Friday, May 31, 2013

Good days / Bad days

Staying home full-time has its good days and bad days. This week has run the gamut from an amazing day where I felt like supermom to an is-it-time-for-bed yet? day when just making it through felt like a victory. Yesterday was the latter. Last night I spent some time thinking about what makes for a "good day" and a "bad day" to determine how I can more frequently have the former.  

On good days I...
  • Socialize with other adults
  • Exercise, even if it is just our morning walk around the neighborhood
  • Eat well
  • Read
  • Keep the house (relatively) tidy
  • Complete one "big" task (laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, organizing files, etc.)
  • Write
On bad days I...
  • Obsessively check Facebook, blogs, or email
  • Use the computer before HP's first nap
  • Frequently use the computer while HP's awake
  • Binge on sugar or other junk food
I have no illusions that I will be able to avoid everything on the "bad day" list and always implement everything on the "good day" list. I won't. Some days I just need to eat ice cream and watch awful reality television during nap time. Does it make me happy in the long run? Nope. Does it help me get through the day? Sure does.

What I can do is stop myself from engaging in the activities from the "bad day" list for no real reason. When HP goes down for his nap I get in the habit of pulling out the computer and mindlessly surfing the internet for an hour. I am not knocking computers or the internet--I love both!--but they are best used as a tool, not a time-filler. If I am not careful I let them suck me into their orbit even when I would be happier reading, writing, or crossing something off my to-do list.

I tried to work on making good decisions with my time back in February, but I still have a long way to go. Last night, I came across a quote about parenting while reading Carry On, Warrior that was just what I needed to hear:
We have to show them how it's done. We need to love ourselves if we want our kids to love themselves. We don't necessarily have to love them more; we have to love ourselves more. We have to be gentle with ourselves. We have to forgive ourselves and then... oh my goodness... find ourselves sort of awesome, actually, considering the freaking circumstances. p. 119
Each day I strive to spend my time productively and wisely, but as often as not I fail to live up to the standard I set for myself. As HP edges toward toddlerhood he regularly test my patience, parenting, and sanity, which makes it so much more appealing to eat ice cream and scan Facebook than to wash dishes and straighten the house.

But if I step back and think about our life as a whole, the balance between good days and bad days is about 50-50. And considering the freaking circumstances? I'd say we're doing all right.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Life lately

I have lots of thoughts bouncing around my brain that I just need to get out. Some of which deserve entire posts of their own, others of which do not, but in either case small snippets is all I can manage today. Here's my brain dump for the week:

HP and I took our first solo trips on the bike this week. Yesterday we went to the library to pick up Glennon's new book and today we went to storytime at Whole Foods. It was glorious. I feel like I have a new lease on life and cannot put into words how amazing it is to be cycling on our own schedule instead of waiting for the bus. It makes me love our life even more than I did before, and that's saying something since life has been pretty good to us these days.

On Monday I went to the thrift store and found three pairs of shorts, six pairs of pants, and one shirt for HP for $17.59. Amazing, right? Their already cheap prices were half off for a Memorial Day. These purchases were a desperately needed addition to my wardrobe; aside from a single pair of jeans, all of my shorts and pants had holes in them, which was making it difficult to leave the house appropriately dressed.

The first year we lived here--the infamous summer of 2011 that broke records for the most days over 100 degrees (90) and most consecutive 100 degree days (27)--we did not use the air conditioning. Call us crazy, but it's what we did. We made do with fans and trips to the neighborhood pool or Barton Springs. Last summer I relented in the beginning of August. Being home with an infant in the oppressive heat was pushing me to the edge of mental stability. This year we didn't even make it to the end of May before I switched it on. And you know what? It makes me happier. I would like to think that I am not someone who is affected by the weather, but the past two years in Texas has shown me that's a lie. Air conditioning, I love you.

I have been vacillating wildly between wanting to have another child right now, wanting to wait another six months to year, and stopping where we are as a family of three. I could write about this subject at length, but I am fairly certain it would make me sound like a crazy person.

