Life with a Newborn: Take 3

Baby #3 is finally here (Yay!). The sleepless, drugged day-into-night time warp feeling has begun as has the overwhelming joy in having a new addition to the family (and to finally getting to enjoy chocolate and decaf coffee without heartburn again – hooray!).

Being our third time around the newborn baby block, I find myself thinking about how this time is different from all other times. So, before the fog of the newborn period lifts, I figured I’d write a post, one-handed, about how our third time on the newborn merry-go-round has been different than our first or second one.

  • Newborn #1: Parenting 101
    • Summary: Even though we thought we were prepared to become a family, we totally weren’t and our unrealistic expectations made the transition hard for us. We had no idea what we were doing and we held parenting books/websites and other people’s opinions in way too high regard. I googled e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g at midnight, 2 am, 3:30 am, 5:05 am, etc. and did silly things like expect my house to be clean like it was pre-baby (and then I religiously cleaned instead of napped to meet that high standard). I believed I could “have it all” and felt like a failure when I didn’t meet society’s ridiculously high standards for mothers. I second guessed myself all. the. time. My husband and I had very few dates and a lot of stress due to no family or friends-with-babies nearby and no sleep. When our adorable baby was less than adorable (hey, it happens!), I thought those moments would last forever, especially during long sleepless nights. I brought a suitcase full of baby supplies with me on trips to the grocery store and stressed over when and where to nurse and change the baby. In fact, I stressed over everything: Will giving my baby a pacifier ruin her developmentally or cause her to need braces? Am I a bad parent for putting my baby in a stroller instead of wearing her? Am I causing hip problems for her because I am wearing her?…
    • What I learned: Chill. out. Life with babies is different.
  • Newborn #2: Outnumbered 101
    • Summary: We had made it through one newborn, so we could do it again (high five for us!). This time we were a little smarter: I cooked and froze meals before the baby came. I reduced my work hours and requested a slightly longer maternity leave than I had the first time. We worked on saving some money before baby came. We found a sitter we trusted who could help us out. However, we still had a few silly beliefs, namely the following:
      • Whatever techniques we had successfully used and mastered for the first baby would work for the second baby.
      • That our older child would feel betrayed when we brought home a new baby.
    • What I learned:
      • Everyone is different, so how you build a positive relationship with them will be different. This is normal and healthy.
      • Any change, no matter how big or small (like reading Goodnight, Gorilla instead of Goodnight Moon), is a big deal to little people and will bring about big emotions. In the long run, the close love-hate-love sibling relationship your kids will form is one of the greatest assets they will have.
  • Newborn #3: Relationship Management 
    • Summary: This time, I feel a lot more prepared. I started getting all non-essentials out of our life before Baby #3 came; I unsubscribed from email lists, opted out of events, donated rarely used items to Goodwill, ruthlessly recycled mail I didn’t need to save … you get the picture. Then I made time for the important things in life: my marriage, my sanity (Read: carving out time for things that make me a happy and balanced person, like reading books or writing this blog), my friends, and my kids. My husband and I majorly lowered our standards and re-prioritized our time: When the newborn napped and the older kids were being watched for a few hours, we skipped cleaning the house and went out on a date instead (with our newborn, a.k.a. Mr. Wingman). We took turns sleeping when various kids slept and when they were all awake we took turns playing with them. I accepted any and all help from friends and family (and even asked for it!).
    • What I am learning: This third time around seems much easier than the other times (so far!). But then again, I’ve called in a lot of help from friends and family (and have gotten it – thanks, y’all!). I’m realizing if I just go with the flow and have some fun (and donuts and coffee with my spouse!), I can enjoy this crazy time. Attempting anything else is optional.

 

Raising Three Kids: When to Bathe

Bath time. It’s fun. It’s messy. Some kids love it. And some kids really (really) hate it. I like bath time, but I also find it challenging when there are a bunch of little ones around.

First, there is the time and people management piece. There are number of children to bathe to consider (Do I bathe them all at the same time? In quick succession? On separate days?) and how to handle the variety of kids who are dirtier-than-mud, Mr-Clean-clean, or somewhere in between.  I have also needed to start evaluating my options in case someone starts wanting snacks, needing to use the potty, or aspiring to world domination while I are up to my elbows in bath toys.

