Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Magnets and Charters and Immersion, Oh My!

This fall, Jake will start kindergarten. Yep, he's turning five this summer and is so ready. And I'm so ready for him to go (although I'm sure I'll cry like a baby on the day that it actually happens). So, how does this work? I mean, I just walk right up to my local neighborhood school and sign him up, right? Hahaha, not in Los Angeles. Here we have intradistrict permits, interdistrict permits, magnets, charters, and private schools to choose between. It's a lot to navigate.

I suppose there are a few lucky people that actually like their neighborhood school, and would feel comfortable sending their child there. Even some people that live in the Los Angeles Unified School School District. I am not one of them. I tried to give our school the benefit of the doubt, I really did. I had heard rumors about problems with our schools in Westchester, including bullying and even gangs. And I knew that our local "neighborhood" school is a Title I school, meaning that a large percentage of the children come from low-income families. 56%qualify for free or reduced lunch- and the assumption goes, the less monetary resources parents have, the less likely they are to be involved in their child's school. And I knew that the population of students at our school is mostly Black or Hispanic, with only 11% Caucasian students (which is not respresentative of Los Angeles as a whole, or our neighborhood in particular, meaning that kids are being bused in). And of course, I looked up the school's test scores, and noted an Academic Performance Index (API) of 795 out of 1000, making it the lowest of the five elementary schools in my immediate area (although better than our future middle school with an API of 743, and high school at 629). But I didn't want to make any assumptions. After all, being a Title I school means that you qualify for additional federal funding. And with the budget crisis in California, any school could benefit from some extra funds.

So, I toured the school. And everyone was nice, but I was so disappointed. The school did in fact receive additional funds, which they used to build a computer room for parents of the enrolled kids. Although, my tour guide told me, it wasn't well-used. A nice try, maybe, but I would have preferred something from which my child would directly benefit. And they were very proud that they had received a grant to start a gardening program at the school, which set aside a small plot for each classroom. I am all for teaching my child about nutrition, and the life cycle of plants, etc., but noticed that most of the plots were empty. My tour guide's response was something along the line that some of the teachers weren't ready for the extra work of integrating that into the curriculum. But, she said, there were a few teachers that were so into it, that they "borrowed" plots from the others that weren't using theirs. Which meant that even fewer teachers were taking advantage of this learning opportunity than it originally appeared. When I asked about parent involvement, I was told that they welcome parent volunteers, but that most parents don't really have the time. I think that was what sealed it for me; it was time to move on.

Since then, I've toured numerous other schools, most of them with Chris. We've seen public school options in our district. We've seen charters and magnets. We've checked out the language immersion programs in nearby districts. And we've toured private schools. And I learned quite a few things. I learned that most of the public schools in local school districts use what I consider a "traditional" educational approach. What I mean is, the focus is highly academic and behavioral, with teacher-led instruction, textbooks, cookie-cutter projects, and worksheets with "right or wrong" answers. And I'm not saying that's all bad, and actually I know that was how school was taught when I went. But I also saw the other side of what's out there. We found private schools (and a few public schools with lotteries to get in) that used an alternative approach, with a student-centered, hands-on, experiential, project-based learning. And it just made much more sense to me.

Maybe I should clarify. I think I'm a pretty intelligent, successful person. So apparently, a traditional educational approach worked well for me. And actually, I think Jake would be very successful in this type of program as well; he's a lot like me. But like every parent, I have much higher hopes for him; I think he can do better than me. I believe in the theory of multiple intelligences: that people can be "intelligent" in other areas besides just the traditionally measured skills of reading/writing and mathematics. Some people demonstrate strong visual-spatial skills, physical abilities, music/rhythm, interpersonal or intrapersonal skills. People may be born with strengths in a certain area, but that doesn't mean that such "intelligences" can't be developed, similar to how verbal-linguistic or logical-mathematical skills are taught in school. That is, maybe they can be taught in school, if you use a non-traditional approach. I think that Jake already demonstrates strong interpersonal skills, and frequently working in small classroom groups on various projects would continue to develop those skills. Jake enjoys the artistic projects that he completes in preschool; why can't those continue to be embedded in the curriculum, instead of just a weekly art lesson (at best) by a teacher that comes in for one hour and then leaves?