I am reading the Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver which has planted a desire in me to go back to school for statistics. Never thought I would be saying that, but the more I think about it, the less crazy it seems. It would require me to retake the GRE (my scores are more than five years old) and take prereqs at the community college. I am trying to just sit with the idea for a few months to make sure it is more than the plan of the moment.

This week marks a year since we moved into our house.  It feels like a lifetime ago.

My brain is officially cleared.  On to laundry.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Garden: Spring 2013

Ever since I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I have dreamed of growing food in a yard of my own. Five years, four apartments, and three interstate moves later, we became homeowners and finally have the land to make that dream a reality. We were not lacking in enthusiasm for getting started, but the timing of our move--just weeks before HP was born--slowed down the process. Season by season, we are gradually decreasing the size of our lawn and increasing our garden's bounty.

The garden in April before the spring overhaul/expansion
In a spurt of energy last fall, I completed the initial dig-in, which required the time-consuming and hopelessly futile task of bermuda grass removal. A month later I added compost, formed the rows, and planted fall crops. Two months after that I sheet mulched a large area around the perimeter to start killing the bermuda grass in an attempt to make expansion easier in the spring.

Another "before" shot--bolted cilantro that fell over during a heavy rain
The fall garden was only moderately successful, but considering I was still getting the hang of parenting and spent next-to-no time tending it, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Some munching critter decimated the kale, I killed the first snap peas when out of pure laziness I failed to cover them during a freeze, the lettuce never germinated despite multiple plantings, and at times I was growing more weeds than vegetables. Even so, I managed to harvest chard, carrots, green onions, snap peas, radishes, cilantro, and one tiny beet.
First harvest of the fall
I have high hopes for the garden this spring, even with a late start. Here in Texas, the spring season starts early--many gardeners start seedlings in January and February to get them in the ground by March. I, however, am not among those many and did not head to the gardening store until early April. Transplants, to the rescue!

Some of my successful transplant purchases this spring
In the fall the garden had three short, narrow rows. The space I cleared for the garden was too small for three rows but too large for two. By the time I realized my error the thought of more digging was unpalatable, so I made do with three too-small rows. 

This spring, I redid the old rows so they were a more appropriate width and dug-in the area I sheet mulched in the fall. I easily tripled the amount of growing space in my garden this season. For about two weeks in April I was regularly working in the yard after HP went to sleep to dig in new rows, add compost, shape the rows, plant, and install irrigation.  The whole process took the better part of the month.

Garden "after" the overhaul/expansion with wider, longer rows
 Here's what I am growing (or attempting to grow) this season:
  • Bush beans, Blue Lake 274 (from seed, did not germinate, planted squash in its place)
  • Bush beans, Purple Queen (from seed)
  • Cowpeas, Big Red Ripper (from seed)
  • Black-eyed peas, California #5 (from seed)
  • Summer squash, Abundant Harvest Mix (from seed, mediocre germinate and sickly looking sprouts)
  • Summer squash, Early Prolific Straightneck (from seed)
  • Winter squash, Winter Harvest Mix (from seed)
  • Watermelon, Sugar-Baby (from seed)
  • Watermelon, Mickeylee (transplant--died in the first two weeks)
  • Cantaloupe, Hale's Best (from seed that did not germinate + one transplant)
  • Cantaloupe, Honey Rock (from seed)
  • Peppers, Bell Boy (transplants that I accidentally snapped in half--whoops!)
  • Peppers, Ancho (transplants, only one of which I have snapped in half)
  • Peppers, Marconi (transplants)
  • Cucumbers, Marketmore(transplant)
  • Basil, Sweet (transplant)
  • Parsley, Flat-leafed Italian (transplant)
  • Okra, Hill Country Red (from seed)
  • Okra, Silver Queen (from seed)
Squash and beans, grown from seed
It is hard to be out in the garden as often as I would like in this season of life. Getting out during the day isn't always an option, either due to the heat, HP's love for eating mulch, dirt, and rocks, or his furiously fast crawl that would decimate all plants in his path if given the chance. I know it won't be long before he will be interested in the garden and want to participate, allowing gardening to become something we regularly do together (even if "do together" means I can work while he plays in the yard independently). Until then, I am trying to make the most of the evenings and weekends to cultivate our little plot of land. 
Me and my lil' gardener checking on the basil

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Texas = Home

At the end of last month we took a twelve day trip to Missouri and Arkansas to visit our families and attend my cousin's wedding. A strange thing happened upon our return--I felt at peace with our lives in Austin. Given my intense desire to move home over the past two years, this change in perspective was unexpected, though welcome.

