The Longest Summer Ever Begins.

 

The first official day of our Longest Summer Ever fell on the longest day of the year.

I mentioned in my last post about how we would not be returning to school in the fall and we’re spending the next 6 months or so exploring our interests and getting out to see some cool stuff.

Without the anchor of the school day, things turn into a free-for-all pretty quickly.  And while I normally don’t mind what I call “summer chaos”, I’m very aware that I won’t be packing up that chaos and shipping it off to school in September.

For one thing, electronics are a real problem in our house.  For everyone, not just for the kids. I originally didn’t want to set any strict limits on “screen time”; I don’t really mind the kids being on the computer so long as there’s a bit of balance.

After thinking about how to deal with our electronics issue, I decided that we’d build a loose schedule to follow on the weekdays (and a separate one for weekends).  Having internet “black out” times works better for us than earning time on the computer or even having a set amount of time they’re allowed on the computer.  In the past, those structures caused the kids to be preoccupied with whether or not they’d get to be on the computer and for how long.  This way, they know they’ll get their time and have multiple opportunities to play video games so there’s no need to bargain/discuss/think about it/talk about it. It’s not about punishment or reward; it’s just a thing we do sometimes and not others.

The focus is on creating a few new habits to last us into the fall when Jeff goes back to school but the kids do not.

Since the kids wake up at various times, we decided we’d start our day at 9am. Before that, if the kids would like to be on electronics or play outside in their pjs or lay around in bed a little, that’s fine.

So our “structure” looks a little bit like this:
9:00 begins our unplugged time with breakfast/getting dressed/chores
10-4 is unplugged free time. This is when we’re likely to take a trip out anyway.
4-6 is computer/tv time
6:00 is  dinner
Followed by 1 hour of reading for the entire family
A little more free time if we have time for it and the bedtime routine begins at 8:30.
9:30 lights out.

How’d we do on day 1?

Well, the unplugged time went better than I expected.  Usually, once the electronics are ripped from their white-knuckled-grip the kids do pretty well. The house is exponentially louder… and messier, but the kids do pretty well.

Today we took Marlowe out to see Finding Dory for his first ever movie experience and despite spilling his popcorn and getting folded up in the seat a few times, it was a success.

First movie finding dory

We did ditch the hour of free time (and our bedtimes) to head out with a telescope to a nearby field to see the strawberry moon.

We didn’t get a chance to see the moon until the ride home because the trees were too high, but it didn’t really matter.  We saw Mars and Jupiter, watched bats feast above our heads, chased some fireflies and lay around in the grass looking up at the stars.

Star gazing kids A multifaceted Mama

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We used the Sky Guide app to help us identify a few planets and stars. Marlowe kept yelling “Mars is coming! Mars is coming!”

Sometimes, you gotta bend the schedule even on day one.

longest summer ever a multifaceted mama

I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, but it was a nice start to our Longest Summer Ever.

Our Next Adventure: Homeschooling

Our Next Adventure: Homeschooling

It just doesn’t feel right without a new big thing we’re introducing into our life. Usually it’s babies, but each year I feel like we make a major shift in our lives and this year is no different.

These last few days of school also mark our last days of public school (for at least a year).
This hasn’t been a quick decision by any means; the possibility of homeschool is something we’ve bounced around for years to varying degrees of sincerity. But things have a way of falling together in their own time and this year it became increasingly clear that now is the right time for our family.

I have talked to people about our decision and I thought I’d start with a few answers to a few FAQs about this new adventure.

1. What made you decide to homeschool?
There are about 100 factors as to why we’re making this change that I’m just not going to go into on this post.  But I do want to say this:  Our children have gone to wonderful public schools and worked with fantastic teachers.  I have gotten to know the administration at their current school and they are hard working, wonderful, educated people with their hearts in the right place.  My husband teaches in public schools, and I continue to believe in the value of public schools.  I won’t get into what our decision to homeschool is right now, but I will say what it isn’t: a religious/political/educational statement or criticism on the public school environment, parents who send their children to public schools, or on children who thrive in public schools.

2. Are you going to homeschool forever?
We’re going to take things one year at a time.  If Max or Hudson decides that they want to go back to school, I am certainly not going to stand in their way.  I will also do my best (as we have done on other important personal matters) to try not to steer them in one direction or another when it comes to that issue. For now, we’re focused on 2nd grade and 5th grade.  We’ll get to next year, next year.

