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As you know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. As an adult, I’ve been more of a fan of Thanksgiving than Christmas, since there are not quite as many expectations. Just share a meal together, and give thanks. I like the idea of a holiday that’s centered around gratitude.

This Thanksgiving eve, my heart is filled with gratitude. I’m so blessed to be a mom of two healthy and (mostly) happy little people. Yes, being a mom of a 3-year-old and a baby is exhausting and often overwhelming. But there couldn’t possibly be a more rewarding job than mom.

I’m so thankful that I get to stay at home with my kids and supplement our family income as a writer/editor/publicity person. As a work-from-home mom, I get to be there for it all. I was there when baby Paul started crawling in his fifth month, and I will be there when he takes his first steps. I was there to hear Marie’s first word – “Mama,” and there to see her little toddler legs run across our living room as she yelled, “Runnnn baby!”

I’ve been thinking lately how it takes a large investment of time to build close relationships. I haven’t been able to invest much time in friendships since becoming a mom. I would like to focus on that more – having friends is nice. But, I have been investing very deeply in building relationships with my children and my husband. My whole self is pretty much invested in these people.

Marie & Paul, if you read this post someday, I just want to say that I love you both with my whole heart. I’m so glad I’ve been able to spend this time at home with you while you are small. There is no place else I’d rather be.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Books: Yesterday I finished reading To Heaven and Back by Mary Neal, about a near death experience she had when she drowned in a kayaking accident. I’ve read several books about near death experiences, and am always fascinated by them. I especially enjoyed this book because she writes about miracles that she’s experienced throughout her life, not just the near death experience. As I wrote about in my last post, I’m also reading Power of a Praying Wife. Also this week finished reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. So intelligent, poignant, hilarious and possibly life-changing. I couldn’t stop highlighting and underlining my favorite passages. Here’s one of them:

“If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate and honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an outdated and irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it.”

Movies: We’ve recently discovered Lilo & Stitch. A Disney cartoon that takes place in Kauai and includes an Elvis-impersonating extraterrestrial? Enough said. And have I mentioned that I’ve only been to the movies twice since my daughter’s birth in April 2012? It’s interesting how a former favorite activity no longer seems worthwhile since becoming a mom.

Television: Marie and I have been enjoying The Magic School Bus. I also started watching the new season of Orange is the New Black, but had to stop, because apparently (despite NPR’s love affair with this show) I can’t handle watching shows that are rated M. I do recommend the book of the same name however. Piper Kerman’s memoir of her time in prison for a minor involvement in an international drug ring was an interesting read and gives important insight into the prison system.

Music: Same old nursery rhyme remixes and classical.

Work: School’s out for summer! I was lucky to have the opportunity to sub for an elementary school speech pathologist several times in the last few weeks of school. I found that I really enjoy working with kids one-on-one and in small groups. But I’m unlikely to make a career switch to speech pathology, as it would involve a year of prerequisite classes before starting a two year master’s program. I’m also currently in between paid writing projects.

Recipe: We’ve been getting lots of kale in our CSA, but Marie won’t eat it, so I tried making kale chips for the first time yesterday. Success! She ate them and they were super easy to make.

Gratitude: We went on our first family bike ride with Marie this morning in a pull-behind trailer. My parents were able to join us as well. Saw three great blue herons. Looking forward to many more bike rides this summer!

On the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe Slide on our first visit to the Enchanted Forest.

On the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe Slide on our first visit to the Enchanted Forest.                                 

 

Once a teacher, always a teacher. I used to teach fourth grade, and although it’s unknown whether or not I will go back to having my own classroom, I will always love teaching and learning. Young children love to learn too. They’re naturally curious about the fascinating world around them. My daughter is two and will be starting two-year-old preschool in the fall —  I can’t believe we’re about to embark on the preschool phase already! Here are some simple ways you can help encourage your 2 to 4-year-old’s  innate love of learning.

