Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks

Not my belly… but isn’t it gorgeous?

The other morning I got out of the shower and leaned over to wrap my long, curly hair into a towel and couldn’t help but notice the stretch marks on my belly.

These were the same stretch marks I was convinced I didn’t have when I was pregnant with my daughter 17+ years ago. I kept looking for them in the mirror, but to my utter amazement – I didn’t have any! Or so I thought…

The illusion was broken when I was about eight months pregnant and marveling at my changing body in front of the mirror again. Only this time, my husband was in the room.

Me: “I can’t believe I don’t have any stretch marks! I mean, my belly is HUGE! I would have expected there to be a ton of them! But nope, not one.”

Him: “Ummm… I think you have some down here” (pointing low on each side of my belly) “Whoa! there’s a bunch of them… you just can’t see them.”

And he was right. My belly had gotten so big that that it had begun to cast a shadow and all of my stretch marks were hiding – on the dark side of the moon.

After my initial shock (which really wasn’t warranted… there was no way that my belly could have gotten as big as it did without stretching enough to leave a mark!) I’ve never given my stretch marks a second thought. After all, they’re not that big, they’ve faded over time and aren’t very noticeable, and besides, I don’t regret any of them because they mark me as a mother.

I’d forgotten they were even there, to be honest.  But the other morning as I stood bent over, eye-to-stretch mark, I couldn’t miss them. And suddenly, I had a thought about how a different type of stretch mark is happening to me right now.  It’s one that no one else can see, but it marks me as a mother just the same.

My oldest daughter – the OG stretch mark maker, herself – left on Thursday to go halfway around the world to perform with her dance company, The Jefferson Dancers. They’re in the South of France (Ooh! La! La!) for ten days.

It’s my heart that’s being stretched right now – and it’s going to leave a mark for sure.

I don’t have the typical angst that you might think would go along with kissing your “baby” goodbye as she heads to a timezone that’s 9 hours ahead. I know her to be a mature, strong, smart young woman and I know she’ll come home with amazing stories to tell and wonderful memories to last her a lifetime.

It’s just that this trip signifies something more. My girl is almost grown and out of the house.

My first little bird is getting ready to fly away.

As I typed that last sentence, I paused to see what feelings this brought up for me…

No sadness – just deep, abiding joy and pride at who my girl has become. And this: how amazing to think she still has so much life left to live. So many more memories to make and stories to tell. So many chapters yet to be written.

As I get ready to head home to see my own family later this month, I can’t help but wonder what it was like for my parents as they watched all of their little birds fly away. Some, not too far, but me? Two plane rides and a 3-hour time zone away!

