Monday, April 30, 2012

Gossip About Your Kids

Yes, I want you to gossip about your kids--and so does Dr. Harvey Karp, M.D.  Dr. Karp wrote two fantastic books that I recommend to all of the other parents I know.  When we were pregnant with Jane, we read The Happiest Baby on the Block, and as Jane neared her first birthday, we read The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Both books have given us invaluable tips on getting the kids to sleep, eat, get along with others, and everything in-between.  I refer to the books on a regular basis when I'm struggling with one parenting problem or another.

Currently, I'm struggling with Janie being rough with Walt.  Check out that big bump on his head! 

Janie knows it's wrong to push him over or bonk him on the head, but she just can't seem to help herself.  She even started pushing over her playmate last week when he came to play.  My sinking suspicion is that she's doing it to get attention.  My mistake was putting Jane in a timeout every time she bonked Walt on the head or pushed over a playmate.  This was negatively reinforcing the behavior because she got my attention in the form of a timeout and a quick conversation about why it was wrong afterward.

The other day, Philip suggested using gossip to end the behavior.  Leave it to the pediatrician to be right-on about what needed to be done! 

In The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Karp talks about green-, yellow-, and red-light behaviors and how to either encourage or discourage them.  As parents, we can use gossip to encourage green-light behaviors (the good things we want our children to keep doing) and to discourage yellow-light behaviors (the things that are annoying) or red-light behaviors (things that are dangerous or break the rules).  Gossip is one of the many tools in your parenting arsenal that you'll pick up from Dr. Karp.

Here's how Dr. Karp explains gossip:
Gossip means saying things out loud near your child, so he overhears.  It works so well because all of us (kids and adults) are more likely to believe something if we overhear it than if it's told directly to us.  Gossip makes your praise five times more effective.  (And it makes your words of criticism have five times more impact too.) 
If Jane's doing a green-light behavior like sharing a toy with Walt or eating all of her carrots, I gossip about it.  I find a stuffed animal, pretend to pick up the phone to call Daddy, or tell Walt.  "Hey, Ernie!  Janie ate allllllllll of her carrots!  She is such a great eater.  It makes me soooooo happy when Janie eats all of her carrots."

Gossiping to Ernie
When I gossip, I have to make sure not to make eye contact with Janie because, as Dr. Karp says, "gossiping only works when he thinks you don't want to be overheard."  When I'm done gossiping, I simply return to whatever I was doing, and I give Janie some understated praise like, "Good job eating, Janie."

When Janie does a yellow-light behavior like whine or a red-light behavior like push over Walt, I use gossip to be a form of what Dr. Karp calls "reverse praise."  When Janie pushes Walt over, I gossip about it to a stuffed animal or directly to Walt.  Instead of asking Janie to immediately apologize or put her in a timeout, I cut off all attention.  Attention is what she wants, after all!  

I gossip about the behavior to Walt and say, "Oh, Walt!  Ouchie!  That makes you really sad when Janie pushes you over.  That's mean!  You don't like it!  It makes Mommy and Walt happy when Janie is gentle."  Or I'll grab stuffed Ernie and tell him about Jane's bullying.   

Janie perks up when she hears me talking about her doing anything--good or bad.  When she knows she'll get positive attention for doing a good thing, she'll want to do it even more.  So, when Janie hears me gossiping to Walt or Winnie the Pooh that we don't like it when she pushes, she stops the behavior.

We're still far from a perfect track record with bullying Walt, but the good news is that the pushing episodes have drastically reduced.  As a mom, I'm learning that I need to keep spotlighting my kids' good behaviors through gossip and time-ins with them--a tickle fest on the couch, a few stories, or getting out the Play-Doh.  The more I "fill up their tanks" with my love and attention, the less they act out.  

The less I "fill up their tanks" and only give them attention for the negative stuff (the yellow and red-light behaviors), the more they do them!  If you were doing a bunch of great things and only got acknowledged when you were being rotten, you'd probably keep being rotten, too!   

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it's tough when put into practice.  When it's 5:00 and you're making dinner, and Janie's whining for dinner now and Walt's crying because Jane just pushed him over, the last thing you feel like doing as a mom is a 5-minute time-in.  You want to put on Barney and plop them in the family room! 

Slowly but surely, I'm learning that the 5-minute time-in, gossip, and the other tools I picked up from Dr. Karp are helping to keep the kiddos happy and on the right track behavior-wise.  One of the many reasons that children are a blessing is that they keep instilling within their parents the virtues they need to master.  Among other things, Janie and Walt are helping me with humility and patience!     

