Being Present

Being Present

Or, “The True Gift of Labor Support”

I got called out of retirement and had the privilege and honor of being the doula at the birth of Baby M born just over two months ago.

I’ve been asked by many couples over the years if I would consider being their birth doula. It’s always a bittersweet moment for me, as I love being a witness to birth almost more than anything else in the world. But with four kiddos, two part-time jobs, a relationship with my hubs that I like to see flourish, and this writing gig of mine – I have ZERO time to attend births.

So, when M & A asked me if I would be their doula at the end of the first night of our 4-week series, I told them what I usually tell all of my students making this request: “Oh, that’s so sweet – but I’m not really doing births. My life is just a little bit too full to consider this a realistic option right now…”

They were a little bit disappointed – but said they understood and they’d see me next week. I promised I’d send them an email that included thoughts on hiring a doula, what to look for, what questions to ask, and a few referrals for local doulas that I thought were really great.

The next week, I asked if they’d decided on a doula yet.

“Ummmm, no. We only want you.” This flattered me, but I knew when their due date was and not only would I be teaching a ton of classes around that time, I was also scheduled to leave town to go to my niece’s wedding. There really was no way.

“I really wish I could be your doula – but it’s just not going to work out. I think you should contact some of the people that I’ve referred you to and we can chat more about this next week.”

I’m guessing you’ve figured out what happened next.

Every week they’d come back and say that they hadn’t talked with any of the referrals and finally they decided that if I couldn’t be their doula, they’d be just fine on their own.

Now, I think couples can do really well on their own, but it’s hard to deny what the evidence shows about having the continuous presence of a doula during labor and delivery – statistically better outcomes for both Mommas and babies!

On the last evening of class, M & A gave me a book and a thank you card which read, in part: “We would be remiss not to formally ask you to consider if you would attend our birth. We completely understand your busy teaching schedule and travel plans and if it relieves any hesitance or pressure, we wouldn’t plan to rely on your presence. In our minds, the structure would be that if it worked out such that you were free and available, we’d love it if you would join.”

I mean, really, how could I say no to that?

This was a couple that I believed would be just fine if I wasn’t able to be there on the big day – I didn’t for a second think they were trying to say the right thing to get me to agree. They were being completely sincere and were speaking my language… I’ve always felt that when labor begins, the people that are supposed to be there to witness the event somehow end up being there. If I was meant to be at their birth, I would be there.

So, we came up with a really interesting split-fee set-up: one amount for the pre-birth “Phone Doula” work that I would provide for them which included: a formal interview about their birth wishes, some assistance creating a template for what really mattered for them in their birth experience, some questions to spark discussion with their provider, and the availability to answer any questions and advise them as they came ever closer to the birth of their baby. And if I ended up being able to be at the birth, there would be an additional fee.

The real gift of labor support is being fully present to an expectant family.

And for me, that began when they hired me. It wasn’t as if I dropped everything I was doing, but we had some regular text check-ins and a few phone calls to see how M & A were doing as the due date drew ever closer. I slept with my phone on and next to my headboard at night (I usually have it turned off, far away from where I sleep and covered up as any “Ping!” noises or even the battery light is enough to keep me awake!)

I kept my phone with me at all times and was checking it much more often than is usual and I’d get back to M & A as quickly as possible after receiving any contact from them.

And on Saturday, April 8th, I began my formal “it could happen at any moment” doula-watch. M called to report that A was having contractions and that “It might happen tonight!” While I appreciated his excitement, after hearing that they were both scarfing down Mexican food at 11 o’clock at night, I encouraged them to get some sleep as I didn’t think that they were going to have a baby anytime soon.

I received word from M in the early morning hours that A had slept soundly through the night – confirming what I thought was happening… Great early labor, but nothing to be getting too worked up about.

Over the next several days, I was in pretty close phone contact with M & A as they navigated what seemed to be prodromal labor. They were handling it so well and really only needed quick check-ins for reassurance that they were on the right path and that everything they were experiencing was normal and good work for what was to come.