None of us thought this was going to be forever! It was supposed to be a one-year commitment with The Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But almost 25 years later, here I am getting ready for the first of my own four to stretch her wings and soar.

~~~~~~~

I spent the entire weekend teaching expectant parents. Saturday was a one-day express childbirth preparation class, focused on providing these families with realistic expectations about birth. Sunday, was my first ever Becoming Us class, where the focus was on realistic expectations of the transition to parenthood and how to keep the couple relationship strong despite of, maybe as a result of, the normal changes and challenges of new parenting.

I could see the stretch marks on these parents as they wrapped their minds around all that’s involved in the birth process or what it really means to become a parent.

But how can I express to them what is yet to come? Soooooo much stretching!

They will be marked and marked again on their parenting journey: the day they drop their baby off at preschool; the late night worry they’ll feel when their baby is sick; the piercing cry they can’t stop hearing after their toddler’s spectacular wipeout; the good ache that comes from a heart full of pride as they watch their child do something amazing; the bad ache that comes from a heart breaking right along with theirs as their child feels the sting of rejection; the recognition that, if you’ve done this parenting thing right, eventually… they leave.

I love my stretch marks, all of them – maybe those not visible to the naked eye most of all. For they’re a reminder that I have birthed my babies not just from my body, but out and into this great big world. A reminder that mirrors why I’m still so passionate about the work I do with parents who may not have discovered any physical stretch marks (yet!) The parenting journey begins when a family says yes to welcoming a child into their hearts. And from that day on, it never ends. It never breaks down…it just stretches on and on.

PS – I got to talk with my girl at my 11:41 pm my time to 8:41 am her time just as I was putting the finishing edits on this post. It’s a weird thing this stretching – my heart is so full, I sometimes think it might burst. But it doesn’t, it just stretches a little bit more.

Do you have stretch marks? Are they purely physical, or can you relate to the idea of “emotional stretch marks” as well? I’d love to hear what you think about this – please leave me a comment, or share this post with anyone who might appreciate it. PS – I appreciate YOU!

One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

Snow Dazed and Confused

snowflakes

My kids were home from school two days last week because of snow.

In Portland, Oregon.

It’s kind of a big deal when that happens around here.

I remember when I first moved to Portland from Indiana a long, long time ago. My first winter, I called home laughing about the fact that the Mayor(!) had come on TV to ask that all “non-essential” employees stay home because of “hazardous weather conditions.” I think there was maybe four inches of snow on the ground! People were abandoning their cars on the highway!

(Granted, it rarely snows here, so people really don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about driving in it, and teaching folks to turn INTO a skid is super counter-intuitive… Plus, I think PDX only has two snowplows. I might be exaggerating here, but we don’t have nearly enough to dig out an entire city!)

In contrast, when I was a kid, I’d gone to a Catholic High School in Indianapolis, one where the Jesuit Priests lived on campus. The joke was that if they could walk down the halls, there was going to be school that day. My friend Bridget and I had to dig her huge van out of more than one snowbank on the way to school – and we’d still get a tardy slip and a snarky, “Should have left home earlier!” from the school secretary once we finally made it in.

Even though it’s hilarious that the whole family gets a snow day when the PPS School District closes (sometimes based on only a potential forecast of snow) – I’m not complaining! I love snow now even more than I did when I was a kid!  Probably because I only get to play in it a couple of days each winter…

So it was that I spent over two hours sledding on the hill at the park down our street this past Thursday – even though you could still clearly see the grass beneath the inch of white stuff on the ground. And, as usual, my kids were ready to call it quits and head home long before I was!

Kids: “Mom, we want to go home and have some hot chocolate!”

Me: “One more run down the hill!”

Kids: “Mo-om, you said that five runs ago…”

Sometimes I wonder what they’ll remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Do you remember how Mom would go flying down that sledding hill? Even when she was six months pregnant with Felix? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

Day two of our unexpected school break wasn’t quite as much fun. Snow has a way of turning into ice pretty quickly around here. If the temperature rises by just a few degrees during the day, it starts to rain. Then overnight, the temperature drops below freezing and that’s when you end up with an entire city encased in ice.