Friday, April 27, 2012

Photo Flashback Friday

April 2010  

Janie was two months old, and we were adjusting to life as a family of three.

In her favorite spot, the lamb swing

Two-month picture

We found these sunglasses when we were out shopping and had to try 'em on her!

Jane and Larry.  They were buddies before Janie started walking.

Our big-eyed girl

Going for a stroll around the neighborhood

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stay-At-Home Mom Guilt

When I stop taking my job as a mom so seriously and stop wondering about whether or not I'm doing the right thing, I let everything else wait while I play with the kids.  Now that my house cleaning routine is a habit, I'm a better, smarter housekeeper.  Even last week, when the kids were in the throes of Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease and I had whatever awful bug hit me, there was a semblance of order around here that we maintained out of habit.  The house has never looked better, and I am spending more time than ever just loving on the babies.  Naturally, we're all thrilled with this change of pace.    

Perhaps the biggest perk is that I'm breaking free of what I call "Stay-At-Home Mom Guilt."  Certainly, guilt is a good, healthy thing when it signals we've done something wrong that needs to be rectified.  Other times, though, we bow down to external pressures to be a certain way or feel badly when we don't meet our self-imposed guidelines.  

Before I got our house in order, I would experience an emotional pendulum swing every time I carved out time to play with the kids.  I swung from pleasure to guilt.  Pleasure to guilt.  Pleasure to guilt.  

Pleasure.  I'd be tickling the kids on the ground between stories and think, "Oh!  This is awesome!  I love being a mom.  Look at them!  They're so happy.  Oh, I can't get enough of those giggles."  

Then the emotional pendulum swung the other direction.  Guilt.  "You've been playing with the kids for half an hour.  You've read every book in the bin twice.  Better get back to work."     

I'd either feel like I was being too extravagant in the attention I was giving the children or feel like I was neglecting them when I gave them less than 100% of my attention.  It was rotten because I'd feel awful when the house looked awesome because I knew I hadn't spent much time with the kids, and I felt awful about the state of the house when I spent a bunch of time with the kids.  Stay-At-Home Mom Guilt.  

I don't know if I'll ever go to bed and say to myself, "I feel like I struck the perfect balance today."  For now, this is my litmus test of a good day:

  1. Did you get to spend focused, quality time with the kids today?  (Even if it was just for five minutes at a time throughout the day.)  
    • Yes - Good job, Mama!  
    • No - Don't be too hard on yourself, but make it a point to spend focused, quality time with them tomorrow.  They're the reason you're home in the first place.
  2. Would you panic at the state of the house if the doorbell rang?
    • Yes
      • Are you panicking because you were lazy with the housework today or because you were busy doing mom stuff?  
        • I was lazy.  -  We all need a day off from time to time.  Pick it up tomorrow.
        • I was busy doing mom stuff.  -  Good, that's what you're home for anyway!
    • No
      • You're a rockstar!  Way to keep up with the house!

One of Jane's favorite activities is getting into her dress-up bin and trying on every single costume inside at least once.  She'll go from Tinker Bell to a horse to Elmo to a dragon to a dinosaur to a bumble bee to a ladybug to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz to Dora to "Supergirl" in a cape in a matter of minutes.  

Getting a fidgety two-year-old in and out of those costumes every other minute wears on your patience--especially when that two-year-old is in the middle of putting on the dragon costume when she decides she wants to be a bumble bee instead.

Stay-At-Home Mom Guilt would tell me that I'm not supposed to be spending a half hour in the middle of the day, helping the kids in and out of costumes while we have a dance party to a Taylor Swift concert on Netflix in the middle of the day.     

Then you see your daughter dressed up as a horse with a big, goofy smile.

And your son is at her feet in an Elmo costume.

And they're both perfectly healthy.

And they call you "Mama."

Janie and Walt won't remember if a few dishes pile up in the sink or if I let Monty's nose prints go uncleaned from the sliding glass door.  Until they're old enough to have their own memories, I'm taking an obscene amount of pictures to document their lives.  Hopefully they'll look at them and see that their mom tried her hardest to love them extravagantly as best she could as we went about our days.  No self-imposed Stay-At-Home Mom Guilt is going to stop me from doing that!  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Building-In Happiness

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, also writes a column for Good Housekeeping.  Thanks to the gift of a magazine subscription from my thoughtful mother-in-law, I look forward to reading Gretchen's practical tips in each month's issue.  And, yes, Gretchen and I are on a first name basis.