Then, there is the “optimal” amount of time in between baths. Do I go ol’ skool and bathe them daily? Do I strategically skip days so that I optimize the amount of good bacteria on their skin? How does using/not using soap change showering frequency? What if they want to join their sibling in the bath – does that reset the bath cycle?

But today, I figured out when I would know it was time to bathe my sweet, sweet baby: When he starts smelling like Umami. Yep, if I snuggle up next to him and inhale and am reminded of cheese or miso soup instead of Mr. Snuggles, I know it’s bath time. Mind you, he gets a pass if he just smells like goat cheese – anyone can smell like that with just a splash of dried spit up (Child’s play, really). I’m talking like a sharp cheddar or aged Romano. Love those smells from the kitchen, just not from the fat rolls hiding my baby’s neckline.

There ya have it: When to bathe baby – When he smells like miso soup. Or poop (obviously). No spreadsheet or predictive modeling required. Enjoy!

 

 

Raising Three Kids: Determining Pickup Time

My mother in law was visiting to help out while my husband had an especially busy workweek. 

On the first day she was here, she said “So what time do we need to leave to pick up the girls from school today?” 

It would seem like there is a very simple answer to this question, like 12:15. However, I have a newborn and our two preschoolers go to different schools, which have similar pick up times. So I have to bring my newborn to get the 2 year old from her school and the newborn and 2 year old to get the 4 year old from her school. It’s a little chaotic. 

I thought about my pick up juggling act for a few seconds and then replied, “I have no idea what time I need to leave to get the girls. I’ve been trying to figure that out for the past week! Yesterday, when I picked up my oldest, she said ‘Mommy, why do you always pick me up late now?’ So … Yeah, I will let ya know once I finally figure it out!”  She laughed. I laughed too. No reason to stress over it while you are sleep deprived and the house is a disaster. Everyone is just lucky that I can feed them at this point. 

Moral of the story – If you’re a parent of three young kids, it may take you a few weeks to figure out how to time everything so that you can pick your kids up on time. Things that need to go into your mathemagical equation include the following variables:

  • Nursing the baby (Baby’s gotta eat All. The. Time. Else suffer the consequence: Being in a car with a very vocal p*ssed off back seat passenger). 
  • Burping the baby 
  • Changing the baby’s diaper
  • Changing the baby’s clothes (If it’s wet, another outfit you get!)
  • Changing your clothes (Well, Junior just Niagra Falled on me so … new outfit with new undies it is!)
  • Remembering to make yourself presentable to outside society (Did I put on deodorant this morning?)
  • Putting the baby into his/her car seat (If baby is not already sleeping in said car seat. (S)he is your third child after all…)
  • Locating your keys/wallet/coat because you forgot where you placed them due to lack of sleep (Keys in refrigerator? Check!) or because your Mini Me’s played with them and relocated them on your behalf (Keys in laundry basket? Check!)
  • Figuring out the fastest route to school given fluctuating traffic conditions (Maybe if I take the surface streets here and then take the second most popular road, I can get there slightly faster…)
  • Getting your toddler or preschooler from the first pick up to cooperate so that you can get on time to your second pick up (Do I wait 7 minutes for my 2 year old to get into her car seat by herself or do I pick her up and do it for her and deal with a tantrum right before the next pick up?). 
  • Getting the baby and toddler out of the car to then pick up your oldest (Because naturally you cannot pick up the older child first – she has a real “class” with a strict schedule – No Early Pickups Allowed – even though that would make your life a million times easier since you’d be dragging the older kid to get the toddler instead of the other way around). 

In short, I’m still working on figuring out the algorithm to get to my kids’ schools on time. I’ll let you know when (if?) I ever find it!

Shopping Clean: On Buying Real Food

In one of my previous posts, I shared with you my horror of learning about what I was actually putting onto my family’s plates: processed human hair. Gross!

Now that I have removed the offending “not-food” from my pantry, I have to ensure that when I shop, I shop clean and buy real food.

