Green Goal 2020: Reducing Single-Use Plastic at Home

In a house with a preschooler, there is plastic in abundance. From action figures and tubby toys to the dreaded foot-impaling Legos, my house is teeming with plastic. Some of it, like the drop-able drinkware, can’t be easily avoided until little man is less of a natural disaster. But other products, I recently discovered, can be more easily replaced.

Last July two friends of mine posted regularly about how their family was drastically cutting their plastic usage as part of plastic-free July. It made me think about the number of plastic products I purchased and what swaps I could make at our house. As a single working mom, I don’t have time to make all my products from scratch, and I don’t have the money to spend triple what I was already spending on products I use daily. Luckily, with a little crowdsourcing, I discovered there are some great products easily available that didn’t break the bank or require extra prep time.

The first place I looked was the wall of plastic bottles staring at me each morning in the shower. Like most women, I had various shampoos, conditioners, face, and body washes all in plastic bottles. It took a while to use through all the products I had stockpiled in my closet, but one by one as I ran out of something I looked to replace it with plastic-free options.

Admittedly, the scariest was switching out my shampoo and conditioner. I’ve never loved my thin, limp, often oily hair, but after plenty of experimenting, I had found some liquid products that kept it reasonably manageable. Well, no surprise, finding a bar shampoo that worked also took some trial and error. First I read most don’t lather well with hard water which my town has, so I added a water filter to my shower head. Still, I had no luck with the first bar. Next, I read you need to give it a couple of weeks. Nope, still a greasy mess. Finally, I researched a little more and discovered a different brand with more options for different hair types. Bingo! My hair was back to normal and shiny and untangled in days.

Finding bar soap for my face and body was easier, and switching from my plastic ‘poof’ to a bamboo loofah and from plastic to bamboo toothbrushes were easy switches. But switching to a more natural and plastic-free deodorant proved a rougher, damper switch. In the past, I’d always used a combo antiperspirant and deodorant, but most natural options don’t include the ingredients that keep you dry. Not gonna lie, it took a while for this sweaty girl to get used to this. But once I realized that damp didn’t equate to stinky, I was more confident about the swap. I’m still experimenting to find the perfect bar, but it’s more of a texture and scent preference now.

In the kitchen, I mostly ditched paper towels by switching to bamboo dishcloths and loofah sponges, reduced paper plates and napkins by using real plates and cloth napkins, switched to wooden-handled scrubbers, and most recently I am moving from plastic hand soap and dishwashing bottles to refillable glass ones. In addition to these changes, I’ve switched to Dropps laundry and dishwashing pods that come in recyclable cardboard instead of the thick plastic containers my old brands used. (Here’s a referral coupon from Dropps.)


Most of these switches were easy. The costs were comparable (bar soaps and shampoos last a looong time if you keep them dry between showers!), the results have been as good or better as my previous products, and most importantly I can feel good about making some daily positive changes to leave the world a better place for my son.

Photo credit: ID 137977453 © Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com

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On Turning Three

To my little man on turning three,

The first letter like this I wrote to you as you turned one. You were teetering into toddlerhood but still firmly my baby. You were learning new things each day but still needed me for just about everything. I had grown to love you more than I had ever expected, but some days it was exhausting. Some days I wanted to speed up time to when you were just a little more independent. A little less baby and a little more boy.

Flash forward two years, and I do mean flash, and you stand on the brink of boyhood. You still need your momma for a lot, but every month, every day, you learn to do one more thing without my assistance. You defiantly declare, “I do it on my own!” if I butt in where you feel I’m not needed. And while I am so intensely proud of each new achievement, I am also aware of that small ache that misses you needing your hand in mine.

In the year ahead you’ll master potty training, start preschool, take swimming without me in the water by your side, and probably learn to climb some new terrifying piece of playground equipment without my hands boosting your bum. Because you have indeed become less baby and more boy. It’s wonderful, but it’s also a little sad. I think maybe you sense it, too.

