Thursday, September 24, 2015

Parenting Outside the Box

When my son was first born, I was desperate to do everything just right. I spent a lot of time reading the “expert” answers on sleeping, eating, routines, and just about everything related to my new little family. My son is five now and has been joined by a brother (three) and a sister (seven months.) After five years, and three kids, you know what I’ve learned about the experts? Sometimes their advice is no better than a veteran mom of three you met on a park bench. Here’s the thing with experts; their advice is great in theory. But the reality is that your kid is an individual and a one-size-fits-all approach might not be your ticket to uninterrupted nights of sleep. (Not to mention that many experts contradict one another. Have you read this mom on "expert" sleep training advice? It’s hilarious and so true!)

The point I’m trying to make is this: expert advice can be a great way to get the ball rolling on how you are going to tackle parenting challenges, but YOU know your kid better than any expert, any day.

In my experience, when I’ve thought outside the box and came up with a creative solution to a problem, I’ve had so much more success than when I followed expert advice. These are my favorite bits of wisdom the hubby and I have come up with along the way. They might not work for your kid, but they may inspire you to find the solution that does!

1.       Bounce that baby. Both my sons preferred to be bounced vs. rocked to sleep and most nights it took forever. You’d come out of the nursery all sweaty like you’d been in there with Richard Simmons. Until we started using the exercise ball. Bouncing for 45 minutes on the exercise ball was cake compared to the grueling workout we were getting without it. Best $10 I’ve ever spent.  

2.       Tackling the Teething Trifecta. (Say that five times fast!) Teething sucks. They don’t eat because it hurts. They don’t sleep because they’re hungry and it hurts. And then you have a hungry, tired, hurting baby on your hands ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT long. If you want to beat the pain + hunger + tiredness trifecta, try frozen snacks. The cold foods help numb the pain and fill their little bellies. We started with slicing grapes into quarters and then freezing them. Frozen slices of mandarin oranges were also a hit, as were frozen peas and corn. (Note: Of course, use your judgment in choosing age-appropriate foods. I do not recommend this for children who are not already accustomed to chewing solid foods. Also, make sure you make the slices small enough that they are not a choking hazard.)

3.       The sun is up (or not). It happens to all of us. You wake up at 4am and find your toddler staring at you like a total creep. “It’s time to get up!” they say, cheerfully. You curse that big kid bed with all its ridiculous freedom and put them back to “sleep” 17 times before you finally give up and make coffee. When this day arrived in our house we looked at all kinds of fancy alarm clocks that tell your kid when it is ok to get up, but those things aren’t cheap and had way more features than we needed. In the end, purchased a sun night light and used it with a timer we already owned.

4.       Audio books after lights out. Dash went through a phase at about two when he would not stay in his bed at bedtime. In part, he was afraid of being in his room alone so we recorded our own audio books for him to listen to after we left the room. We still use the audio books as a way for the boys to wind down with the lights off before bed.

* * * * * * * * * *

What are your most unconventional parenting hacks? Parenting Outside the Box is a reoccurring series so if you comment with your favorite hacks, they may be featured next time!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lucky in Love

Lucky in love. 
Tomorrow, my husband and I celebrate eight years of marriage and in honor of that I'd like to offer a little (unsolicited) advice to a single guy looking for love. Why? Because I'm a romantic. Everyone deserves to be lucky in love and I'd like to think that I've learned enough in eight years of marriage to help someone else find it.

Dear Single Steve,

Though I'm happily married, I've been following your blog for a few years and until recently I couldn't put my finger on what fascinated me about you. This afternoon, I realized why: I'm the kind of girl who marries a guy like you.

My husband is 5' 7" and statistically too short to date. That love from romantic comedies that you are looking for? We have it. We've been married eight years and we are still stupidly in love with each other. We met and married in a year, just after his 30th birthday. He even has a nerdy profession as a number crunching accountant and financial analyst. 

So how does a nerdy guy in his thirties land the girl of his dreams? 

Do I have your attention? Good. Now listen up.

1. Self Confidence is Sexy. My husband and I met once at a party a few years before we starting dating. He was dating this woman who was a bit of a psycho and he was withdrawn and cautious. I remember thinking, "it's really too bad that my friend's brother isn't hot." When we met the second time, he was freshly single and gave zero fucks. He knew who he was, laid all his cards on the table and people were free to like or dislike him. He wasn't a dick, he was just sure of himself. When we met the second time I found him irresistible. The more I talked to him, the sexier he was. He was the exact same guy I met before, just a more confident version of himself.

