Grace for the Introverted Mom

Note: As the title suggests, this is targeted to moms. Specifically stay-at-home moms that are constantly needed by their children. I don’t mean to alienate stay-at-home dads, I just have no authority speaking on your behalf! I’d love to hear your input in the comments!

Grace for the Introverted Mom (Just in time for the most stressful time of year for introverts—the holidays!)

Introduction and pseudo-history lesson

First thing’s first. Are you an introvert? Here’s 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert from HuffPost.

Introverted stay-at-home moms in this era have some unique struggles. Being a stay-at-home-mom is the most unnatural thing in the world if you look at the historical order of things. Humans once lived in tribes, clans, family units, villages. Children were raised by their mother, plus any other number of matriarchal type persons. Fathers and other men were involved in the education and nurturing of their children as well. Mothers had help in the form of relatives, wet-nurses or nannies. These days, we tend to fall into one of two extremes: we are the sole caregiver of our children during the day, or else we leave them in the care of educators and coaches and have little time to interact with our own kids. Hopefully you fall somewhere into the middle! Anyway, this isn’t about societal norms or a call to action. It’s about introverts. Introverts who are drained when they are sole caregivers to one or more children.

We need plenty of time alone, but we still need a little bit of social interaction to retain any sanity. Back in the day of the front-porch suburbia, or back even further to the time of the common well, introverted people got their social interaction out of the way, out of the house, and they came back home ready to be introverted again. Now we have the internet, that glorious invention of social media, in which we can pretend we are socializing, but which never really leaves us satisfied like real-live interaction does.

Your main goals as an Introverted mom are 1) time alone and 2) some real, in-person interaction with other human beings outside of your family. Here are some tips to achieving those goals.

Tip #1—Favor reflection over distraction.

We introverts need time, alone, with our thoughts. If I don’t get time alone just to think, or sort out my thoughts, I end up distracting myself with the internet. (As a teen, I used to distract myself with endless hours of TV. As an adult, I don’t have cable, but I have my own laptop.)

I’ll spend hours and hours on Pinterest or YouTube or clicking on random Wikipedia articles to distract myself, when a 20-minute shower would be so much better for me, because I spend only 3 minutes cleaning myself, and the rest of the time, I just let my mind wander and sort and think and rest.

Right now it’s 2 am, and I should be in bed, but I’ve just been putting off my time of introspection all this time, and now I won’t be able to sleep until I think about it.

Are you the type of person that needs to write thoughts out to get them out of your head so you can sleep? That’s why I keep my phone and a notepad by my bed. When a thought comes, I scrawl it out on my notepad in unabomber handwriting. If I don’t think I’ll be able to decipher it in the morning, I email myself on my phone.

Tip #2—Don’t feel guilty.

I feel guilty not being able to give to my kids 100% of the time. I feel selfish when I take time apart from them. I feel like a bad mom for wanting to get away from my children. I resent clinginess when it creeps up (and clinginess is natural for children exploring new territories and reaching new milestones.)

It is 3,000 times harder when my husband isn’t home, because that means I NEVER get a break, and my kids rely on JUST ME to meet all of their needs. I’m on call, 24/7. I’m needed every minute of every waking hour, and I’m needed half of the night. I’m constantly being touched.

Repeat after me: If Jesus Christ needed breaks, then I CERTAINLY need time alone.

Introverts need time alone to recharge. It is better for ourselves and for everyone else in our home if we get some time to recharge. You know that phrase, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”? We need time alone, for our emotional and mental health, about as badly as we need sleep for our physical health.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like a zombie. I can barely function. Caffeine can work a little to get me through the day, but if I rely on caffeine and not sleep, I’m going to get sick. I don’t know about you, but for me, the same goes with alone time. If I don’t get time alone, I start to space out and check out. I can barely say a word to another human being, let alone hold a conversation. Distractions can work a little to get me through the day, but if I keep distracting myself without getting time alone, eventually I’m going to lose it, and either have an emotional breakdown or get really angry at my 3-yr old (who knows precisely which buttons to push in either of his parents).