Lately at bedtime, in the darkness of your room, you tell me you need me by your side. “Don’t leave! I want you to snuggle,” you whisper, clinging to my clothes. After two years of putting yourself to sleep, you suddenly need the touch of me beside you again. Being a big boy all day is hard work, and when night falls you’re okay with being my baby again.

I probably should break the habit. I need the hours after you go to bed to be productive. I want you to be a good independent sleeper again. I know there’s a wee bit of manipulation in your puppy dog pleas to “stay more minutes” and I should hold firm and say no.

But the truth is, just as your still small hands grasp my sleeve and pull me close to you, I am clutching tight to the baby you once were and in my heart will always be. So for a few more nights I will curl up by your side, rub your back, and sing to you the same lullaby I’ve sung since you were an infant in my arms.

Even if the almost three year old you changes the lyrics these days to be about tooting. Boyhood here we come.

This time, though, let’s take it slow.

Love you forever and always,

Momma

IVFML Podcast: Sharing my single mother by choice story

Earlier this fall I received an email requesting to be interviewed by another blogger, a podcaster couple actually, who created and hosted the podcast IVFML through Huffington Post. I was honored to be asked and excited to be featured on their site and share my story with their listeners, so of course I agreed. (It didn’t occur to me until later that a podcast meant I’d have to be recorded live and would eventually have to listen to my own voice when the podcast was released, or I might have wimped out, lol!)

Answering Anna’s questions about my journey made me realize how far I had come from first making the decision to become a single mom by choice. It was interesting to reflect on decisions like choosing a donor, that seemed monumental in the moment but now seems fairly unimportant in the day-to-day of raising my son (aside from the amazing connections with his donor sibling families). In fact, in the day-to-day, a lot of things that felt hugely important or unbelievably difficult seem inconsequential now. Chatting with Anna and her husband made me realize just how hard this single parenting gig has been at times, but also how I wouldn’t change a thing.

To hear the whole conversation check out the episode on iTunes here: IVFML Season 2, Episode 9: All By Myself. My part of the episode starts around 16:30, but the beginning with Molly Hawkey, a single woman and comedian just starting her journey to single motherhood, is both hilarious and poignant.

Also, as a side note, I recently started an Instagram account for the blog @minus_prince_charming I’d love to have you following along!

Image credit: ID 118203431 © Oleg Dudko | Dreamstime.com

Holiday Book Advent Calendar, Year Two

Last year I wrote a post about trying out a holiday book advent calendar with my son, who at the time was 20 months. It was an idea that I hadn’t seen or paid attention to prior to having kids, but fell in love with after little man arrived. It was a huge hit with both of us—he loved opening a present every night, and I loved reading different holiday-themed stories each night. Needless to say, it was a no-brainer to do it again this year—although I did add a bit of a twist.

I started with the bin of books I put away from last year. I weaned out the true baby books and some I just didn’t particularly like. To replace those, I went a little nuts on Amazon creating a list of potential new books for this year. Under Christmas stories for toddlers I searched for his interests…er, obsessions: dinosaurs, anything Disney Junior, Paw Patrol, Give a Mouse a Cookie, lift-the-flap, and scratch and sniff books. Then I added a few classics like Snowmen at Christmas and Bear Stays Up for Christmas. We had been gifted The Polar Express this summer to cover the train obsession, as well as the books-to-make-mom-cry category. (Seriously, I sobbed during my first reading of that one!)

A few flash sales later (and one email to his grandmother with a link my wish list) and bingo, I had more than the 25 books needed to fill out the month. This weekend I wrapped them all, combining a few sets, and leaving the Gaga (his name for gramma) books at her house to be opened and read with her on Fridays when they’re together all day.

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Last year I stacked the books and let him choose a book randomly from the pile. This year I put them in a plastic bin loosely ordered to assure the newer books will be opened early, so we can enjoy them all month.