Here's something that I saw in every one of the "traditional" public schools that I toured: some kind of behavioral chart posted inside the classroom. One was a chart with each child's name, and popsicle sticks next to the names. If the child was "caught" doing something good, then he would get a stick. After a certain number, he could redeem them for a prize of some sort. For example, if the teacher saw him helping a friend on the playground, he would get a popsicle stick. So, wait, his motivation for helping people is to earn popsicle sticks? And this is only useful to do when an adult is watching? What happened to developing intrinsic motivation, or just feeling good about helping someone else to feel good? My "favorite" behavioral tool was a pocket chart that I saw in one classroom, labeled, "How am I doing today?" Each child's name was labeled below one of the pockets, and in each pocket, there were four cards: green, yellow, orange and red. Honestly, I may have forgotten the colors and their exact meaning, but depending on which color was showing, that was the indicator of how the child was behaving. Green: Good job. Yellow: Warning, watch your behavior. Orange: Needs to change. Red: A note is going home to your parents. Seriously, it was like terrorist alert levels, orange=high alert!

Last week, private school acceptance letters were mailed. Yep, we applied to three private schools. Yes, we pay ridiculous taxes here in California, some of which go to our public schools, and yet we're still considering spending over $20,000 per year to send our son to private school. Seriously. Actually, the most expensive one that we applied to would run us about $25,000 for a year of kindergarten. And that's not even including before/after school care, field trips, summer school, or the numerous fundraising efforts throughout the year. So, we also applied for financial aid. Because who can really afford that? I heard somewhere that if you have two or more kids and make less than $200,000 per year, you may qualify for financial aid. So we applied, and you know what we found out? It turns out that if you make a decent amount of money (not necessarily enough to be able to manage private school tuition), but you live within your means, you don't qualify for financial aid. What I'm wondering is, if we lived like many do in Los Angeles, in a house we can't really afford, with credit card debt and car payments due on our BMWs, then would we have qualified for financial aid? Or who does? Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to imply that there aren't people that genuinely deserve financial aid. And if the private schools really wanted to have the multicultural community that they all claim to strive for, then they would recruit children from different socioeconomic statuses, but I didn't see evidence of that.

Okay, maybe I am bitter. Our letters came. One acceptance. Two wait lists. Not a rejection per se, but more like, "You're not our first choice." After all of those tours, applications, interviews, screenings, open houses, etc. How could they not want us? It can't be Jake; he's a genius. No really, maybe genius is a bit strong, but he did great at the kindergarten screenings, at least at the two that we were allowed to observe. All the schools really did stress their goals of "diversity"; Chris says maybe we were waitlisted because he's a white male. But they had to admit some white males. Just not ours. At least, not in the first round.

So, here's my current situation. We have an acceptance from one school, no financial aid. And the only way we could afford to send Jake there would be for me to go back to work full-time. Which is not what I had planned to do at this stage in my children's lives. I want to be able to spend time at home with Brody while he's still little. I want to be able to volunteer time in Jake's classroom once he starts kindergarten. But I also don't know what our other options are at this point, because we most likely won't hear from our public school options until after the $2500 non-refundable private school tuition deposit is due.

Yes, we applied to several public schools. Eight, to be exact. Sounds excessive? Well, they're all lotteries, and our chances of getting accepted depend on the number of applications. We're only allowed to apply to one magnet school, and the one that we chose had 767 applications last year for 125 spots. That's a 16% chance of acceptance (or an 84% chance of rejection for one less optimistic than me). Actually, less than that since some people are almost automatically accepted because of sibling preferences. So, I figure, if we applied to eight public schools, that gives us 128% chance of being accepted somewhere. What, now you're questioning my mathematical skills? Must be that damned traditional public-school education that I received!

Some people would say, save your money for college, when it's really important where he goes to school. Or, Jake's a bright kid from a good family, don't worry. But I do worry. I worry about the safety and emotional well-being of my sweet, sensitive boy, especially with every report of school violence or bullying. I worry about him not enjoying school or not being challenged adequately in order to develop self-initiated, life-long learning skills. And I worry about not tapping into all of those things that he could have really excelled at, if only he was in the right environment with the right teachers and tools. And I worry about making the wrong decision, when there are so many choices and possibilities.