The result is something reminiscent of the castle of the White Witch from Narnia – beautiful, but oh-so-cold and dangerous. Our lights flickered on and off throughout the day and we lost all electricity (and heat!) for a few hours at a time. 

Being stuck inside the house and unable to go anywhere only occurs every once in a long while (years can go by before this will happen again – or it might happen again tomorrow. We’ll see…) But every time it does, I think to myself: “I’ve got to order a pair of Yaktrax!” Because I have GOT to be able to leave my house!

You see, the rest of my family (and really, most other people) enjoy a little at-home hangout time. My husband, for instance, loves nothing more than to stay in his PJs for weeks at a time. But I’m not him. I find it really, really hard to not be able to leave my house for even one day. I need to get out in order to feed the beast within that craves social interaction with others.

There are many people today who might feel as though they’re getting a lot of their social interaction needs met through the mighty inter webs.

I’m not one of them.

The irony that many of my readers will find this post through a social media site is not lost on me. And I have to acknowledge that I’m currently traveling with this incredible online community of creatives looking to do business as unusual by taking part in Quest 2017.(there’s still time to join us, if you’re interested.) I also have to admit that I’ve made some incredible friendships through and because of my online presence.

But I’m still so grateful for my local, real-world “tribe” – work colleagues, the NACEF Board, friends and framily (typo intended), especially my Momma-tribe: those co-parents (who are not Roberto!) that I can get together with on a semi-regular basis to see and be seen, to listen to and be heard, to share in something different that’s not captured in an email or text. What I mean by “something different” is that we engage one another in real-time conversations that are often messy, give and take, back and forth, meandering, untamed, free-for-all discussions about whatever comes up as a natural (and sometimes unnatural) extension of the topic at hand.

For an extrovert like me, this is where I do my best work. It’s where I get my free therapy. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s where I find the intimacy, honesty and authenticity that I believe is so important in our ever-increasingly techno-obsessed world.

I had lunch with a small group of co-workers the other day, and we were discussing the idea that people might be losing the ability to speak face-to-face or rather, heart-to-heart, with one another. Then I came home from that gathering and read this amazing piece of writing that talked about that craving for real-world connection from one of my friends, Brenna Layne. (An aside: Brenna and I met on-line a couple of years ago and have never met in person. But, as it turns out… we’re twins! No, not really. But it feels like we are when she somehow writes All The Words tucked away deep inside my brain and my heart without me even knowing they were there in the first place. She is lovely and a shining example of my conflicted feelings about online connection vs real-life connection.)

Through these two experiences, I felt inspired to write about something that concerns me very much: We are losing the art of conversation.

The members of my tribe are still wanting to meet face-to-face. They are willing to set aside all other distractions and just be together, sharing time and space. In fact, we talk about how much we all need to do this more often than we already are!

And even though I work hard to make sure my children are able to look people in the eye and engage in a conversation with others that lasts longer than a few minutes, I wonder will they have friends who are able to do the same? Will they find their own tribe not just willing, but wanting to share in that same level of real-time face-to-face intimacy and interaction?

So, here’s another thing (maybe a much more important thing) that I hope my kids will remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Remember how Mom would take us on “dates” spending one-on-one time with each one of us? And then, how she would always ask us about the Big Things – like what we thought about God, who we were crushing on, or what happens after you die? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

The art of conversation is just that: art. It needs to be protected and cherished like all great masterpieces. And I think we should be encouraging our children to engage in it from birth. They need to get their hands messy with it, create it and shape it in real-time, unaware and unhindered by the self-consciousness that can sometimes be so paralyzing. If we don’t do this, I’m concerned that this art will be lost forever. And being our children’s first teacher, I think it’s up to parents to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Because our world needs this honesty and authenticity, it craves this intimate interaction and engagement now, more than ever before.

How do you engage your own children, even your baby, in the art of conversation? Do you think this is a topic worthy of discussion, or am I too “old-school?” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Please share them with me in the comments section below.

Take Your Kids Camping, Please!