2. Pursue Happiness. Be happy with yourself and your single life. Happiness is contagious and people want to be around others who have found a way to be content with what they have. If your life isn't good enough for you, why would someone else want to be part of it? Stop looking for the perfect wife and start being the perfect YOU. No woman in her right mind finds desperation attractive.

3. Real love doesn't care if you are too short to date. I'm only an inch shorter than my husband and with the heels I wore on my wedding day, I was taller than him. Guess what? Neither of us cared because what really mattered was that we were starting the rest of our lives together.

4. Be willing to turn your life upside-down. Your future wife is not a puzzle piece that will fit perfectly into your preexisting life. It is entirely possible that the woman for you does not live in a 30 mile radius. She's probably not a friend of a friend that frequents your favorite coffee shop and somehow, you just haven't met yet. Get out of San Diego. Try new restaurants and coffee shops. Take a weekend trip to Palm Springs. Go to the Getty in LA for the day. I moved 500 miles after dating my future husband for 3 months and I have never regretted it. He was absolutely worth it.

Eight years, three kids, one dog, and a fixer upper house later. Please pay no attention
 to the five year old photobombing in his undies behind us. Happily ever after ain't perfect.
5. The recipe for real love is chemistry and commitment. The rest is what you make of it. You know that killer chemistry you have with someone when you are first dating? It's only the beginning. The commitment is what turns chemistry into happily ever after. Love is not a feeling; it is something you do. You hold hands. You kiss. You buy flowers. You make breakfast in bed. You whisk her away on a romantic weekend. If you want it to feel like the movies, then never stop doing things that show her you love her. (And hopefully she does the same for you.)  Stop looking for someone who makes you feel magical and and start making your own magic. 

6. "Feelings follow doing, not the other way around. Lasting, True Love is not about being swept off your feet. Sometimes love is just sweeping the kitchen and being grateful that there is a kitchen and a partner who is contractually obligated to share it with you forever." (Glennon over at Momastery knows what she is talking about.) When you do find her, it's not all going to be sunshine and rainbows. My grandmother gave me the best advice about marriage. She said, "We've been happily married for 45 years. 45 out of 50 is not too bad." Even if it doesn't feel like happily ever after all the time, it doesn't mean she's not the one. 

I'm not saying I've got it all figured out. I'm not even saying that my advice is the key to finding the girl of your dreams. But I will say that love is out there for nerdy guys in their thirties if you know where to look.

Good luck,


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Pounds of Parenting

Last week I officially hit the five years of parenting milestone. In that time, I have been to a lot of playgroups, parks, beaches, school events and birthday parties and I have had the privilege to meet and observe many, many mothers in action. All of these mothers are incredible, hard working, selfless people, but beyond that I noticed many of us have one thing in common: we're fat. I know that is a rather unpopular word these days with all the body affirmation jazz and fat shaming that is happening all over the internet, but before you get out your pitchfork and gather the mob, hear me out. Seeing all of these overweight mothers made me wonder if motherhood itself is expanding our waistlines.

Here are six reasons maintaining a healthy weight is harder for mothers:

1. We are sleep deprived. I've read countless articles lately on the correlation between weight gain and sleep deprivation. How many mothers get eight hours in every night? I can personally attest to overeating when I'm tired. I can't think straight and it's almost as if I can't figure out what's wrong with me. So I eat to try to fill the void the lack of sleep left.

2. The baby weight, obviously. We gain 20-40 pounds growing another human being inside our bodies then rip ourselves to pieces evicting that small human. Not only do we have to heal and figure out how to care for our beautiful, crying, bundle of joy, but we also have to figure out what to do with our new bodies. It's no small task. Learning to balance my son's needs with my own was very difficult, especially in the first year.

3. We are beached. Somehow, dads always seem to end up with the more active jobs in parenting. The next time you go to the beach take a minute to watch what the moms are doing vs. the dads. Frequently, I see the dads splashing around in the water and throwing big kids into the waves. The moms, on the other hand are sitting on the beach, preparing a meal, reapplying sunscreen, nursing the baby, or just reading a book because they finally have five minutes of peace. Some moms don't even bother to wear their bathing suits; maybe because they hate the way they look in them, or maybe because they've just resigned to being the beached parent. If you aren't going to have an opportunity to go in the water, why wear a bathing suit?