I don't know what the answer is. But for now, I wait to at least figure out our options.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sleep is for the Weak

"People who say that they sleep like a baby usually don't have one."

Why is it that everyone else's kids seem to sleep better than mine? Wait, let me amend that, I should say everyone else's babies. My four year-old goes to bed just fine and generally sleeps through the night without an issue. Sure, he's always asking for an extra bedtime story, would prefer to skip naps entirely and would love for daddy to be in the room until he falls asleep, but still, he can do it. But it wasn't always this way...

When Jake was a baby, I read all of the books about sleep that I could get my hands on. I generally spent about 12 hours a day with him attached to my breast, so reading was one of the things I could do meanwhile. (Actually, I eventually became pretty good at doing lots of things while he was nursing; I would be at work, typing on the computer, answering phone calls, etc. with him attached to my boob. The joys of motherhood.) With every book about sleep that I read, I'd feel inspired, and think yes, this is finally what is going to work to help him (and me) get the sleep that we both need.

Jake slept in a bassinette for the first seven weeks of his life. Well, if you call a string of napping stretches lasting about an hour on average "sleep", that is. I distinctly remember it was seven weeks, because at that point is when I had the thought, It's been 49 days since I last got more than two hours of sleep in a row. It was killing me. I am not a person that functions well without at least seven and a half hours of nighttime sleep in a row. I get cranky, irritable, bitchy even. So, at seven weeks, I decided that instead of waking up every one to two hours to nurse him (which seemed to be absolutely the only way to get him back to sleep), I would just pull him into bed with me and he could nurse while I slept. And it worked, sort of. I mean, I don't really believe anyone that says that they can co-sleep and they sleep right through the baby's nighttime nursings. Really, you don't notice when someone attaches himself to your nipple and starts sucking? I definitely noticed. I still woke up each time he woke up, but at least I could stick him on my breast without much effort and doze off while he was still nursing. I really think co-sleeping with my first child saved my life and my marriage, because there was no way I could have continued to function on so little sleep.

"May sleep envelop you as a bed sheet floating gently down, tickling your skin and removing every worry. Reminding you to consider only this moment."

So then, fast-forward to when Jake was about 11 months old. Have I mentioned that he was still attached to my breast? So attached that he absolutely wouldn't take a bottle, or a sippy cup, or anything else? He was eating solids well by then, but still liked to nurse every few hours, and that meant that I could never be away for him for more than a few hours. And 99% of the time, that was okay, since my job was flexible enough that he could come to work with me. But going out to dinner and a movie with my husband? It meant the baby was going to cry like he was being tortured, while some poor soul was babysitting. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but I did feel guilty anytime I was away for more than a couple of hours.

So, it was around that time that we really started to push the bottle. It took awhile; we tried various nipples, bottles shaped like breasts, daddy giving the bottle when mommy wasn't around, etc. But what seemed to eventually work was giving him the bottle while holding him, bouncing gently on an exercise ball.

Oh, the exercise ball. I have so much resentment built up for that stupid ball. By then, that's what we were using to get Jake to sleep at night, for naps, everything. Before the exercise ball, I would either nurse him to sleep, or if that didn't work, Chris and I would take turns holding him, while quickly bending our knees and then straightening back up, "bouncing" up and down until he fell asleep. Man, it was a workout. So when I finally realized that I could sit on an exercise ball and bounce him to sleep with a lot less work, we switched to that.

Once Jake started taking a bottle, he totally refused the breast. And I was pretty okay with that. We made it almost a year of breastfeeding, and it was nice to finally feel like he wasn't entirely dependent upon me (and me alone). And of course, I thought this would be the miracle that would stop him from waking up all night long. I mean, if we weren't nursing anymore, there would be no need for him to sleep right next to me and wake up all night long to latch on, right?

Ha ha, that's me, the eternal optimist. Of course he continued to wake up all night long, except now I had no way to soothe him anymore! A bottle just doesn't work the same way. So it was time to transition our co-sleeping baby into his crib, in his own room, full-time for sleeping. As you can imagine, he didn't like it. You know what saved my life and our marriage this time? My husband. Hey, if I had to take care of the baby and nurse him every night for the first year of his life, it was his turn to be in charge for the second year.

"Sleep... Oh, how I loathe those little slices of death."