In the May 2012 issue, Gretchen wrote a column called "Built-In Happiness: How to get it and keep it."  According to her, there are three keys to happiness:

1.  Self-knowledge
2.  Anticipation
3.  Love

1.  Self-knowledge
Basically, you need to know what your values, interests, likes/dislikes are.  Know yourself, and accept who you are when you want to build-in happiness.  Gretchen says, "I've found that the more faithfully I'm able to 'be Gretchen' in my daily life, the happier I become."

I laughed out loud when she goes on in the article to say this:  "Your fun may not look like other people's fun.  I myself love to help other people clean out their closets.  Skiing, no way--but cleaning out a friend's closets?  That I anticipate with relish."  This woman is my kindred spirit!  I recently spent an evening sipping wine and cleaning out a gal pal's closet, and I loved every second of it!

I am learning to accept that my idea of fun is soooooooooooooooooooo lame to other people.  Instead of trying to cool-ify my interests like I would have in the past, I'm learning that it makes me happier to keep doing what I love.  Now, this isn't my attempt to say, "Yay, hedonism!  If it feels good, do it!  If it doesn't, avoid it!"  Certainly there are some things that might be difficult for us to do that we ought to be doing.  For example, just because it might be difficult for me to get up out of bed before the kids so that I can have quiet prayer time, it doesn't mean I should stay in bed.  (Speaking of which, it's April, and I still haven't accomplished this New Year's Resolution!  Dear reader, I'm counting on you to hold me accountable to accomplishing that.  Yes, you.)

Beyond doing the stuff we ought to be doing that we're not, what I'm getting at is that most of us are over-scheduled and tend to get overwhelmed, "working for the weekend."  Instead of using that coveted free time doing something that you really don't enjoy, do some humbling introspection, figure out what your interests really are, and find out if the people you love want to do them with you.  If no one you know shares your interest, maybe it's time to branch out and make some new friends who share your interest in biking or scrapbooking.  

2.  Anticipation
This is my favorite part of the article, and this is the part I need to work on the most: building in the things that make me happy by literally making appointments for them.  Otherwise, it's too easy for me to talk myself out of doing the thing that makes me happy because the guilt of all of the other things I think need to get done take over.  
"We should all be able to flip through our calendars and see at least a few pleasant things scheduled for future weeks.  If your life is a parade of obligations, dreaded tasks, unpleasant encounters, and mandatory appearances, take a minute to figure out something that you'd find fun, and make time for it.  Wish you had more time to talk in the park with your dog?  To work on a craft project?  To have coffee with your sister?  Schedule it into your calendar like you would a dentist appointment.  Even before it happens, you'll get a happiness boost every time you anticipate it.  (Also, if you put it on your calendar, you'll be far more likely to actually do it.)"
I need to start looking at my calendar and day-to-day routine to figure out how I can build in these interests and hobbies and build up my relationships.

Philip and I talk all the time about how we need to go to bed earlier, and we both enjoy reading.  Philip and I need to schedule bedtime to happen at a reasonable, fixed time so that we know the next episode of "Downton Abbey" will be waiting for us tomorrow and that it's time to have some quiet reading time together in bed.  

Instead of ending a playdate with "see you guys soon," why not end it with, "Would you guys like to come over next Thursday at 10 and stay for lunch?"  

Instead of leaving the scrapbook left for whenever I'll get around to it next, why not write "Scrapbooking 8:30 p.m." on the calendar for Tuesday night after the kids have gone to bed, and let Philip know that I'd like to spend that time working at my craft station while he does some hobby of his own?  
3.  Love
We need others to be happy, but we need to be independent enough to love ourselves first.
"Strong relationships with other people are critical to a happy life.  We need close, long-lasting relationships; we need to belong; we need to give and receive support--perhaps surprisingly, giving support is just as important to happiness as getting support.  Not only does having strong relationships make it far more likely that you'll take joy in life, but studies show that it also lengthens life (incredibly, even more than stopping smoking), boosts immunity, and cuts the risk of depression."
Now that I'm staying at home, I am learning that I need to get out of the house and be with other people I love to get through the winter or usually isolating times (like having a newborn baby).  Literally being cooped up all to ourselves without interaction with the outside world would drive me crazy in the winter months.  The days that were hardest to get out of the house because someone missed a nap or I was frustrated with something were the days that we needed to get out the most.  
"To connect more deeply with people, I need to build my independent happiness...By being emotionally self-sufficient, I free myself (well, admittedly, only somewhat) from depending on other people to boost me up or letting them drag me down.  When I have my own built-in happiness, I don't act like a happiness vampire who sucks happy energy from other people or craves a lifeblood of praise, affirmation, or reassurance to support my happiness."  
I don't know about you, but when I read that, I had a lightbulb moment.  We all know people who can be the "happiness vampires" in our lives, sucking out our happiness and zest for life with their doomy gloomy negativity or self-centeredness.  Or, maybe we're those "happiness vampires" for others.  Some of us are blessed to have more people in our lives who boost us up than the "happiness vampires."  The danger of these feelings and being too attached to this world (and its people) is what Gretchen is writing about--allowing ourselves to be on a daily emotional rollercoaster ride whose ups and downs are determined by the people around us and their emotions.  