December 1st falling on a Saturday this year, I also chose a special book to be opened first, Christmas Cookie Day, and along with it a small present I found on sale, the Melissa and Doug Christmas Cookie set. If all goes well, I’ll let him open both after nap and we can bake a batch of real cookies together to eat while we read the first of many holiday books!

The only other change I’m making to our holiday book advent calendar this year is adding an element to try to teach my little guy about giving, not just receiving. Our thankful turkey and focus on gratitude this month left me looking for ways to continue teaching and modeling positive qualities. I made a “Give, Make, Help” list of 25 things to do, with the idea that before we open a gift from the book pile each night, he’d first do something nice for someone else. I kept everything pretty simple, age-appropriate, and, with only a few exceptions, mostly things we can do right at home, such as help feed the cat or clean up toys, make a card or picture for someone, or give hugs or kisses. I’m sure it won’t be flawless, but it’s a small way of beginning to teach him that the holidays are about caring for others, and gifts are only one way we show that.

Frankly, I’d prefer snuggles and books with my boy to any present.

Happy Holidays and happy reading!

For those looking to add some new stories to their own holiday list this year, here are some affiliate links to some of the books in my little guy’s advent book calendar this year.

Thankful Momma, Thankful Toddler

One of my besties recently bought me a daily journal inspired by an author, podcaster, and overall kickass lady we both like, Rachel Hollis. Its purpose: to inspire us to become equally kickass by achieving our dreams through visualization and affirmations. Sounds powerful, right? It’s also pretty damn difficult. However, while the transformation to totally kickass is still a work in progress, the other part of the journal was more an immediate success.

Before writing your goals, journal asks users to write down five things for which they are thankful each and every day. I felt I was grateful for so much in my life, but I really liked the idea of focusing on it more purposefully for a few minutes each morning. A couple weeks in I am finding I am not bored with the repetition, but rather using it to stretch my thinking about all I have to be thankful for—this time of year and always.

I could sit in bed each morning and repeat the same five things: family, friends, a good job, a nice place to live, and coffee, of course. Writing these five things over and over would certainly be a good way to start my day because I can’t say enough how much these mean to me and how grateful I am that my family and friends have made possible my greatest joy, becoming a mother. However, I’ve tried instead to write my list differently each morning to go deeper into what it means to be grateful.

A couple days I chose to just write three things, but added specific details that stood out to me as special about each on that morning. Other days I tried to pick less obvious things that I appreciate, like the afternoon light this time of year, the smell of leaves as we run through them kicking them into the air, or the way Ian sings Disney Junior theme songs to his toys at 4:30am, which might be the one thing that keeps me from screaming at him to go back to sleep. And on some days my grateful list is more of a find-good-in-the-hard-parts list, a needed reminder that while I may be feeling stressed or sleep deprived, my life is truly good and full, I am unbelievably lucky, and people are better than the news would have me believe. It’s those days, the not so easy days, that I truly appreciate the push to complete my thankful list.

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Little man, at two and a half, is far too young to read or appreciate momma’s self-help and empowerment books, but he’s at the perfect age to soak things up like a sponge and mimic any and all behaviors. So while my morning musings are sometimes personal and usually done alone (when he stays asleep or at least plays quietly until 5am), I decided to start a family tradition this November to introduce him to the idea of gratitude. Since he’s a toddler, and I had a burning desire to try out my at-home laminator, it came in the form of a thankful turkey.

Each night before bed, we ‘do our feathers’ by writing down one thing we are thankful for from the day. At his age, he still needs lots of prompting. The best way to elicit a genuine response has been to ask “What made you happy today?” or “What was the best part of today?” His answers have ranged from pretty silly, “Momma’s water bottle,” the one he’s not supposed to drink from; to genuine, “the restaurant,” after a dinner out with my parents where he got to have chocolate milk and sit at a booth; to melt your heart, “having pizza with Papa here,” with Papa said in a way that made it obvious he was the real prize.