Don’t feel guilty about getting time alone. Also don’t feel guilty about getting out of the house every once in a while to socialize with other people. That means date nights and girl nights. Maybe you’re like me, and you dread girls’ nights with a passion because you don’t relate to all that estrogen and emotion. Give it a chance. Studies show that it is important to a woman’s health to get time socializing with other women. If people start talking about their feelings, find another person to talk to, or change the subject to current events or pop culture. Or only go to events that include activities, like game nights or movie nights, so you aren’t obligated to talk at all. True story: Captain and I went on a date last month to dinner, and we brought a book of crossword puzzles to do. We ended up talking and laughing the whole time, but as introverts, it was nice to have the option to be together, but be quiet, and have something to do other than stare at each other while masticating.

Tip #3—Enforce quiet time (for your kids, but also for yourself).

Grace for the Introverted Mom (Just in time for the most stressful time of year for introverts—the holidays!)

If only my children would nap at the same time! I admit, right now, I’m in survival mode. When both kids are napping at the same time, I need to NOT DISTRACT myself (see #1), but do one single thing—one thing that is quiet and allows me to organize my thoughts. It could be writing a list, reading, or quietly doing some tedious or repetitive tasks that allow my brain to sort things out. My favorite mini-vacations when Champ was a baby were reading a magazine and painting my toenails. I got my magazines with deals I found on Tanga, but you can search for discounts any time at Discount Mags. A few years ago, I got 3 years of 6 magazines for less than $20 total. Not bad.

Other ideas: knitting, daydreaming, planning, having a caffeinated or weakly alcoholic libation.

No TV or internet during these times. See #1 and #4, below.

Tip #4—Spend time reading, offline.

Then you can focus and think and not be distracted by clickable rabbit trails. Reading is a way for introverts to fill up that need for socialization, because we are essentially having a conversation with the writer as we do it. All introverts should read. Extraverts, too, but especially introverts. That’s why I’m repeating myself by giving offline reading its own tip.

Offline reading is the best way to spend our time alone. Here’s why:

  • It gives us a chance to think and process…
  • …without the distraction of the internet…
  • …and it partially fulfills our need to socialize

Are you an introvert? How do you fill your “time alone” and “socialization” tanks? Do you have reading recommendations? Leave your opinions in the comments!

(I started writing this in August of 2013, at 2 am, when my husband was gone for 2 weeks in South Africa. Today I am finishing it. It is 3 pm in December, and Champ is still eating his lunch, two hours after his nap was supposed to begin. If you’re curious why I haven’t posted original content since this summer, with the exception of posts pertaining to Champ’s Birthday or our Geeky Halloween, allow me to direct you to  Mom Stress and Survival Parenting. Being a mom of two is a 24/7 job, and I’ll get back into blogging regularly when I can get housework back on track first. So expect posts to be few and far between until, say, ten years from now, when they will not be relevant to this generation. Welcome, class of 2020!)

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Taking Good Photos of Active Kids

How to take good photos of active kids—photography tips for moms | Bewildered Mother

You may not know this about me, because I haven’t taken pictures in a very, very long time apart from my phone, but I’m a photographer.

That’s right, went to school for it (among other things), and I have even been paid for it before I became a mom.

I took LOTS of photos of Champ when he was a baby, and he was a great model, much like Lion is now. But somewhere along the line, he started to think it was really funny to AVOID the camera, and to run away from me if I ever had one in my hand. He only wanted selfies that he took of himself on my phone.

Well, I decided I needed some legitimate, non-instagram photos of this crazy child when he turned 3. So I got out my SLR, searched all over the house for my charger (found one) and extra battery and memory card (still looking), and I took him to the park, and I took a couple hundred photos. Now I know I’m not the only person who has active children, and I also know that people want to know how to take good photos of their kids, so I thought, as a mom, as a photographer, I’d give some tips specifically targeted towards moms (or dads) of those camera-shy children.

Tip #1—avoid harsh lighting

harsh lightSo, unfortunately, I took all of these photos around lunchtime on a sunny day, because it was the only time we could do it. The best times to take photos? Depending on the season and where you live, you’ll want to avoid times the sun is directly above, creating those kinds of shadows you’d make around the campfire with a flashlight at your chin. That’s means generally trying to take photos before 10 am and after 4 pm. Overcast days are the best for photos. The sky is gray, I know, but the light is diffused and super flattering.

If you take the pictures at noon on a sunny day, there is still hope. Avoid awkward shadows from trees (you know, the ones that make you look like a dalmatian), and avoid having your subjects look directly into the sun. You can face the sun if you want some lens flares, but your subject will be darker. Try taking pictures with the sun at your side.

