Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stay-at-Home Mom of School-Agers?

Most of my fellow stay-at-home mom friends and I talk about "going back to work"--whatever that means to each of us--once our youngest is in all-day school. Some of us want to, some of us don't but feel we should do it anyway, and some of us are totally undecided. But there seems to be an expectation that once the children are old enough to be gone during the day, at-home moms re-enter the working world.

But Nataly over at Work it, Mom! has an interesting column up right now, with many VERY interesting reader comments, about the exact opposite idea: that perhaps it's even more important/necessary to be home when children are in school than when they're babies and toddlers. I found the comments most fascinating of all, because almost all of them are from moms of school-agers--some working moms, some at-home moms--who confirm this notion from direct experience. The working moms universally lament how much more they feel needed at home now that their children are in school and household life and scheduling has become even more complicated. Click here and check it out.

Food for thought. What do you think?

I Need Your Vote!

My little town's newspaper is sponsoring a mother-daughter look-alike photo contest this spring in honor of Mother's Day. Genevieve and I are entered with this photo:

First prize is $50 to spend in the shops downtown. Since there are something like 46 entries, it's unlikely we'll win, but don't you want to go to the online edition of the newspaper and vote for us?

(Unfortunately, you do have to register and log in to vote. Argh! But if some of you are willing, your vote is appreciated. Genevieve and I are B-R-O-K-E and $50 to spend downtown would be a real treat. You know, ice cream cones and whatnot.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spring Style, Target-Style*

*[Edited to add: I was in no way compensated by Target for this post.]

So remember when I said I was going to go on a Target spring-style shopping adventure, and show you all what I scored? Well, I finally did it.

Making this shopping expedition all the more wonderful, I used a very generous gift card from one of my very best friends, a birthday present I have saved until now. Also, I went BY MYSELF, ensuring that I could take as much time as necessary, and try on ten zillion things if I wanted, in multiple sizes if I wanted, over and over if I wanted, before deciding what to buy. Joy!

I had $100 to spend. However, since I needed to stock up on a few personal basic essentials also (white t-shirts, underthings), I used a little less than that on spring outfits for my daughters and me, and went a little over the $100 gift card as well. That's fine; I expected to.

To see what I came up with in the end, see below. But first, please ignore the terrible lighting. (GAH, I am not quite that washed-out looking in real life--I hope.)

On Julia and Genevieve: super-sweet matching Circo "LOVE" tanks and little-girl skorts make for perfect summer playground play, $4 for each piece for a total of $8 per daughter. (Eight dollars! For an entire outfit!) Julia also got an extra Cherokee solid pink tee for $5.

On me: First, a Liberty of London for Target flowered ruffled sleeveless blouse, $20.

I plan to mostly wear this with skirts this summer:

It looks better with a dark-colored, more contrasting bottom, doesn't it?

but in the first photo, I paired it with the super-versatile Merona modern-fit chino Bermudas I bought on this shopping trip, $18. (These need to be taken in a bit at the waist, so will ultimately cost a bit more than this for the alterations. The smaller size did not fit my rear end. That's life as a curvy girl.) The blouse would also look great with dark jeans. Necklace, worn as a bracelet, and packaged with a pair of earrings, $13 total.

Recall that I purchased the bright purple ruffly ballet flats awhile back, because they were on sale for ten dollars.

Note: I also bought a lovely printed lightweight summer scarf, much like this one only more brightly-colored, for $13, that does not match this outfit so is not pictured, but which I will wear to brighten up solid tees.

I REALLY wanted to add this dress to my shopping cart, but I was worried about wrinkling and comfort with the super-crisp cotton, AND I was trying to stick to my budget. Maybe I'll watch for it later on sale.

Total for the above: $87.

Proving that budget-restricted, style-conscious, active moms of small children CAN look pretty and pulled together, and dress their kids in comfy, cute separates, for a VERY reasonable price.

(Note: I will not be wearing those shoes to the park.)

