On Turning One

To my little man on turning one,

You probably won’t remember anything of your first year. Your knowledge of it will come from photos, videos, and stories told to you by family and friends. In other words, you’ll get the highlight reel.

Honestly, I’m not sure my memory will be much different. Already those early hours, days, and weeks have begun to blur into that foggy place we call the past. My clearest memories are those too special—or too scary—to forget.

Waking up from surgery and wanting to meet you so badly it hurt.

Seeing you for the first time, so small, so fragile, so mine.

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Watching you find my breast and begin to feed, and feeling overcome with amazement that our bodies worked together so innately to give you just what you needed.

Snuggling skin to skin with you that first night. Secretly enjoying the fact I had no one there to share you with.

The overwhelming fear of hearing you had two holes in your tiny heart. The comfort of your uncle’s words, when he reminded me worrying about the future was futile and told me to focus on loving you in the moment. He was so right. You healed in record time, amazing the doctors and relieving your worried mom and grandparents in just six short months.

The struggles with nursing, every other day weight checks, reflux and dairy intolerances that left you screaming in pain and me willing and wanting to do anything to make you feel better. Then finally the chub, those cheeks, that little crease in your thighs that made all the struggle worth it—and made the whole world want to squeeze you!

Your firsts. First smile. First giggle (which was for your cousin, not for me, by the way). The first time you rolled. The first real injury, a faceplant into the cabinet. Your first word (out, not momma; I’m starting to see a pattern here).

But that’s not to say I won’t remember little moments, too. The snuggles in my bed (when co-sleeping became my first never-say-never parenting realization). The way you smile at me every morning when I walk in your room (because you eventually did learn to sleep there). The magic you seem to have to make your grandparents melt when you enter a room. The softness of your hair and the sound of your breathing as you drift off to sleep each night. And so many more everyday things that won’t necessarily make the baby book, but are etched into my memory for being as unforgettable as they are unremarkable.

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You may read this years from now and think it silly I got so sappy and sentimental at what is really just the start of our adventures. And maybe you’ll be right to laugh at me. But for now, I’m going to allow myself to reminisce, because, while our bigger adventure together has indeed just begun, this one part, this year of newness and need, is over. And already I miss it.

But that doesn’t lessen my excitement for the year to come. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that just when I think I can’t love you more, I do. So bring on year two. The good, the rough, and the love that shines through it all.

I’m so lucky to be your mommy, Little Man!

Love,

Mom…mommy, momma, mum-mum—any version will do. Keep working on that, ok?

Raising a Child Without Religion

Sunday morning my son, like many kids, woke up to a brightly colored basket with books, colored eggs, and a few small toys. This year he had no clue what was going on, only that he liked hanging out in mommy’s bed, shaking the rattle eggs, and giggling like mad at my attempts to sing “Shake it, shake it” with lingering laryngitis.

But some year he’s going to ask what Easter or Christmas is all about, why we celebrate, and what we believe. Frankly, I don’t have very good answers for him.

Like many in my generation, I stopped associating myself with any form of organized religion sometime in my 20s. I don’t remember exactly when, because it wasn’t a formal decision. I never said, “Yesterday I was Catholic; today I’m not.” It happened gradually, and for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure whether I believe in a god or just in the human spirit. And if there is a god, I believe he or she can best be found in the joy of my son’s smile or in the power of an ocean wave, and not inside a building. I’m not into labels, because I believe labels are limiting and part of why there’s so much hate in the world, but if you must stick one on me, I guess I’m a Buddhist-leaning, humanistic, spiritual agnostic. But there’s no box for that on most questionnaires.

Deciding what box to check, though, isn’t my concern. I’m not even really concerned about explaining to my son why we celebrate Christian holidays. For me, that’s easy. Beyond my upbringing and family traditions is the greater meaning of the holidays themselves. The celebrations sprung from religious events and beliefs (as well as many pagan rituals), but they’ve grown to encompass more than that. They’ve become celebrations of family and love and giving and renewal. And those are things I absolutely believe in and want my son to believe in, too.