Boler

Our upgrade from the early days: cute little Boler camping trailer. Kids are still in a tent, but not us!

If I’ve timed this right, this post is going to drop right in the middle of our annual week-long camping trip along the Oregon Coast. It is, by far, my favorite Summertime activity and I look forward to it like a child waiting for Christmas.

This week marks our 6th year of camping and there have been some changes since the early days. That first year, we piled everything we needed inside the Honda Odyssey (we didn’t even have a roof rack!) and I took us on a road trip that covered about 800 miles in total and had us setting up and tearing down camp every two days.

“Variety is the spice of life” is a personal cliché of mine, and I had no idea what kind of camping we’d enjoy the most: near the beach? in the mountains? high desert? Obviously, I also had no idea how much work was involved in setting up and tearing down camp! Which is why on the last day as we were driving home I took my husband’s hand and asked, “You sure you still want to be married to me? I’m so sorry…”

That year we had four kids under the age of 10, including one that was still nursing, in diapers, and happened to spike a pretty high fever on our first night as we huddled together in 40 degree temperatures at beautiful (freaking-cold-at-night) Crater Lake. “Oh, this is why the ranger kept insisting that I get a fire started when we arrived at 4 pm when it was still 80 degrees!” I thought to myself as I shivered while making dinner via flashlight.

Our air mattress popped in the middle of the night so we woke up on the freezing cold, hard ground and had to head into town to buy a ridiculously expensive new one so that my husband’s back wouldn’t break. Remember, it was already under considerable strain due to the loading and unloading of all of our crap from inside the mini-van. I seriously can’t believe that he agreed to do this again after that first year! Were we crazy? No, I’d like to think that even in the middle of all the nuttiness of that first year we realized a few of the “whys” of camping is so good for our family…

There is nothing like the smell of fresh air that surrounds you as you drive into your little campsite encircled by old growth pines.

We play games – Farkle, Gin, Loaded Questions, Apples to Apples, just to name a few!  And our charades are legendary.

The food! I’m a bit of a nut job in that I like to prepare all of our dinners ahead of time and freeze them – so that all I have to do at the end of the day is warm up a big pot of something delicious and we eat as well as we do at home. This gives me more time to sit by the fire, drink a beer, and connect with my family (or a really good book!)

And my kids love that they get to eat stuff that we rarely have at home: Top Ramen (Hey, don’t judge! I LIVED on Top Ramen, beer, potatoes and peanut butter for four years while I was in college, and I turned out okay!), Pop Tarts, Funions (what are these anyway? I don’t even think “onions” is in the list of ingredients…) and so, so many s’mores.

But the thing that I look forward to the most is that there is no wi-fi and because we have a super crappy phone network, no cell service. For an entire week, we are all unplugged and I.LOVE.IT. My kids, who are pretty much digging their Summer screen time which is waaaay over what I know is good for their brains, get a break from it all. Especially the older ones – for whom the world and its pain never leaves them alone for a minute when it’s all just a click away on their phones.

We engage. In the here and now. With each other. And it is good.

Take your kids camping, please.

Let them find “their” climbing tree and the hidden way to get to and from the bathrooms. Buy them fishing poles and sit quietly next to them for hours in August after the lake’s bounty has already been snatched up and hope, hope, hope that this is the year they catch “the big one” that is legend around these parts. Laugh yourselves silly and sing at the top of your lungs. Create the type of memories that matter as a family. Then sit back and wonder who gets the most out of this experience – you or them.

Does it matter? Not really.

Have you ever camped as a family before? Did you love it? Only do it “for the kids?” What other kinds of things do you do with your babies/kids that might become a family tradition? Let me know – I love this kind of stuff!

Parenting On The Playground – Hits & Misses

Playground

Yesterday, I came upon my 10 year old daughter in deep discussion with two of her schoolmates about the upcoming sex ed discussion that would be starting next week.

Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts about this subject, you know that my kid is not going to hear anything new. Sex education is a topic of discussion at the dinner table on a regular basis at our house. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still embarrassing to discuss among your peers – especially if half of those peers are of the opposite sex!

One of the girls, though, was very distraught that this was happening. She had a letter from the school in her hands and was waving it about and crying out in a loud voice, “This is terrible! This is going to be awful! Why do we have to talk about this stuff, anyway? It’s just so gross!” At this point, I felt compelled to pipe up.