I always share my answer, too, so he hears what I am grateful for that day, and we’ve even gotten his grandparents involved on nights they are over for dinner. Each feather is then labeled with the person’s name and the date, so I can save a few gems to laugh at in years to come!

By the time we reach Thanksgiving, my journal will be a regular routine, our paper turkey will be pretty plump, and we’ll both have probably memorized (and be tired of) the three books I’ve been reading him about being thankful. Most importantly, I will have planted the seed of gratitude so we will both recognize just how much we have to be thankful for—most especially each other.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Affiliate Links:

The books we’ve been reading – 

For anyone else crazy enough to want their own at-home laminator, this simple Amazon one works fine!

And for anyone who likes the idea, but isn’t into cutting out dozens of paper feathers, lol!

Motherhood Murdered My Creative Mojo

While most mothers, myself included, love our children and cherish our role as parents, many will also tell anyone who’ll listen how merciless motherhood can be. Some mothers will TMI you to death about the various body parts that will never return to their original size, shape, or functionality. Plenty will admit that nearly three years after giving birth, the hormonal and emotional changes still leave them bawling like a newborn with colic at the mere mention of a Hallmark movie. Nearly all can espouse to the damage years of sleep deprivation can do to one’s memory, patience, and sanity.

Me? I’m here mourning the loss of my creative mojo.

Prior to getting pregnant I wrote. I wrote. A. Lot. Four novels and a novella in about six years, in addition to nearly weekly blogs. I would come home from work, run (or slowly plod) the same four miles of sidewalk every day, surrendering my thoughts to my characters and the fictional world in which they lived, then crash on my couch for marathon writing sessions that could last until two in the morning. Writing didn’t pay the bills, but it was more than a hobby or something I did. Writing was who I was.

Just after announcing on my blog that I had become pregnant, I was honored to be accepted into a writing conference for authors of children’s and young adult novels. I sat down with a real New York agent to conference about my newest book, and while she gave me feedback on my novel, what she was really interested in was my blog and my real-life situation of becoming a single mother by choice. I was encouraged by her excitement and interest. I thought maybe this was my ticket to breaking into the world of paid authorship. So after a few more rejection letters regarding my novel, I decided to focus my writing efforts on blogging about my experiences.

Throughout my pregnancy I kept up the blogging with some regularity. It wasn’t too hard. Blogs are usually short, and the time it took to write and post them was about as long as I wanted to spend on anything other than nesting and napping.

When my son arrived, even the blogging trickled down to nearly non-existent. If I wrote, it was heartfelt and impassioned, because I didn’t have the time or energy to write anything I didn’t feel needed to be shared with the world. But I didn’t write much. And I never wrote fiction, not just because I didn’t have time, I also never had ideas. It was as if the daily tasks of motherhood had sapped my ability to create.

I thought it would pass, this muddling of my creative mojo. I figured it was just a form of mommy brain, which turns out is more than a catchy excuse for forgetting your pump parts on the counter half a dozen times, and is actually scientifically proven changes to a woman’s brain during and after pregnancy. There’s no such proof that motherhood specifically kills creativity, but I suppose it makes sense that if certain parts of my brain changed and expanded, others had to make room.

About a year and a half into this single motherhood gig, I actually had a spark of creativity. A new idea for a novel began to burn in my writing soul, and for a few days, maybe even a week, I was convinced I could nourish it into a full-blown return of my creative self. I couldn’t. I don’t remember what suffocated that spark to keep it from becoming a flame. Perhaps one of us got sick, or my son had a few nights of interrupted sleep, or laundry piled up to the point I considered wearing underwear my post-pregnancy body had no business wearing. In other words, motherhood happened. And motherhood always trumps creative mojo.

But should it? Always? At what point does an artist or writer’s sense of self, their creative soul, need to not be ignored for fear of losing it altogether? If there is a point of no return, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of it. If I wait until my son is older, my job is easier, my finances are more secure, my brain and body have recovered from these early years (or at least settled into a new normal), I’m not sure I’ll still have the writing skills or publishing knowledge I have now.