I also don’t worry he’ll lack morals or values without religion. Recent studies have shown kids raised without religion may actually be more empathetic.* Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea, but I know myself, and I know the other adults who will shape my little man’s sense of right and wrong, empathy, and compassion. He won’t lack for wonderful real-life role models—or good fictional ones, for that matter.

I worry more about the ‘big questions’ I don’t have answers to, especially those that can be scary: What happens after we die? Why do bad things happen to good people? Many religions set out to offer comfort with their answers to these questions, and I will gladly share with little man what different people believe, in hopes he may find an answer that feels right to him. Honestly, though, I never found too much comfort in any answers I was given, and now I realize maybe that was ok. Maybe it’s as important to accept that there are things we can’t know for sure, but still work to be the best we can be.

So maybe my lack of answers is the answer I’ll some day provide. And maybe it’s not such a bad answer after all. I don’t know, little man, how it all came to be or what happens when it ends, but I do know there’s a lot of life, love, magic, and joy to be found in ourselves, each other, and the world. And if some of that comes in the form of opening an Easter basket with mom or believing in Santa, we’ll celebrate it!

 

In preparing this post I found some books and articles that may be of interest. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not making recommendations, simply sharing what I found.

Online reading: *These articles mention and link the studies referenced in the post. At least one of these studies used parents’ self-reporting on their own kids, which makes me a little skeptical. I mean, who’s going to say her kid is an uncaring jerk? Then again, both the religious and nonreligious families self-reported, so maybe that was taken into account.

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/12/losing-our-religion-non-religious-parenting

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-oe-0115-zuckerman-secular-parenting-20150115-story.html

Books for Kids

Older than The Stars by Karen C. Fox – a scientific view of who we are

The Belief Book by David G. McAfee – a look at the beliefs of a variety of religions

I Wonder by Annaka Harris – a book about curiosity and accepting that some questions don’t have answers

Books for Parents

Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion by Dale McGowan

Relax It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious by Wendy Thomas Russell

 

Photo credit: © Evgeny Karandaev | Dreamstime.com

Needed: Honest Mom Friends

Me, making polite small talk with a friend and fellow baby boy mom: So how’s your little guy?

Her, replying in an equally sweet tone: Oh, good, thanks. And yours?

Me: Great… (pause, wondering how this will be received, then not caring, because I really needed to spew) …but he’s kind of driving me nuts wanting to ‘walk’ all the time and not letting me put him down even to pee without freaking out. Weekends alone with him are exhausting right now. I live for naptimes.

Now she could have laughed and tried to convince me it was just a stage, or nodded and said, “Yeah, that must be tough,” leaving me feeling even more guilty about not loving and cherishing every moment I’m home with Little Man.

Instead she shared her own honest feelings about the loveliness that occurs as babies develop their own personalities and opinions (i.e. temper tantrums), and the beauty of increased mobility (otherwise known the as danger-seeking-missile stage). We shared stories, sympathized, and promised to meet up to drink wine in the very near future.

We all can be guilty of being that social media mom whose Facebook page is more accurately a Fakebook page. Some parents might do it mindfully, but most of us just don’t think to stop in the middle of an epic meltdown over sitting vs. standing to snap a photo and upload it. Not to mention, we’ve all been schooled about being careful about what kind of online footprint we’re leaving for our children while they’re still too young to consent to those less-than-perfect pictures. Unfortunately, that sometimes leaves moms wondering, “Am I the only one ok with leaving the baby to go back to work some Monday mornings?” or “Is my kid the only one who does or doesn’t do x, y, or z?”

That’s where the honest mom friends save the day.

I’ve always been a big believer in the need for women to have a strong group of other female friends. Women need other women—to build them up, to have their back, to slap some sense into them, to bitch and rage with, and, of course, to shop for shoes with. But never have I appreciated honesty and openness in my friends, especially my other mom friends, more than since I’ve become a parent.

Motherhood, especially single motherhood, can at times be isolating. Even as a working mom, there often isn’t enough time in the work day to talk with other moms openly about parenting. There’s quick inquiries passing in the hall or lunchroom small talk (and for a nursing mom, there’s not even that). But what moms really need is a few minutes (or more) of straightforward mom-fessions.