On Thursday April 13th, the call finally came: A’s water had broken! I think they were both excited for this very positive sign of labor finally happening, although the contractions hadn’t progressed enough to call it “active labor” yet.

I was excited for them as well – I’ve had prodromal labor myself and I know just how frustrating it can be if it continues past a couple of days – and we were closing in on six days at this point! I was also thrilled they’d gone into labor before I left to go out of town – but, I was scheduled to teach a class that evening and I hadn’t arranged for a sub yet.

It took some finagling on my part (and a small bribe of chocolate and beer) to enlist my friend and colleague Jen to take my class for the evening – but the details weren’t figured out until about 4 pm that afternoon. During the day, M & A made their way into the hospital and I continued playing Phone Doula for them, encouraging them at one point to try some exaggerated marching through the hallways to see if they could get the labor to pick up speed. Apparently, this was a hit with all of the nurses – they loved it!

I finally arrived at the hospital around 6 pm and after saying hello, A had what was, by the reaction, her first real-deal contraction, saying “Whoa! That one was really different!” I laughed and said, “Well, now that your whole birth team is here we can get serious and have ourselves a baby!” And, in fact, about eight hours later that’s exactly what happened!

I won’t give a play-by-play of the entire labor, other than to say that, I fell in love with this couple as I watched them work together to bring their baby into this world!

The act of giving birth, watching partners support the one they love giving birth, and witnessing the birth of a family is sacred work to me. And in this sacred space, time stands still as we are all present to one another, living only in this moment together.

And while it’s nice to know a few things about breathing, and positions and other comfort measures – the real gift of labor support is in being present.

Some people might doubt how having continuous labor support can make such a difference in positive labor outcomes for Mommas and babies – but in our ever-increasingly-barely-ever-present culture, I think it makes more sense now than ever!

As a birthing woman settles into her rhythms and rituals, making claim to the strength she might not have been aware of until this moment, she’s able to ask for whatever she needs – RIGHT NOW – to realize this act of co-creation. She opens herself, both figuratively and literally, to bring forth this new life from within.

And in this moment-by-moment experience, everyone focused and working for one purpose, a miracle occurs: it’s not just a baby that is born, but also a mother, a father and a family. These people are now connected to one another, and they will be, for their whole lives! To witness this in whatever role – doula, nurse, provider, friend or family member – is also a gift that connects all of us in this one moment in time.

I was really exhausted after this beautiful birth! And I couldn’t figure out why at first – I mean, I was only there and working hard from 6 pm until about 2:30 in the morning. In the world of birth, that’s not a lot of time! And then I realized why… It had been awhile since I’d been so focused and present in a continuous way for such a long period of time. And it’s intense to be truly present to the sacred for any period of time.

But oh, what a gift!

I dedicate this post today to M & A and Baby M. I’m so honored to have played a small part in witnessing the birth of the three of you as a new little family! Thank you for your persistence in hiring me, and for giving me the idea of being your “Phone Doula.” I’m so happy to be connected to you in this way.

PS – We’re also connected in one other very important way… Baby M and my son, Alejandro, share the same birthday (only 15 years apart)! I’m pretty sure that this is another sign that I was meant to be fully present at this birth.

A Dream Come True

Dream

This time last week, I saw one my dreams come true. Not everybody gets to say that – I’m so lucky! This was a dream that took hold about four years ago. And a lot has happened in that time to make this dream a reality…

I met Elly Taylor online in a Facebook forum for Relationship Focused Birth Professionals. Now, I’d only been on Facebook for a couple of years. And I hadn’t really realized the power of using social media for anything other than personal fun and connection at that point.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I started to understand the implications of using platforms like Facebook for my professional work. The name of this forum intrigued me, because even though I’m not a therapist or counselor, I’ve felt for years that my work has way more to do with the relationships I’m helping to foster and strengthen than it does with teaching folks how to give birth.

Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do! But the truth is, a baby will come out of you, with or without assistance, one way or another. Certainly, I help couples figure out how they’d like that process to unfold, and I help them become decision-makers in this experience -to their level of comfort. But really, for almost two decades my “Childbirth Preparation Classes” have just been a cover for doing lots of other important things:

  • elevating the role of the partner and making sure that they feel included and honored
  • creating a sense of community among students in my classes so they don’t feel so isolated and alone in their experience
  • encouraging couples to stop planning birth and start participating fully instead
  • suggesting that embracing their feelings of vulnerability will allow for maximum transformation through this birth experience
  • preparing them realistically for what life will be like after the baby has arrived – and what this means for their couple relationship

Cue Elly Taylor and her book, Becoming Us.

I’ve written about Elly and Becoming Us before, here and here. But what I might not have revealed so clearly is that from the moment I met Elly online, I had a professional crush! I mean, here was this woman on the other side of the world that had spent fifteen years researching and writing a book on how to potentially prevent relationship dissatisfaction (that a whopping 92% of couples report in the first year following the birth of their baby) – AND she had an Aussie accent!

Now I call it a crush, because it kind of was. I’ve never had an online relationship with anyone before, so I didn’t exactly know how to go about it… But, I was determined.

First, I started commenting on anything she wrote about in the forum, thrilled with every response she wrote back. Eventually, I bought her book and dove into the information about how and why relationship discord happens in the first place after a baby is born. And as I was reading, there were all of these lightbulbs going off! All of these “Ah-Ha!” moments that I’d been trying to share with my families for years! The dots were in place and I was starting to make some important connections like: support of one another in your new parenting roles is extremely important and can lessen the risk of developing a Perinatal Mood Disorder during pregnancy or the postpartum period.

Elly and I developed a friendship that became very dear to me on lots of levels. I feel like I’m about 4-5 years behind her in terms of my own work within the birth field and consider her to be an important mentor as well.

I’m gaining traction and collaborating on the issue of birth “planning” and starting to speak out more about how planning instead of participating in birth can give couples a false sense of security to lessen their feelings of vulnerability – and that while this is okay, exploring and embracing these same feelings can lead to incredible transformation through pregnancy, birth and new parenting.

I’ve got about 70K words written for my own book about these topics and more that I’m editing (and re-editing!) as I discover the message I’m most wanting to convey. And I’m just starting the arduous task of turning my blog into an actual website.

All this time, I’ve been watching Elly from a distance as these things have fallen into place for her – and it’s been an inspiration for me to keep going!

I can’t remember the exact day when our Facebook message marathon happened, only that I was in the middle of cooking dinner for my family and Elly was commenting that her work, while being so well-received by birth professionals, wasn’t making its way into the minds and hearts of expecting families. I know I wasn’t the only one to say this to her, but I do remember asking: “Why don’t you train us to teach them?”

Elly created an online training program for birth professionals to become Certified Becoming Us Facilitators. It’s an excellent program that allows birth professionals to really grasp the how and why relationship dissatisfaction occurs – and more importantly, how we can prevent, or lessen it from happening to the families we serve in the first place.

I completed the training last year and added “Certified Becoming Us Facilitator” to my list of credentials. I’ve partnered with Legacy Health System here in Portland, Oregon and taught my first class in early April. And I LOVED it!

The class was engaged from beginning to end, couples were sharing parts of themselves with each other and with the group in a way that was both insightful and revealing. I could see all of them connecting their own dots and taking all of this information in as a way to safeguard their relationship against the normal, expected challenges that occur when you move from couple to family. 300+ new skills are being learned in a very high-stress environment with little sleep and lots of uncertainty – it’s no wonder so many couples report having issues!

I’m the first person in the world to be teaching these classes and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

It was so fulfilling to me – to see Elly’s work translated and shared so there are now six more couples in the world who won’t be completely blind-sided when they give birth to their babies and become a family.

But the real “dream turned reality” happened a week ago today, when Elly Taylor flew in from Sydney, Australia to be the presenter for the NACEF Conference (NACEF – Northwest Area Childbirth Educators Forum is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to offering quality education to perinatal professionals. And I’m the current President.)

