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Category Archives: motherhood

All aboard!

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Lately, I’ve been maintaining a glaring double standard: JR and I have been eating clean and feeling great; the kids have not. During our recent 30-day nutrition challenge we planned meals and snacks around whole foods, eliminated added sugar, and ate a ton of vegetables. Sometimes, we served the same meals to the whole family, like this great chicken and rice bake and this yummy shrimp dish. But other times, while we were eating quinoa and buckwheat, they were eating heaping servings of pasta or freezer French fries. While we were snacking on nuts or plain yogurt or roasted parsnips, they were eating Goldfish or ice cream.

In the weeks since the challenge ended, I’ve continued to follow most of the rules because, well, I like to feel great. I’ve yet to eat a piece of bread or a bowl of pasta. I have a little dark chocolate as a treat but I’m still eating unsweetened oatmeal and choosing protein foods as snacks. I’m trying to find a new “normal” that I can maintain for a good long while. A balanced approach. And as I’m sorting this out, I’m resolving to bring the kids deeper into the fold. I think we need two big changes:

#1 – Cut the sugar.
Eschewing sugar for a month (and being kind of obsessed about it) really brought my kids’ eating habits into stark relief. Almost every night they had something sweet as “dessert”. It was not always junky – things like homemade goodies sweetened with maple syrup, dark chocolate-covered bananas, and 100% fruit ice pops were in the mix. But as I considered their overall diets, I noticed how much it adds up: sweetened breakfast cereals, granola bars, juice boxes, cookies, ice cream treats, lollypops…and that’s just at home! I’ll say nothing (ok, I’ll say a little) of the crap that other people feed my kids on a day-to-day basis at school, at sports (why does my kid need a donut after a 45 minute practice?!), at afterschool activities. I wouldn’t call them addicted to sugar, but their palates certainly have a strong preference for it, and they are definitely in the habit of having more sweets than I believe is healthy.

So, a few weeks ago we limited sweet treats to every other night, trying to wean them off slowly. At the same time, I’m trying to make and buy breakfast foods, after-school snacks, and desserts that contain less sugar. And, though I don’t believe that honey and maple syrup are so much better than cane sugar (your body has an insulin reaction whatever the form) I do think there are benefits to cutting out products that contain refined sugar, so that’s what I plan to do (except for special occasions and Halloween and whatnot… I haven’t completely lost my mind).

#2 – Carb control.
My kids are carbohydrate fiends. Pasta, cereal, crackers, pretzels, snack bars. I believe they need the energy provided by starchy carbohydrates – they are active and they are growing. But I also believe that more of their starches should be vegetables and whole grains. And, I’m thinking we could cut back on wheat products. It’s not that I necessarily believe that gluten is bad for us (though I will say, again, that I have felt GREAT without it) but I do wonder if the abundance of wheat in their diets is a good thing. When facing long-term unknowns I always like to hedge – split the risks by having a bit of this and a bit of that, not over-relying on any one kind of food. So, I’ll try to swap out some gluten-containing foods for gluten-free options. Try to help them learn to accept and enjoy a better variety of whole grains. Have fewer carb-y snacks available. Try to offer more balance.

Seems easy enough. Heh heh.

Will report back.

A Big Olaf

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Tucking my 7yo A into bed tonight I was reminded of a Saturday we shared last summer, and a lesson it taught me.

It seemed like a fine day – we ran errands in the morning and played games and did art projects in the afternoon while the baby napped. But she was cranky. Quick to cry. Clingy and stand-offish at the same time.

And my gut response was to dismiss this annoying behavior. To roll my eyes behind her back. She’s a real pain today, I thought. Hmph. But then: full-blown meltdown. Screaming. Tears. Snot. I don’t even remember what set her off.

And as angry words hurled at me, something in my brain opened up and I didn’t see a demon child trying to make me miserable, which is how I usually see her when she acts this way. Instead, I saw a sad-sack little person in need. So I looked at her and said, “I think we should go and get Big Olaf.” Softening. A smile. Peace.