And that's spring style for mamas, from Target. Happy shopping!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sorry for the Lack of Posts This Week

People. I know I've hardly written a thing this week. I have an entire style post all ready to go, regarding my guerilla-style attack on Target--all kid-less and list-driven and budget-restricted and style-seeking--last weekend, but I can't publish it until I get some photos taken to go with it. But I need someone else to take the photos (of me with my girls). And by the time Christopher comes home at night, no one's in the mood for modeling clothes for a photo shoot. I promise I am trying. Check back!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Parenting is an Endurance Sport

So yesterday right after Julia's swimming lessons, those of the tears and the clinging to my waist like a barnacle and the "I don't wanna go in the pool!" variety which understandably gave me a giant headache (oh dear God, the torturous swimming-phobia, when will it end?), our family left on an hour-long road trip up to the city to attend the 4th birthday party for the daughter of our close friends. From 1 to 3. Which is naptime.

If you don't know our family very well, you might assume that my small daughters would nap in the car on the way there. Seeing as how IT WAS NAPTIME AND ALL.

My daughters have not slept in the car since their inaugural rides home from the hospital after they were born. OK, I may exaggerate slightly. But not much.

Of course the fact that it was naptime meant that the whining and belligerence were more pronounced than their usual road-trip levels. I may have threatened Genevieve with the prospect of not getting any cake at the party. I know it's totally mean. But it worked. People, don't judge until you've walked a mile in my shoes. Or driven 60 miles with my three-year-old.

At long last we arrived at the city park where the party was held. The second we stopped the car, both girls said they needed to use the restroom, so Christopher took one and I took the other. Approximately 20 minutes and two bathroom accidents later, we arrived at the party--45 minutes late, in different clothes, with two tired children who kept asking me if they could go home and go to sleep.

Luckily there was cake. For everyone. Even Genevieve. And, despite the naptime hour and the swimming-lesson-related exhaustion, we all had a good time seeing old friends and playing at the playground.

But next time I think I'm having all our old friends come to US.

These babies are four and three now!

(The daughter of our friends--the birthday
girl yesterday--
and Genevieve, November
2006, at six and three months old.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just to Be Clear About the Spinach Smoothie

People! Do not cook your spinach if you try the Green Monster (see below). RAW SPINACH, PEOPLE! It will not taste like spinach when it's all blended up, I promise you. Be sure to blend until it is totally smooth, like, uh...a smoothie.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happiness is a Spinach Smoothie. Also Singing in the Morning.

So so so busy. SO busy. But a few tidbits to keep you hanging on:

I just finished Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project." Fascinating, people. Seriously--I recommend that every single one of you go out and find this book (a fellow preschool mom lent her copy to me) and read it. It has the potential to be life-changing--whether you feel like you're truly "unhappy" or not. Gretchen didn't think she was unhappy before she started her year-long Happiness Project; she just thought she could be happier. And the way she went about it--and the results--kept me up reading past my bedtime several nights in a row.

Not everything resonated with me, of course, and at times I shook my head in discouragement over how HARD and TIME-CONSUMING it seemed to work on being happier. I mean, Gretchen's project was intense! But I can also see how adopting even one or two of her ideas could have a big effect on anyone's daily life. For instance: I have decided from now on to respond to my daughters' school-morning meltdowns by singing. It can't hurt, right? Except for how it may strain my brain to resist the SNAPPING and the YELLING?

In other life-improving news, my new obsession is having a Green Monster every morning for breakfast. Do you know about these? Stay with me here, people. A Green Monster is a smoothie made from--and this is the basic recipe, which can be plumped up in various ways with more or less of the ingredients, or by adding things such as ground flaxseed, protein powder, peanut butter, etc. etc. etc.--1 cup vanilla soy milk (or regular milk with a splash of vanilla extract and honey, though soy milk makes it creamier and, I think, yummier), 1/2 banana, and 2 cups (I use 2 large handfuls) of raw spinach.

STAY WITH ME PEOPLE. You whip it all up in a blender and it ends up being a bright green, frothy drink that DOES NOT TASTE LIKE SPINACH. Honestly, it tastes like banana and vanilla. Yum! And you cannot do much better, health-wise, than eating 2 cups of raw spinach every morning. After breakfast you've already gotten 3 servings of fruit/vegetables! All sorts of health-food/fitness bloggers rave about the energy-producing and skin-glowing properties of regular Green Monsters (all that vitamin C!), and I've got to say, after three weeks straight of a.m. Green Monsters, I feel it!

OK, I'm off my health-food soapbox. I understand that may have been boring. Sorry.