Being independently happy isn't necessarily selfish (unless, of course, it becomes your sole focus in life!).  What I think Gretchen is getting at is that we will be happier, and consequently, the people around us will be happier, if we don't mirror back the negativeness of the "happiness vampires," and we're happy enough independently of others to not live from one moment of praise or reassurance to the next.  

Empathy is a beautiful thing, and we all need other people with which to share in life's ups and downs and to make us feel understood.  The danger, though, is depending on others too deeply and allowing them to knock us down or be the only way we feel built up.  

So, build-in some happiness in your life!  Follow Gretchen's 3 steps: 
  1. Know yourself and figure out what you love.  
  2. Actually schedule what you love in your life.  
  3. Foster strong, long-lasting relationships with people who love you, and love yourself (not because you're selfish, but because you're a beautiful child of God).  
How have you built-in happiness in your life?  Do you already do some of these things?  

Friday, April 20, 2012

They Make My Heart Too Big For My Body

Janie developed a high fever last Thursday.  A day later, she had bright, red spots all over her body.  Hubby Dr. Phil quickly diagnosed Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease.  He said there was nothing to do but keep her hydrated and stop her from itching the rash to prevent infection.  

Despite washing our hands and sanitizing like crazy, Walt ended up with Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease a few days later.  I got hit hard with something Tuesday that gave me a high fever, a sore throat, nausea, and a splitting headache.  

Unfortunately, Philip started working nights on Sunday, and his last night shift is tonight (Friday).  Taking care of two sick babies and being sick myself made for a long week.  Philip did as much as he could to help out by offering me some rest when he came home and taking care of the kids for a few hours here and there.  

Despite Philip's tremendous help when he was here (thank you, honey!), the nights dragged on and on.  The kids weren't their usual happy-go-lucky selves.  Janie itched like crazy and was extremely fussy.  Walt was only happy when I was holding him, and he wouldn't eat or drink anything.  Tuesday night, my fever reached 103.5.  I looked at the clock an hour before Janie was supposed to go down for the night and started to cry.  I didn't know how I was physically going to make it to bedtime.  

In that terrible, rotten moment, I was feeling so sick and sorry for myself.  It occurred to me to start praying a prayer that my sweet high school Algebra/Geometry teacher, Mrs. Classe, always used to start class.  It's short, simple, and perfect for a sick mom with two sick kids.  "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You."  I started repeating it.  Over.  And over.  And over again.

Since Tuesday night, I've been saying that little prayer to myself when I feel like I'm getting to my breaking point.  The more I say the prayer, the less I feel sorry for myself.  Sure, I still posted a pity-party status on Facebook to let the world know what a dreadful week I was having.  I suppose I'm not used to not having a husband around at night to commiserate with.  I have a lot of work to do on the whole redemptive suffering thing.  I'm not good at suffering silently.  Mrs. Classe's prayer is helping me.  I'm learning to be mindful of what I'm doing, and Who I'm doing it for.  I might be a wife and mother, but that husband and those babies aren't mine.  They're His.   

"Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You."  As I say the prayer more and more, the pity parties are less appealing.  My problems might be small potatoes compared to the kind of suffering I hear about on the nightly news, but in the moment, whatever I'm experiencing seems magnified and earth-shattering.  I'm learning (veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery slooooooooooooooowly) that I have a choice when those moments happen.  I can either (1) let the sadness, anger, or pain consume me, or (2) I can use those moments to enter into Christ's Passion and "offer up" my problems for the salvation of souls.  

My wise sister told me she would be praying that Mother Mary be with me this week.  What a beautiful prayer!  If anyone knows how to enter into Christ's Passion, it's Mary.  Now that I'm a mother, I find myself seeking our Blessed Mother's counsel more than ever.  

