel about it. Is it worth the extra 20 seconds? Did my coffee taste different? The creamer and milk tasted nice with it. Will's uncles sent us coffee beans and tea for Christmas. They all smell good.

There I was, churning those beans into a fine substance, when I was struck by the whirling gear parts. What a novel little invention! I wonder who set forth to make coffee grinding affordable and easy.

I am the grinder in our family. I make it look easy, though my gears are constantly changing. I'm told that I make it look easy, and I don't know how you do it! 

All four of us at the grocery store, making "it" happen... it being, not starving
I do not have any special training, except if you count college. In college, I was excessive. I took too many classes, joined too many clubs, wrote multiple articles every month, wrote multiple papers every month, and laughed a lot. I had bad times and glad times, and times I wanted to leave college and never go back. (Looking at you, sophomore year.) I grew so much. I grew up so much. I gained the most valuable skill: innovation.

It is through innovation that the grind seems less heavy and more interesting. What am I going to get done today? How can I persuade toddlers to fight less and clean up more? I was thinking about this as  I was signing forms at Grace's outpatient therapy last week. You know what? I just am--because I am their mama bear.

My innovation of the month is dividing the conquering the kids belongings. In the front room, we now have one basket of toys. That's it. It's mostly their blocks, one little bag (Grace loves stuffing it over capacity), two Melissa & Doug flashlights and a smattering of baby toys. Pick up was never so easy.

The house is still an overall wreck as I fight against inertia, but we're all doing better and continue to recover from the plague. My students are taking their midterms this weekend, so I'm hoping to dive through more of our stuff. But enough of this boringness. Here's how I actually do it.

It's 5 a.m. somewhere... but I am not awake 

Coffee Duh. Don't even try to exist without it. I am trying a new regimen: coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and bone broth in the evening for warm protein before bed. In between, I attempt to drink a lot of water. Yep, a lot. I'm very specific around here.

My cousins bought us a 12 cup coffee maker as a wedding present. It is our best friend in the morning. We used to have a french press, but one of our children broke it and we honestly did not use it enough to re-purchase. We are more of an instant gratification couple when it comes to our morning brew. My new tea pot is a french press for tea, so it's the best of all worlds.

Finally, why bone broth? I'll admit that I bought Bare Bone Broth at our local Wegmans to support Katherine (a college classmate and friend) and her husband. They started this company from the ground-up, and it's been amazing to witness their commitment to creating a quality product. When I tasted the chicken broth, I really liked it. The cost had thrown me a bit ($8.50/ea), so I purchased a competitor's brand to also try. Hands down - this is not an ad and I am not being paid - Bare Bone Broth is divine, with a subtle flavor that is both comforting and not overwhelming. I love that each serving has 13g. of protein because as a breastfeeding mom + someone who is trying to eat better, I'm all too prone to eat whatever is easiest instead of what is best, especially when I am starving before bed. I am extra glad I bought two bags.


Bonus: kerfir (probiotic) and smoothies (whole lotta vegetables), so I am essentially existing on a liquid diet. Don't forget about red wine before bed.

Marriage

Do you know why you have kids? I know, this is a trick question. You are probably married. (Shout out to single mamas, because you are a warrior!!!) Maybe you have one child and you think having three kids is impossible and I'm crazy and hahahaha Julie, okay, mhm. As confusing as this may sound, I do not recommend three kids under three without an amazing working relationship with your spouse. Will is patient, kind, never yells, always listens (even when he thinks I am wrong, wink), and... fine, he is essentially a magical unicorn when it comes to focus, be it cleaning or child care.

Then again, he gets to leave the house on an almost daily basis so his sanity is more in-tact than mine. I also take care of all our paperwork, which is special circle of nonsense, and have committed myself to cleaning the mess that never ends.

Will and I have a very strong marriage. We have walked (are still walking) through multiple rings of fire and seeing each other at our worst, sharing in struggles, and learning to be truly vulnerable with each other in a respecting, loving way is a work in progress every day. Our marriage is ours, and it works wonderfully. Our secret? We work on it every single day.

What does that look like for us. Our reality: Will works long hours. 60-80+ hours/week. That is especially draining for me since I am primary caretaker for three children/ wish I had a household chores fairy/ teach online/ transport G to school and therapy/ grocery shop/ whatever else needs to be done BECAUSE I AM THE MAMA BEAR (rawr!).