A couple of weeks before, at Target, we had seen this enormous stuffed Olaf. She wanted it in the way that 6yo girls want soft adorable things: fiercely. But I’m not one to just buy them stuff, so I told her that she could not have the big Olaf. She took it well, but in the following weeks she mentioned Olaf MANY times. And each time I said, “not today” or “maybe for Chanukah” or some such thing and though she still yearned for it, she was able to let it go. (Pun intended, heh.)

On that darkening Saturday I saw my little girl’s sadness and the only thing I could think to do was to drive to Target and get that big Olaf and darnit he was going to make it all better.

And he did.

I don’t know why she needed something special that day. Maybe she felt I was paying too much attention to the baby. Maybe she felt left out by JR and 9yo N who had gone somewhere together. She probably felt both – the classic middle child. Or maybe she was out of sorts because we were soon moving to a new house. I don’t know. But she was 6 and she needed some extra love. Buying her a $20-but-priceless Olaf, perhaps because I never ever buy her anything on a whim, turned out to be an expression of my love that she would hold in her little hands and truly feel.

Though it would seem that the moral of this story is “buy your kids stuff and they’ll shut up,” I assure you I learned something deeper. That day I was reminded that my kids speak in need code. They don’t look at me and say, “Mommy I’m feeling isolated and unsure of myself today.” When they are having an off day they mope or whine or fight. They test me. And it’s not to piss me off (usually)! It’s because they don’t know how to ask for what they need. And sometimes, in these situations, I need to put aside my huffy impatience and find within myself a big-Olaf-sized dose of love instead.

Mom Midterms

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The school year is bit more than half over so it’s time for midterms. If you recall, back in August I spent some time plotting out my back-to-school plans for staying sane. It occurred to me the other night as I was [spoiler alert!] packing school lunches, that I may actually be sticking to my resolutions. Go to the head of the class, Marlow! It got me thinking about my overall performance so today I made myself a report card.

Midterm report card

Use forgotten routine chart – Incomplete. In a recent kitchen cleanup inspired by Apartment Therapy’s January Cure I took down my old routine chart altogether. I had high hopes for that thing but in practice it was never terribly helpful – the kids didn’t consider Mommy-freaks-out-because-we’re-late-again as an occurrence that is of any consequence to them, evidently. I’ve moved on.

Enforce weekday policies – Meets expectations. After a few months of enforcing homework time at 4:30pm it has become status quo – almost no grumbling!  And as for electronics limits, iPods are taken on Monday morning and returned to the eager little tech addicts on Friday afternoon.  As expected, lots of grumbling over this one but it’s the right thing to do.  I still allow Wii during the week but typically only after homework is complete, the dinner table is cleared, and kids are ready for the next day. (Leverage.)

Stocking the freezer – Needs improvement. I started off strong. I had multiple slow-cooker meals pre-assembled in gallon-sized ziplocs for goodness sake. But now I have a patchy supply of muffins, and actual meals…not so much. It’s not as if I can’t see the upside – after all, scrambling to make dinner at 5:45 after work each night is not so fun. Maybe I just need a study guide: I plan to check out the Cook’s Illustrated Make Ahead cookbook from the library and see if new recipes will motivate me.

Night-before tasks – Exceeds Expectations. I was failing at this one until I started attending to my night-before tasks (lunches, coffee maker setup) while preparing or cleaning up from dinner. (For you lunch-packing pros this probably seems obvious, but I used to return to the kitchen to make lunches at 10pm, like a dummy.) It also helps that we’ve gotten into a groove with lunch selections (see below). I now dream of creating some kind of lunch-packing station like I Heart Organizing did here. For extra credit, perhaps.

Meal planning – Meets expectations. I’ve been dinner planning as usual but I’m pleased to report that lunch planning has been going fairly well too.  8yo N completes his personalized lunch menu over the weekend (I’ll have to show it to you sometime..) so it hasn’t been such a struggle at packing time. 6yo A couldn’t get into selecting from a menu and she prefers surprises anyway, so now we have a list of her preferred foods and I just throw an assortment into her bento-style lunchbox.