Somehow, Jake eventually learned to fall asleep without us bouncing on the exercise ball. Not before it slowly destroyed my back, as I fully attribute my herniated disc to that ball. Then with the transition to the "big boy" bed, it meant that Chris started falling asleep in bed next to Jake every night, waking up around the time that I was ready to go to bed, and eventually going back into Jake's bed sometime during the night when Jake would call out to him. They were back to co-sleeping, just this time in Jake's bed instead of ours. I'm not sure if Jake was two or three years old before that finally stopped being a regular occurrence.

So, you can imagine why it took us three and a half years before we were "ready" for a second child, since we didn't get the sleep issues solved before then. Besides, there are less opportunities for baby-making when you're not sharing a bed with your spouse.

My biggest worry about having a second child was the sleep deprivation. Could my marriage survive another round? But, I figured it had to be better the second time around. First, Jake had to be an anomaly; there's no way that a second child would have the same resistance to sleep that he did. And second, we knew what we were doing this time, so we should be able to do it better the second time around. Right? We would make sure that this one took a pacifier, and a bottle when needed. We would set up a consistent bedtime routine from the beginning and give him a lovey so that he would learn to comfort himself. He would sleep in the crib in his own room from fairly early on, and we wouldn't bring him into bed with us. We would put him down in his crib, drowsy but awake, so that he could learn to go to sleep without us. And we would never, ever pull out that damn exercise ball.

So, here we are, Brody is a year old, and we stuck to all of our plans for making him a great sleeper. And did it work? Hell no! Last night I completely lost count of how many times he woke up. And no, he doesn't use his lovey, suck on his pacifier, listen to the white noise machine and drift off back to sleep on his own. Someone needs to be there to pat his bottom, rock him or give him a bottle.

But the worst part isn't even the frequent night wakings. It's the hell of trying to get him to sleep lately. He fights it, with every bit of his energy, and the more exhausted he is, the harder he fights. We've tried moving his bedtime earlier, rocking him (while he squirms and yells), or putting him in his crib and staying with him until he finally falls asleep. And it's been taking 45 minutes to an hour to get him to sleep at night. I just don't know what to do anymore. Let him cry it out? I end up crying even more than he does. Not because I don't think it's fair to him (although in principle, I don't, but when you're desperate, you'll try anything), but because I get so frustrated, and then angry at him for not being able to go to sleep. And all I want to do is yell and scream, and I hate that I feel this way.

"The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night's sleep."

Maybe I just need to sleep on it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

How much filth can I accumulate in one day?

How come when I step on the scale right before a shower, I always weigh more than I do immediately after the shower? I can be totally nude and do nothing except shower, and I'll find that I lost a pound afterwards, even though my hair is now wet. Do I really have that much dirt, sweat and grime that gets washed away? On a related note, I find that I might be obsessively weighing myself a little too often...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hara Hachi Bu and Other BS

I didn't quit Weight Watchers. I have to be totally honest, I never thought I would join any sort of weight loss program, so when I did the "free trial" for Weight Watchers a week ago, I never considered that I might actually decide to stick with it. But here I was at dinner tonight, using the mobile app on my iphone to calculate my points and decide whether or not I could have a second helping of soup, or how many croutons I could put in my salad. And the fact that I was doing this was exactly how I figured out that I can't quit yet.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

I lost four pounds. I don't mean for this blog to be all about weight loss, but this has kind of taken over my life this week. We've been eating at home, and fairly healthy meals, but I've found that the hardest part is cutting out snacking and practicing some serious portion control. The Okinawans say "hara hachi bu," which means eat until you feel 80% full. But I have no idea what that really means. Stuffed full? 80% not hungry? That's why I'm currently addicted to my points calculator; I need it to tell me when I'm done because I can't seem to figure out when I should stop on my own.

I was really proud of myself for managing to make every meal at home since we got back from San Diego, and decided we needed to celebrate with a grown-up date night. So Chris and I went out on Sunday for dinner and a movie. We went to Macaroni Grill and got two meals to share between us, the first a relatively healthy meal with grilled chicken and veggies, and the second a delicious pasta, loaded with creamy sauce. I thought it was kind of genius, actually, and got to enjoy some really yummy food while cutting my feelings of guilt in half. And actually, I didn't feel guilty at all since I had saved up all of my "weekly points" as a splurge, and still only went through about a quarter of what I was allotted. But I think Chris might have been happier if we had also gotten some popcorn at the movie theater.