Tip #2—learn how to crop

Chances are, you’ll be taking a ton of photos of your kid, because the more you take, the better the likelihood of getting good photos. So don’t worry too much about framing your photos as you take them. Even if you don’t have photo editing software, you can crop your photos before you print them. If you’re uploading to Facebook, use one of the programs preinstalled onto your computer. Sorry I can’t be more help. I have no idea what programs you have on your computer. Anyway, the idea behind cropping is two-fold: One, you want to eliminate distractions from your focus. Two, you want an aesthetic composition.

crop1

Here’s an image I cropped, with a before and an after. See those big magenta bars in the photo on the left? Distracting. So I cropped it out with the photo on the left, which roughly follows the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds means you divide your canvas into a 3×3 grid—a tic-tac-toe—and then align your horizon or subject along those lines. Asymmetrical compositions are usually more interesting, but with close-up portraits, you have more freedom. In the photo on the left, Champ’s body takes up the middle third, with his face in the top middle and his legs in the bottom middle. On the photo on the left, the original, Cham takes up the lower 2/3rds of the frame. I’ll point out more thirds later.

Now look at the photo on the left. Where does your eye go? (This is what people talk about when they speak about movement in a photograph or artwork). Your eye might start at the face, but did you notice it going down his arm and lingering at his hand? That’s annoying. I want people to look at his face, not his hand, no matter how cute it is. It’s not the focus of this photograph. So I re-cropped the photo.

crop2

See? Much better. Now go impress your friends by talking about a piece’s movement.

Tip #3—focus

If you’re chasing around a toddler or preschooler trying to take photos, don’t worry about trying to manually set your camera for each photo. Set your camera to Aperture Priority (it’s usually a letter A), and change your aperture to the lowest number f-stop. (Read your camera’s manual—it’s a little different on each camera) With my lens, the best f-stop I could get was about a 4. The lower the number, the more blurred out the background and foreground of the photo will be. This selective focus is called “depth of field,” and you can Google that if you want to learn more about it.

Aperture Priority is great, because it will automatically choose the other settings (like shutter speed) for you, so your photos aren’t over- or underdeveloped.

aperture

In this photo, the focus is on Champ, so everything in front of him (the construction vehicles, in the bottom third of the photo) and behind him (the trees) are blurred. If you’ve ever heard the term “bokeh,” that’s the confetti-like pattern the background turns into when you have a low aperture. You’ll see bokeh in some of the following shots. To read more about aperture, I suggest “Exposure Made Easy” by Doe a Deery.

Why blur out the background and foreground? Because unless you are taking a landscape photo, they are usually distracting. Knowing aperture is your first step to looking like a pro.

Tip #4—let them play

play

This will keep them busy. It’s more fun to play with toys than to have to sit still and POSE. I always prefer candids, anyway. And if you didn’t have problems with your kids posing for the camera, why are you still reading this post?

Tip #5—Let them touch

touch

Kids usually don’t need to be told to touch things, but sometimes, if you point something out to them, they will STOP MOVING to touch it. Snap away. If you’re at home, try handing your baby or toddler a piece of clear tape to hold. Then make weird noises to get them to look at you. For that tip and others regarding babies and little toddlers, see this post from Simply Real Moms.

Tip #6—Take close-ups when they’ll let you

closeup

The rest of the time, keep your distance and zoom in. Soon he or she will ignore your weirdness and keep playing. Close-ups are where it’s most important to have a low aperture. See how the sand has turned into a bokeh background? If you don’t have an SLR setting, you can try the “portrait” setting.

Tip #7—Know your surroundings

Even with your aperture set to blur out the background, sometimes there’s stuff back there that can’t be blurred enough. Sure, you can crop sometimes, but not always.

background

See how cute this photo is? I love it. But it would be so much cuter without that big ugly bathroom in the shot! When you’ve got ugly architecture, try to avoid it when you can. I took senior photos last weekend and kept maneuvering myself and my subject so that his head blocked out unsightly light fixtures. But in the case of the photo above, I had Lion on my lap and would have had to fling him on the ground to get this shot framed right. With active kids, you have to go for speed usually, like I did here, so you don’t have a chance to set yourself in the right spot. But when you do have a chance…