Puzzles

Puzzles offer little ones an opportunity to work on their spatial awareness and motor skills. I’m loving the Pre-School Numbers Puzzle Pairs I just bought for my daughter. It teaches number sense — the understanding that numbers represent an amount of real objects. So you match the numeral 1 to the picture of one sun, the numeral 3 to three frogs, etc. It’s also color-coded and includes the spelling of each number, so you can work on literacy skills as well. I would recommend this puzzle for children ages 2 up through 7 (or older if the child is still struggling with number sense). As a fourth grade teacher I still had students who didn’t understand what numbers were, so your child’s elementary teachers will love you if you’re already working on this with them by the time they enter kindergarten or first grade. My daughter is two and it is a bit advanced for her, but she can match the colors and we work on counting the objects together.

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Gardening: Learn where food comes from

Planting a small garden can be a fun science activity for you and your preschooler to do together. You could plant them from seeds and watch them grow into plants, or just plant seedlings. If you and your child are really into this activity you could even create a little scientific journal documenting your observations (Far too advanced for my two-year-old, but I can dream). You can do this even if you don’t have a yard. We live in an apartment, so all we have is a tiny concrete deck, but my parents recently gave us this little planter box herb garden. We’re growing two kinds of basil, oregano, thyme and lavender. I’m hoping to experiment with some lavender-infused desserts later this summer. Even if you have an apartment with no deck, you can grow small plants in your windowsill. Having easy access to fresh herbs can also improve the quality of your cooking!

Our first garden! Yay for fresh basil.

Our first garden! Hurray for fresh basil.

Reading

I can’t say enough about how much fun it is to read to my daughter. Not only is it a time for us to bond, it also teaches her vocabulary words and encourages her to develop a life-long love of reading. Reading is also a way to learn about the outside world. A couple of books we’ve been enjoying lately are Good Night Oregon by Dan McCarthy and Eric Carle’s Have You Seen My Cat? Good Night Oregon talks about some of our favorite Oregon locations like the Oregon Zoo, the beach and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Reading Have You Seen My Cat? with my daughter has given us the chance to talk about different types of cats — lions, tigers, panthers and more.

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What are some educational activities that you and your child enjoy together?

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It’s easy to let fear take on more than its share of control in your life — especially when you’re a parent. Starting in pregnancy, the potential fears can be overwhelming. What if I miscarry? What if my baby has a disability? What if my baby is healthy but has a rare vaccine reaction and develops autism? What if….

The list of things to fear is endless. It can paralyze me if I let it.

When my daughter was about five months old she decided she was a tummy sleeper. She had the ability to roll from her back to her tummy, and every time I placed her on her back to sleep, she would roll over. Being the rational person I am, my response was complete panic. Despite the fact that she was five months old and could easily move her head, I assumed she would suffocate if she slept on her stomach. I flipped her over to her back each time, waking up as often as I could to check on her.

Obviously this was not a peak time for my mental health.

At some point I called the pediatrician, who assured me that if she was able to roll over on her own, her muscle control was good enough that stomach-sleeping wasn’t a concern. Whew! I could check a fear off my list.

Still, then and now, there are more things to fear, rational or not. Anxiety has been an on-and-off problem throughout my life. I once fainted after feeling a lump on my spine in the shower. Cancer. In fact, it was a small patch of infected skin.

I used to let fear hold me back from doing things. In high school, I wanted to try out for the cross-country team but I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, and besides I didn’t really know the other kids on the team. I loved to sing and would’ve enjoyed being in the choir but in middle school the choir director hadn’t allowed me to participate, so I figured I wasn’t choir material.

What if I had continued to let fear prevent me from doing things I should be doing? What if I’d been too scared to volunteer to ride in that cute guy’s truck on the college trip to Sunriver? Ten years later, we’re married with a beautiful daughter. What if I’d been too scared to become a teacher? I would have missed out on two years of impacting the lives of fourth graders, and perhaps more yet to come. What if I’d been too scared to try to become a writer? Or more importantly, a mother?

I want to keep choosing to face my fears, and live life to the fullest each day. I want to, as Teddy Roosevelt said, choose to dare greatly in my life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…who at best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….” — Teddy Roosevelt

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How have you struggled with fear in parenting or life in general? And, have you ever risked failure in order to achieve a goal?

photo credit: Celestine Chua via photopin cc

 

Books: Recently finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, 2014 PEN/Faulkner award winner. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s a great novel that explores the meaning of family, identity, and human/animal relationships. This would be a good one to discuss in a book group. I miss being in a book group!