Now, I don’t know what your shopping routine is like, but mine is highly unpredictable, which can make it stressful at times. No, I’m not talking about impulse buys of ice-cream  at the grocery store (although I am definitely guilty of those!); I am talking about corralling preschoolers in a grocery store during the late afternoon when everyone’s energy levels are all over the place (Read: All I want is a nap) while I attempt to get through a grocery list quick enough to be able to have enough ingredients on hand to make something healthy and yummy for my family to eat. Some days this experience is amazing – my kids act like little angels, help me find items off my shopping list, take turns pushing the cart, and ask me to buy broccoli (for reals). And some days … well, let’s just say some very nice strangers come over to me to give me very kind words of encouragement (Thank you grocery store angels!).

In any case, I need some kind of quick and dirty way of figuring out whether an item is real food or just a poser, and I need to be able to figure it out while keeping preschoolers entertained and somewhere near my cart. This means I need to be able to evaluate a food in less than 15 seconds. To do that, I have developed a mental cheat sheet to help cut down on time. I’ve been working on this over the past few weeks and have found that over time, it has become easier and more automatic to choose foods that don’t have artificial preservatives, colors, additives, and flavors in them. Here are my tips in no particular order:

  1. Shop at places where it is easy to find clean food. I have found that I can drastically cut the amount of time I spend selecting food if I shop at places where clean, minimally processed food is abundant. For example, I have found that independent bakeries, natural foods stores, and farmer’s markets often (but not always!) have pre-made food that is fresh, made from real ingredients, and tastes really good.
  2. Restructure your grocery list so that the bulk of your food is unprocessed. For example, instead of buying a frozen chicken teriyaki dinner entree, buy chicken, fresh veggies (pre-cut if you want to spend extra to save on prep time), and a sauce (or make your own!). You’ll still have to read the ingredient label on the sauce, but at least you will know the chicken and veggies are fresh and unprocessed (plus you have more freedom over deciding which veggies and cuts of meat go into your food). Unprocessed foods that require little or no label reading include all the following:
    • Fresh fruits and veggies
    • Fresh cuts of meat
    • Dairy (milk and eggs).
    • Dried or milled foods (whole grains, dried fruits, beans, legumes)
  3. Read no more than 5-10 food labels during each grocery store trip. Yes, you will need to read labels to find out which foods are the real deal and which are posers. However, there is no reason to force yourself to read all of them in one trip. Decide which dishes you will “clean” ahead of time (Your favorite casserole? Stir fry? Pasta?) and then read labels for that type of food during that particular grocery store trip. The good news is that once you have found a clean substitute, you won’t need to read the labels again. The new brand will become your “go-to” brand (and who knows, it might taste better too!).
  4. Spend less than 15 seconds looking at a label. I don’t read food labels, I scan them looking for problematic ingredients. Here are some tricks I have to speed up reading labels:
    • Are there any ingredients I cannot visualize? …coconut milk…carrageenan… (“WTF does carrageenan look like?). Stop. Food goes back on the shelf.
    • Are there any ingredients my toddler cannot pronounce? …milk…calcium propionate…(“Pro-PIE-on-ate? PRO-pee-on-ate?”) All I know is I am not eating it.
    • Are there any acronyms in the food list? …chicken … PDMS… (“Is that like PMS???”) Doesn’t sound like a food. Out it goes!
    • Are there too many ingredients in this label for what it is? I know from cooking that pasta sauce has a handful of ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic/onions, and spices. If the label of the basic pasta sauce I am looking at has 2-3 times as many ingredients, it goes back on the shelf.
    • Is sugar one of the top 3 ingredients? I love sugar, but sugar should not be the star when it comes to my plate. For much of human history, refined sugar was not used in food plus it’s consumption been linked to health problems. Do yourself a favor and avoid foods that have sugar towards the top of the ingredient list (which means it makes up the bulk of what you are eating). My one exception: Treats or condiments that are supposed to be sugary (like cookies or jams).
    • If 15 seconds have passed and I am still reading the ingredients label, the food goes back on the shelf.
  5. Avoid Poser Foods. Want to drink milk that isn’t from a cow or goat? Want to eat cheese that is low (or no) fat or meat that isn’t from animals? Poser foods like these often have additives in them to make them have the consistency, aroma, or appearance of whatever real food they are imitating but with a lot less nutritional substance. If you really want the taste and texture of milk without buying the real thing, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time reading the labels of competing brands. Or spend that time googling a DIY recipe for it. Your homemade version might taste better than the store-bought one (or it might not), but at least you will know what went in it (and possibly have a funny story to tell about your epic cooking failure if your version doesn’t turn out so well).
  6. Buy items that don’t have packaging. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meats, beans, etc. are exactly what they are and don’t come in packages. In addition to knowing you are buying a real whole food, you will also save time not having to read labels or un-package food. Plus, you can feel good knowing that you are reducing your waste by purchasing food that doesn’t have any packaging that needs to be recycled or left in a landfill to rot over the next several decades.