Tip #8—Choose your angles wisely

You can eliminate yucky background clutter by shooting down, so the ground becomes your background…

ground

…or shooting up, so the sky becomes your background.

sky

See that? Bokeh. This one is definitely frame-worthy. This cropping is also an example of forgoing the rule of thirds for the sake of balance, another five-dollar art word. While I could have cropped Champ another way, I pulled this one in tight as a square, and let half of the background be tree and half be sky. Symmetrical balance, on an axis. (Wikipedia has a briefer on more design principles, if you really want to sound like you know what you’re talking about and don’t have the cash to take a legitimate design class)

Tip #9—get down at their level

level

One of the best tips for taking photos of kids (and one of the most intuitive) is to get down at their level. I go even further sometimes, and instead of taking a kid’s eye view, I take a bug’s eye view, or in this case, a toy excavator’s point of view. See also the title photo of this post.

Tip #10—Shoot from the hip

Sometimes I like to play paparazza with camera-shy kids. That’s the female, singular form of “paparazzi”—I learn something new every day! I also like to take the skills I developed taking billions of self portraits as a teenager and apply them to taking pictures of kids. Probably half of these photos were taken by me, without my looking through the viewfinder. I use the full extension and mobility of my arms when taking photos of kids. This is definitely something that takes practice, like shooting from the hip. But the payoff is great.

dontaim

Take this for example. This is the only photo I have of him with his eyes open while blowing bubbles. I missed the bubbles, sure, but I actually really like how the framing of this turned out, so I didn’t even crop it. I would not have this shot if I was behind the camera.

You’ll have to keep your focus set to Auto, which invariably means you’ll get more shots with random parts in focus and the kid blurry, but if you have a new(ish) camera, it will probably find the faces and focus on them.

Tip #11—Remember the details

details

I know, I know, there are about a million photos of baby feet, or macro flowers, or whatever on the internet. Taking a close-up or macro photo of something doesn’t make you a standout photographer. But this isn’t about becoming famous, this is about remembering what it’s like to have little kids. So observe, soak it up, and take pictures of those little details, like how your baby covers himself with toys and curls his toes together.

Tip #12—Be intentional about Black and White

blackwhite

I once spoke to an amateur photographer about black and white and was mentioning that all photos don’t look good in black and white. She responded, “All MY photos look good in black and white.” I smiled and nodded, and later Facebook stalked her to find her monochromatic wonders and guess what—she was wrong.

Black and white brings out and highlights the texture of a photo. Any architecture in your photo will be emphasized, which is why taking that bubble photo with the bathroom behemoth would look horrible in a black and white.

Will your photograph look good in black and white? Like, actually good? Here’s a checklist.

  • Do I want to emphasize architecture or texture in the photo?
  • Is there adequate value in the photo? Black and whites look best when you can get a pure white, a pure black, and a range of greys in between.
  • If there isn’t great value to begin with, but I’m desperate for this to be in black and white, do I have adequate photo editing capabilities?

The best way to make a black and white before processing the photo is to make sure your lighting is flattering (see next tip). When you are editing the photo, use Levels or Curves to get black blacks and white whites. And the best tip? Use Black and White filters. This is a tip stolen from photographing with black and white film, which is really, really fun and challenging. When you add a colored filter when taking photos, you can get really interesting variations in value. Black and white filters are on Photoshop under the adjustment filters. If you’re using iPhoto or something else, you can recreate this by taking the saturation down all the way and then messing with the color balance until you get something you like. If you pick a blue filter, the sky will be white and any yellows will be black. Choose a red filter, and Caucasians will look like ghosts. Check out the bottom of this post for a comparison of different filters, using the most colorful photo taken that day.

Bonus Tip—Use windows when inside

This tip is more relevant if you are able to get your active child to sit down in one spot. If you can do that, or if you are taking photos of babies, have the child face a window to get catchlights in their eyes—those white reflections of light that make them appear to  be bright-eyed.

Try to use the windows to cast an angled light on the subject, so their face has a range in value, from lit to shadow.

Then you can make the photo black and white, eliminating nasty color combinations like red and green stripes!

window

Black and White Filters

Here’s a comparison of different black and white adjustment layers in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can imitate the effects if you have Hue & Saturation plus Color Balance sliders.

Black and White adjustment layers via "How to Take Good Photos of Active Kids"

Both the default and max black settings worked pretty well in this photo, but I tweaked the sliders a bit to find a good medium between the two.