I need to hear other moms tell me they threw out ‘the rules’ or that, like me, they didn’t even know some ‘rules’ existed. I need to know my anxiety is normal, my impatience or dislike of a stage is not a sign I’m a horrible mother, and that one day teething, too, shall end. I need to not be judged, but simultaneously to be told when there’s spit up down my pants. I need someone to please tell me the picture of my living room above looks completely familiar. In short, I need honest mom friends. We all need honest mom friends.

I am so blessed to have friends who were honest with me about motherhood before I even stepped foot in a fertility clinic, and even more lucky to have met new ones since becoming a mom. If I thought motherhood, real nitty-gritty motherhood, looked like it does on Instagram or in a Dr. Sear’s book, I’d be pretty down on myself and my parenting skills. Thanks to my honest mom friends, though, I can be confident that sitting here at 9pm without having (yet) cracked a beer or been peed on makes today, at least, a total mom win.

Meal Delivery Review: Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron

Cooking as a single woman was easy. If I felt like cooking, I did. If I needed to run out mid-recipe for an ingredient, I could. If I didn’t want to clean up that same night, I didn’t. If I had no motivation to even call out, I dined on the tried and true favorite of single women everywhere: cereal and wine. Life was good—not always healthy, but good.

Now that Little Man is starting to eat real food (lots of it!), I need to up my dinnertime game. Not particularly good at planning meals and grocery lists for the week, or keeping a well-stocked pantry, and definitely in need of some motivation to actually cook even when I buy the right ingredients, I decided a meal delivery service might be good for me.

I was lucky enough to have friends who used the two most popular companies, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, which allowed me to try both free for a week. Then to be fair to each, I tried them both for a second week, as well.

First, let me tell you what meal delivery companies don’t do. They don’t prep the food, watch the hangry baby, cook the meal, or clean up after it. So those parts still suck. You also do need some basic cooking skills. If you can burn boiled water, you probably need more help than these services deliver. They do, however, both indicate which meals are more complicated and time-consuming to make, which allows you to make wise decisions. (If you don’t read this before selecting, you end up making risotto at 9pm for the next night, since you know there’s no way the baby will safely let you stand over a hot pan for 30 mins.)

But getting past my fantasy of having a personal chef, as well as my problem with not reading directions carefully, I found both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron to be time-savers, not to mention I wasted less food, cooked healthier meals, and didn’t stress every night about what I could make for dinner.

These companies work by having you create an account where you put in your preferences, choose meals from a handful of options that match those each week, then pick a day for delivery. When the box arrives, it contains all the ingredients (except a few basic staples like oil and salt and pepper) in the right amounts, with recipe cards for each night’s meal that walk you step-by-step through the cooking process.

Because they only give you what you need, you’re not having to buy extras just to make the recipe, a constant problem of cooking for one (and a half). I also don’t need to sit with three different recipes and create a shopping list and then scour the tiny town grocery store for the one ingredient they are sure not to have. And since I signed up for the two-person, three meal plan, the recipes and ingredients are already portioned out, so I don’t find myself eating the same bowl of chili for weeks on end, as I do every time I pull out the crock pot. Every. Time.

As you can probably tell, I’m sold. Not that I won’t take breaks here and there, especially as grilling and salad season approaches, but another great feature of both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are that either site allows you to skip weeks whenever you need or want to.

That said, one woman and her baby do not need two meal delivery kits in one week. I learned this the hard way when I accidently forgot to cancel a delivery. Though from this, I learned you can freeze the meats if needed! I also suggest setting a reminder on your phone to remind you to choose your meals (otherwise the company chooses for you based on your preferences) and/or to skip weeks you don’t want deliveries.

But which to choose?

Things that were comparable between Hello Fresh and Blue Apron:

  • relatively easy account set-ups and fairly user-friendly websites
  • price ($59.94 for three two-serving meals)
  • similar plan options for larger families and vegetarians and other dietary needs
  • free delivery with a choice of days
  • additional nutritional and cooking information available online prior to choosing meals

And honestly a lot more. They are clearly competitors and know they have to offer what the other does to keep up.