I read Food Rules, an Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan and found it interesting, if not entirely helpful. The book is a collection of 64 rules of thumb related to what and how to eat. Here are a few of my favorites:

Eat food (plants, animals and fungi, not processed, food-like substances)
-Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
-If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
-It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

Mostly plants
-Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs and other mammals].
-Eat your colors.
-Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.
-Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself [think about french fries, potato chips, ice cream].

Not too much (slow down, moderate your eating and enjoying it more) 
-Spend as much time eating the meal as it took to prepare it.
-Buy smaller plates and glasses.
-No snacks, no seconds, no sweets- except on days that begin with the letter S.

I don't know how much all of these rules and point calculations are really helping to create long-term success, but I do know that I am at least slowly developing a few healthy habits. And that's what this is all about, right?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recipes for Success

So, a couple of friends have sent me some recipes lately, and I wanted to say THANK YOU! If anyone else has a recipe that they would like to share for dinners (or any meal) that are YUMMY, EASY, and QUICK, please leave it in the comments or send me an email.  :)

This was sent to me by my friend Carrie:

Chicken with Lemon, and Garlic

3 bone-in chicken breasts
Several cloves of garlic, whole, not peeled (the more, the merrier)
1 lemon cut in 4 pieces
Several sprigs of rosemary
Olive oil, and salt and pepper

Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Rub a little olive oil on the chicken breasts and season with a little salt and pepper. I squeeze a little lemon juice over the chicken, not a lot. Then put the chicken, lemon pieces, garlic and rosemary into a 11 by 9 inch baking pan and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, then remove foil and remove rosemary (it will burn if you leave it in). Then bake for another 10-15 minutes until browned and crispy. Chicken should be moist, but not pink if you cut into one, and juices should be clear.

Serve with garlic, you can squeeze the roasted garlic out of the peel and eat with the chicken, or put it on some bread with olive oil. Yummy! I serve this with a vegetable or salad.

And here's a link for Crockpot Chicken with Veggies (thanks, Shana!)

Addendum: I have to add one more recipe... a super delicious soup that Leora made us awhile back (except she left out the croutons and instead added a side of grilled mozzarella sandwiches, yummy!)...

Ribollita Light (from Sunset magazine, Jan 2009)
Serves about 4
3 Weight Watchers points per serving

3 TBSP olive oil (divided)
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, chopped into 1" pieces
2 medium carrots, chopped into 1/2" pieces
1-1/2 qts vegetable or chicken broth
1 can cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
4 whole canned tomatoes, quartered, plus some juice
2 cups rough chopped Swiss chard
4 C coarse bread, like French or Ciabatta, torn or cut to 1" pieces
Salt & pepper to taste
2 TBSP fresh cilantro, chopped
2 TBSP fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan cheese, grated for garnish

1. Heat 1TBSP olive oil and saute onion & garlic on medium heat 5 mins; add carrots and celery for 5 mins more.
2. Add broth and beans; simmer 15 mins
3. Add chard and tomatoes; simmer 15 mins
(Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 deg; coat bread pieces with 2TBSP olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toast 10-12 mins)
4. Add salt, pepper, basil & cilantro.
5. Serve soup with croutons and fresh grated parmesan

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let's Talk Solutions

So, it's been a week since my first post, and I feel like I should talk about what kind of progress I've made. First, my attitude is better (yay!). The baby's still sick (in fact, I found out Wednesday morning that he has another ear infection, which explains why he was so miserable on his birthday). But at least now he's on antibiotics, so although he continues to wipe snot all over the place, he doesn't seem to feel as awful as last week. Today, as we were sitting on the floor, he wiped his nose on the bottom of my shirt. When I lifted it up to determine just how gross it was (bad enough that I need to change my shirt?), he realized that he could see my belly. Wow, fun, mommy's soft, squishy belly! What fun to climb on and squeeze! Look, I can blow raspberries on it! I can cover it back up and then uncover it again, peekaboo! We were both giggling and having a good time. Well, until he bit me, that is, and then I decided having a soft, squishy belly was not such a fun thing after all.