I could hardly believe that she was here, in person, presenting to a group of close to 60 birth professionals (both live and virtual!) about her work and the importance of letting families know what to expect, how to work with these normal challenges, and create a family that thrives. It was SUCH a great conference! (And there’s still a chance to snag a virtual seat if you’re interested.)

What I can tell you is: This work matters.

Yesterday, out of the blue, a Momma from my first Becoming Us class series wrote this about her experience:

“So far our time at home has been going smoothly. Some of the discussions that spawned from your class really helped us to prepare for our time together as a family. We have been very gentle with one another which has been beautiful and positive for our relationship.”

Isn’t that amazing? I didn’t ask for any testimony, it was just something she chose to share with me.

And this is a dream come true.

 

I’ve got several Becoming Us class series slated for the 2017/2018 year. If you as a couple or a couple you know would benefit from taking these classes in preparation for becoming a family, get in touch with me and I’ll get back to you with all the details.

Please share this post widely… the more professionals who are doing this work, and the more couples who are receiving this message – the better off we’ll all be!

(And because I might have gone dancing with Elly after the conference and it might have been an 80s Dance Attack theme here’s a video that fits today’s blogpost… )

On Motherhood and Feeling “Trapped”

trapped

Before anyone gets triggered by the title of this post, let me explain what’s been happening in my little corner of the world. I live in Portland, Oregon. A city that has, on average, almost 42 inches of rain a year. We’re used to the gray clouds and wet stuff falling from the sky. Heck, most original Portlanders (or those of us who’ve lived here 20+ years) don’t even carry umbrellas! We just suck it up and keep on moving. In comparison, we usually only get about 4.5 inches of snow.

But a week ago, over a foot of snow dropped in less than 24 hours and our beautiful city was covered in a blanket of white. When it became completely obvious that we would not be having school the following morning, I dug around in our basement for all the snow gear and the sleds and we hit our local park and its fantastic hill for 2+ hours of night sledding – the best way to sled in my opinion. The hills weren’t super fast yet, but it was magical!

The next day, we hit the hill again for some more of the same. (Did I mention that I love sledding more than anyone I know – including my own kids? I’m always the last one ready to leave. As long as my feet, head and hands are warm, I’ll stay out in this stuff all day long!)

Well, I started talking smack at the top of the hill about how “I’ll still be sledding when I’m 70!” and how I wished the snow was icier “so we could go faster!” and I even asked a fellow parent to wax up the sled for me… My 7-year-old was ready to go home, but I convinced him to go with me for one last run.

I lined us up at the top of the hill, but my patience with having to wait for our turn was really being stretched. (Did I also mention that impatience is my worst character flaw?) In order to not have to wait another second and barrel down the hill NOW!, I made a rookie mistake and moved us to the far left, where no one else was sledding, and we went flying down the hill – and straight toward the 4-inch round metal pole that held up the baseball diamond backstop. (Oh, this is why there was no line…)

I tried to steer us to the right and away from the pole, but the sled wouldn’t budge. I thought about bailing, but my son hasn’t mastered the art of this technique yet and I was concerned he wouldn’t get off with me. So, at the last moment and in an effort to avoid having my little guy crack his head open, I did this sort of full-body twist and my left leg smashed into the pole. The pain was intense and made me catch my breath. But just like Mommas the world over, I immediately checked in with Félix to make sure he was okay – not a scratch, phew!

Then I tried to get up – whoa. I was able to put some weight on it, so I knew I hadn’t broken my leg, but I’d certainly injured myself significantly and we headed for home.

By the time we were coming through the front door, whatever initial shock that had allowed me to walk the three blocks home wore off and the tears started to fall. Then my son got upset because he knew it must be bad if I was crying. A week later, I’m still hobbling – the multicolored bruise on my leg is spectacular and extends from just above my knee to just below my hip.

But that’s not the only thing that’s been bruised.

My spirit is young and feeling as though my body can’t keep up with it hit me hard this past week. I really DO want to go flying down that hill when I’m 70! So, I ice the crap out of my leg, I elevate it, I take Arnica, and I try to heal so that maybe I’ll be able to do that someday. Yet, I still feel trapped by my body – unable to do a lot of the things that I would normally be doing. Initially, I could barely walk. But even a week later, I’m slow, I’m still in pain. I have to be patient and ask for help – not my strong points.

And I’m trapped inside my house as the roads and sidewalks are still covered with ice and snow because the temperature hasn’t gotten above freezing and none of this stuff is melting.

My kids are on day #9 of no school. I’m the one that would have been on the hill every single day this past week – if only I could. My kids are over it. They don’t even want to play in the snow. And I’m so sad that I can’t. So, I end up feeling trapped in my role of Momma (this is a community-wide sentiment if my FB feed is any indication!)

Not that I don’t love my kiddos – I do, madly. But there are so many things that fall to the back burner when I’m in Momma mode… like the maintenance of this blog for one. I’ve been busy this past month doing lots of work on projects that thrill me – including turning this blog into a (gulp!) actual website – more details on that later… But it’s super hard to sit and write when I can hear all of my littles in the background.

I’m used to having a few precious hours of quiet on a weekly basis so I can think and put a few words on the page. I’m writing today with headphones on and the music is kind of loud, actually. I have to do this to quiet all of their wonderful little noises, to drown out their petty annoyances with one another (everybody’s feeling the need for just a little more space), and to lessen the Momma guilt I’m feeling as I hope that their brains will not be permanently damaged by the amount of screen time they’ve over-indulged in this past week.

But I want to speak to one other way that motherhood traps us all…

In a way that is both expected and wholly unexpected in its intensity, I’ve realized that in saying yes to this thing – motherhood – that my own destiny is trapped to the destinies of my four children.

When one of them is sick, I’m sick with worry. When one is anxious, I need to be present and find the words (where do they come from, I often wonder) that will provide comfort. When there is heartbreak, my own heart breaks a little right alongside theirs. When they talk of their futures, I am both excited for them and painfully aware that this means they are always moving away from me… a little bit more with each passing day.

So, maybe it’s okay that we are all trapped together for yet one more day.

I will finish this post. I will fix them all lunch. I will unplug all of our electronic gadgets. We will read some Harry Potter, we will play some board games. We will probably still irritate the crap out of each other – but we will miss it. All of it. Won’t we?

Ever feel “trapped” in your role as a parent – how do you gain perspective on this and cope with the demands that come with the job? I’d love to hear your responses. Please comment and share.

LOVE – It’s The Secret Ingredient

turkey-soup

Turkey & Rice Soup (Several days later and still sooooooooo delicious!)

There’s a certain alchemy that can happen in cooking… It’s not just about putting flavors together and being satisfied with delicious results. Sometimes, if a recipe you’ve watched your Mom make too many times to count, a recipe that’s never been written down before, suddenly turns out *just* right, it’s possible to be instantly transported back in time to your childhood.

Here I am, at age four looking up at my Mom standing at the stove, careful not to have it turned on high heat yet because I’m so close to her hip. I watch as she’s trying to fit the turkey carcass into our big, fat silver soup pot. She uses the kitchen shears, a knife, sometimes just her fingers, to break the bigger bones up into smaller ones to fit – just so – into the pot. Mom never liked to throw out anything that still had so much to offer.

Here I am, a couple of years later, standing on a kitchen chair and asking, “Can I add the carrot and the onion and the celery? Please? I’m old enough. I can do it.” But I would have to wait a few more years before I got the job of chopping the vegetables into big chunks to help flavor the broth as it started to boil. How high the heat should be and how long the broth should simmer on the stove always depended on two things: what time my Mom began this whole process, and how much patience the rest of the family had to wait before eating.

Pulling the meat off the bones would have happened in earnest a day or two before – on Thanksgiving. But only after the crowds of people had left and after the kids had gone to bed. My immediate family always lived far from aunties, uncles and cousins, so our gatherings were always a wonderful mix of “framily” – those people whom we’d adopted, or who had adopted us for the holiday meal. I wonder if my Mom ever found enjoyment in discovering just how much meat there would be to add to the year’s batch? This was always the unknown variable… Would the soup be thin and mostly broth? Or more like a thick and hearty stew? It was dependent on lots of different things: how big of a turkey we could afford in any given year, the number of guests we’d invited, how many appetizers and sides they’d brought to share, and – how hungry my teenaged brothers were.

As a tween and teen, more interested in eating the soup than actually making it, I would salivate as the smells of turkey goodness filled our entire house. Only then would my Mom turn the burner off, strain the solids from the broth and pick through the remains once more. She would want a mostly clear broth seasoned to perfection before adding anything else. And then came my favorite part: adding the rice. “Plink, plink, plink!” The individual grains would splash and get sucked into the depths of the pot, only to resurface as the heat got turned back on and the broth began bubbling again.

I never understood how my Mom knew when to finish the soup so the rice was cooked just right. Confession: I always cheat on this part and use the rice cooker and add the finished rice into the pot right before serving. The rice turns out pretty close to perfect, but alas! no wonderful “plinking!” sounds. At some point, Mom would declare the soup to be “Finished!” And then add in the turkey meat and a jar or two of tomatoes. She’d give one last good stir to mix everything together and then ladle the soup into our bowls, while we sat at the long dining room table ready to gobble it all up (no pun intended…)

My Mom’s “Turkey and Rice Soup” might not be something you’d find in a fancy restaurant, or pay top dollar for – but the best food in the world rarely is. This recipe is so much more than just a delicious way to transform Thanksgiving leftovers. And this year, at first taste, and after 26 years of trying to re-create the experience, I almost wept (almost – I’m not really a crier…) as I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen watching as my Mom created something that over the years became a symbol of love, of comfort, of home to me.

That’s the kind of alchemy that I’m talking about. There’s a certain magic that you can actually taste in a meal that’s been cooked at home. Whenever my own children find something that I’ve made for them especially delicious and then ask me what’s in it, I list off all the ingredients and then say, “But there’s a secret extra special ingredient added! Can you guess what it is?” They’ve heard this from me so many times now that even as they roll their eyes, they still respond: “LOVE!” 

Yep, lots and lots of love. Heaping tablespoons and cups spilling over with love.

I’m not sure why this ingredient has been missing from this recipe over the years. Or, more importantly, how it finally found it’s way into my own soup pot this year some 2,264 miles away from my Mom – but I’m so glad that it did.

I feel like the last three posts I’ve written, have had more than a little bit of wistfulness to them, their unifying theme a longing to be closer to my family this year. I thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.

Typically, I write about issues that are of importance to pregnant, birthing and new parenting families. But one of the things that becomes more important over time, I think, is acknowledging that who we are as parents originates in how we have been parented. The families we are creating for ourselves now, find their roots in the families of our birth. Sometimes, and in some particular ways, we may choose to break away from that family of our birth to create our own, new definition of family.

But sometimes we look ahead and wonder if our own children will ever tell their children about how turn a tupperware full of Thanksgiving leftovers into something so much more.

Spoiler Alert: It’s all about that secret extra special ingredient.

Do you have any holiday recipes that have been passed down in your family that hold such power? Is the recipe written down? Or can it only be brought together through a lifetime’s worth of memories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the comments.

All The Single Ladies (And Gentlemen)

beyonce

This is a shout-out to any Mommas or Poppas out there who are doing this thing, parenting, on their own.  

By themselves.