Differences:

  • Blue Apron overlaps some ingredients, which somewhat limits your meal choices. Once you choose one meal, it limits what others you can choose based on what ingredients are similar. My top choices of course didn’t line up either of the two weeks I tried it, so I had to pick some meals I wasn’t as excited about.
  • Hello Fresh, on the other hand, gives you six choices (and a seventh breakfast choice, which is new) and you can choose any three. I put in the “fit” preference, so it automatically sends the three healthiest versions unless I go in and change it, which I almost always do, because, of course, the higher calorie choices always sound too damn delicious to pass up.
  • Because Hello Fresh doesn’t overlap ingredients, the delivery contains three small boxes with everything you need except the meat, which both companies package separately on the ice pack for delivery. While some people might not like the added boxes in the fridge, I liked the individual packaging because I could grab a box and go, without having to worry about putting back the remains of certain items for another meal. (I’ve heard people say they won’t do a meal delivery system because of the added waste, but most of the packaging is recyclable, and you’re wasting less food, so it seems no more wasteful than shopping at the store.)
  • I felt like both companies’ meals took a good amount of time to cook and prep, especially that first week, but got somewhat better the next week when I was used to the system. Blue Apron was a bit more time consuming on average, though, and had more unique ingredients, so I feel like I’m less likely to recreate their recipes later on my own.

So my overall verdict: Hello Fresh was the best fit for me. More choice and a little less time to prepare and cook (especially now that I prep the veggies for a couple meals at once during a weekend nap, see pic below).

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If you’re interested in trying Hello Fresh, I’ve got three freebie weeks to give away to the first people to share and/or Pin and comment. For everyone else, here’s a link for $40 off your first week!  

Unplugged (part 2)

For the background behind this post, see part 1.

Forty-eight hours with no television until after baby’s bedtime, no social media, no phone apps except for my camera and minimal texting—as someone who didn’t grow up with these things, it shouldn’t have even been a ‘challenge,’ yet I still thought giving up my favorite technology by taking the “Unplugged Challenge” with my middle school students would be eye-opening. I guess I thought I’d feel freer, or more in the moment, or I’d come to some great life-altering epiphany.

I didn’t.

Instead, I found giving up social media and other technology a confirmation. I knew over the last few years my technology use had exploded. I was aware I was spending more time than I should ‘connected’ to one device or another. I even had a pretty good idea of why I was doing it. Unplugging did help me think about what reasons and uses are (perhaps) legit and which are excuses or bad habits.

My longest standing technology obsession is the one that uses the oldest technology, bothers me the most now that I have a child, and it is definitely a hard to break habit with little benefit: it’s watching the evening news. There’s history to this habit that I won’t get into here, but for now let’s just say it’s inherited. Yet long after I moved out on my own, I was still watching the 5, 5:30, and 6 o’clock editions of the local news broadcasts while I cooked, ate, and cleaned up from dinner. The newscasters I grew up with were a comfort, a companion as I ate alone. The problem is I don’t eat alone anymore. I have an adorable little person in the high chair next to me now. No, he’s not much for conversation at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be talking to him, or just tickling those pudgy toes, anything but looking over his head at the weather forecast for the third time in an hour.

My social media and online time was another area of concern, but one I feel I was already pretty good at self-policing. While I scroll my Facebook feed frequently, I don’t do it when I’m playing with my son. Though to help with the temptation during the challenge I did turn off all notifications and wondered why I never thought to do that before. I’m not knocking all social media, though. It was a sanity-saver during those first few weeks of cluster feeding and reflux that led to nearly all naps being taken on me. It was a way of staying connected to the ‘outside world’ during a time I sometimes felt isolated. Even now on weekends alone with the baby, social media allows me interaction, albeit virtual, with other adults, which sometimes I just need. At work I still use social media to pass the time pumping, because damn it if I’m going to be locked in a book closest every couple hours, I deserve a guilty pleasure. But now that my little man is more interactive, I try to put the phone down and just play during my time at home with him—or when I do pick it up, it’s to take cute pictures of him! I try to wait until nap time to post them, but I admit sometimes I want to share them right then.