Let me explain.

When we were in Missouri I kept thinking about how much I want to move back. I miss my family. A lot. I think we are a fun, interesting group of people and I wish we got to be a part of each other's lives on a daily basis instead of a handful of times a year. (Okay, daily might be a bit much, but I could settle for weekly.) HP has a cousin just over a year older than him and one eight months younger. How great would it be for them to all grow up together? Besides the obvious draw of family, I am taken with my hometown itself. I love how small it is compared to Austin. I can bike across the whole city in the time it takes me to get to the grocery store here. That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much.

Then we went to Arkansas. While there, I imagined what it would be like to live there again. It is the state where Neil and I started dating, where we first lived together, and where we fell in love. There are abundant trails to hike, lakes to swim, and rivers to canoe. Many of our friends from college still live in the area, which would ease the transition to a new place. Neil's parents and my uncle live in central Arkansas so we would have family nearby. It seemed perfect.

I have spent a large part of our time in Texas wanting to be somewhere else. That is not to say that I have been unhappy or that I have hated our lives here, just that I would prefer be somewhere else. As Neil astutely pointed out to me last summer, a lot of what is frustrating and challenging in our lives is inherent to our current phase of life and would follow us anywhere we moved. The first year of parenting is hard--the kind of hard that doesn't change just because you move states. It's a good kind of hard--the kind that stretches us further than we thought possible and leaves us irrevocably changed for the better--but hard nonetheless.

After spending nearly two weeks daydreaming about what life would be like in another state, I thought I would feel disappointed to be back in Texas. Instead, once we unpacked and settled back in I thought I love my life here. This is a good spot for us right now. It was such a relief. A burden lifted as I realized that I am happy to call Texas home.

I do want to be someone who thinks I will be happier when "x" happens. Too many people live their lives wishing for things they may never have. Deep in my soul I know that my happiness is not contingent on living in Missouri, Arkansas, or Corvallis, Oregon (our dream city minus the distance from family). The things that sustain me--my marriage, my family, my sense of self-worth--are not dependent on location. Yes, there are aspects of my quality of life that would improve if I lived closer to family. But would I be happier? No, I don't think I would. I have known that intellectually for a long time, but something in me changed when we got back from that trip; now I feel it in my bones.

Some things I am loving about life in Texas right now:
  • Our house. We have made several improvements with more on the horizon, including redoing the bathroom and kitchen. Seeing the house slowly come together from our efforts brings me a lot of joy.
  • My garden. I have spent a lot of time expanding the garden this spring and it feels great to be growing food on our land. It has been a dream of mine for more than five years and is finally starting to come true.
  • Neil's job. He is doing work that he is good at, that challenges him, and that is bringing about positive change in our communities. How many people get to say that?
Other things have also happened that are making me feel more connected to our neighborhood and the city as a whole:
  • On a recent walk I ran into a neighbor I hadn't met before who lives around the corner. Turns out he just moved in last summer. He regularly hosts get-togethers with other neighbors and is going to keep us in the loop about future events.
  • I am about to be able to bike with HP, which will revolutionize our lives. Much more on that soon, but for now, I'll just say that this year has been isolating at times and I am excited to move into the era of family bicycling adventures.
  • A friend with a three-month old son organized a weekly get together with other moms of young babies. Regular socialization with other mamas? Yes, please.
  • In the same vein, I have started attending a meet up group with other mamas in the larger neighborhood. Happy hours with babies=fun for all.
  • I just found out there is free yoga and Zumba at the community center blocks from my house at times when Neil can be home with HP. How did I not know about this sooner?
  • The first section of trail behind our house is almost done and next spring it will go all the way to the YMCA. Classes for me and on-site childcare for HP.
  • The neighborhood pool will be opening up next month which will be a great way to (1) cool off and (2) meet other families in the neighborhood.
Texas, I take back (some) of the awful things I said about you. Turns out you're not so bad after all.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thoughts on ending breastfeeding

I never questioned whether or not I would breastfeed HP.  It is not that I am militant about breastfeeding or think that it is the right choice for every mom and child, but for me and HP? I was confident that it was. I wanted to nurse him because I thought it would be more convenient, cheaper, and better for the babe. I did not seriously entertain the possibility that we would have difficulties, or at least not ones that would bring me the brink of emotional stability. I assumed we would just make it work, end of story. We are making it work, but that is certainly not the whole story.