3. Are you going to homeschool all of them?
I don’t know.  Right now, the two older boys are my focus as they are actually school aged.  We’ll see what’s best for Marlowe when we get there.  That being said, I would like to send Marlowe to preschool to get a little time with kids his age and allow a little more time for me to focus on the big boys.

4. Are you going to do Montessori/Project Based/Charlotte Mason/School-at-home style/unschooling schooling?
Probably.
I think there is value in many different teaching philosophies and I plan to steal from anything and anyone.  What is most important to me is that my children learn in the way that is best for them and that will be my guide. We may do a little bit of this or a little bit of that; what works is more important to me than following any particular philosophy.

5.Aren’t you worried about socialization?
No.

6. How do you feel about it?
There’s a big fat mix of emotions happening but mostly I find myself wavering between being incredibly excited and incredibly terrified. Mostly now though, I’m excited.

So, over the next 6 months or so we’ll be getting out and about and discovering some new things. We’ll be taking some time to explore our interests, find an everyone-is-at-home rhythm, rediscover our learning styles and develop a homeschool that works best for us.

 

Max and I came up with a working list of things we’d like to see and do in the coming months which we’re calling Operation: See Cool Stuff.    I will try to share as many of our “field trips” on the blog as I can.

For now, we’ve been counting down with anticipation to the end of the school year and the start of our next adventure.

Have you ever thought about homeschooling? Was the decision difficult?

Saying Goodbye: A Store That Offered More Than Clothes

 

h2br

10 years ago in March I was about 4 months pregnant and looking for a job.

It’s not that I minded waiting tables, but the 5 am wake up call and smell of bacon was not helping my nausea.

I figured a maternity store might be a good fit (literally and figuratively) so I called up a small maternity boutique and asked if they were hiring.

When I went into the interview I had no idea that this job would mean so much more to me than a paycheck.

On the eve 2016, I worked my very last shift at Hip to be Round. This weekend the store will close it’s doors forever.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen the store through 5 locations, 2 owners, 1 name change and 4 babies of my own. I’ve worked part time and full time both as an associate and a manager.  I’ve seen brands come and go and families grow.

Most of all, while standing outside of the dressing room ready to get another size or color of a pair of pants, I’ve heard stories.

Being a person who loves stories, I’ve listened to them all.  Good stories and sad ones. Women who are excited to be pregnant and women who aren’t.  I’ve caught a woman as she fainted and found a dress for a funeral (she wasn’t pregnant, just swollen). I’ve dressed two men in maternity clothes feeling intensely protective of one of them who had clearly not been dress shopping before. I’ve helped a woman in labor with a nursing bra. I’ve been the neutral party when mother and daughter shopping tension arrises. I’ve brought tissues to the dressing room when reality hits.

I’ve talked to women who are afraid of birth.

I’ve talked to women who have lost their babies.

I’ve talked to women who are infertile.

I’ve talked to women who are surrogates.

I’ve gained pearls of wisdom from a mother of 6.

I’ve given out as much wisdom as I had to offer.

I’ve seen ultrasounds, kept gender secrets, and heard name picks before family members have.

I’ve listened to so many complaints.

I’ve met doulas and midwives and yoga instructors who have all taught me something. I’ve swapped tips with other mothers about sibling rivalry and potty training.  I attended monthly La Leche League meetings for 4 years and learned something new every time.

To say I am thankful for my experience with this little store is an understatement.   I have logged so many hours and learned so much. The women I have worked with have become some of my dearest friends and the customers I have interacted with have offered me so many new perspectives. It is not hyperbole to say that when it comes to motherhood this store helped raise me.

While the day to day of working in a store may not be the most prestigious of jobs I have been unbelievably honored to be a part of what Hip to be Round was.  Hip to be Round was so much more than clothes, it was a safe place for women at such a unique and rare time and I am so lucky to have been a part of that.

 

latchon
Participating in the Big Latch On while working at Hip to be Round.

I Don’t Want to Know What You Think Causes Autism.

baby

Today this article popped up in my facebook feed.
I now suspect I will see it approximately 1,000 more times before the day is done, shared over and over and over again.

Read it if you want but I’ll sum it up for you: researchers found that of 100 kids with autism 16 of them had very high levels of folate at birth, and 15 had high levels of vitamin B12 at birth.

Folate often in the form of folic acid is recommended to pregnant mothers to prevent birth defects in the brain and spine.

The study shows a “plausible” link.

The study has not been peer reviewed.

And yet, if I google “folic acid autism link” I get a laundry list of articles from “news” sites citing this new study. Scroll down a little further and I get this one: Study links folic acid to lower autism risk.