More news: off to the podiatrist this morning to review what is wrong with my poor arthritic runner's feet. I plan to preface my evaluation by telling the doctor--who happens to be the father of one of Genevieve's nursery school classmates; gotta love this small-town living--that I am willing to do pretty much anything to ensure that I can continue to be a runner. The main objective here is CONTINUING TO RUN. So that Mama can pound out all her mama-stress on the road rather than harboring it in her head. Where it seems to come out in snapping and yelling. No, in all honesty, I just love to run. I had to give it up for five years awhile back, and it was seriously depressing. I honestly went through a grieving period. I need to run; it's the only exercise I really like, and it's my favorite hobby.

Sorry, nothing about my children today! My life is very boring right now. Busy yet boring. Onward!

Go read the happiness book and try the spinach smoothie. You won't regret it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

This is Why I Can't Go Back to Work. I Don't Have Time.

In the next two weeks, five family members and close friends (or kids of close friends) have birthdays, all of which involve celebrations, presents, and/or cake-making that include my participation. This is all super fun, of course, but oh my the busy-ness.

And then there's the furniture shopping that has become an emergency, after I basically broke through the seat of our old rocker last night as I sat down to enjoy my Reese's Peanut Butter Egg after my pathetic attempt to squeeze in a workout on my currently injured foot. Ahem. I swear, it wasn't the size of my rear end that broke the chair. The hole in the seat has been a long time coming. Really.

And then there's the fact that I am PAINTING THE HOUSE this spring/early summer. Oh dear God. No, no, to be precise, I am painting a bedroom myself (to start), hiring out the entire common living area on both floors of our house, and then working on gradual plans to repaint the other bedrooms and all three bathrooms. But I am in charge of the whole painting endeavor, from buying the blue painter's tape for the bedroom to contracting with the painting company for the big common-area job.

Did you know that spring also means nursery school and kindergarten field trips, the last day of preschool (it comes way too early), and preparations for my firstborn's birthday? Did you know that in one five-week span I will have attended at least six doctor and dentist appointments, my own and my children's combined? (Note: once you turn 39 your whole body starts to fall apart, apparently.) Oh! And two weekends of company visiting.

Have I mentioned oh dear God the busy-ness?

I often wonder, now that my children are three and five and have little school activities and parent meetings and teacher conferences and swim lessons and toddler tumbling and all the rest, how, if I currently feel like my life is a crazed race of busy-ness, I am ever going to survive the school-age years. You know, when children get REALLY busy? And you have to run carpool and get them here and there for games and lessons and sleepovers and even MORE birthday parties?

I'm not going to be able to take it.

Better to focus on today, and the cupcakes, and avoiding accidentally sitting down in the hole in the chair.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Good Week for Some Good Luck

OK, you all, I never win anything. And this has been a lousy week in some regards. My history of chronic pain and foot problems has come back to haunt me with a vengeance, and I am off my feet and away from running (and trying not to be in tears). I also have an appointment with a podiatrist for next week, to discuss my arthritis and my swollen painful toe joint that appeared overnight and is KILLING ME, PEOPLE.

So! Isn't this the perfect week, and simultaneously the most ironic week, to find out I just won $100 for a comment I left on a fitness column over at BlogHer.com about my proudest fitness accomplishment? Which happened to be achieving a life as a runner again after longstanding arthritis and two pregnancies?

It's almost as if I tempted fate with that comment, isn't it, people? The way immediately afterward my foot felt like it was going to fall right off and I had to stop running and all my shoes began to hurt and I started envisioning with horror a life of no more running ever again? Um, yeah.

But still! You all! I JUST WON $100!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Drinking More Wine Might Be Good

Some of you might remember that I have a wonderful, holistic-minded nurse practitioner as my primary care clinician.

I don't see her often, because generally speaking I'm quite healthy, but when I do schedule a check-up (or emergency appointment because all my hair is falling out from stress), she not only seems to believe that modern at-home motherhood can be stressful rather than making me feel like only women with high-powered careers have anything to be stressed about, but she also gives prescriptions like, "Go outside and walk around your house in the grass five times during your daughters' naps; the fresh air and nature will do you good" or "Schedule regular multi-family outdoor potlucks all spring and summer, so the children can all run around in the backyard and you and your husband can have some adult social time with the grown-ups."