So that was my parent-parent conference. Did you have school year resolutions?  Do a self-check – there’s still plenty of time to bring up your grades. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have lunches to pack.

Motherhood Moments

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Yesterday, a 2-minute online video gave me 24 hours of angst. The film, an ode to motherhood, documents moments in a typical mom’s day: placing a hat on a small head, giving a bath, going on an outing, meal prep, comforting a sick child, rocking a baby to sleep. It’s set to cinematic music, shot in low light with images evoking the cozy feeling of closeness between the mothers and their children. It honors the selflessness of motherhood and it’s lovely – the kind of thing that reminds you how wonderful and special it is to be a mom.

Then I read that the filmmaker made it as a “thank you to stay-at-home parents.” I don’t think he said this to slight working parents in any way, but with that sentence my working mom psyche was tied in knots.

I spend far less time with my children than I would if I stayed home. I don’t sit and ponder this fact too often because (a) I don’t think I should feel guilty for having a career, and (b) I try not to dwell on things that will not soon change. But after watching this video I felt guilty and sad. My missed moments – not our shared ones – were glaring at me. Through this lens my experience of motherhood seemed to be lacking. We don’t have days full of intimate simple lovely experiences, I lamented to myself. We have the hectic times before school and before bed. There’s less warm fuzzy, more stressed yelling. (Our family-centered weekends were overlooked during my harsh self-reflection.) I couldn’t put it out of my mind, and I was quite depressed by the time I went to bed.

And then I woke up today, and I opened the shades in A’s room and gently smoothed her hair. I pulled my smiling brand-new-day toddler out of his crib as early sunlight streamed into his warm bedroom and I kissed his toes while I changed his diaper. I served breakfast and packed lunches and zipped winter coats. I wiped a runny nose. I walked my kids to school. We laughed together at a joke N made. I watched the leaves falling around us and felt the warmth of A’s hand in mine as she balanced on a sidewalk ledge.  And then it hit me: if a filmmaker shot these images and set them to music it would look really beautiful. Indeed, it IS really beautiful.

And so my funk dissolved as quickly as it began. I do miss a lot of things because I’m a working mom. I have to admit that and own it because it’s a choice that I’ve made. And yes, at times, I wish it was different. But I’m no less of a mother because of it. Sweet and simple shared moments fill our lives too. Every single day. Perhaps I need to be more conscious of these moments, make an attempt to be more present to cultivate more appreciation for them. But today I see that my motherhood is not lacking. How could something so full of love and blessings and joy be insufficient? [Cue poignant music and close-up of me in the middle of a 3-kid group hug.]

A secret weapon

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Last month on vacation in lovely Kennebunk, Maine, we ate once again at a fun little place called The Ramp in Cape Porpoise. (I highly recommend it for their lobster roll and blueberry cobbler.) We had planned to get there early to preempt a long wait and hunger-induced freak-outs. But, despite our best intentions, there we were getting seated at 6:30 and the kids were on the verge, particularly little JB, who had eaten the last of my diaper bag Cheerios hours ago at the beach. We were able to occupy the older two with menu decisions and the decor – the room is packed with old sports and politics paraphernalia. And right in front of the hungry and cranky toddler was his recently-discoverd piece de resistance: ketchup. Within moments there was a whine rising in his throat, his arms outstretched, eyes hopeful. So, I did it. I squeezed ketchup into his bowl and presented him with an appetizer. The big kids thought it was hilarious that I was letting him eat a bowl of ketchup. Everyone was suddenly happy, the mood lighthearted and conspiratorial. JR and I virtually high-fived ourselves. After a few refills (yes, I allowed him not one, but 3 “servings”), our salads and entrees arrived, and he moved on. At the end of the meal, two women in their 70’s stopped by our table to commend us on how well behaved our children were. One of them asked, “What’s your secret?”.  Only after they left the room did I answer honestly: ketchup.

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