“Ladies, ladies, it’s not gross! You’re at the point where learning about all of the amazing things your body can do is really important!” (I didn’t add that, personally, I think 5th grade is a little bit late. This discussion is a lot less gross for kids if you introduce it earlier…) My daughter rolled her eyes at me and said, “Mom, stop! You’re embarrassing me!”

So, I moved over to sit next to another Momma on the bench nearby. She knows where I stand on this particular subject and confided, “I’ve been getting an earful from these girls and I was hoping you’d come over to talk with them. That one is really freaking out!”

I turned again to the young woman with the letter still outstretched in her hand and asked her if I could read it. After skimming what seemed like a completely appropriate note home to parents about what will be discussed next week, I asked her name (obviously she’s not one of my daughter’s closest friends) and said, “Girlfriend, come here and sit down.” She did so willingly and I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her in a little closer.

“You don’t have to be worried about what’s happening next week. The focus is going to be on learning how your body works. For all of the really embarrassing stuff, they’re going to separate the boys from the girls so you don’t have to talk about that stuff in front of one another. You don’t need to be worried about that, I promise.”

When I asked if her parents talked with her about this kind of stuff at home, she said, “No way!” So I told her that if she ever needed to, she could find me on the playground to talk. I could tell in her body language – she sat close to me, leaning in – that this two-minute exchange was welcomed and I know she walked away feeling a little less anxious about the week ahead.

My daughter, on the other had, was not so happy.

We got to the car and she started in, “Why do you have to talk about that kind of stuff on the playground?” I responded, “Because it’s not something to be afraid of talking about. We use sex to sell everything, and we’re exposed to it every day. But we never have any healthy discussions about sex or what our bodies can do, with people we can trust. You need to learn how your body works. Don’t think of this class next week being about a sexual part of your body, just think of it as if the discussion was going to be about how your brain works.”

She wasn’t having any of it today.

“Don’t you think that was embarrassing to her? Why did you ask her to sit down and talk with her about that?” I answered, “Because she seemed so anxious, honey. She told me this isn’t something her parents are comfortable talking about at home, so I wanted to try and calm her down so she wouldn’t be so worried about it. That’s all.”

And then, my girl started to cry. Big, alligator tears slid down her cheeks and I asked, “Sweetie, why are you so upset? I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, I swear it. It wasn’t about you at all.”

At this, she started crying even harder and saying she didn’t know why she was so upset. I held the space for her and encouraged her to tell me exactly what was upsetting her, so I could try to make her feel better. And finally, she said, “When you were talking to her like that, it made me feel like you weren’t mine. That you weren’t just for me.

Whoa. How do you adequately explain to your child that when you are in “mothering mode” on the playground with other children, that it doesn’t mean you are someone else’s mother? That even in those moments, you are completely aware of the boundaries that exist between you and someone else’s child?

My girl is the most socially savvy kiddo I’ve ever known. She’s been that way since she was a toddler. She assesses what’s up, attaches deep meaning to what she observes, she takes it all in. And she showed this to me again yesterday through this one simple statement.

I gave her the biggest bear hug ever and swore that this exchange between me and her schoolmate was not anywhere near to what she I and share. And that while her schoolmate has lovely parents of her own, this isn’t a subject she feels she can talk about with them. That it’s important for young girls to be able to learn and talk about their bodies without embarrassment or shame. And that if this means being available in that way for other young girls, than I’m willing to do that. But that no one, no one, takes the place of my children. That I was her Momma. I belonged to her, and she belonged to me.

Her little brother, of course, got to listen in to this entire discussion. The three of us got out of the parked car, popped into the grocery store to grab what we needed for dinner, and headed for home.

As we were making our way through the parking lot, I had one more thing to say to my girl.

“Hey, I’m really proud of you for digging deep to tell me what was really upsetting you. I know that it took you a little bit of time and a lot of courage to say what you did. And that’s a real sign of maturity. Being able to recognize and name your feelings is an important life skill that a lot of adults aren’t very good at. Nice job.”

And as we walked back to the car, she said, “Thanks Mom” and gave my hand a little squeeze.