Breastfeeding was a real struggle for the first two months of HP's life. He had no issues gaining weight, but his latch was shallow, making nursing a painful and dreaded experience for me. When I was exhausted at the end of the day I remember telling Neil, "I hate breastfeeding. I hate it. I hate it!" with tears streaming down my face while HP ate. Not quite the picture of maternal bliss I had imagined.

I understand why so many women quit nursing in the first few weeks and months. It's hard. If I hadn't had such a supportive partner or been so determined to make it work, I would have given up. That's not to say I am some kind of martyr--not at all--I just had the support, desire, and circumstances to make it work. One thing that helped me through those initial weeks was reading blogs about other women's experiences. Many people had the same issues we did, and reading the "it does get better" posts was such a comfort to me. And they were right--it did get better.

Initially (as in, before I had given birth and naively assumed I knew how I would feel about extended breastfeeding even though I didn't have a clue), I thought I would breastfeed HP until he was at least eighteen months, and then start to consider weaning around the two-year mark. I liked the idea that instead of switching to cow's milk, he would continue to drink milk that was designed specifically for him. The push to wean children around the year mark is largely culturally, rather than scientifically, based, and I saw no need to adhere to it.

My opinion has since changed. I still fully support extended nursing and think there are many benefits to continuing breastfeeding for as long as both parties are happy. The key part of that sentence is the final phrase. Right now, I feel ready for the freedom that will come with the end of breastfeeding. I want to be able to leave at night without having to pump upon my return. I want to plan my day without consulting HP's feeding schedule. I want to take a trip to visit friends for a weekend alone. (Imagine the luxury!)

This whole parenting endeavor is taxing on mothers in a way it is not to fathers. Fathers do their share of sacrificing, but for nursing mothers parenting is demanding in a different, biological, your-body-is-not-your-own kind of way. I am ready for my body to be my own again.

Here's where we are today: HP is now past the age where nursing is one of the few things that comforts him. He easily naps without nursing beforehand, and has for months. His feedings have dropped to a handful of times a day, and usually last for about ten minutes, if that. He has always been an efficient eater and he once past early infancy, he largely stopped nursing for comfort. The kid is all business and crawls out of my lap the second he is done.

Some women describe this amazing bond they feel with their child while nursing, and to be blunt, I have not felt that. It is not that I find nursing to be a bother or an inconvenience or that I do not enjoy and appreciate the closeness I feel to HP, but I do not enjoy it any more or less than when he comes to cuddle without nursing. I do not worry that the bond I share with him will diminish when he is done breastfeeding, because the connection we have is not dependent on me sustaining him with food from my body.

I know there are lots of benefits to nursing toddlers, for both the mother and the child, but I have also come to realize that there lots of benefits to being able to easily take breaks from parenting when the need arises. At the moment, the latter seem more, well, beneficial. Of course I can still take short breaks now, but since I do not have a large stash of milk in the freezer, it is hard for me to be gone for more than a few hours at a time. The end of breastfeeding will open up new opportunities for me to find the right balance between my role as a parent and as an individual.

I know it will be bittersweet, but I think we will all be ready in a few months. I never thought I would be looking forward to the end of nursing, but perhaps it is the natural evolution of life with children--a mourning for the end of one phase in our relationship, but a joy and excitement for the one ahead.