So, this week, as I cared for my sick babies and tried to take care of myself, I asked for Mother Mary's perfect patience and tenderness.  That, combined with the Sacred Heart of Jesus prayer and the prayers of my family and friends, got me through this week.   

The more I prayed, the more Janie and Walt would leave me laughing and writing down all of the adorable things they were doing.  Those "kairos" moments gave us a little reprieve from feeling rotten.  

"We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

The last few days, I've been archiving all of the sweet and funny things Janie and Walt have done to give us intermissions.  This could have been a miserable week, and I'd be lying if I said I'll look back on all of it with a smile, but I'd do it all over again for those "my heart is too big for my body" moments.  

Here are my notes and a few pictures from the week:

Monday night conversation
Me:  Janie, do you like your dinner?
Janie:  Yes, Mama.  Ih-so yummy!  Janie like it.  Janie so proudda you!

While folding her hands for bedtime prayer Wednesday, Janie opened them up a bit and announced, "Look, Mama!  It's a triangle!  Father, Son, Holy Spirit!"  Who is this kid?!

Janie is practicing potty training.  We haven't bought her a lid cover yet, and she insisted on holding herself up on her own Thursday night.  She slipped and ended up in the tank, with her knees up to her eyes.  She said, "Mama!  Oh, no!  Janie gotta go swimming!"

Perhaps I've been a little over-the-top in my encouragement of her potty training because she told me when I announced I was going to use the bathroom, "Mama, I so proud of you!  Want Janie read you story?  Be right back!"

Desperate to keep Janie entertained these long nights, I found a Taylor Swift concert on Netflix.  Jane is enamored.  "Woah!  Taylor Swipt a rock an' roll star!  Taylor Swipt have a guitar!  Again!  Again!"

When Jane asked for Mac 'N Cheese for dinner Thursday night, I caved in the hopes that Janie and Walt would actually eat.  When Janie saw the box, she started hugging it and saying, "Aw, I LOVE you, Mac 'N Cheese!  Yay!"

Janie decided she was "Supergirl" Thursday night and asked me to stuff her baby blanky into the collar of her jammies to make a cape.  She puts her hands on her hips and says, "Janie Su-per-girl!)"

Janie and I went into the nursery to get Walt this morning.  Walt reached out for Jane's hand from the changing table.  She smiled and said, "Aw, Walt wanna hold hands.  Hi, Walt!"   

Jane gave me a grammar lesson this morning at breakfast.
Me:  Janie, could you eat your waffle?
Jane:  Yeah, I could.

While getting Janie dressed this morning, she looked down at the pattern printed on her shirt, smiled, and said, "Oh, Mama!  Thank you so much!  It's beautiful!"

Sleeping with her "friends" Sunday

Feeding the ducks (a new family tradition) after lunch on Sunday

The rash

Cuddling Teddy and Barney on Thursday

Breakfast with Monty Friday morning

Walt found Monty's toys

Coming to get me with his fantastic bed-head

Monday, April 16, 2012

Helpful Husbands Are Hot

I am very blessed to have a husband who takes on more than his fair share around the house.  I owe Philip's wonderful parents a big "thank you" for raising him to treat our marriage as a partnership.  Philip routinely offers to cook, bake, clean, offer me a break when he gets home from work, or do any other odd job around the house--all in addition to working very hard as a pediatric resident.  When I'm pregnant (which, in recent history, has been a good amount), he takes on even more.  What a guy, huh?

Changing Janie's diaper our first night home from the hospital

Helping Janie put on her princess boots, Christmas 2011

Cuddling Walt after his bottle

Although Philip has always been a good sport about helping out, I've only recently figured out that he needs my encouragement with helping out, and that I need to take the time to encourage him.  It's taken me almost four years of marriage to figure out the best way to encourage him.  In my experience, it takes 2 things:
  1. Verbally acknowledge and thank him for all of the things he does around the house that are helpful.
  2. Tell him what a hot hunk of a man he is when he helps out. 
Both of these things sound intuitive, but for blockheads like me, it still takes practice.

1.  Verbally acknowledge and thank him for all of the things he does around the house that are helpful.

Now that I'm at home with the kids full-time, my days are filled with all kinds of little things that I do on a routine basis.  Philip has always been great at noticing and showing me that he notices. 

"Hey, did you vacuum and dust?  I can tell.  It looks great!" 
"Oh, thanks for refilling the soap in the bathroom." 
"Thanks for dinner.  I think that recipe is a keeper."  