Our how-to-love-each-other-when-we're-stretched-thin includes:

  • Physical intimacy. Top of our list, for sure. This is not just sex - it's kissing, snuggling, hand holding, hugs, flirting... Physical touch is important, period. Nothing says "I love you" like a nice head and neck massage. I also take Will dinner regularly at the ED because then we all get hugs, even if it took 20x as long to get there than actually spending time together. The hugs and smiles are always worth it. 
  • Emotional intimacy. We treat each other with respect, love and care especially when we don't feel like it.
  • Communication. The bedrock of us. We do not presume anything. We do not assume anything. We do not think we know what the other person is feeling. We ask, we talk, we discuss, we disagree, we conclude. This is hard, this is vulnerable, and this is where pride falls.
  • Space. Will and I established the term "mellow" when we want to be left alone; e.g., I'm just feeling mellow. 
  • Encouragement. Who doesn't want to hear often that our dearest one thinks we are awesome? Who doesn't love when your loved one fixes you coffee?
  • Common interests. Will and I are very different people with different interests. This year, we're reading a book/month together. Nothing heavy, just fun. We play board games together and an online card game called Hearthstone. We discuss current events and usually share a few seasons of a fun show to watch together. 
  • Date night! On Friday, we ordered pizza, fed the kids, played with them, put them to bed, and spent the whole evening hanging out. We didn't go anywhere and it was awesome. If you can go out, that's great too. We just try to have fun together by doing something a little out of the ordinary. 


For us, our marriage is our top priority. It doesn't matter what else is happening if we're not on the same team? Our jobs and our kids won't contribute to our happiness the same way our marriage does. We do our jobs better when Will and I support each other in those endeavors. We raise our children better when they know their parents love and support each other as well as themselves. This is all a season, but if we treat each other poorly because life is going poorly, then we are not living out our vows.

Nutrition

For the past two months, I have put WAY more vegetables into my diet and lost 5 lbs so far. I do not like vegetables very much, but I'm always hungry. I am practicing the art of meal planning. Sometimes, it goes really well and I prep in advance and it's awesome. Sometimes, I just wing it. That works out too, especially if I have the ingredients already in the fridge.

Last night, we ordered pizza. This week, I'm fixing ham and lentil soup (for Will), Pioneer Woman's Hamburger soup (for me - vegetable hardy!), and trying out a few recipes in my new Mark Bittman cookbook. Stay tuned. I also try to take a lot of vitamins and my PPD medicine every day.

I don't have any secrets for meal planning - stay realistic, stay consistent, and know what works. I found two amazing prep recipes for chicken breasts and chicken thighs, which helps with the weekly meals. Carb, protein, vegetable; dairy and fruit in between meals. Keep the sweets away from me, Satan!

Schedule

Julie, you have told me nothing about having kids. What is going on in this post?? Look ladies- whether you are a SAHM, WAHM (like me), or working outside the home, you must take care of yourself. It's not a luxury. Little babies depend sosososo much on their mamas.

We keep a pretty strict schedule dictated by: meals, therapy, Grace's preschool, my teaching, rest/bed time, and (as of this week) exercise. These are all non-negotiable. I am also adding in 4 p.m. exercise for myself, because I am usually tired then, but it's the most convenient. I also feel way better when I am exercising regularly, mentally and physically.

For those who have small children who do not nap any more, I strongly encourage you to create some sort of rest period with them. If Grace refuses to nap, she still has to do a quiet activity or lay on the couch with her her blanket. She, like me, gets overstimulated and extra cranky when tired.

Keep a strict schedule and be flexible when necessary. Be willing to throw yourself on the couch and watch t.v. instead of folding laundry. Ha, you're right--who folds laundry?


Spirituality

I try to reading the mass readings every day, thanks to the Magnificat subscription my Dad bought for me. Sometimes I remember, sometimes I don't. I pray every day even if it to say, "LORD BE WITH ME PLEEEEEEEEEASE ttyl". Keeping in touch with God is very important in my life. Mass every week is hard, and we're currently going to mass separately. Flu season/ constant runny noses + agile children is not a great combination.

Trust Yourself.