Movies: My daughter was thrilled to discover Pocahontas 2 last week. There’s a whole different movie about Pocahontas?! Wow!

Television: Ugh, I’ve been watching too much T.V. lately — hopefully as the weather gets nicer we can spend more evenings walking or visiting the park. Been watching Masterpiece Theatre’s Mr. Selfridge, and also catching up on old Glee episodes. Glee is like junk food for my brain. Or, as Jim Gaffigan said, “McDonald’s of the soul.” I do wish people would spontaneously burst into song and dance more often in my day-to-day life though.

Music: Been enjoying the album Little Seed by Elizabeth Mitchell — covers of Woody Guthrie children’s songs.

Project: Teaching my daughter to sleep alone.

Work: Still working on the accounting & finance articles. Had an interview at a newspaper last week.

Gratitude: Took a fun trip to the beach to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday. Watched sea lions barking on a dock, visited the aquarium, enjoyed raspberry poppyseed Sweet Life cake. Stayed in a great house with my parents and mother-in-law.

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

 

Looking forward to: Picking up our first CSA box this afternoon!

 

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

Depression is lonely and scary.

Depression is lonely and scary.

Mental health issues carry a stigma, but when we break the silence and talk about them openly they become less scary. I may be wrong, but I think if we’re honest, most people struggle with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.

So, what’s the deal with postpartum depression? Why would a new mom, who has just welcomed a bundle of joy into the world, get depressed?

Perhaps because:

a) postpartum and nursing hormones have thrown her emotions out of whack

b) she hasn’t had more than a 90 minute stretch of sleep in several weeks/months

c) she is socially isolated

d) she has not yet formed an attachment to her newborn, and wonders “who is this helpless creature I’m now spending all my time with?”

e) she spends the vast majority of her day sitting on the couch breastfeeding

f) her body has been severely injured in the process of giving birth

e) she wonders what the f***k has happened to her life

In sum, postpartum depression is understandable. In fact, given all the above, it’s rather remarkable when a new mom doesn’t experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

For my part, I really struggled with depression and anxiety when my daughter was about 3-5 months old. I think I was coping rather well until then, despite the extreme challenges of caring for a newborn. I won’t go into the details in this post, but you can read my post about it here. Or just read the poem if you prefer.

Around three months I no longer felt like I was coping. In retrospect, several things collided to make things a giant awful mess:

1) I lost my job

2) I lost my health insurance

3) my husband started working longer hours

4) I started taking birth control

Although I had told my doctor that I was concerned about postpartum depression (because I have a history of depression) he told me I’d be fine and prescribed me birth control without warning me that it was associated with postpartum depression. Birth control never seemed to affect my moods in the past, so I thought it would be fine. I had also looked forward to going back to work part-time and reconnecting with the outside world, but I lost my job and with it lost my main link to the world beyond my apartment walls. Losing my health insurance made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have mental health issues because I couldn’t afford access to treatment. So, it was a hard and scary time — I really began to feel like I was losing my grip.

I got through it by becoming involved in as many activities as possible. The first time I took my four- month-old to a library storytime, I almost broke down in tears because it felt so good to be outside of my apartment and around other moms and babies. That fall we also took baby sign language class, mom and baby yoga, and signed up for MOPS. Mom and baby yoga was a lifeline because it was basically a group therapy session for new moms, followed by some yoga. My husband and I also occasionally invited people over for dinners so I could still feel like I had some sort of social life.

Some facets of attachment parenting really helped me as well. One of the scariest aspects of the depression for me was not feeling much attachment to my child. Wearing her in the Ergo carrier during daily walks was incredibly comforting and helped ease my anxiety. Eventually we ended up co-sleeping too, which we still do (I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it but it definitely helps with attachment).

So that’s an abridged version of my story. Slowly I started feeling better, and at this point life feels pretty normal again. Postpartum depression and anxiety can easily happen to anyone, even if you don’t have a history of depression/anxiety. I strongly recommend all new moms join some sort of support group whether it’s MOPS, postpartum yoga, or a new moms group at the local hospital. Just being able to talk to other women who are going through a similar experience as you should be extremely helpful. Also it’s probably wise to avoid any hormonal forms of birth control.

Did you struggle with depression or anxiety after becoming a mom? How did you cope?

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc