Friday, March 29, 2013

Tough as nails

Last weekend, I wasn't feeling very great.  I wasn't sick, but I had this random, terrible cramp right under my rib cage that stuck around for 2 days and it made me really tired and really grumpy.  One morning, I was in our bedroom hanging up laundry, listening to the kids hanging out downstairs and suddenly had a gigantic urge to lay down on my bed,  pull the covers up over my head and go back to sleep.  I mean, I really wanted to.  It was all I wanted to do but instead I, without a trace of self pity, took a sip of  my tea and continued to hang up the laundry.  In that instant, I allowed myself a rare moment of self admiration thinking: "Man, you have to be pretty badass to be a stay at home mom".  No matter what your mindset, or how you are feeling you have to show up.  Every single day we feed, support, entertain, shuttle, discipline, love, clean, protect, nurture, tolerate, mediate, enjoy, encourage, disappoint, chaperone, advocate for and teach our children with everything we've got (although many days, I can admit to half-bassassing it).  There are no vacation, sick or personal days.  The challenges are nothing compared to the benefits but there are moments/days when you really have to dig deep because you literally have no choice but to do so, and I'm not afraid to say that that easily qualifies as "pretty badass".

Then, I realized you have to be pretty badass to be a working mom.  To do all of the above every day and then go to another job and work just as hard.  To wrestle with the ongoing conflicting emotions of missing your kids but knowing you're doing a kick-bassass job of supporting them by contributing to your family financially as well...then I realized you have to be pretty badass to be a stay at home dad.  To do all of the above every day and endure what I can only guess is a nearly constant awkward vibe from the "stay at home mom" crowd.  Try as we all might, it takes a slightly different angle to connect and I think it always translates as a little awkward.  I hope it's not awkward enough to really matter to those dads but still I wonder if it's annoying....then I realized you have to be pretty badass to be a working dad.  To do all of the above every day, work your badass off at work then come home and, without being expected to miss a beat, wipe someone's butt or break up a fight (oftentimes simultaneously) you weren't even aware of a half hour earlier because you were at your other job, focusing on some completely unrelated issue..then I realized you have to be pretty badass to be a single parent.  To do all of the above...I mean ALL of the above every day.....then I realized you have to be pretty badass to be a parent of teenagers.  To spend most of your time worrying about them while trying to act like it doesn't kill you that they won't tell you anything. Ever....then I realized you have to be  pretty badass to be a parent of grown adults.  To worry about and miss them when they live far away, or watch them struggle with their own adult challenges right there in front of you....

Then I decided I could do this all day and was too tired to think of any more examples so settled on: you have to be pretty badass to be a parent.  It is most certainly not a job for the faint of heart and some days, if I really stop and pay attention for a minute, I can feel the collective badass-ness emanating from this world of baddass parents filling me with strength.  So, thanks to all of those out there who lift me up, give me a hug or a pat on the back, cushion my fall or extend an outstretched hand right when I need it, without even knowing that you are. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Raising Little Heroes: Introduction to Wonderland Park

We had a great, albeit cold, morning at Wonderland Park today.  11 families showed up for our first official RLH gathering at our adopted park where we got an overview of how we can care for it year round from our own Environmental  Projects Overseer and Horticulturalist for the City of Boulder, Dan Yankowiak.  Dan and I hadn't planned on any big work projects today since the weather was likely to be at least pretty cold but we wanted to gather everyone before our big Spring Cleanup day on  April 20th.  We thought it would be fun to get together with those who were feeling excited to get started and to install our "Raising Little Heroes" sign at the entrance to the park.  Even though it was cold, we managed to make a few big piles of fallen branches for the parks department to collect, got the sign installed and got to know each other a little better.  The kids worked really hard and had fun gathering branches and trash and there seemed to be a general sense of excitement for the weather to be nice so we can really roll up our sleeves and care for our park.  If this sounds like fun to you, I strongly encourage you to do a little research in your area (or here in Boulder--plenty of parks to care for, large and small--not to mention "adopt a flower bed" and "adopt a trail") to see if there is an "adopt a park" program that you can participate in.  You can encourage neighbors and friends to join you or you can take it on as your own family project.  It could not have been easier to apply and Dan told us that there has been a rapid decline in the sense of stewardship shown by residents recently, so they are grateful and excited to have us on board.

While we were there today, we gathered donated therapy balls and puzzles for RLH mom, Hayley Kooiman to take along with her on her trip home to South Africa next week.  Hayley told us that a friend of hers works with an organization in South Africa called The Unlimited Child, a non-profit organization which operates from Hillcrest in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Hillcrest is Hayley's hometown and this organization helps a lot of creches (day care centers) in impoverished surrounding areas.

The Unlimited Child promotes Early Child Development (ECD) by providing educational toys and caregiver training to underprivileged day care centers.  They dramatically improve the potential of preschool children by supporting pre-existing day care centers with learning materials, monitoring, support and training.

Hayley asked her friend if there was any way RLH could help support the work that they do, and her friend told her that there are some specific therapy balls that they can't get in South Africa that happen to be really inexpensive and easily found here in the United States.  So, many RLH members and friends from afar (including Germany and the US East Coast) donated balls and had them sent to Hayley to bring along with her on her trip.  More local RLH families donated puzzles (another needed item) to help fill Hayley's suitcase.  We also had some of the kids draw pictures this morning for Hayley to bring along and deliver with our gifts to a creche she hopes to visit with her children while over there.

Thank you to everyone who made this morning a success--we look forward to a great year at the park together.  We also look forward to updates from Hayley while she is away!

These guys were excited to find a nest.  After we let them proudly show it to us, we gently encouraged them to put it back where they found it.

Headed up to install the sign

Friday, March 15, 2013


When I was a kid, there was a particular struggle I dealt with.  It was nothing terribly unique or earth shattering, and it wasn't anything so bad that I'd blocked it out of my consciousness, just a fairly common struggle that a lot of kids grapple with, especially sensitive kids like I was.  As I became an adult, my struggle faded away, so there was never a satisfying sense of closure to it.  I'd spend short bursts of time thinking about it but always brushed it aside and even tried to make it comical in my head, deep down knowing that something about it all still bugged me a bit and that I'd probably have to explore it at some point.  Well it only took me about 17 years and then 9 months of therapy for me to realize that not only does it still bug me but it's played a major role in the woman I am today.

Although I've become pretty good at putting on a brave face, deep down I have this ugly worm of an inner voice that constantly tells me I'm a big joke.  I have a terrible habit of emotionally cutting out friends (and family at times) with an "I'll ditch you before you ditch me" attitude (only noticed by me because I've made the break before the other person has a chance to even notice I'm gone).  I quit a lot of things/abandon new ideas and inspiration because I eventually tell myself I'm not smart/experienced/talented enough to achieve anything and then I beat myself up for ever actually thinking I could achieve anything.  Whenever I meet a new person, I feel like I lucked out if they seem to like me and then worry that it's just a matter of time before they find out the truth:  that I'm a big fat loser.  I've spent my whole marriage thinking on a deep, hidden away level that Nathan thinks I'm a flake and incapable of making a mark on this world, despite his constant words of encouragement, support and admiration.

I can tell you that as I've gotten older, especially since becoming a mother, I've worked hard at quieting those demons with some success.  It's a tough road though, because trying to get a handle on this stuff without asking for help has been like swimming in a giant dark sea of hidden away, seemingly random and baseless emotions.  Whenever this stuff came up and I was forced to deal with them, the sensation was so overwhelming and claustrophobic that I would just hold my breath and paddle frantically toward the surface.  Once I would catch my breath again,  instead of finding some scuba gear and diving back down, I chose to find ways to stay afloat as long as possible:  connecting with Buddhism, running, hard work, generosity, total immersion into motherhood, spending time with friends, humor...  When I was a teenager and especially in college, these dark thoughts and emotions completely ruled my life but thankfully I've managed to grow into a fairly laid back, confident adult.  No matter how well I was doing though, those demons, although much smaller and quieter, were still lurking deep down in there and when they decided to make an appearance, man did they come crashing on through.

Now that I've suddenly made the connection between my personal childhood struggle and these habits I've developed as an adult,  I feel like I'm swimming in a sparkling blue Carribean sea.  I'm shocked to realize how much of an impact one struggle while you're young can make on the rest of your life.  I'm being careful not to explain all of my weaknesses away and place blame, but it sheds such brilliant light on so much stuff that I can't help but feel the most relieved I've ever felt in my whole life.  I know those demons are still lurking in there, but I'm almost overjoyed to know that I now have the most powerful weapons I've ever had to fight them:  self-realization, reflection, truth, clarity and forgiveness.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Snow Day

We were expecting a blizzard today but despite it snowing all day, we didn't really get much accumulation because it was pretty warm.  We treated it like a snow day anyway though, since I think we were all kind of looking forward to it.  Other than bringing Zoe to gymnastics in the morning, we didn't do anything outside of the apartment..just stayed nice and cozy inside.