Some of you may still be in the parenting a non-verbal baby at this point, but for those of you who have older children – tweens, teens, grown-ups – do you recall these moments where your child stopped you in your tracks and revealed themselves to you completely? I’m wondering how often this happened while you were in a car? It seems to me that the car, parked or driving, has the magical ability to get your child to open up in ways that just don’t seem possible in other places. Would you agree? Leave me your comments – I’d love to hear from you!

Educating Educators!

TTR

Here, I’m making an important point about increasing student engagement…

I had the pleasure of working with a room full of Health Educators a few days ago for a training session I’d developed to help these professionals increase the level of engagement they have with their students.

No pressure, or anything, but when the title of your presentation is: “Teach to Reach: Six Rules of Engagement,” you’d better be able to bring it! Thankfully, I think I did. The evaluations were really positive: most attendees were wishing that the training had been longer, and I’ve already been asked to come back. So, that’s good.

I love doing presentations and trainings. There’s a reason why this is such a good fit for me. I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating – I am the most extroverted person I’ve ever known. So, getting up in front of a group of people doesn’t rattle me at all. I have no nerves in this situation.

In fact, the bigger the crowd, the more excited I get. The original number of people attending this training was supposed to be about 20. The day before, I found out it would be closer to 35. For some presenters, that might make them freak out. But not me – I was psyched! The energy from the audience totally feeds me.

The idea of being an “efficient communicator,” intrigues me. The larger the group, the more people receive the message I’m trying to convey at one time. Getting the most “bang for your buck” is a personal credo of mine!

And I really enjoy working with other educators, too. There’s a shared understanding of what it is to do group facilitation and to do it well. We communicate in the same “language” and can dive right in and get to work.

I’m especially interested in encouraging health educators to work harder at their craft because so much of our message we want or need to convey has the potential to be truly life-changing for the students in our classes. But not if they’re bored or checked out!

I started the training by asking participants to identify their greatest challenge as an educator. But I also asked them to claim ownership of their greatest strength. I think it matters as an educator, presenter, or human being, really –  that we take stock of what we’re really good at and then capitalize on that skill because it comes relatively easy to us and it also authentically represents who we are.

Participants shared that they were great listeners. That they had a lot of knowledge and expertise. They shared that they were able to connect well with their students. And my personal favorite, some felt they were able to make good use of their sense of humor while teaching. It’s a great feeling to be among such a strong group of professionals.

But there’s a little bit of extra pressure when you’ve been asked to train members of your own tribe. What if they already know everything? How can I make this information new and something they’ll actually be able to use? How do I keep them engaged and with me for two solid hours?

Turns out, these are the same questions we, as educators, should be asking about every class of students we teach, members of our tribe, or not. But, still – I knew that this particular group of people would be able to tell where the holes (if any!) were in my presentation and would be ready to point them out to me on the class evaluations. Which is why it matters even more that they were really positive.

My hope is that in some small (or potentially big) ways, what I offered this group of fantastic educators will help them get their messages out into the world with even greater impact!

If you’re an educator or work with educators who might benefit from having me present on this or other topics to increase student engagement and the impact of their message, please contact me here for more information.

Educating educators is just one more thing I love to do – it’s usually a lot of prep-work, but always a lot of fun!

PS – I’ve been asked to present at the ICEA Conference in Denver in the middle of October. My presentation there will be very Childbirth Educator focused and is titled: “Birth Plans: Helpful or Harmful?” I love getting the opportunity to be in front of my peers, create new presentations and content, and be a part of the conversation about topics that matter.

Lucky me!

Whether you’re an educator or not, take stock of your greatest challenges, but also remember to take stock of your greatest strengths! These are the ways in which you shine – let others see your light and bask in its warmth and glow! Claim your gifts TODAY!

Happy World Doula Week!

WDW

I can’t let this week go by without a shout-out to all of the wonderful women I know personally, and professionally, who’ve taken up the call to become a doula. A doula is a woman trained to assist other women in childbirth and/or to support a new family following the birth of their baby. And this is the week we are celebrating women all over the globe who do this incredible work!