To make matters worse Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shared this article (From Salon.com) on social media. If you’d really like to feel a special kind of rage read the comments (names removed but typos remain):

“autism is from vaccines injections………just like everyone who got bird flu or Swin flu were the only ones who GOT flu shots.”

“This is the kind of thing that happens when people use supplements to get their nutrition instead of healthful unprocessed foods. It isn’t just autism! Our food and water Supplies are tainted and damaging our bodies genetically.”

“Try looking at the levels of mercury our children are forced to eat, breathe, and drink. not to mention all of the other crap poisoning our environment.”

Stop. This is helping nobody, anywhere, so just stop.

Stop.

 

I am so tired of seeing this ridiculous bullshit.

Moms have guilt about everything but you haven’t MET a mom with guilt until you meet a parent who has a child with a disability the cause of which changes by the week.

The guilt is overwhelming.

You took too many vitamins, you vaccinated them on a doctor recommended schedule, you ate out of plastic tupperware, your lettuce wasn’t organic, you didn’t exercise enough, you took medication, you had postpartum depression, you didn’t breastfeed, you caught the flu from a co-worker… The list of things you probably did to screw up your child in one way or another is ENDLESS and when you’ve scheduled your 4th IEP meeting of the year wondering how you’re ever going to make it through the last month of school with your child let alone the next 12 YEARS the last thing you need to read is how your fucking multivitamin put you here.

*whew*

So autism moms (or pregnant moms), I say to you this:

 

You are not responsible for your child’s autism just like you are not responsible for which physical features your child gets from you or your partner.

You didn’t GIVE your child autism.

Your child is perfect. Your child is flawed. Just like we are perfect, and we are flawed.  It’s just that some of our flaws are easily seen and some of them aren’t.

 

Articles like these, a “plausible link” between something an autism aren’t helping the 1 in 68 children diagnosed with autism.  They are not helping families who are looking for guidance on how to support their child with autism. In fact, these click-bait-y articles do more harm than good.

Not only do they add insult to injury because parents who do so much to support their children also feel guilty for having caused it; but now if you’re pregnant do you take your folic acid or not? Prevent spina bifida and risk autism or prevent autism and risk spina bifida?

I’m not suggesting researchers don’t look into the cause of autism.

But until you have actual data that actually means something…

Don’t publish it…. and for God’s sake stop sharing it.

 

Parenting Fail. The Highs and Lows of Stay at Home Mom-ing.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I decided to be at home with the kids more.  I knew they needed it and I needed it. In fact, the first month after I quit both jobs confirmed everything I had been thinking and feeling about staying at home.

Let’s call it the honeymoon phase.

The house was cleaner, the laundry more manageable.  I was able to make time for kids and clients. I even blogged more than I expected.  I was definitely nailing this stay at home thing.

Then February. An abrupt ending to my January honeymoon. Each day I felt like at best I was treading water, at worst I had already drowned and couldn’t admit it.  So far, March hasn’t seemed any less chaotic.  The beginning of last week perfectly illustrated the parenting highs and lows.

Sunday was beautiful. Jeff was exhausted after a long night of kids not sleeping (it usually bothers him more than me), and I was determined to exhaust them so we might get a good night sleep.  So I packed the four of them in the car, left Jeff at home to doze, and took them to a beautiful local park, Maymont.

Maymont 1

We hoofed the entire park (Langston on my back) from the Children’s Farm, through the Japanese Gardens, up the beautiful steps to the Italian gardens, past the mansion, to the visitors center and back to the Children’s Farm to say goodbye to the pig before we left. We had a great time, and the kids were happy and exhausted. Sunday was a parenting high.

Maymont 2.JPG

Monday came around. I got the kids off to school, and was getting ready for a catch up day when I went to change Langston’s diaper.  I got distracted by a messed up trash bag and in an instant, Langston flipped off the table. I picked him up to hug him before realizing blood was pouring from his mouth; a bottom tooth was out and dangling, root and all. We rushed off to a somewhat-nearby Pediatric ER (at a hospital which I knew happened to also have a dentistry practice), and I found myself standing there, unshowered and barely dressed, with a busted up baby, a shattered phone (which I had broken on Saturday) held together with scotch tape, and a two year old who was wedging himself between a side table and a waiting room chair.

infant fall lost baby tooth.JPG

WHY WAS I ALLOWED TO HAVE CHILDREN?

It just seems inhumane.

We went home, one tooth down from a set of 6; I was utterly exhausted. This was definitely a parenting low.

