The Stay-At-Home Job

This mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace. If only I could put them on my resume. learning-grace.com

Is being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) a career? No. There are no promotions, no pay raises, no vacations, none of those career-y things. But, I would say it is a job. A very, very demanding and often isolating job with very few of the “perks” of a job, job. Yes, it is an incredible privilege to stay at home with my children during these early years. It is also much harder than I had imagined.

I’m not writing this to whine. In fact, this is something very different. It’s a response to a few articles that are making the rounds saying that being a stay-at-home parent is not a job nor a career, nor something anyone should complain about. There’s always one or two of these going around seeking to polarize parents—particularly moms. Parenting is not a contest. The one who makes the most sacrifices doesn’t win.

But I digress. There was one article I read last week in particular that came down pretty hard on the stay-at-home crowd for complaining about what they do. Yeah, it can get excessive in some instances. But, I need to ask a question: when’s the last time a day went by when you didn’t complain about going to work or something that’s happening there? We all do it. Stay-at-home moms included.

I think complaining seems so prevalent among the stay-at-home crowd because there are no divisions. There is no “home” and “work.” It’s all the same. And every day (and often night) is the same. It can be relentless. There’s no place to get away from the other. It’s that intensity and it’s also the inability to point to my day and say what I accomplished. Most of those things I do accomplish, sweeping the floors, cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry for example, begin to unravel the second I finish them, and that simply exhausts me at times. There’s very little in my day that’s tangible—and I’m a results-oriented person.

Right now my actual career is on hold . . . or possibly slow motion. I’m still working as a freelancer, but certainly not gaining the experience and momentum that I would have if I were still at the job full-time. However, this mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace:

  • I know the value of time. What I can accomplish in the last five minutes of naptime is amazing.
  • I can prioritize and stay on task, even when people are screaming at me (and flailing about on the floor).
  • I know how to ask questions to get to the root of the problem. (Did you really lose the car, or do you just want to keep it away from your sister?)
  • I understand the power of consistency and staying on-message. Two words: sleep training (and potty training).
  • I can stay focused while those around me are convinced the world is coming a part at the seams (because S said “bacon” and we don’t HAVE any bacon, Mommy!!!).
  • I know the power of stopping to take a few deep breaths.
  • I’ve learned to appreciate small victories as we work toward big goals.
  • I can make people feel like doing the hard stuff was their idea all along. (Let’s all sweep! Isn’t this fun?)
  • I know that the person who makes the most noise may not be the one who needs me the most.

Now, if only I could put that on a resume.

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Kids are Kids (Even the Ones with Autism)

Kids are Kids (Even the Ones with Autism)

April is Autism Awareness Month. There was a flurry of articles right around April 2 (Autism Awareness Day): what is is, isn’t, what causes it, why it’s on the rise. But for me and for so many thousands of other parents and siblings, every single day is autism awareness day.

Every outing and interaction, explanation of some unusual family dynamics or ways of communicating make it autism awareness day.

The truth is, I didn’t “come out” as an autism parent till April 2 of this year. Sure, my family and some friends knew. But for the most part I didn’t tell anyone else. If J did something eyebrow raising, I’d just say J has some “delays” and leave it at that. J was a preemie and people give a lot of leeway for that.

I don’t say that he has autism right away because I want to give him a chance. It has nothing to do with shame or embarrassment. It does have to do with not wanting the huge stereotypes that go with autism to land squarely on my three-year-old’s shoulders. And when I do tell someone I’m very careful about how I say it. J has autism. J also has brown eyes, a beautiful smile and a caring spirit. Autism does not define him. There is so much more to him than that and I want others to see it, too.

I also got really tired of hearing, “but he doesn’t look like he’s autistic.” That one gets my panties in a bunch.

It’s been almost a year and a half since J was diagnosed. While the actual diagnosis was not a complete surprise, I did feel like I slipped down a rabbit hole the second I heard the word. In a way I did. Our new world included seven therapists and 24 hours of therapy each week for J. I learned a new vocabulary. I began to be familiar with our advocates in the system and what we would need to do to get J in the right school setting to set him up for success. 

It can be all consuming, especially at first. The schedule was grueling. We had about two unscheduled hours a day with J, and that included dinner and bath time, so it was really more like 45 minutes. The therapists would give us “homework,” telling me that if we do X, then Y will improve. And soon my to-do list grew too long to fathom. And J was really just tired and wanted to be a kid . . . . because he is a kid, a kid with autism.

That’s the thing; kids come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of abilities. Some are really good at jumping, and others can throw straight as an arrow, still more love to draw and paint, and sing, others dream of being a dancer, or a bus driver, or the president. Whether or not these kids have autism, an extra chromosome, seizures or a leg that doesn’t work quite like the other one, they’re all just kids being kids living life the way they were created to be.