The online forums and mothers’ groups can also rack up screen time, but again I’m doing them after baby’s bedtime, and I’m using them as a connection to other single, local, and/or nursing moms to get advice, share stories, and provide support. In a world where so many moms work or are isolated staying at home, I think these groups are great. Unless they become negative for me or encroach on play time, I don’t feel the need to give them up, but taking a break for one weekend didn’t bother me either.

So while I didn’t have an earth-shattering realization during my unplugged weekend, I did learn a little. First, the world didn’t end because I missed the local news, and reading the thermometer before leaving the house was about as useful as a New England weather forecast anyways. If I want to keep the family obsession, I mean tradition, alive, I can and should do it after baby’s bedtime—at least until he’s old enough to join me. As for the mom forums, the other mothers survived (maybe enjoyed) a weekend without my questions and commentary, so maybe an occasional break is a good idea.

The hardest part would have been going so long without interacting with other adults, but I luckily had dinner plans with my brother’s family and a playdate with two co-workers and their sons. At first I almost felt this was cheating, since I was busier than I normally would be, but maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe I need to be better about making face-to-face plans, especially in the winter when I tend to want to hibernate, to provide myself opportunities to feel connected without being “plugged in.”

Finally, reading my students’ reflections on their unplugged experiences, a number of them mentioned that they went out and played more. These ‘screenagers’ built snow forts, played with neighbors, watched siblings’ sporting events, all without phones in their faces. Maybe as adults we can follow their lead, put down our phones, and find ways to ‘play’ with our kids and one another face-to-face like we did growing up.

Unplugged (part 1)

As I sit here on my laptop with my smartphone on one side of me and the video baby monitor on the other, I am the picture of ‘plugged in.’ But last weekend for 48 hours I partially unplugged as a means of reflecting on how and why I use technology and whether it’s helping or hindering.

The school district I teach in was one of many this year that showed students, parents, and community members the new documentary, Screenagers. While I never got to see it myself (we were in conferences when it was shown), our school community has been engaged in conversations for years about the amount of technology students use in and out of the classroom and whether it is to their benefit or not. What wasn’t talked much about was the amount of technology the adults were using.

So when it was announced that the students would be challenged to participate in an “Unplugged” weekend, I was intrigued. I wondered how many kids would partake even with the bribe of a Chipotle lunch. I was also interested in whether they were old enough to really self-reflect and learn from such an experience. I hoped they were. I even decided to help with that self-reflection (and add to the bribery) by offering an extra credit writing assignment with topics for them to consider.

But middle schoolers are savvy and while most kept their reactions to such a proposal to silent eye rolls, a few came right out and asked the adults when they’d be giving up their phones. They wanted us to put up or shut up, or more accurately to turn off or shut up.

They had a point.

Adults could argue that our brains are fully developed and that we’re mature enough to use technology responsibly. We probably use apps that we deem necessary (because Candycrush is saving the world), write more emails than texts (all work-related I’m sure), watch more educational television (there’s something to be learned from Grey’s Anatomy marathons, right?), and partake in less online bullying (um, have you seen the mom-shaming online or read the president’s Twitter feed?).

But does it matter how we use technology, if the technology we use becomes all-consuming? Are we as adults any less guilty of overdoing screen time and under-appreciating the real-life moments happening right in front of us?

I wasn’t sure we are. Actually I was pretty convinced I was as guilty as many of my students of being addicted to certain aspects of technology. And as an adult who knows better, I suppose one could argue I was twice as bad. My guilty tech-pleasures are watching the local television news (even during meals), and using my phone for Facebook, my online Single Mother’s by Choice forums, and Pinterest, with occasional dabbling on Instagram and Twitter. The older my little guy gets, though, the more guilt and the less pleasure I have when I catch myself checking my phone or looking over his head to see the news when I should be enjoying time with him.