Simply saying all of these little things adds up to me feeling appreciated and acknowledged.  Being a stay-at-home mom can be a thankless job (especially before the kids are even talking!), but Philip is so good at filling up my bucket simply by noticing and thanking me for the little stuff. 

You'd think that I would intuitively reciprocate, but I'm embarrassed to say I've had to train myself to thank Philip for all of the little things he does.  I've always noticed when Philip shows initiative and takes care of something around the house, but sometimes I'll forget to tell him.  

I might see that he's refilled the diapers in the changing table, but before I thank him, I'm likely to get distracted by a crying toddler, a diaper pail that needs emptying, or a ringing phone.  Instead of circling back to thanking Philip for refilling the diapers, I forget and move on with my day.  He doesn't help out around the house for the thanks, but when he's done a few things and they aren't acknowledged, he must feel that his efforts aren't appreciated.  

I am working on thanking Philip for the things I see as soon as I can or make a mental note to thank him later.  He really appreciates the recognition and thanks for his efforts to help out, especially when he goes the extra mile.         

2.  Tell him what a hot hunk of a man he is when he helps out.

What guy doesn't like being told by his wife that she thinks he's a total hottie?  Ladies, why not tell your husband he's a total hottie for helping out?  

Guys, we're not just telling you you're hot to get you to help out.  We really do think you're irresistible when you help out--especially when you do something a certain way because we've asked you to (read: because we think it's the right way to do it).

Philip started tri-folding his towel and wiping the lint off of the dryer top when he does laundry.  That's hot.

Philip intercepted me on my way to change Walt's dirty diaper and said, "Let me do it."  Even hotter.

Philip did the dinner dishes, cleaned the sink, wiped down the counters, and took out the trash.  Cowboy, take me away!

To really drive the point home, ladies, employ a little embarrassing PDA in front of the kids--especially if they're at the age that they think you're gross.  Jane's still young enough to think it's funny, and Walt just laughs at whatever Jane laughs at.  

After an especially helpful afternoon, I threw my arms around Philip's neck and said in my most irresistible voice, "Have I ever told you how hot it is when you cook and change dirty diapers?"  Naturally, Philip was pleasantly surprised.  Jane and Walt laughed at us from the kitchen table, and Philip told them to avert their eyes while he gave me an embarrassingly long kiss.  You'd think we were doing stand-up from the reaction the peanut gallery gave us.

In conclusion:
Your hubby wants you to keep thinking he's hot + you think he's hot when he helps out + you tell him that he's hot when he helps out and thank him for his efforts = a happy, helpful husband

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Picking Up Mommy Friends (Part 2)

Good friends let you do stuff like this and don't run away in embarrassment
Like I wrote in Part 1 of Picking Up Mommy Friends,  I'd say picking up other mamas comes down to a few basic steps:
  1. Get out and go where the mamas and children are 
  2. Observe the mamas and children in action
  3. Strike up a conversation with the awesome mamas
  4. Suggest meeting up again
1.  Get out and go where the mamas and children are

This sounds easy enough, but for us new moms who are getting used to the ins and outs of running a home with little ones, it's much easier to stay at home and keep up with the usual routine than to get out of the house.  Getting out with little ones usually involves breaking your kiddos' schedules and/or finding yourself in uncomfortable situations.  After all, when little ones are involved, anything can happen!  Combine that with inclement weather, and you've got a really exciting outing on your hands.  Navigating a crowded parking lot covered in snow with little ones is a tricky thing indeed.  No wonder so many of us moms wind up stuck at home, keeping the status quo, rather than trekking out to make some social connections.

I joke about it all the time, but I need these regular outings to maintain my English speaking skills!  I find myself more and more tongue-tied the longer I stay at home.  Finding other mamas to talk with during the day helps me to break out of my bubble.  

The kids and I make regular visits to the neighborhood park, library, community center, museum, zoo, clothing stores, our parish church, and, of course, the grocery store/Walmart.  These places are always full of other mamas and children.  

2.  Observe the mamas and children in action               

Once you're out and about town and find the mamas and children, observe them in action.  No need to be a creeper.  Consider it just a little healthy people watching.  Seeing how the mamas and children respond to the inevitable uncomfortable situations when they arise will help you determine which mama you want to strike up a conversation with.  These are your Potential Mama Friends (PMFs).  

When PMF's toddler whacks another kid upside the head with a shovel at the playground, does PMF scream at the toddler and say, "Francois, what the bleep is wrong with you?!"  If so, she's probably not PMF material.  

On the other hand, if PMF's toddler steals your kid's shovel and PMF intervenes, encouraging them to share and take turns, she's definite PMF material.