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Child, Please Sleep (in Haiku)

To keep myself sane during those hours upon hours participating in the call-and-response of “Mommy?  . . .  shhhhh.” I composed haikus. www.learning-grace.com

A week or so ago, I decided that it was time for S to learn how to sleep in her own bed. We’ve gone through so many iterations of this. About six months ago we gave up and started bringing her to bed with us when she woke in the night. She seemed to need it, and we figured that it was probably just a phase. Plus, everyone got more sleep that way . . . until we didn’t.

Over time her demands have increased. She started crying to come to bed with us earlier and earlier—well before we’re ready for bed. Then, she started kicking one of us out of the bed (normally Ken), and waking in the middle of the night banging me over the head with her sippy cup, or poking me in the eyes, saying, “No sleep, Mommy!” The only way she’d relax was if I held her next to me with my arm draped across her just so. If I shifted or got up in the night, it was game over.

And now I have a pinched nerve in my neck and my arm goes numb when I bend my elbow.

Ken also misses sleeping in a real bed.

It was time for S to learn how to spend the whole night in her crib. It was a very long parenting week, but around the fourth or fifth night she started sleeping through and we all awoke (albeit 5:45) much happier. To keep myself sane during those hours upon hours participating in the call-and-response of “Mommy? . . . shhhhh.” I composed haikus.

These are probably best appreciated after midnight, and perhaps after a glass of wine . . . or two.

 

7:30 PM
Dear God in heaven,
Let my child sleep through the night,
And grant us world peace.

11:00 PM
Already? Listen kid . . .
I should be off the clock now.
This is Mommy time.

 1:00 AM
Mommy!!! No sleep! Out!
Lay down, I’ll sing songs to you.
Please sleep. No crying.

 2:27 AM
Here we go again.
The songs aren’t working. Now what?
I’ll just lay right here.

 3:45 AM
The siege continues.
Can you just sleep in your crib?
I love you. Please sleep.

 4:14 AM
The neighbors are mad.
They are knocking on the walls.
#apartmentliving

6:00 AM
Places I have slept:
bed, floor, hall, beanbag chair, couch.
Where is the coffee?

 

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Breakfast Monkey (Making Mornings Fun)

Breakfast Monkey

I’d like to introduce you to Breakfast Monkey. Born from a Kinder Egg, Breakfast Monkey arrives each morning to make sure little boys and girls eat a good breakfast. Kids have to eat three bites of their breakfast to make him appear and then he does dances when they are eating well. Breakfast Monkey also gets into trouble; he tries to steal bits of breakfast food from dawdling toddlers, which of course makes said food extremely desirable.

This is what my mornings looked like before Breakfast Monkey came into our lives: lots of whining, begging and crying from all involved.

After Breakfast Monkey: sunshine and rainbows. (Not quite … but much, much better.)

I am pretty grumpy in the mornings. S still isn’t sleeping through the night and so we play musical beds in the wee hours depending on who needs to do what the next day and I am really bad about going to bed when I should. So, I’m tired and cranky and the last thing I want to do is enter into Toddler Negotiations before coffee. J is also a notoriously slow eater, but he has to be ready for the bus by 7:30. S really would rather carry bits of food with her as she runs laps around the house, depositing uneaten bits in various corners. Mornings are stressful with the bus deadline looming and an almost two year old on the loose. And in case you didn’t know, nagging a toddler has a reverse effect.

And so one morning, in a moment of desperation to stop the whining, I grabbed the nearest little toy and made him jump around. The kids giggled and started eating happily (and quickly!). Breakfast Monkey was born.

Breakfast Monkey Happy Kids

In the process of playing “Breakfast Monkey” (which I have since learned is a rejected Cartoon Network pitch), I found myself smiling a bit in the morning, too. 

What a difference. 

How do you make mornings fun?

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March for Babies: Why I Walk

I’m walking in the March of Dimes 2015 March for Babies (<– click here to support us!) for the third year in a row. With the exception of the year right after J was born, I’ve walked each year since–even when I was 33-weeks pregnant. I walk with a group of families whose children were in the NICU at the same time as J. 

March for Babies: Why I Walk

At the 2013 and 2014 March for Babies. In 2013, I was 33-weeks pregnant with S. (J was born at 33 weeks). 

Although our NICU stay (20 days) was not as long as the other families we know (six weeks to six months), nor was it as harrowing—J was never in mortal danger, he just needed extra time to grow before he could come home—this event still makes me very emotional. Through this and other mom groups I am apart of, I’ve come to know several families whose babies never came home.