4. We are too busy to eat or eat well. I can't tell you how often I am absolutely starving by the time I sit down and eat lunch because between feeding the kids, swapping out the laundry before it mildews, stirring dinner in the crock pot, changing the baby's diaper, letting the dog out, then breaking up a fight, the one hour window between school pick up and nap time blows by and I didn't even get a chance to make myself something, much less eat it. And of course when I am starving I choose fast, easy, bad-for-me food and I eat too much.

5. We are inherently self sacrificing. Now I am no Mother Teresa, but I feel like I am frequently putting my own needs aside in order to care for the needs of others. If I really want to exercise I have to make time to, which usually means I have to choose exercise over something else, like clean my house. More often than not I will choose to do something that benefits my children or husband over doing something just for myself. Unfortunately, there is never a shortage of things to do in this household and so I constantly give myself the short end of the stick.

6. There is cake everywhere. Birthday parties, play groups, PTA meetings and of course every holiday. Every time I turn around there are donuts and cookies, cinnamon rolls, or chips. I have a lot of will power, but I usually break down after the fifth temptation.

If you add a pound or two for each of these, that's an extra TWELVE pounds! While all these things may indeed make it harder to maintain a healthy weight, I don't think it's impossible. I'm not trying to say that we have to accept that these are the facts of motherhood and we should learn to love those love handles. It's an uphill battle and we have to make conscious choices to be more active all the time.

Choose to hand the baby off to dad and go splash in the waves or swim a few laps. Don't settle for being the beached parent. Make yourself a healthy lunch the night before when you pack the kids lunches. Leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed early. Choose YOU, sometimes. You don't deserve the short end of the stick all the time.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off the exercise extreme will power at a PTA meeting.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Kitchen Catastrophe

Last week, I alluded to our accidental kitchen remodel adventure and I know you've been dying to hear the whole story. Let the horror fest begin!

This was the listing photo. It actually looked WORSE in person.
I will never forget walking through this kitchen for the first time; I saw what I thought was hideous 1970's linoleum and was horrified when I found myself squishing through mildew-y CARPET. Who in their right mind puts carpet in the kitchen?
The cabinets were in bad shape and the cabinet hardware was sticky from years of kitchen grease. 

The thought of that nasty carpet still makes me shudder. In spite of it, a more optimistic version of myself looked around the room and thought, "It's ugly, but with some paint and new floors, it has so much potential." It had a great layout, plenty of cabinets and counter top space, and even a spacious pantry. I knew we'd have to live with the buttered popcorn tile for a while before we could afford to replace it, but it was certainly the lesser of the evils.

Oh that tile. It was cream with yellow flecks just like a buttered popcorn Jelly Belly Bean.
As soon as they handed us the keys, we donned our gas masks and giddily ripped out that carpet. We bought the cheapest peel and stick tile we could find on Amazon, slapped some paint on the walls and moved on to the next project. We also put a new kitchen faucet in and fixed a small leak under the kitchen sink. We noted that there was some minor water damage from the leak, but we had bigger fish to fry. There were so many urgent problems (like toilets that wouldn't flush, showers that didn't drain and a room that wasn't ready for new baby that was on the way) we were pretty much putting out fires.

Wallpaper removed and fresh yellow paint to match the tile. 

About a year later, once we had adjusted to the addition of Knox to our family, Mr. Sir decided he was ready to repair the damage under the kitchen sink. It was a seemingly simple job; cut out the damaged wood and replace it with new wood. Except the damage wasn't just under the sink, it seemed to be in the wall and the floor. As he looked closer, the damage went deeper until it became clear that the studs in the wall were rotted and the entire sink and counter would need to be removed to repair it. Ripping out the counter meant damaging the precious buttered popcorn tile and thus began the impromptu kitchen remodel!

Want to see the finished product? Me too. We started this madness in January of 2013 and we are finally getting close to completing it. Stay tuned for a sneak peek next week!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Labors of Love

My fancy red garage door.
Helllloooooo! Everyone back in the swing of things after the long weekend? Yeah, me neither. It was nice to have an extra day off, but long weekends always make me feel like I have to cram five days worth of work into four days. It just makes the week a little more hectic than usual and it's always a little bit hectic around here. But that is another story.