A mom friend is a special breed of friend.  Not only does she need to be someone that you'd want to have a cup of coffee with, but she needs to have a compatible parenting style and similar values.  If your parenting styles don't mix, it'll be obvious, and your future playdates will be an awkward tightrope walk of inner questions.  "Oooooo, does she think I'm being too harsh with the kids?  Maybe she thinks I'm way too permissive with them."  If that inner monologue is playing constantly during the playdate, perhaps you're better suited to see this mama sans kiddos since your parenting styles don't mix and it becomes a stressful visit for everyone.

Unfortunately, even if we are as desirable as ever (duh) as mama friends, our kids can turn the best of playdates into a scene from The Exorcist.  

How did Jane learn how to do "the sleeper" move?  Has she been watching WWF after Philip and I go to bed at night?  

These moments of conflict are great learning moments for you and the kids.  Your cool PMF might pull out a discipline trick you've never thought of before, or you might offer some quick conflict resolution over the coveted princess tiara in the dress-up bin.  Seeing how PMFs navigate these potentially uncomfortable situations can be the perfect catalyst to a mommy-mance.   

3.  Strike up a conversation with the awesome mamas

You see a mom across the community center gym with four kids and she's giving out equal amounts of hugs and tough love.  While holding her baby and pushing her toddler in a scooter, her older child wipes out across the gym because he was riding his bike like Evel Knievel.  She handles it like a pro.  She doesn't bat an eye, waits for his reaction from the tumble, and gives him just the reassurance he needs before he hops back on the bike.  This is the mama you strike up a conversation with.

This kind of PMF can juggle a conversation during a playdate while keeping an eye on the kiddos.  She doesn't let the inevitable outbursts or tumbles ruin the day.  She rolls with the punches and doesn't think you're a terrible mom when your kid does something "developmentally appropriate."  She's been there.  She's had those days, too.  In fact, she has some fantastic horror stories to share with you and cheer you up with when you're having a bad day.

She doesn't have to be perfect to be a PMF for you to strike up a conversation.  In fact, she's a better PMF candidate if she's quick to admit the imperfections and, in spite of them, go about her day, being the best mama she can be.   

While you and PMF visit, remember the stand-by rule that people are really good at talking about themselves and generally like it when people show interest in them.  So, dazzle PMF with your interest in her and her children.  Find out if she has any hobbies, what her husband's like, what kinds of things they're involved with in town.  If your city is anything like ours, you're sure to make at least one connection by talking about the things you're both involved with.  By discussing your "social resumé," you'll quickly identify if you have enough in common to continue this mommy-mance.  

Of course, the world's an interesting place because we're not all the same, and it's good to have friends with different interests and hobbies, but the best mommy-mances involve mamas with similar values and goals.  I don't just want mamas that I can call for a playdate or tips on nursing.  I want mommy-mances with mamas who I'd be friends with with or without the kids.  These are the mamas who are interested in who I am beyond the mother of Janie and Walt.  They know I have interests beyond changing diapers.  Inevitably, mom stuff will come up in conversation because it's what we do, but we won't only "talk shop."

Striking up a conversation and finding out about one another's interests and families is a quick and easy way to find out if this PMF encounter will lead to a mommy-mance.  If PMF has a bumper sticker that says "Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries" or their child is on a leash, those might be clues we're not meant to be Best Mama Friends Forever (BMFF).  If we're not meant to be BMFF, that's okay.  No harm, no foul.  We might still meet up and get the kids together, but this isn't a mama I'm likely to continue mama-mancing to see if we'll take it to the next level--the mamas out for coffee or shopping date level.

If, however, PMF mentions things like volunteering for EPS, her husband is in Knights of Columbus, or we share an addiction to Pinterest, these might be clues that she's meant to be my mommy-mate.  It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Mommy-mates are able to get the kids together for playdates, have a little soul sister time, and, if all goes well, maybe even the husbands will hit it off!  

Be bold, be brave, and get ready for Step 4.

4.  Suggest meeting up again    

You had a great conversation, the kids got along well, and you seem to have a lot in common.  It's time to secure a second playdate.  So as not to seem too pushy or over-excited to make a new mama friend, keep it a casual, public date.  

"It was so nice meeting you!  The kids seem to get along really well, and I'd love to see you again.  We're going to the children's museum next week.  Would you and your kids want to meet up?"  

If you were never one to ask guys out on dates, this might be really uncomfortable for you.  Be brave.  Put yourself out there.  There's no shame in having a mom tell you some excuse if they're not ready for a mommy-mance.  You're a fun mama and your kids are great.  Who wouldn't want to be your BMFF?  