The Birthday Party

This year I decided to go with a Sesame Street theme for Champ’s birthday. It was his first birthday party with kids his age over, and it was a blast.

This will likely be the only party he has with over a dozen kids, plus their parents attending. Not that it wasn’t super fun, and it honestly wasn’t overwhelming, but next year I’m guessing Champ will be at an age in which he has formed tighter bonds with a few kids. I’ve heard the idea of inviting one child per age of the birthday, so next year we will plan on inviting 3 or 4 kids.

invite

The invitations

Everywhere I looked online said it was bad taste to include any mention of gifts, even if it’s to say you don’t want any. Who are you to tell people what to do with their money? People like giving gifts—don’t deny them that joy. Et cetera.

So I decided to call it an ABC party. I asked parents to bring their favorite cookie recipe and a list of three of their favorite books. Then I’d compile the list and distribute it to all the parents. We got a ton of ideas, some people didn’t feel obligated to bring gifts, and others brought really great ones. Champ loves them all, and he’s slowly, slowly coloring thank you notes for his friends.

abc

I designed the invitations, of course, and printed them at home. I designed some cookies based on a Cookie Monster coloring page, printed those out, cut them out, and included them in the invitations. Parents wrote the list of books on the back.

cookie

Presents from us to him

We don’t want our kids to be materialistic, so we limit how much we give them. I’m really big on gift giving, so this has been hard on me, but also freeing. Here are my rules for buying gifts for our kids:

  1. Is it something my child would want or need?
  2. Is it a good deal? (I make a note to never pay full price)
  3. Is it clothing?
  4. Do we already have something similar?
  5. Will it last through at least one other child?
  6. Is it educational?
  7. Is it open-ended / can it serve more than one purpose?
  8. Will it foster imagination and creativity?
  9. Is it something that promotes group play or family time?
  10. Is it something worth buying (as opposed to borrowing or making ourselves)?

We bought him a bean bag chair that was PERFECT. He fell in love with a huge one at my aunt’s house and when we looked, ones of a comparable size that weren’t overstuffed cost $70–$200. We bought what I’ve dubbed “the prune” new at Dock 86 for $30.

prune

We also got him a LeapPad game, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, to teach him math; a dry-erase book for practicing letters; a Look & Find treasury book; and the Disney animated Robin Hood on Blu-Ray.

Champ also received birthday money this year. We took out 10% for him to give to church, 10% to put into savings, and let him pick whatever he wanted with the extra money. When he starts to get an allowance, he can tithe out of that, so we won’t take 10% out of his gift money for church, but we will still have him put 10% of gift cash into savings.

He chose a water blaster, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask, a Toothless figurine (from How to Train Your Dragon), a play camera, and a tape measure.

From friends, he got play-doh sets, puzzles, a football, books, construction sets, gardening tools, bubbles, sliceable play food…and he’s been playing with all of the toys for the past few weeks. It will take us a while to get through the books!

Party games

What do you do with a dozen preschoolers? I had three mostly unstructured activities for the kids: Homemade Play-doh inside and a Cookie Monster cookie toss and “parachute” game outside.

This is the recipe I used to make a big batch of play dough, but next time I’m going to try this one, which is only slightly different and makes a smaller batch.

Here’s the Cookie Monster cookie toss game. I got the idea from here, but made up different rules and made and painted the cookies with this recipe for dough. The kids loved it, and liked the point system even more when I told them how many points they got.

cookiethrow

How to Play:

1. Have kids line up behind one another, with the box facing the first person.
2. Give 3 cookies to each of the first few kids in line.
3. Each child gets three tosses per turn.
4. Award 1 point for hitting the box, 2 points for getting in the box, 3 points for going through the mouth.

I made a ton of the fake cookies. Some of them cracked while drying, and some broke while throwing. The ones that turned out best were not made with cookie cutters. My advice: shape the dough into balls and squish rather than rolling out and using a cookie cutter. And do not flip them over as they are drying. I turned mine because they were starting to warp, but that just made them crack when they warped back the other way. Warping isn’t much of an issue if you don’t use cookie cutters.