The fragility of all life—particularly that of young children—is something we’d rather not acknowledge. It’s uncomfortable. It unlocks a Pandora’s box of fear and emotion. It’s become a taboo topic in our culture. Yet, it is a very real part of life for so many families who silently acknowledge an empty seat at the table or birthdays that will go uncelebrated. Some of these families may even be in your close circle of friends and you may not even know that there’s someone in their lives whom they miss keenly each day. 

October 15 is the official Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, however I’m writing about it today because this is every day for far too many families. And this is why I choose to walk each year—so that fewer and fewer families may experience the bottomless grief of losing a child.

If you know someone whose family has been touched by the loss of a child. Love them and give them a safe space to talk about the one who is missing from their lives—even if it makes you a little uncomfortable.

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Raising Resilient Kids

Being resilient is so important to making it in life; it leads to self-confidence and the ability to learn (and move on) from your mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s also a skill that is mainly honed through experiencing failure and disappointment and learning how to overcome.

I often wonder how I am going to teach my kids to be resilient. It’s a hard thing to do because I just want to protect them, but I can’t stunt their growth. Mama’s got to stand back sometimes and let the littles figure it out for themselves.

Raising Resilient Kids

I feel that J, especially, needs a big reserve in the resiliency department. Life in general just takes more out of him, it is harder when everyday tasks take more work and concentration than they do for everyone else. He gets frustrated easily and he is also a sensitive soul. He’s starting to become aware that he can’t do everything that his peers do. And he keenly feels it when they don’t want to play with him for one reason or another. We try to use these moments to help him figure out how to dust off his pants and move on. But it’s hard. It’s hard on all of us.

We try to tell him “it’s no big deal” when things don’t go his way: when the blocks fall, when he can’t get something just right, when a kid at the playground runs off and he can’t catch up. We try to distract and find something new—something he can do to help him feel success. But, it’s not the same. He knows it. We know it.

So, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about how to help both S and J develop resiliency. And here’s what I’ve learned. You’ve got to let them experience pain and frustrations in life, encourage them to search for their own solutions, and then be right there to help them find their way to put themselves back together and move on. In other words, I’ve got to let my mommy guard down and let the chips fall where they may (within reason) for J and S and then be there to help them pick up the pieces (if they need it).

Here’s a few practical ways we’re working on resiliency at home:

  • Allowing J and S to try to work through their scuffles themselves before intervening.
  • Allowing J to experiment with building new structures or trying other things even if we know it might end in tears of frustration. Allowing those tears to come and then coach him through to recovery. (We don’t do it for him.)
  • Asking J or S for their explanation of the situation and what they think they can do.
  • Helping them find a solution, but encourage them to do as much as possible on their own.
  • Expecting the S and J to wait for us to finish talking or another task (within reason, of course!) before moving on to their request.

Here’s some more really good ideas from Creative with Kids.

I’ve also found these resources to be extremely helpful:

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Tyranny of Toys: Toy Rotation

Toy rotation is when you put out just a few toys at a time and then change them up every so often.Ideally I’d do this a lot better than I do, but I’ve found that doing this at just about any level is helpful. 

Rotating Toys-Encourage Play

There are a lot of benefits to toy rotation. These are the big ones for me:

  • Less clutter.
  • Old toys feel “new” again.
  • Kids are more engaged with the toys. (And they play with them in new ways.)
  • Two words: independent play.

There are a lot of great articles out there about how to determine what kinds of toys (and how many) should be out at one time. Some of my favorites are listed below.

I put out a lot more toys that what’s ideal because we don’t have much storage space. I rotate the toys probably every 6–8 weeks or so. There are several signals that tell me it’s time to rotate:  J just gets “stuck” playing with certain toys in only one way, the kids start fighting over them more often, and they just don’t seem to be as engaged. 

Here’s the main place where we keep our in-rotation toys. Some things stay out all the time: Toy Rotationsome form of blocks (Legos, wooden, etc), musical instruments, the baby stroller and the riding toys (not pictured). I do change up what’s in the pretend play box (tea pot, picnic basket, clothing). I also reconfigure the open shelves pretty regularly to give it a new “look” and encourage the kids to play with different toys. 

This Toy Rotation post on Playful Learning describes in-depth how to create and store different sets of toys. I like how she breaks it all down step-by-step. I am certainly not that organized. I drag everything out (see evidence here) and then think about where S and J are in their development and interests and try to decide appropriately.

 And here are some more resources about rotating toys. It’s a bit of extra work, but it’s worth it for us.

And don’t forget the sage advice given by Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, identify the items (toys) that spark joy and keep those.

 All of this has made me want to take another look at what we’ve got going on around the rest of the house.

Happy toy taming! Wish me some luck, too.

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Tyranny of Toys: Out of the House

I’m going to keep it real. This is what my living room looks like right now. I’ve been feeling overrun by toys, so I’m cleaning out.