Tuesday rolled around and I was determined to redeem the day before. The kids were off from school, so I’d planned a great day at the zoo, a trip to Toys R Us and other fun stuff. Except nobody was excited about the zoo. One child (who will remain nameless) had been particularly sour the past couple of days, and  even stepped it up a few notches… but it wasn’t just him. In fact everyone was so uncooperative, difficult, and just plain nasty that I completely lost it. LOST. IT.  Lost it.  I yelled. Loudly. At my children. About the zoo.  They cried. I cried. It was a mess. Evidently, while trying to balance a growing list of things demanding my attention,  I had been missing some big stuff bothering one of the boys. Parenting really, really low.

We took deep breaths, had a good talk, hugged a lot, and told each other we loved each other a lot. We made pancakes. We went to the zoo. We saw baby animals. We laughed. We had fun. We were on our way back up again.

metro richmond zoo

feed giraffes metro richmond zoo

 

The house is still a mess, and I’m behind on a lot of things (like this very blog).  I’ve got my fingers crossed for a few uneventful days.  In fact, I could use an uneventful month… The reality of stay-at-home/work-at-home parenting has proven to be much bumpier than I expected. So, I’m trying to hold a tight grip on the things that matter while I ride out some of these highs and lows.

Ps. Still doing dishes in the bathroom sink.  Big update coming soon.

Supporting the Mama

 

Supporting the Mama caring for the journey of motherhood from pregnancy through birth and postpartum

A friend asked me recently if I had ever thought about being a doula.  I get this question a lot.

When I had my first two kids, I didn’t know any other mothers except for my own, my mother in law, and a friend who lived a couple time zones away. Many of my friends had recently graduated from college and moved away. Suffice to say it was an isolating time.

One of the things that saved me during this time was working at a small maternity boutique where I was able to interact with mothers daily. Over the next 10 years, I had many conversations with many different women at a unique time in their lives. I connected with some clients more than others; mother-to-mother conversations get very personal very quickly.  Over maternity clothes we discussed fears of birth and parenting, excitement, surprises, good outcomes and bad ones, sex, big decisions, breastfeeding troubles, sibling rivalry, birth control, periods… you get the idea. One day I found myself giving an impassioned speech to a couple while holding nursing bras after the pregnant mother said something about birth being terrifying and icky.  Fearing I had gone a bit far, I looked at her husband who had a look on his face that could only be described as jealousy. I wasn’t sure about her, but he was totally ready to give birth.

These hundreds of conversations, along with my own journey of becoming a mother, fascinated me, not just with birth, but with the transition from pregnancy into motherhood.  Not just the several hours of labor, or the birth experience itself (which I love), but the entire journey, from pregnancy through the postpartum.

By the time Marlowe was born, 7 years after my first, things were completely different. I had much more confidence as a mother but also so much support from close friends. While only a couple of them had children of their own, my friends supported me through the pregnancy and postpartum with their presence, humor and, in the postpartum time with meals.  There wasn’t a step of the way from pregnancy through my first year with Marlowe that I didn’t feel supported and thankful for that support.

The experience of having children with this network of support was so vastly different from my experience in my first two pregnancies it was overwhelming. It was as though I had not realized how isolated I was before until I had something to compare it to.
Perhaps one of the reasons being a birth doula doesn’t appeal to me is that I think of birth as a unique rite of passage similar your wedding day. Yes, it’s important. Yes, it’s magical. Yes, you will remember it forever. But it’s one (albeit huge) part of the story of your relationship. So much happens before, and so much will continue after.  This whole journey is what I love so much about women.  But what do I do with that?

As I figure out how to make use of this, in addition to my usual postings about Stitch Fix, crafty stuff, random thoughts, my kitchen , etc, I’ll include a series of posts under the theme of Supporting the Mama.

There will be no more births for me and my time at my beloved little boutique ended with 2015.  I am not sure what I want to do with this energy in the long run, but I feel very lucky to have several expecting friends, and while for some people that means snuggling newborn babies, for me it means I get to do one of my favorite things: lending support to moms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Baby at 6 Months: Painful.

 

Baby stage 6 months kissing mama

Langston turned 6 months old last week.

He sits up.
He has 5 teeth.
He drools.
He’s aaaaaalllmost ready to crawl.
He’s showing interest in food.
He plays with toys.
He laughs at his brothers.
He pulls the small hairs out of the back of my neck.
He claws my face with his razor sharp nails.
He eats my pony tail.
He sticks his fingers in my eyes and up my nose.
He bites my back when I wear him.