I have a group of friends who are in the same season as me, and this has taught me that, no matter what path we're walking, we're the only ones who can do it. Only I can take care of my three children. I can ask for help, I can ask for advice, I can get help - but at the end of the day, I am their mother. Period. I decide what their schedule is, what their activities will be, what will happen when they are naughty, how to celebrate life, and be there for all the in-between moments. Every mom needs to turn off the FOMO radar, close your eyes, and accept your life. Whatever it is, you are in control over your attitude and decisions. No one else can be the heroine of this story.

Work it out

I repeat: if you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others.


But sometimes, it's just making the day work for you. If you've made a delicious meal for your kids but you spent the whole time yelling at them, then you are probably an empty well in need of a spa day. That means, if Will is working late (or at all), and I am tired, we embrace a meal I call "toddler tapas". This means I lay out beach blankets for a picnic, and the girls get to decide on what snacks will become their dinner. You know what? THEY LOVE IT. We watch a show, we eat a semi-balanced meal, and then we get ready for bed. Motherhood should be fun. And even when it's not, you have the power to give the kids early bed time if the crankiness is unreal. Work it out, mama. You've got this.

**

I recognize that each of these topics could have plenty more posts written, but we'll save those for another day so I stop putting off publishing this one. So here's a picture of me and my new bunny sweater. Keeps me warm and it's adorable.

Hey y'all, it's me, Julie...
A final note: I don't necessarily recommend people having three kids under three. Will and I are not a "have as many children as possible" couple. I do not believe "be fruitful and multiply" means this because we, as parents, have a moral responsibility towards the care of our children. But we did want our kids to grow up close in age, and even though it is pretty dang hard, it is a season. I recognize this, embrace it, and pass on my wisdom.

Okay, one more note: I read an article that is similar to this one and the mom says she cleans the house before she leaves it and that works for her. That doesn't work for me. You do you, mama. I believe in you!!!!

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Snow Weekend

"Snow-flakes" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
      Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
      In the white countenance confession,
            The troubled sky reveals
            The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
      Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
      Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
            Now whispered and revealed
            To wood and field.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Nordstrom Sale (January 2017): Four Picks

This month, I am going on a buying fast. So, obviously, when the Nordstrom sale came into my peripheral vision, I had to buy something because my in-laws gave me a gift card for Christmas! And it's the last day of the sale!!!!

Ahem.


Main Image - kate spade new york 'one in a million' initial pendant necklace


Isn't it lovely and delicate? I wear a lot more chunky necklaces, especially ones prime to be grabbed. This one will be great for a date out.


Main Image - The North Face 'Recon' Backpack

I am throwing out/ donating bags and making room for this one. I can wear it without breaking my shoulder (because it'll be filled with diapers/wipes/crayons/juice boxes/packets, etc.), and it's adorable enough that both Will and I can wear it no problem. (In cosmic blue heather/ coral because black/ 14k gold was a little too cosmopolitan for us.)


Main Image - American Atelier Set of 4 Confetti Stemless Wine Glasses

Along the same lines of decluttering... we gave away most of our wine glasses, and are left with three. (The fourth broke.) When I was visiting my family in Cincinnati over Thanksgiving, they had stemless wine glasses and I loved them. There is always a reason for a stem, but these are stemless and have confetti - a perfect festive combo! Red wine for all!

Main Image - Levtex Drum Basket
I just gave away our toy holder to another family because the girls could not keep their toys cleaned up. Instead, it works much better to have one large container to hold everything. We're currently using a plastic tub which is much less chic than this neutral, textured basket. I am excited - I bought the medium sized one!

Are you buying anything today? Are you doing anything to kick off January? 

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Baldwin Babes: Winter 2016 Edition

It's been such a long time since writing that I can only provide highlights. Will is done with his last Trauma rotation. Will has job offers. The children are extra busy. I am (still) learning to handle challenges and, when I find myself having a good day, can hardly recognize myself from a bad day.

I am still teaching. I am cleaning out our house. I am laughing that my office has been such a wreck since I started tossing papers... oh well. Comes with the cleaning out territory, I suppose.

Today I fixed soup which I give a B (I need to work on salting better... terrified of over-salting); oatmeal chocolate chip bars which I give an A-; graded; cleaned the downstairs again; took care of the children; took care of the sick husband; reminded myself to get to bed "earlier than usual".

So, hi again. Happy Advent. Here's what we've been doing for the past month...












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