Tyranny of ToysWe live in a Brooklyn apartment, which means space is at a premium and there’s no such thing as a “playroom.”  There are also only three closets—none of the walk-in variety. So, most things have to be stored in plain sight and it’s a struggle to keep the place looking like something that one could consider “neat” or “orderly.” But I try. 

When it’s time to let go of some toys I often get paralyzed by one of two things:

  • We have so many good memories with this toy, how could I ever let it go?
  • This toy is in good condition; I can’t throw it out, but I don’t know who would take it.

And this is where I have to get tough. Everything has to go into one of these categories:

  • Keep
  • Save
  • Donate
  • Sell
  • Trash 

Keep

I keep they toys that J & S are playing with right now and a few that I think they’ll grow into. I have about 1.5–2.5 times what can be put out in our play area at any one time because I rotate toys. I’ve got another post in the works about this.

Save

I save the toys that I’m just emotionally attached to. This is a danger zone, because I think I can find an attachment to almost any toy we have. To limit myself, I have two bins in the kid’s closet for keepsakes. The sentimental toys will go in there. As those bins have gotten full, I’ve gone back and revised what I think I’ll want to keep for time and eternity.

Sell

We have a local resell Facebook page that I’ll post some of the better toys on. Sometimes I they get sold and we add a few bucks to our household money, sometimes they don’t. In which case I add them to the donate pile.

Donate

I check around with friends to see if they have any need for what I’m about to give away. If not, I give to one of the local charities. Right now, I have a TON of stuffed animals to give away and not everyone takes those so I asked on my community’s parent Facebook page and got some great ideas:

  • A local toy store takes used toy donations and sends them to local charities as there is need.
  • A nearby shelter for abused women also takes toys and clothes.
  • The Teddy Bear Brigade gives toys to children recovering from disaster. 

I like knowing that the toys will be helping local families.

Trash

Just put the tchotchkes in the trash, along with toys broken beyond repair and anything else that just needs to hit the curb.

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Silent Night

IMG_3297The children filed in, angels and shepherds, and lined up in front of the manger scene and began to sing Silent Night with sweet hand motions. Parents shot video and took pictures – proud of their little ones.

I sat there, too, eyes bright with tears. My kids weren’t up there. One was on my lap, too young for the chorus. The other was at my side quietly singing parts of the song and doing a few of the hand motions. I was bursting with pride. It felt like a Christmas miracle.

A year ago, I would not have thought this to be possible. My son, now three, was just diagnosed with autism. Autism and a bunch of other “disorders” that basically say he’s not following a typical path of development and open doors for him to qualify for therapy.

From the time he was born – two months early – we knew he was just going to do things on his own time. When he seemed to be taking longer than normal to meet certain milestones, we thought he needed a boost to help him catch up since he was a preemie. We were told he’d catch up by the time he turned two. He didn’t.

And so we sought answers. I kept hearing the “A-word,” but I just couldn’t entertain the thought. But when he was officially diagnosed in November 2013, we were forced to hold our aspirations for him a bit more loosely. No one could tell us what the future was going to hold for him: would he get better? Worse? We didn’t know and I’ll just speak for myself here: I was terrified.

We entered into 24 hours of therapy for him each week. On top of the therapy there were things we were supposed to follow through with . . . you know in our free time. Our daughter was six months old at the time and then there’s the need to earn a living. I felt like someone threw an elephant at me and then told me to just run with it.

And somehow, with a lot of help, we did. We did it one day at a time. One therapy at a time. One trial at a time. One smile, one word, one skill, at a time. We watched as our son slowly emerged from a cocoon. There’s still a long way to go, but he’s come so far. We often forget that until suddenly he’s talking and telling us how he’s feeling or he’s sitting next to me singing.

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Baby Jail

“Baby jail,” is how I heard a friend of mine refer to the first year of childhood. The parents – particularly the mother – are held captive by this tiny being who subjects them to an uS & J on the trainnrelenting schedule and constant demands. Yes, there are smiles, coos, chuckles, milestones, and first words that are so precious in that first year, but at the same time it is a year in which there is room for little else but survival and caring for the baby.

All of that said, after having two kids in two years, I feel like I am reentering society after three years in the clink. I’m still on probation, but my freedom is increasing. I’m able to move more freely, I sleep enough hours in the night (most nights) to have thoughts beyond basic survival. I am slowly returning to myself, or rather my new self. Parenthood changes you.

I feel like I’m rediscovering what life on the “outside” is about: having a date night; going out with friends; figuring out who’s still out there from my old group of friends; finding new friends; working out and take care of myself; expanding my horizons so I can talk about something other than sleep regressions, potty training and picky eaters.

And then one kid or the other throws me a curveball and I have to cancel plans or take a step back from these other pursuits. And that’s okay. These little ones, they make my life rich.

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