For the parachute game, I bought 100 ball pit balls here and a sheet from Goodwill. The kids grabbed the sheet and shook while I poured the balls onto the sheet, then they flew up like popcorn. We tried it twice before letting the kids just throw the balls everywhere. It was a bit too much structure for some kids that were really excited, and would drop the sheet to try and jump into it. Couldn’t blame them for wanting to be in the middle of that!

games

We made a game of picking up all the balls. With some kids I told them to pick up by color, but we just made it a race with most of them.

Party Food

Here’s what we had for treats:

  • Ernie’s Rubber ducky punch with lemon sherbet (where on earth can you get the pineapple flavor?)
  • Oscar’s trash (store bought chex mix on sale)
  • oscar broccoli tray and strawberry elmo tray
  • Big Bird cupcakes
  • Chocolate Chip cookies
  • “Slimey” sour gummy worms
  • Elmo’s goldfish

Captain also made some pizza bread (Italian loaf, toasted, with pizza sauce and cheese and toppings, heated in the oven)

plates-puzzlesI totally forgot about the fruits and veggie plates until guests started to arriving, so two of my dear friends put them together. The eyes were condiment cups from Culver’s with blueberries for the pupils. Oscar’s were filled with ranch, and Elmo’s were poppy seed dressing. The puzzles were hand-me-downs from my brothers.

I bought freezer pops for all the kids, but just realized they are still in our basement freezer. Oh well.

The cupcakes were my first attempt ever at frosting cupcakes with a frosting bag. hahahahahaha. Candy corn for the beak, and candy eyes from here. You can get them from Walmart or Michaels, too, in the cake decorating aisle.

bags

Favors

For the favors, I bought bright colored bags ($5 for 12) and added paper cutouts to make them look like muppets.

Inside:

  • a small container of play-doh from Walmart 10-Packs ($6 for 10)
  • a couple cookie cutters (ABC and 123) from this set of 50 for $17.50,
  • a snack size bag of mini-cookies (Walmart brand, 100 calorie variety)
  • a mini rubber ducky ($6 for 12)
  • a punch balloon

They cost about $3 or $4 per bag. I ordered from Prime or bought locally, so I didn’t pay shipping.

Well, I was hoping on including the book and cookies list here, but this has taken a huge chunk of time to compose, so I’ll have to do it later. I’ll link back here once it’s online.

Mom Stress Test and Guilt-Free, Survival Parenting

Guilt-Free, Survival Parenting | diary of a bewildered mother

Mom Stress Test

How stressed out are you as a mom? Let’s take a little quiz, shall we?

For each of the following that is applicable, add one point. I’m going to list a few per number just to save you from endless scrolling, so you might add two or three points per number.

Add one point:

  1. Per child
  2. Per child under 5, per driver, per dating teenager
  3. Per adopted or foster child
  4. If you have multiples
  5. If you have pets
  6. If you are potty-training a child
  7. Per colicky, strong-willed, or special needs child
  8. Per ill or unwell family member
  9. If you are married, if you are divorced or separated, if you are a widow, if you are single, if you are dating
  10. Per meal you’re responsible for every day
  11. If you don’t have a housekeeper, if you don’t have a nanny, if you don’t have a cook
  12. If you are a stay-at-home mom, if you have a full-time job
  13. Per blog or part-time job
  14. Per weekly activity you attend
  15. If your child is in school, if you homeschool
  16. If your best friend doesn’t live next door
  17. If you are responsible for your parents, if your parents are divorced
  18. If you are an introvert that spends her day giving energy to children, if you are an extrovert that spends her day without adult interaction
  19. If you are pregnant, if you have a monthly schedule, if you are menopausal
  20. If you have diet restrictions
  21. If you exercise regularly, if you don’t exercise regularly
  22. If you get less than 8 hours of sleep at night
  23. If you watch the news
  24. Per any other stress you can think of
  25. (If you’re religious:) If you try to live a faith-based life; if you don’t spend regular time in prayer, meditation, or devotion

Being a mom is one of the hardest jobs in the world. And yet, no mom is JUST a mom. We’ve got the lives of everyone in our family to think about, and sometimes we forget about ourselves in the process. I’m all about putting others first, but if you never take care of yourself, eventually you’ll be running on empty, and everything around you will collapse.

What’s your total?

Less than 5: Why did you even click on this post?

Less than 10: That’s probably best to just keep to yourself.