Pick a specific time and place and get back in touch with your dating days by giving PMF your digits and getting hers.  That's all there is to it.

Congratulations!  You just picked up a mama and secured a second playdate!   

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Picking Up Mommy Friends (Part 1)

When I started staying at home full-time, I felt very isolated.  I didn't have many friends who were moms, and I had even fewer friends who were moms that stayed at home.

Philip's busy at the hospital, and it's not uncommon for him to be unable to call during the day.  When we do connect, our visits are limited to a quick check-in, and I'm usually chasing after someone or in the middle of some housework.

During the week, I tend to get so focused on completing my daily do-it list and playing with the kiddos that some days it'll be 5:30 p.m., Philip's calling on his way home, and I realize I haven't talked to anyone other than Janie or Walt all day.  Shooting off a quick e-mail, responding to a Facebook message, or sending a text to check in with a friend has become my default rather than making a phone call during the day.  Perhaps if I had a sweet headset I'd be more likely to call friends and family as I fold laundry, unload dishes, or do something else.  I'd feel too guilty sitting on the couch in the middle of the day, chatting away.  I don't pick up the phone because either the person I'm going to call is at work or is another stay-at-home mom and I don't want to interrupt precious naptime when she's able to get things done or have quiet time.

E-mailing, Facebook, and texting can all be wonderful, but unless there's a real relationship there that's maintained by regular face-to-face interactions, it remains a superficial way to communicate.  So, feeling isolated and in need of more mom friends, I decided to develop the art of picking up moms.

I am quickly learning that a good mom friend is invaluable.  She's right in the trenches with you, she shares her tricks, she offers a helping hand, she listens on the rotten days, she shares her horror stories, she offers her prayers, she reminds you that taking care of yourself is not selfish, she makes you feel like a good mom, she leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the laundry.

So, if you're not blessed to have these women magically fall into your life or transition with you from singledom to marriage and into parenthood, you have to make it happen.  They're not going to ring on your doorbell with a plate of cookies and ask you for a playdate.  You've gotta get out there, get in touch with your mommy pick up skills, and convince these mamas that you and your children are worth getting to know better.

So, how do you do it?  I'd say it comes down to a few basic steps:
  1. Get out and go where the mamas and children are 
  2. Observe the mamas and children in action
  3. Strike up a conversation with the awesome mamas
  4. Suggest meeting up again
I'll write about my experience with picking up moms for playdates and how I've done those 4 steps in my next post.  Stay tuned! 

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    Walt's First Haircut

    We took the kids to get haircuts last week.  The worst part of Walt's day everyday is getting cleaned up after meals.  He loves bathtime, but if splashing water is not involved, he's not a fan of being handled.  Unfortunately, he wasn't fond of the haircut either.  

    Watch the progression of Walt's emotions

    Extreme terror
    Desperation and escape attempt
    Janie shows off her sucker while Walt finally submits to the haircut in exhaustion
    Sibling shot at home
    Have a hug, bro.  It's all over.

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    Spring Has Sprung!

    I've been taking pictures of our burning bushes and lilac bush since they started blooming a few weeks ago.  It's incredible how quickly the blooms explode!  

    The burning bush

    The lilac bush


    I've always considered it a blessing to live in the northern hemisphere where the climate naturally lends itself to the liturgical calendar.  Say whhhhhaaaaaaaat, crazy Catherine?  Hear me out.

    I'm a visual learner and, well, I can be pretty dense, so it's helpful that my natural surroundings mirror what's happening in the Church calendar.  

    In the fall, we have the beautiful burst of color before the plant life begins to die and fade into winter.  In the wintertime of Advent, while we're waiting for the Light of the World to arrive on Christmas Day, the days become increasingly shorter until the winter solstice on December 21. 

    Just when we're getting the hang of celebrating Christ's birth, we enter the season of Lent, where we prepare for his Passion.  The season of self-denial is mirrored in the stark, brown landscape.  As we approach Holy Week, there are signs of life again outside.  The plants and trees start to bud, and the birds sing in the early morning.  We even get the beautiful Easter Lilies, announcing with their big, trumpet-like petals that Christ is Risen!  Alleluia!  

    Throughout the late spring and into summer when nature is in full bloom, we get to celebrate the month of Mary in May, Divine Mercy Sunday, Ascension, the Church's birthday on Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, and the Assumption of Mary. 

    Pretty cool, huh?