Most importantly, I worry my creativity will be so diminished there will be no hope in reviving it. I love being a mother, but I’m not ready to allow motherhood to murder my creative mojo.

To keep my creativity alive, I know I need to prioritize. I need to let go of my need for a clean, picked up house. Despite the mental escape of mindlessly skimming through social media at night, I also need to put away my phone and pick up my pen and notebook. More than any of these, though, I need to find a way to mentally reset, to learn to daydream again, to allow my mind to wander—and not to all the worries, tasks, and responsibilities of parenthood. That’s not easy anymore. What used to come naturally, will now take work. But I’m willing to put in that work.

So I will continue to read articles about my craft and to inspire myself by reading novels written by fiction writers who made motherhood, even single motherhood, and writing mesh. (J.K. Rowling, you are, as always, my hero.) I will keep plugging at the draft of my newest novel, even if the pages I write after an exhausting day of teaching and parenting are mostly crap. I will retrain my brain to let go, to wander, to create again.

Because while the pulse of my creativity is weak, it remains—a soft, steady reminder of that part of my soul whose voice will not be silenced—even if it is covered in snot and sleep deprived.

 

Photo credit: © Viktoriia Hnatiuk | Dreamstime.com

Learning to Trust My Mom Gut

Last weekend my family was having a party for my grandmother’s 95th birthday, obviously a very special occasion, one I truly wanted to attend and wanted my son to attend. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to start at noon, the time my son is usually drifting off to sleep for his nap. It was also being held in one of my grandmother’s favorite places, Purgatory Chasm. For those of you outside central Massachusetts, think picturesque wooded picnic area surrounded by potentially deadly (and therefore seriously toddler-tempting) rocks and rock chasms.

So was it an ideal event for us to go to? No. In fact my first mom gut reaction was HELL NO.

But then other influences started creeping in. Out of state relatives whom I would have loved catching up with were attending. My niece and nephew were coming, and my son adores his older cousin. There would be chocolate cake (hey, that lure is real). And probably most importantly, the loss of my other grandmother this spring weighed on my heart, and the ‘what if this is the last birthday?’ thought popped up and wouldn’t easily be swatted away.

So I squashed my mom gut instinct that told me a tired toddler overstimulated with family and food and tempted with his favorite activity, rock climbing, would be a disastrous combination. And we went anyways.

Do I need to tell how this ended? Do I need to describe the epic meltdown that ensued shortly after his usual nap time when I had to tell him no he couldn’t climb the chasm that our picnic table was placed directly in front of? Do I need to explain why I ended up holding him for his entire three hour nap on the couch when we got home and he still couldn’t settle? It wasn’t pretty. But it also wasn’t his fault. This wasn’t a case of a two year old being a brat when he didn’t get his way. (We’ve had those meltdowns too, so I’m well versed in what they look like.)

This was my fault. I know what my son needs (sleep, regular mealtimes, minimal stimulation near nap), and I ignored it because I had a case of family fomo. I’d like to tell you it was the first time I’d ignored my mom gut, but the truth is I’ve already done it too many times to recall. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t. Even when it does, it’s a pretty crappy parenting technique to play Russian roulette with my kid’s emotions.

Little man isn’t the easy-going, adjust-to-any-environment kid. He never has been and maybe never will be. I thought I’d accepted that before now, but the truth is I’m always looking for signs he’s ‘grown out of it’ or is getting better in crowds or stimulating situations. Sometimes it’s because as a single mom I really want, maybe even need, to get out and attend these events. Other times I’ve felt guilty missing out on important family gatherings. Either way it’s often led me to do something my mom gut told me was not a good idea with my fingers crossed and breath held.

I hope after this last incident that I’m finally done with ignoring my mom gut. I can’t shelter my son from every possible difficult situation, but while he’s still little, he needs an advocate to look out for what’s best for him. He needs me to trust my mom gut.