I get the feeling she's more invested in my own happiness than I am, which, while probably not the correct equation, is relatively satisfying in a medical professional.

I'm not all that stressed at the moment, but I am battling several barriers to true contentment these days, which, aren't we all, right? I'm sure you don't need to hear all about my foot problems (no running = heartbroken) or my teeth-clenching (= serious dental issues) or blah blah blah.

In addition, I'm struggling to write a book (in my three hours of "free time" per week, which sometimes evaporate if medical appointments or dental check-ups or required errands crop up), I'm in charge of handling the details of having our entire house interior repainted this summer, and my babies continue to grow up, leaving further and further behind those toddler years I can't help but recall as the best--hard but in a go-go-you-can-do-it sort of way that lent itself to pride and an adrenaline rush, and full of sweetness. That summer they were three and one was the best. It really was. And it's gone now. And don't go telling me all the years ahead have their best moments. They're still not one and three.

But in the end I believe in happiness and contentment and love and joy. And I believe in a holistic view of life and health, where family potlucks are as crucial as prescription medication. I still believe I can be a fulfilled, happy mom; that my babies are still sweet babies even if they'll be four and six this summer; that I can write the book. I think it takes some work though.

Which is why I've scheduled a family dinner with friends for this weekend, and I've secured myself a copy of Gretchen Rubin's runaway bestseller and talk of the Internet, "The Happiness Project," and I'm starting to read it today. Because there are things that would make you happy that you just can't magically produce: a more comfortable household income; a secure retirement fund; a backyard with a playset; feet that aren't breaking down on you at age thirty-nine; extended family in a five-mile radius, ready for babysitting and dinners and drop-in breakfasts and just taking a load off your shoulders sometimes; a book contract.

But then there are things you can willfully, consciously do for yourself, to increase all likelihood of contentment and joy.

Which includes being grateful for the now of your mothering days, which, compared to your children's teen years, are probably like heaven on earth.

Is anyone else reading "The Happiness Project"? What do you think?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sugar, Spring, and Other Things Starting With the Letter 'S'

You will all be happy to know that, after my ban on sweets during Lent ended on Sunday, I did not slide headlong into sugar oblivion. (I suppose it could still happen?) I had my small Dairy Queen Heath Bar Blizzard and enjoyed it thoroughly. I did not then go raid the Tupperware full of Chips Ahoy in the pantry (the remains of a playdate) or eat my daughters' Easter basket jelly beans. And I still haven't. Dare I say that moderation in all things sugary may be the wonderful end result of giving up sweets for Lent? We'll see.

In other news, my babes went back to school yesterday after ten days (counting weekends) of spring break. Believe it or not, I was sad to see their vacation end. We did SO MUCH fun stuff during those ten days. Sure, it exhausted me to dive headlong into every nonstop day full of special activities without the respite of morning school, but the girls and I truly enjoyed each other. It was great.

Finally, Julia asked the other day how the man's sperm and the woman's egg actually get to one another, so I had to try to explain S-E-X for the first time. Uh, crazy? Clearly she had no idea what I was talking about, and probably thought I was speaking some sort of other language. I used to lead parent-education classes about teaching toddlers, preschoolers, and older children about anatomy, sex, and sexuality, so this is nothing I haven't thought about at great length (and for anyone who cares, I highly recommend this book), but seriously? There is just no simple way to describe what actually occurs in order to create a baby. I mean, honestly. It's crazy!

Lord have mercy. It's the nonstop parenting train over here, and it's an express. Once you get on, there's no stopping! Not even when the children start asking how babies are made.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Say Cheese

Last Friday, a friend and I took our four girls to the big city an hour away to visit the Children's Museum there, as we did last year (for the first time) during spring break. It was just as fun, adventurous, and exhausting as we remembered, only this year our babies are no longer in diapers and our children are all more able to run away from us into large crowds. (Note: Children's Museums during spring breaks are total chaos. I have never seen so many people--and strollers--in one place.)

Our trip took more than half the day, meaning that when we got home at 2 p.m., I tossed the children into their naptime beds and collapsed. And no, I did not cook dinner OR exercise that night.