10-20: You can do it! You’re amazing. Try not to think about how much money you could be making with that amount of stress. Do try to remember how great your retirement benefits will be: knowing that you raised children to adults. On hard days, realize that your kids will likely get the same back at them when they are parents. Call your mom and your friends when you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, and give yourself some credit and a break.

20+: You, my friend, if you aren’t reading this from solitary confinement in the psych ward, are a SUPERMOM. If you haven’t already discovered  survival parenting, you probably just don’t call it that yet. Otherwise you are genetically modified and/or have evolved into something other than human. You should probably be on government payroll. What kinds of tips do you have to add? How do you keep sane?

Guilt-Free Survival Parenting

The concept of survival parenting is extremely simple in concept: You do whatever it takes to survive, and come out with as few bruises as possible.

It’s all about prioritizing. Sometimes it’s about compromising for the greater good. It’s about making sacrifices without becoming a Martyr. It’s telling yourself, “It’s okay.”

You do what works for you and for your family, one day at a time.

That means you breastfeed or pump if you can, but if you can’t, you use formula. Scientists have engineered that stuff—it doesn’t make you less than a woman to use formula, and it won’t make much of a difference to your child if he drinks formula or breastmilk for the first year of their life.

It means co-sleeping if it helps you sleep better at night, letting the baby sleep in a bassinet or bounce chair or carseat by your bed if it helps you sleep better at night, or putting the baby in another room and using earplugs, if it helps you sleep better at night.

It means cloth-diapering if you can, but not shaming yourself if you need to use disposables sometime or all  the time.

It means that for everything there is a time and place, including TV and junk food. Sometimes you just really need to get a meal from the drive-thru. There was a long time that Champ wouldn’t eat anything other than peanut butter sandwiches or microwaved frozen chicken nuggets.

It means you do whatever it takes to stop your kid crying when you can’t take anymore—nursing, pacifiers, running in place, wearing the baby, playing Jack Johnson on repeat…

It means putting your kid someplace safe (like her crib) and letting her cry when you’ve tried everything, and then stepping outside for a few minutes, or taking a shower, or having a glass of wine.

It means letting your kid watch maturity-appropriate TV if it helps you get other things done or take a break.

It means being responsible for your kids, but not being the only person ever to be responsible for your kids.

It means asking for help. (You’d be surprised how many people are out there and are on your side)

It means letting your kids help you make dinner or clean the house. DONE is better than PERFECT.

It means realizing that laundry and dishes will never end, and sometimes you can just forget about them.

It means getting out of the house when you need to, and staying home when you want to. Go to social events when you need social interaction. It’s okay to not go if you or your kids are too exhausted. Understanding people will understand. People that don’t understand…explain it to them. If that doesn’t work, you don’t need to be friends with people that don’t give you a break. (This is pretty void in the case of bridesmaids.)

It means allowing yourself to have a sex life, even if it’s just a quickie while your kid watches Yo Gabba Gabba strapped in his high chair.

It means taking mini-vacations. Painting your toenails, reading a magazine, watching Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube

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My guess is that if you’ve arrived here at my blog, you want what’s best for your kids. So do what it takes to survive, but don’t actually harm anyone or do anything illegal or anything like that. If you ever feel like harming yourself or your child, call 1-800-4-a-child.

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Confessions of a Sleep-Deprived Mom of Two

Anyone that has come over to my home or talked to me on the phone recently can gather one of two things: 1) I am entirely sleep deprived and 2) I’ve lost complete control over my household.

If I weren’t so sleep deprived, I likely would have the sense to not post any of the information below. But because I am sleep deprived, I tell myself that a future sleep-deprived self will be amused by it when I see it again in a few years. Behold, life with a toddler, puppy, and newborn baby.

Confession #1

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“Oh, I’m, I’m dazed and confused. I’ve been chasing this…this wee-naked child over hill and over dale.”

Oh, Doctor. You have no idea how relevant that line is to my life right now.

I just stepped out the front door, grabbed my toddler, and pulled him back inside. That seems normal enough—toddlers letting themselves outside. Mine was standing there, on the stoop, completely naked, wearing sunglasses. Then he ran off down the hall, the dog chasing after him, desperate to lick his bottom.

Confession #2

Champ has been getting quite a bit of freedom lately, as you can expect. In an attempt to stave off tantrums (or should I say, more tantrums), I’ve been giving him more leeway. He’s also regressed a bit in potty training, hence my letting him be naked (see above). The nakedness was progressive. He’s usually fully clothed—sometimes wearing the same pajamas or shirt for up to three days—but I’ve let him go shirtless like his dad a few times.