And who knows? Maybe in the coming months I will feel differently and we will keep going until eighteen months or two years. Right now I am not setting any hard deadlines and will continue to evaluate the best course for our family.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An equitable division of labor

Let me start by saying that I had a lovely Mother's Day weekend.  On Saturday a friend generously invited me to go to the ballet with her--an event Henry categorically refuses to attend.  I got to get dressed up, drink a free glass of champagne at the fancy-pants reception for big donors we snuck into during intermission, and generally feel like an adult rather than a parent.  On Sunday the weather was beautiful, and I spent the afternoon riding to bike shops looking for new wheels that will work with HP's child seat, eating good cheese from my favorite local shop, and reading uninterrupted while HP and Henry went on a walk.

But here's the thing.  I had envisioned a day where my husband took over all of my every day duties so I would get a legitimate break and he would recognize, appreciate, and sing me praises for all of the work I do for our family on a daily basis.  

That didn't happen.

I still washed and hung a load of our laundry.  I still dealt with the diapers, including extra cycles with various cleaners to try and get rid of the ammonia stench that just will not go away.  I still cooked dinner.  I still did dishes in the morning.  I still changed dirty diapers, made snacks, and cleaned up the food that fell under the table.

I am not saying that to make it sound like Henry is lazy or uncaring--he's not.  In retrospect, my expectations were both unrealistic and unexpressed, so how could I reasonably expect them to be fulfilled?  At the end of the day, we were sitting on the couch talking and I told him, "You know, I was expecting to take a break today from my usual chores.  Instead, one of two things happened: I either did the task anyway because it needed to be done or didn't do it and simply created more work for myself tomorrow."  

It may sound like I was being accusatory and ungrateful, but we actually laughed at the situation and then had a productive conversation about how the workload should be distributed on the weekends vs. the week to be more equitable.  Our conversation brought about an "aha!" moment regarding our current division of labor: I most often do the everyday tasks while caring for HP (even on the weekends), while Henry takes the initiative on larger projects.

One of my strengths is the ability to get a lot of stuff done while keeping an eye on HP.  I wash dishes and clean up the kitchen multiple times a day (no dishwasher, a small drying rack, and limited counter space makes that a necessity).  I do the laundry when it needs to get done.  I sweep and vacuum and clean the bathrooms (though the last one admittedly happens about a third as often as it should).  Henry will happily do any of the above tasks without complaint, but I have to specifically ask; he rarely takes the initiative.

Henry's strength is in doing bigger projects.  On Sunday when he wasn't doing the daily/weekly chores that I thought he would, he was finishing rebuilding the pantry.  Over the course of two weekends, he took out all the old boards, bought new wood, cut the wood to size, stained it, painted the walls, and reinstalled everything, including the trim.  Last month he installed a solar tube to bring more light into our living room--something I have been wanting since we moved in more than a year ago.  Back in January, when I casually mentioned I would like a built-in organization system in kitchen cupboards to hold the cookie sheets, muffin tins, and other assorted baking items, he finished the project within two hours of my comment.  

Henry and I have different tolerances for everyday disorder.  It makes me crazy.  I feel like I can't do anything else until the kitchen is clean, the toys are thrown back on the shelf, and I am not stepping on HP's latest meal when I walk across the room.  That stuff doesn't bother Henry.

As frustrating as it can be to feel like I am the only one who does certain tasks, I am thankful that we have different strengths.  If it were up to me I would have completed only a tiny fraction of the house projects on our list.   I rarely take on big projects without prodding because it always feel like so much effort and the power of inertia keeps me from getting started.  With Henry around, we tackle at least one big thing a month, and usually more.

I do not think that the fact that Henry works on larger projects around the house lets him off the hook for not being proactive about the everyday tasks, just as the fact that I do the biggest share of the daily tasks doesn't let me off the hook for avoiding big projects.

When I start getting irritated about what I perceive to be an unequal labor distribution, I try to remind myself of these facts about shared work from Gretchen Rubin to put it in perspective.  It's easy both to feel unappreciated and to take a loved one's contributions for granted--as Rubin notes, we are often quick to see our own efforts and slow to recognize those of others. 

Eventually we can enlist HP into doing all the chores and our problems will be solved.*  Until then, Henry is going to try and be more proactive on the weekends, and I am going to try and work on bigger projects during the week.  Will it be perfectly equitable?  Probably not.  But it's a step in that direction.

*Kidding.  Sort of.