I’ve been single parenting my four kiddos for the past week (with an entire village of helpers at the ready, mind you!) as my husband sat in a hospital bed with a bowel obstruction from a previous surgery from twenty years ago. It has been a challenge to say the least…

The hospital is a 25-minute drive from our house (if there’s no traffic) and for most of the week, I was dropping off the kids to school, then driving out to spend the day with my husband, then driving back to do the school pick-up, take them to their various activities, have dinner with them and then head back out to the hospital after bedtime to hang with my husband until passing out at home between 11 and 12 at night – only to get up and do it all over again.

There have been so many wonderful offers of help – food at the ready, and many, many people willing to shuffle kids from one place to the next. But as many of you will understand, at some point it’s just easier on me and the kids if I’m there to meet them at the end of their day, reassure them that their Dad is going to be okay, and try to bring a bit of normalcy back into their lives when everything else seems so topsy-turvy. When I texted a friend to exclaim that I didn’t know how single parents did it, she reminded me that this past week carried with it the added stress of having an ill spouse who’s in the hospital. And while that is true…

Honestly, it gave me so much more appreciation for all of you who are doing such intense, hard and important work on your own. I’ve written about it here. At least I have someone (laid up or not!) who gets how hard it is to raise children, appreciates my efforts and tells me I’m doing a good job – especially on those days when I’m certain I won’t be winning any parenting awards.

I’d write about the latest evidence for not winning that award right here, but Things One, Two, Three & Four wouldn’t appreciate it very much! Suffice it to say, that my children have been feeling the strain of this past week as much as I have. But I had nothing left to give them when they needed it. I was, shall we say, less than compassionate.

And although I didn’t actually say this, my thoughts during the various meltdowns that were happening all around me over the past couple of days were, “Are you effing kidding me right now? Take whatever stress you’re feeling and multiply it by five and you’ll be approaching where I am right now…” I’m not proud of this reaction. At all. But it’s real, it’s honest, and it’s only a tiny little fraction of what my single parenting heroes go through on a daily, no-real-end-in-sight, basis.

I wanted/needed an attitude adjustment as I was leaving the hospital last night, as things were not looking good and the possibility of surgery was beginning to look like a reality – which would mean another full week of hospital living for my husband, and another full week of single-stressed-out-parenting for me.

I got that attitude adjustment by remembering and honoring all those who single parent Every.Damn.Day, with or without the added stressors of life that inevitably happen to each of us from time to time. I have renewed respect for all of you who are doing this work on your own. I honestly don’t know how you do it – or do it as well as you do. You’re amazing! Keep up the good work and please let me help you out every once in awhile. Because I get it, I really do. At least I get it a little bit more than I did a week ago…

If you are single parenting, where do you go to find support? Do you think those around you actually “get it” – how hard you work every day, all day, to do this important work of parenting? What do you wish those of us who have a co-parent knew about your experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

PS: It appears as if the particular stressor that has happened to our family this week might be about to end. Overnight, a little miracle occurred and it appears as if my husband will be able to avoid surgery. He might even be home before the weekend is out. Thanks to all who have been supporting our family this past week. All of us were less stressed than we would have been without you!

And, given the title of this post, readers will expect this: A little music from Queen B to get your Friday off to a good start!

Appreciation is Key – Don’t Forget to Say Thank You!

Thank You

Let’s get real for a minute… Parenting is hard. Really hard.

And here’s where I need to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who are doing this work solo. You deserve a standing ovation. Seriously. Single parenting is double, triple and on some days I’d imagine, quadruple harder than when you have a partner to help share the load. One of the main reasons I think it’s so hard, is that there might not be someone there in the everydayness of parenting who appreciates all that you’re doing to raise the next generation.

And I’m not just talking about wiping their butts, cleaning their snot-encrusted faces, making them all their meals (no one ever tells you how much or how often they will need to eat!) or driving them from one end of the universe to the other!

I’m talking about sharing with them our most precious gift: our time.