So last weekend I joined the over sixty kids at my school in the “Unplugged Challenge.” While as a single mom who was doing some highway traveling at night with the baby, I didn’t feel comfortable actually handing over my phone as many of them agreed to, for 48 hours I did turn off all social media apps and pledged not to watch television when my guy was awake. So just after noon on Friday I went dark.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but dramatic was exactly what I expected. But not exactly what I experienced. For those revelations, check out part two.

Oh, and for any fellow educators or parents of teens out there who are interested, here are the discussion questions I provided my students to help them reflect:

  • How do you normally use social media/technology throughout your day/weekend? How did giving it up change your daily activities?
  • What was the hardest thing to give up? Why?
  • Were there positives of putting your phone down? Explain.
  • What aspects of having a smart phone/technology felt necessary before this experiment? Did giving up some/all change your mind about anything?
  • What time of day did you miss your technology the most? What did you do instead? Explain.
  • Was this a worthwhile experiment? Would you recommend other kids and adults try it?
  • Will you try to make any changes to your use of technology as a result of your experience?

Photo credit: Nathaphat Chanphirom | Dreamstime.com

It’s the Little Things

In my previous post I shared that I haven’t found the single part of single parenting as trying as I (and others) might have expected. I was used to doing all the chores, paying all the bills, and asking for help when I hit upon something I couldn’t figure out myself. Okay, that part about asking for help was a lie, but I got much better about it during my pregnancy and the first few weeks after my c-section. The rest, though, was true. Most days I’m perfectly content washing all the bottles and dishes, so long as I also get the majority of the snuggles.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t nice to have help, though. Some help—the trip to get medicine for the baby in the middle of a snow storm when you’re sick yourself type of help—is certainly nice. It’s amazing actually, and it’s also necessary at times. But what about the kind of help you’d never ask for, the unnecessary help, help with the things you can do yourself, but every now and then just want to pawn off on someone else?

My parents moved closer when I made my decision to become a single mom. In fact, they now live a half mile up the street from me—most of the year. Like a lot of women, I relied heavily on them for the necessary help new moms, single or not, need those first few weeks and months. But even after that I took advantage of their eagerness to spend time with my guy so I could not only run errands solo or complete a project around the house (like showering), but also so I could occasionally get a pedicure with a friend or attend book club without the baby in tow.

I appreciated their help tremendously, and I knew I’d miss it when they returned to being snowbirds in sunny Florida. I even worried about whether I could really handle things without help, both the necessary and the nice, literally just around the corner. Both little man and I getting the flu a week after they left was definitely my first real test, but we survived with help from friends and family members and just by doing our best. Once we were both healthy, our days fell into a routine, and I discovered the things that needed to get done got done just fine.

Over February break I was lucky enough to travel with little man to visit my parents in Florida. I expected it to be fun—experiencing so many firsts with my son would be amazing (it was!). But I also knew relaxing vacations of baking in the sun and staying up to read until 2am (by choice) were likely over for a couple decades. I was okay with that (and my dermatologist was thrilled). Instead of loading my kindle and packing my aloe, I packed baby sunscreen and bubbles.

I wasn’t in the sunshine state 24 hours, though, when I realized I was more relaxed, and it wasn’t just the weather and lack of work. It was the little things. While my parents spoiled little man, I luxuriated in a long, hot shower (and even shaved my legs!) and didn’t worry about whether the baby would wake up or if he was safe while he played unsupervised as I tried to speed soap the necessary places. And after meals I didn’t have to make the decision between putting away food and doing the dishes or spending a few last minutes playing with him before bed. With three of us, there were plenty of volunteers to play, and enough of us left to make quick work of the cleaning. We even tag-teamed sleeping so that my mom and I got some after bedtime shopping in, and I got an hour of nap time tanning one day.

Except maybe the mother-daughter shopping spree (we had expiring coupons!), none of these little luxuries lasted long, but they still felt rejuvenating. It reminded me once again how fantastically supportive my parents are, but it also reminded me that treating myself to a little nice, but not necessary help, time, or support every now and then is good for the soul. And a happy momma = a happy home!