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This afternoon, I had to change his clothes, and I grabbed the first pair of shorts I could find, not realizing they were 18-months. So I help him put on his underpants and the shorts, and they are super short. Like, Daniel Craig’s swimming suit in Casino Royale short. Whatever, it’s fine. But then he decided to put on his backpack, and as he’s running around with a backpack strapped to his back in hilariously tiny shorts, I was suddenly reminded of The Hawkeye Initiative, which exposes (no pun intended) the ridiculous hypersexualization of women in comic books by replacing women with illustrations of Hawkeye doing the same poses. Like this:

Sorry, son. I’ll make sure you wear appropriately sized shorts next time.

Confession #3 (aka, you can stop reading here and go about your daily business)

You know that space between two people right before they are about to kiss?

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Yeah, right there. We’ll call it “the land of in-between.” THAT is where I’ve been living the past three weeks.

Abstinence is no stranger to the Captain and myself. We saved ourselves for marriage, we got through the birth (and thereafter) of our first child, and we made it through many weekends, weeks, and months away from each other when he was an Active Marine. We’re pretty familiar with sexual tension, too—from the moment we first met, there was a definite chemistry between us that rivaled the likes of these folks:

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Still, we had a strictly platonic relationship for quite some time before finally coming to terms with ourselves and each other, and most of that time was spent in that land of in-between. You can read our story here.

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Anyway, if you didn’t know already, several weeks after a woman gives birth are spent in abstinence, so her body can recover from labor and delivery. For most women, this is absolutely not a problem. And I think for some men who were present during the labor and subsequently traumatized, they can spend the time in recovery as well.

Apparently my hormones are completely whacked out, because I’ve got the opposite problem. I’ve got so much tension built up, just from the past 3 weeks, I could probably gnaw through a telephone pole.

You might conjure up an image such as this:

but this is to what I am referring:

I’ve been able to scrape the skin off the giant vat of pudding that is my sexual tension by watching clips from romantic comedies and commiserating with the characters.

But then the Captain comes home, wearing plaid and smelling like machines, and he goes and works on the car, or he chops some wood, or he walks across the room, or he leans up against a counter

and I’m all…

i want him bad

I think he’s secretly reveling in torturing me. This is what an average day in our house looks like these days:

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Notice his cheeky grin, her looking away and not knowing what else to do

I catch him walking out of the room, walking back into the room, taking off his shirt and revealing his GLORIOUS ABDOMINALS OF SPLENDOR, and then walking right out again.

But I know it’s affecting him, too. The other day, he cried out in a voice of mock-hysteria, “WE ARE IN A TIME OF HEALING!” and I nearly choked on my lunch from laughing.

At least we still have our sense of humor. In fact, the baby isn’t the sole reason for my sleep deprivation. Captain and I have been staying up super late every night for the past week, cracking up laughing. “Super late” is midnight for us—we get up at 6 or 7 every morning. It’s like having a marathon of slumber parties. We’re totally losing it, but we’re enjoying ourselves as much as we possibly can.

Now he’s finished with school and his part time job for the summer. I’m praying he can find another job soon, because going from seeing him just an hour or two a day to being together 24/7 is going to be a shock to the system. Looks like I’m going to have to up my prescription of romantic comedies, and supplement with multiple viewings of this:

and scrolling through Tumblr gifs like this:

matthew-mary

Misery loves company. What are your favorite moments of romantic tension? Be a dear and share links if you’ve got them!

Newborn Photos by LindseyMarie Photography

A huge huge thanks to LindseyMarie Photography for taking our newborn photos! If you’re in the Twin Cities, I highly recommend her work. Thank you for capturing these moments for us, Lindsey!

A few notes: My friend knitted us a lion cap and a little lion stuffed animal, which you’ll see in some of the photos. We tried to get a photo of all four of us, but we couldn’t get the 2-yr-old to sit still! The photo with Captain, Lion, and me is a sort-of recreation of Champ’s newborn photo. Once I get prints made, that one is going to hang in the living room right next to Champ’s.

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Now I have to figure out something to do with all those wonderful, make-me-melt photos of the Captain and the boys for Father’s Day. Any ideas?