Proving that it's just as hard to get two children ages three and five to look and smile appropriately at the camera as it is when those children are two and four:

Genevieve and Julia, Children's Museum, one year ago

Genevieve and Julia, Children's Museum, last Friday

And again, with Genevieve showing me her gums for an unknown reason

(I also find it crazy how little my daughters changed physically in the past year. They both still wear those shirts they have on in the first picture!)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Sugar, Er, I Mean Happy Easter

So, are you wondering how my giving-up-sweets-for-Lent project went? Are you wondering how I feel today, Easter Sunday, the day the sugar ban is OVER? Are you picturing me lounging around, surrounded by Cadbury Creme Eggs up to my neck, joyfully discarding foil wrapper after foil wrapper over my shoulder and flooding my brain with sugar-rush happiness?

Well, I'm not doing that. Yet.

No, really, the sugar fast was a strange thing. I suffered GREATLY for the first few weeks, maybe even the first full month. In other words, I suffered greatly FOR MOST OF LENT. In the beginning, I swear I could feel my brain losing serotonin faster than a leaky bucket losing water. I went crazy trying to substitute artificial sweetener and alternate junk foods for my usual daily sugar treats, which didn't really work. Yet, I kept doing it, for weeks--feverishly seeking the kind of reward my brain cells used to get from ice cream and chocolate and cookies, searching for a quick energy boost or mood lift. Infuriatingly, during this time I believe I actually gained a few pounds. ARGH!

Then, near the very end, avoiding sweets became easy. I didn't crave sugar, and I stopped eating anything with non-sugar sweeteners. I didn't buy Cheetos. I didn't fantasize about going through the Dairy Queen drive-thru. It was amazing for a sugar addict like myself. I even lost a few pounds. What amazed me about this process was how long it took to feel "weaned" off of sweets. I can't believe it took nearly six weeks to feel uncrazed about sugar, to not think about the fact that I was actively resisting treats. What a struggle!

And how ironic that it only became easy just when Lent was ending. I know, I know--you're going to point out that I could always just keep it up. There's no reason I have to resume eating dessert just because it's Lent is over. To that I say, "Is Dairy Queen open on Easter?"

No, seriously (actually I was completely serious about that DQ question), I look forward to consuming dessert, treats, and iced mochas again. I just hope and plan to resume doing so at a much less frequent rate than I used to, before the Lenten fast. It would be nice to keep such sweets as occasional treats and not daily indulgences. Although I'm a bit worried that once my brain gets a taste, it might be impossible to embrace moderation. Will I eat a chocolate egg and then tumble straight into sugar addiction once more?

You can ask me later, after I've enjoyed my DQ Blizzard.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Spring! Or is it Summer?

It's been in the upper 70s here the past few days, a summery temperature that came out of nowhere and had the girls and me out in bare legs and sandals, eating lunch in the yard on a picnic blanket, and playing "soccer" until we were sweaty. (Note: playing soccer when you're three and five and know next to nothing about the sport means running back and forth doing free kicks through makeshift goalie-less goals made from orange plastic cones. It's still fun.)

Of course this abrupt change in weather also had me kneeling in my daughters' room at inopportune moments (i.e., right before playing outside, or on the cusp of bedtime), pawing through closet baskets of hand-me-downs and put-away-for-the-winters, searching for sandals and shorts and summer pj's. Poor Genevieve is without running-around sandals for now, and suffers a severe lack of short-sleeved pajamas. I guess Julia was size 3T in the winter.

We're still spring-breaking, and enjoying every minute. Well, there was that moment the other morning when Julia asked me five times in a row when I was going to touch up her nail polish, even though I'd already answered her, and I thought it might be a challenging day. Oh, and a few days ago Julia did insist on changing her outfit five times in one day, after we'd gone over and over what would be good clothes for a fancy little-girls' tea party, but aside from that, we've been truly enjoying ourselves. One thing I've learned as a full-time stay-at-home mom in a household with limited income is how to create fun with very little or no money. Our family can't afford to travel over spring break, but I was determined to make this week a fun and joyful "stay-cation" for my girls, and I think I'm succeeding. Tea parties, playdates, picnics, mani-pedis, baking, cooking, and doing art are all inexpensive if not free--and when you're three and five, they're awesome fun.

Happy April, everyone! And if you live in Minnesota, enjoy the weather. I'm sure in a day or two it will be 45 degrees.