The time it takes to sit down and feed your newborn, the time you allow for your three year old to “Do! It! MYSELF!!!”, the time you spend reading that book you have committed to memory because you read it approximately 2,000 times a day, the sleep you surrender every time you wake up in the middle of the night to soothe the hacking cough, or run in with a bowl just a moment too late when your kiddo’s sick, the time you listen – really listen – to descriptions of the Pokemon characters you’ll never be interested in (just being honest!), the concerns of starting Middle School somewhere new, the feelings of overwhelm at wanting to be really good at dance, soccer, acting, music, while still maintaining good grades and a successful social life.

If you’re doing this all by yourself, I hope you have a solid group of family and friends who are giving you the acknowledgment that you so deserve. And if they aren’t? Go find yourself some new, and better, family and friends! Because this parenting gig is challenging and we need all the encouragement and validation we can get.

But now I want to turn attention to those who do have of a partner to share in the parenting. Are you giving each other the appreciation that you deserve? Because even if you’re parenting with a partner, feeling under-appreciated makes parenting exponentially harder than it has to be.

Why? Because the little people we have committed our lives to don’t really get it. They don’t really know how to express appreciation for all that we do for them. That’s why it’s so important for your partner to acknowledge everything that you’re doing to keep the family going. Especially, if you’re the primary caregiver either working mostly or completely in the home.

In our society, we put so much emphasis on how much money a person makes, that any work done in which there’s no exchange of funds, is automatically considered less important. When, in fact, it certainly has greater importance and impact on the lives of the next generation than what vacations they get to take, or what kind of sneakers they can afford to wear.

I’m not trying to slam the parent that works outside of the home. This is a very important role that allows the other parent (when financially feasible) to even consider working part-time, or staying home entirely to raise the children. But when that decision is made, it’s important to not make assumptions about what goes on during that day at home. At least not negative assumptions.

Instead, let’s assume that the parent who is at home is working, too – doing a million different things all at once to make sure that the offspring are: clean, well-fed, not stuck in front of a screen for too long, intellectually stimulated, chauffeured to and from activities, and all the while, happy and well-adjusted.

So, maybe there are a few extra dishes in the sink at the end of the day. The floors could be a little cleaner. The laundry is starting to pile up a little bit. And if these things bother you, less-at-home-parent, then by all means do what you need to do to change this situation: 1) Pitch in and clean up the dishes, laundry, floors or whatever else is causing you stress or 2) Hire somebody else to do it.

But don’t under-appreciate all that your partner is doing to keep everything – everything that actually matters – going.

I’ve talked about my parents very happy union before – they are closing in on 60 years, and I spoke about my Dad’s musings on thoughtfulness here. But I can remember as a child, several occasions when we’d all settled down for dinner and he would stop the evening chatter to make this announcement: “Look at your beautiful mother. I want all of you to know that this family would fall apart if it weren’t for all of the work that she does to keep our family life running smoothly.”

What a wonderful model he provided for all of us! She worked as full-time parent and homemaker and didn’t get paid a dime for raising six (!) children. My Dad understood exactly what her worth was as his partner and the mother of his children, and he made sure that we all understood it too.

Take your most precious commodity of time to appreciate what one another is doing in the role of parent to your children. It’s all too easy to assume that you’re carrying an unequal load when it comes to parenting no matter who is working full-time, outside of the home. Once there, it’s even easier to begin to resent one another. This one-upping, and keeping score is ugly and negative – and it can poison your relationship.

Instead of looking for what your partner is not doing and criticizing their efforts (or lack thereof), shift your focus on finding the ways your partner is working for your family and recognize their contributions to the family you’ve created together. How and where can you pause to say thank you?

The work of parenting one or several children is not for the faint of heart. And I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t get any easier down the road. This is a lifelong commitment and you need some level of positive acknowledgement and validation from your partner that what you are doing as a parent matters.

Because, my friends, it matters so much more than you know! So appreciate one another for all that you’re doing – in and outside of the home – to make your family thrive.

Does this resonate with you? Have you been feeling under-appreciated lately in your role as a parent? We’re unlikely to get the encouragement and validation we need from the outside world, so we need to make sure we say “Thank You” early and often. Here’s a little inspiration from Sam and Dave to get you in the mood.

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!