First thing in the morning, I made some yummy sweet potato muffins and while I was finding more puttering to do in the kitchen, the kids randomly came in and asked if they could paint.  I realized as they were getting set up that it's been SO LONG since they did that.  It's been funny for me to think about how last year was all about art projects and experimenting with paint around here and this year is more about the kids playing together and me getting more into my own thing..specifically cooking and baking right now.  Strange how things can change so drastically sometimes.  Anyway, it was so fun and refreshing to see them making a big ol' mess at the kitchen table again.

Then we decided to do a test run of the science experiment I have in mind for this week's Young Scientists group (one of the activities I run for my job as an RM here in Family Housing).  It's really simple but really fun and it kept them busy and interested for a good amount of time.  I think it'll be a hit on Tuesday and I'm sure we'll do it again sometime at home.  
Give the kids an empty clear glass or cup and then two cups, one with water and one with vegetable oil.  You can ask them what they think will happen when they pour the liquids into the same cup.  These guys were sure they would just mix together....

..and were pretty amazed when they saw what really happened.

Then I gave them some liquid food coloring and told them to put some drops in to see what would happen.

They both wanted to try stirring their concoctions

I'm sure you're not surprised that this is what ended up happening with Owen's.

I suggested putting some ice in and then Zoe played around with putting the food coloring onto the ice cube

Seeing the beautiful, light, delicate snow falling outside gave me an urge to make some chocolate pound cake with powdered sugar on top.  I found a recipe for regular pound cake in my Moosewood Cookbook and added four tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to it.  It came out just the way I'd hoped it would and we ended up sharing some with our neighbors.  I love doing that on a snowy day like today...I love the thought that we are all cozy in our little apartments with our little families but somehow still connected to our neighbors at the same time.
The rest of the day was a mix of chores, board games and book reading...pretty perfect.  We had our weekly movie night and I made this yummy Mediterranean Stew from the online workshop I've been lucky enough to take these last few weeks called Whole Food Kitchen.  My East Coast friend Jenny gifted the workshop to me a couple of months ago, straight out of the blue and I still can't get over how generous it was of her.  I feel so spoiled.  It's so nice to be enjoying cooking and to be making a bigger effort to fit in more nutritionally dense foods for myself and my family.  The kids aren't totally into the new food I've been making but I'm still managing to make new stuff without making completely separate meals for the kids AND I feel like they are getting plenty to eat.  It's tricky with these picky kids but I'm getting there..for us it's all about good, simple "sides" (chick peas, black beans, fruit, toast made from homemade bread).  That way if they don't like the main course, at least they are getting what they need from the sides.  I like this approach because I'm not giving them the impression that I'm cooking something separate for them, and then I don't get mad at them if they don't eat the main course, which is good for me AND them!  

Zoe's tough--she has really gotten so picky.  She even turns her nose up at macaroni and cheese now, which used to be one of the only things she would eat.  I do think I was relying on it too much and she just got tired of it.  I have nothing against mac and cheese--I just think we were having it way too much and so I'm proud to say that I haven't made a box of mac and cheese in over a month.  I also haven't made a frozen pizza and have been making homemade mini pizzas with the kids once a week.  Change is so good sometimes.  Owen isn't nearly as picky as Zoe.  He doesn't like everything but he will at least try it and if he likes it he'll go ahead and eat it (as opposed to the combination of not liking stuff but also WANTING to not like stuff that Zoe has going on at the moment).  When that happens I get this warm, proud feeling in my gut as I watch him shovel kale into his mouth without flinching like he did a couple of weeks ago.  Or like tonight when he polished off some of my homemade oatmeal bread, boiled fingerling potatoes and THREE HELPINGS (he finished Zoe's for her) of stew.  If not for this workshop, I never would have thought to try giving him stew made with quinoa, sun dried tomatoes, spinach and kalamata olives.  You just never know until you try.  I say that to Zoe all of the time, but I'm only just now realizing that I should give myself that advice more often.