Cleaning Pantry

Hello again! It’s been a while since I last posted. Due to the California deluge, many people have been indoors most of the time, which has resulted in everyone in my family taking turns getting sick multiple times (including yours truly). I guess we are just really good at sharing. Maybe I should cut back on the “sharing is good” lecture I give my kids whenever there is a quarrel or just add in a caveat…hmm…

In any case, I am still scarred from eating hairy bagels and have been working on cleaning my pantry. This task has been surprisingly easy and difficult simultaneously. It’s been easy in that now I read the list of ingredients on everything that comes in a box, bag, jar, or can. If there is an ingredient on the list that I can’t picture in my mind (WTF is ‘palm stearin‘???), then out it goes.

Reading ingredient labels is simple and surprisingly quick since once you rule out an item, you never have to re-read the label again. However, I have found that once I determine a food is on the no-go list, I am faced with an ethical dilemma:

Is it better to eat this bag of not-food-posing-as-food (shudder) or to throw it out (shudder)?

While standing in my kitchen deciding the fate of the box of faux-food that is in my hands, I am instantly transported back to family dinners decades ago. There I am sitting at the table staring at the overcooked, slimy spinach on my plate, and hearing my father lecture me about world hunger: “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.” Silent and blinking, I am staring down at the shiny, smelly green mess on my plate wondering why anyone would want to eat it, while also wondering if there were a way to somehow invite this figurative person over for dinner so they could finish the food on my plate…

And we are back. It’s 2017, and here I am holding the not-food instant soup mix in my hand. It’s an open container, which means I cannot send it to my local food bank. And, I am hearing my father’s voice in my head “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.“… I decide to punt and put the box back into the pantry for now.

I tell my husband, who is a full-on pragmatist, about my dilemma and he suggests we eat through whatever we already have and then stop buying it. We’ve eaten it before so why not just finish it out? Makes complete sense. However, once you know something, it is very hard to un-know it. So now when I see the marked boxes, cans, and jars of not-food, I can’t actually bring myself to eat them. So I try to punt again – I’ll just let (make?) my preschoolers eat the “berry” cereal they love that has additives in it to make the berries look nice and red. However, guilt sets in as I watch them eating it. Little kids can get really sick from things that minimally affect adults (think viruses, contaminants, and so on), so why am letting them shove additives and not-really-healthy (or fruity) food into their faces when I can just find a substitute?

After a few guilt-inducing meals, I decide to chuck all opened not-food “food” packages with one important caveat: If my pragmatic husband will willingly prepare and eat the food himself until it’s completely gone, then it gets to stay.

I go through my pantry and put all the not-food into the compost and all of its packaging into the recycling. Guilt assuaged; pantry cleaned. Done and done.

 

Making Room for Life

Clutter is historical. It is where you have been, what you have loved, and what you have accumulated.

Clutter is also the present. It is what you hope to do, what you cannot leave, what you feel guilty about.

And, clutter is the future. It is what you hope to use someday – what you might find valuable.

Clutter is also a giant life-force sucking vortex that we have created ourselves and have led ourselves to believe will exist no matter what. At least that is what I have told myself. 

I’ve been thinking about it though, and there really is no reason clutter must exist. Rather, we must make a conscious choice – everyday – to allow the clutter to persist. For example, by not putting away, recycling, selling, or donating an item that I see today (and every day), I am actively choosing to keep it right where it is. 

What this means is once I am truly motivated to clean, I will. It’s just a matter of mindset since there isn’t anything that is inherently difficult about decluttering. It’s not like I have to get a PhD in Feng Shui or read 50 books to learn how to physically remove things that aren’t adding to my life. I just have to do it. 

But first, I think I’ll put my feet up and have a coffee and a donut. I can tackle the mess tomorrow. Cheers!