Over 20 years ago, I was working as a temporary office monkey between jobs and wondering what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Across my desk one day came the company’s monthly newsletter and on the front page was an article about “doulas.” I’d never heard of this word before, and the concept intrigued me.

A few days later as I drove home during my lunch hour, there was a story about doulas on NPR’s show, “Talk of The Nation.” I had a “driveway moment” and couldn’t get out of the car until the story was over. My curiosity was growing. 

But it wasn’t until my best friend announced her pregnancy and asked me to be at the birth that I got serious about this idea: “Maybe I should become a doula!” I’m not an overly woo-woo person, but all of these things seemed to be pointing me in the direction of birth.

After some searching, I found out that The Seattle Midwifery School (300 miles North of my home in Portland) was offering a doula training that would conclude before my friend’s due date. Everything seemed to be lining up – so I signed up. I was hooked on birth immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I never went so far as to complete the work of being certified as a doula. Finding scheduled evening and weekend hours as a Childbirth Educator kept me in the world of birth and allowed me to focus on having my own family. But every now and again, I’ve had the honor of being a doula at the births of friends, neighbors, or women who had no support or financial ability to pay for a doula.

It is such a gift to be with a woman when she’s giving birth. Helping her find her inner strength and witnessing the parents and the baby lock eyes on one another for the first time – it’s one of the most awesome experiences ever (that word is so overused in our culture, but this is one area where it’s completely appropriate)!

So,thank you to all of the women who’ve answered the call to become doulas. You are very special women, indeed. You have an immense capacity for nurturance, calm, strength and advocacy. You’ve got incredible stores of flexibility, skills and knowledge and you’re somehow able to continue to do the hard work of labor support on little sleep and not a lot of food. You are the best example of how continuous physical and emotional support can make all the difference as this couple transforms into a family.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and praise for the work that doulas do in the world of birth. But don’t just take my word for it. Google “benefits of doulas” and you’ll get 359K hits in about a half of a second. There aren’t any studies that I know of that show anything other than positive results of having a doula with you in birth. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of doulas, read this article written by Rebecca Dekker on Evidence Based Birth.

Having a doula at your birth can be linked to:

  •  Reducing the incidence of c-sections      
  •  Shortening the length of labor      
  •  Reducing epidural and analgesic requests      
  •  Increasing breastfeeding initiation and continuation     
  •  Increasing mother’s satisfaction of birth experience      
  •  Reducing the incidence of postpartum mood disorders     
  •  Increasing new parents’ confidence in the care of their newborn

There’s really no downside to having a doula with you in birth or postpartum! A doula is worth her weight in gold. If you’re interested in finding a doula for your birth or for postpartum, one place you can look is the DONA International website. Other places to look would be your friends and co-workers. A lot has changed in 20 years! Many more women are using doulas in their birth and postpartum and personal recommendations can give you so much more than a website directory! Many CBEs also have referrals they can provide, if you ask.

My tips for hiring a doula: Don’t get stuck on how many births they’ve attended, or what “extras” they might provide (photography, massage, etc.) These might be wonderful additions, but I think it’s more important you feel you can hang out with this person for 24+ hours. A professional doula won’t have an agenda for what your birth “should” look like. She’ll be willing to support you, and your choices in birth. Make sure your doula and your partner can work together. If you’ve chosen well, your doula will help your partner feel like they had just the right support so they could be involved in the birth at the level they were most comfortable with.

Doulas can be an amazing support when a birth goes really well, but even more so they when a birth goes rogue. Your doula can help you remember what matters most to you in this birth experience and help you get as close to that as possible. On the other side of giving birth, you’ll share a bond with this woman forever and she’ll be an important part of the birth story you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Doulas are amazing women and I’m happy to publicly honor them in this way! A special shout-out to Liesl & Kathie (doulas) and Beth & Marilyn (midwives) for all of the doula-ing they provided me and my husband during the birth of our four children. I mean this honestly when I say it – we couldn’t have done it without them!

If you know a doula, please take time to honor them in some special way this week!