We have entered the painful stage of babyhood.
We don’t talk about this stage because we like to focus on how cute they are and they are really actively loving you back.  He just wants to love and be loved, and feel how squishy your eyeball is. He wants to play and cuddle and laugh at what you do when he bites your arm.  He wants your attention and your hair.

This is the stage where I get a little “touched out” by the end of the day.  My hair is always up in top knot and even then it’s not safe.

I love this stage… I think.  I’ll miss it… I think.

In the meantime, I’ll take lots of pictures because he’s pretty adorable.

 

Saying Yes

Last night I sat and helped my 9 year old sort over 500 Pokemon cards by type. I colored.  I played “mama bomb and baby bomb” with my 7 and 2 year old.

Processed with VSCOcam with a4 preset
Chaos at the dinner table. If you’ve ever sorted Pokemon cards then you know a glass of wine is absolutely required.

I would love to say that I always show interest in Pokemon… but I don’t. And it’s been awhile since I’ve played with stuffed animals.   I’m very good at saying “no”. No, I’m feeding the baby/doing the dishes/laundry/working/cooking/reading… I can’t right now.

And recently, my 2 year old said something to me that broke my heart.

“I’m busy.”

I don’t want to be a parent that says no. I want to be a parent that says yes. I’m great at saying yes to the things I already enjoy; I’ll sit and color and talk with them for days. When one of the kids asked for cookies, I got out the ingredients and baked them from scratch… but I’m not sure that really counts.

Yes, I will help you with that thing/watch that terrible show/read that book for the 100th time/play a game I know nothing about/listen to you talk about that thing that bores me to absolute tears.

I can’t always say yes. After all, the things I’m busy doing are usually  important (though, admittedly, not always).  But I can say yes more.

“Yes” when I really want to say no.  “Yes” when it’s easier to say no. “Yes” when I have to make the conscious effort to shut the computer/put down the phone/leave the dishes half done/leave the house unswept and follow their lead.

 

I always end up being glad I did it. After all, who knows… I may even learn a little bit about Pokemon along the way.

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The Not So Picture Perfect Christmas.

It’s Christmas time!!

Time for visits with Santa, sleigh rides, hot cocoa by the fire. Chopping down a Christmas tree, tying it to the roof and singing carols all the way home. Smiling children baking cookies for family members and on the cover of Christmas cards…

… uh. Kinda.

Baking Christmas cookies chaos

The start of the Christmas season at the Cole house looks a little more like this:

– Bins full of Christmas decorations taking up a giant chunk of our postage stamp sized living room.

– Replacing the fireplace only to find it has missing parts.

– Trying to get a picture of the kids in front of our Christmas tree at the lot and not getting a single one with the kids standing still or looking at the camera.

– Someone yelling “I don’t like this music” in response to the 12 Days of Christmas on the radio.

– A child who is terrified of Santa. TERRIFIED.

– A two year old that needs a nap.

– Someone throwing an absolute fit in the car on the way to see Christmas lights.

– Cutting out sugar cookies and then immediately balling up the dough to do it again.

– A fight over the rolling pin.

– Burning said cookies.

– Nobody is wearing a shirt.

– Don’t even get me started on the photo holiday cards. It’s not happening, folks.

Over the years I’ve found that all my attempts to create a stock photo moment of the holidays tend to fail.

Finally I’ve learned to take it in a different direction. As a family of 6 ( plus 2 dogs and a cat) it’s time I surrender to the Christmas Chaos.

Crazy Kids Baking Christmas Cookies Chaos

I should have known better, but those stock photos put together and taken with insta-worthy-pinterest-perfection just aren’t real (at least not for us). But you know, I just don’t care.

We’ll still put icing on our burned cookies. There will be cocoa (complete with schnapps).  At least one of our 4 kids will sit on Santa’s lap. Eventually, we’ll fix up the fireplace and enjoy an evening by the fire (for a minute or two). The photo Christmas cards are still not happening… but who knows, maybe this year we’ll send out a pack of cards we picked up on our 289th trip to Target.

The holidays, I’ve found, are best served up with a nice helping of reality check and a glass of wine.  My kids are making memories whether I have the perfect photo of them or not. If I try to control their fun to make it look picture perfect or hold a perfect pose, I won’t have fun and neither will they.  What good is a beautiful photo if everyone is stressed out about it?

Over the years I’ve learned that the holidays are much more fun when you embrace what it is…

The magic of Christmas Chaos.