I spent my Labor Day painting my garage door in 100 degree weather and believe it or not, it was awesome. For almost six hours, I had uninterrupted, coherent thoughts. While Mr. Sir wrangled the children all day I worked on a project and completed it. (Ok, almost completed it. I primed it and painted it, but it still needs a second coat.) Regardless, it was so satisfying to accomplish something from start to finish and then stand back and enjoy the fruits of my labor. In motherhood, my job is never done. There's always another dish in the sink, a dirty sock that escaped the washer, another meal to make. Acceptance is the name of the game, and almost clean has to be good enough for this phase of life, because I would go absolutely insane trying to do it all. In fact, after five years of motherhood, I think that I may have forgotten what completing something feels like because finishing this project felt so good. It's almost addicting. And now I've got the project completion bug and let me tell you, there is absolutely no shortage of ongoing projects in this house. 

You see, we have this ridiculous fixer upper house. We knew when we bought it that it needed a lot of love, but we had no idea it was going to be the house from the Money Pit. We also didn't know that (surprise!) we were expecting our son Knox, until the week we closed on the house. All our plans of staying up late after Dash went to bed to power through projects went right out the window.

Over the last four years we have ever so slowly done a project here and another there, trying to balance our growing family with our insane desire to have nice things. The progress has been painstakingly slow, trying to save money by doing all the work ourselves, but right now, maybe even by the end of the month we are about to hit TWO major milestones.

The first, is painting the entire exterior of our house which will be complete when I slap the last coat of paint on our garage door. (For the record, all credit goes to Mr. Sir on that one. He painted every surface of our home except the garage door on weekends and evenings for the better part of the last year. I was busy incubating a different labor of love named Buttercup.) Second, we are getting very close to completing our impromptu kitchen remodel. I'll save the story of the accidental kitchen remodel for another post, but I will tell you that it has been under construction for the better part of two years and that there was CARPET in the kitchen when we bought it four years ago.

Oh, how far we've come! In the meantime, what do you think of my garage door labor of love?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tiger-tastic Parenting

Like many parents, I prefer to use the TV as an independent activity for my kids. In other words, I plop them down in front of it and walk away so I can do something productive like hear my own thoughts or drink coffee in peace. Though I am guilty of using my TV as a babysitter, I have standards. I don't just let them lose with the remote and go willy-nilly watching anything they please. 

Rule # 1: Does not annoy me. I put up with a lot of annoying thing from my kids, but I do that because I love them. I do not love Caillou and I don't want to listen to him whine in the background during coffee time. I turned on the TV to avoid listening to my own children whine. Turning on an annoying show defeats the purpose of TV all together.

Rule # 2: Is more educational than mind numbing. If I am rotting their brains with screen time, they should learn something to counteract the damage.

Though my oldest is outgrowing it, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is one of my favorite kids shows lately. Not only does it fit the not annoying/educational requirements, it has actually taught me a thing or two. Since I went to school to be an elementary school teacher I have taken a ton of classes on childhood development, but honestly I'm a little rusty. I know the concepts I want to teach my kids but sometimes I have a hard time translating them into kid speak. 

Each lesson has a catchy little song which really helps the kids (and you) remember it. The bad news is, sometimes you can't fall asleep at night because you have to potty song stuck in your head. You win some, you lose some. Am I right?

Saying I'm sorry is the first step, then how can I help? Or as we say in our house, First we say I'm sorry, then how can I make it better? Telling someone you are sorry is like sticking a Band-aid on a scraped knee. It looks better on the surface, but doesn't instantly heal the wound underneath. So how do we teach our kids that a quick I'm sorry doesn't always right the wrong? 

In some ways we are different, but in so many ways, we are the same. I want my kids to know that being an individual is ok. They don't have to look or act just like their friends. I also want them to treat others who look differently, whether it's their size, shape, color of their skin or their ability, with kindness and acceptance. Kids are very observant, even at a young age and this is a great way to start talking about the differences they see in the world. 

If you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way. We just finished potty training Knox and we watched this episode of Daniel Tiger for inspiration daily. I love that it incorporates all the basics wrapped up into one simple song. 

And there you have it. I'm 31 years old and I'm still learning from PBS. Bravo, PBS. *slow clap* BRAVO.