I joined Weight Watchers today. I got an email from Daily Candy that there was a special running until Saturday that I could join and save lots of money, and who can resist that? Well, I really only signed up for the one-week free trial, so I need to remember to cancel before midnight on Monday or else be charged something like $65. But I've been curious about their "points system", so I thought I'd check it out and see if it would be a helpful tool to get me to eat better. (Weight Watchers assigns every food a point value, and you are allotted a certain number of points per day, as well as some extra points for the week for special occasions.) As I was signing up, I was eating a Trader Joe's chicken pot pie, so I figured I'd plug that in and see my point total. I realized before I started that this wasn't the healthiest food choice, but I was still surprised to find out that I was in the process of consuming 17 of my 21 allotted points for the day! Yikes! Now, I have the option of eating "zero points" foods for most of the rest of the day (baby carrots and diet soda, anyone?), or I can accumulate "activity points" by going out and exercising. Wondering just how much exercise I would need to do in order to eat dinner, I decided to check out what going for a walk would earn me. Turns out, if I walk for 30 minutes at a regular pace, I earn one point. I think I need to walk for the next eight hours in order to eat tonight.

Okay, maybe eating healthier is still a little ways off for me. But I am trying to do a better job of at least eating at home (and no take out). I'm pretty certain that I have made more meals at home over the last week than I did in the entire last month. Which is especially impressive considering that we were away for the weekend, so I wasn't cooking anything at the hotel where we stayed. I'm still trying to get the hang of how I am supposed to cook dinner while tending to the baby and the preschooler, at approximately the same time that the baby needs to go down to bed. As I see it, I have two choices. One is to cook dinner earlier in the evening, eat with the kids, and then get them ready for bed. Chris would then eat by himself after he gets home. The other option (which is the one I've been doing), is to feed the kids their own meals first, get them ready for bed, and then cook after the baby is asleep, and eat with Chris after he puts the other one down for bed. But by then, I'm hungry, grumpy, and low on patience. I'm still not sure how to make this work.

I do have one success to share, though. My car is not full of crap! It's still not clean (I'm not going to the car wash when it's been raining every week). And it desperately needs to be vacuumed inside (dried peas and cheerios are everywhere). But other than that, there's nothing that doesn't belong in the car. And I created a system- a bag for trash, and a bag to put all the little stuff that gets collected each day (preschool artwork, baby toys, etc.), so that I can carry it all inside at once, and a notebook to write down all those things that I don't want to forget while in the car. It's helpful because I don't feel like I need to text someone or write an email immediately. And it turns out, if you just stop checking your email every two minutes, sometimes you even forget about it for a whole hour!

In case you were wondering, no, that number on the scale has not changed over the last week. I mentioned that we went away for the weekend. I actually thought that pushing a stroller around the zoo (man, that was a big hill!), swimming, and carrying the baby all around would have been more helpful. But those activity points didn't count for as much as I thought, and apparently it's hard to lose weight when you stuff yourself at Benihana, eat mac 'n cheese and chicken strips at the zoo, and drink lots and lots of coke.

Oh, and since we were away, Brody just would not nurse (too distracted by the new places), so he weaned himself from breastfeeding. Honestly, I was only aiming to do it for a year, so I was ready to be done, too. But I am feeling a little guilty that it happened while he's sick, and a tiny bit nostalgic since I plan for this to be my last baby. And now I'm thinking about those 200-500 calories per day that breastfeeding supposedly burns, and missing that, too. Time for some more walking...

This next week, I need to come up with a plan for cutting soda out of my diet, and making it to the gym. Wish me luck! I'd better go now, so that Brody and I can start our walk. Otherwise, I won't be able to eat dinner until midnight.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Just One More Thing

Okay, I don't want to just list all of the problems without any solutions, but I realized something that I left off my list yesterday. My car is full of crap, and I never clean it out. I have a friend that I used to tease because her car always contained the most random stuff. Not just the usual sports gear, umbrellas, beach blanket kinda stuff. If you needed a new pair of pants (hey, when you work with kids, sometimes you get peed on), you could probably find some in her car. Or pretty much an entire new wardrobe. She used to tell me, "When you have kids, you'll understand." And I thought, "I doubt I will ever understand why you drive around with a blender and a sandwich maker in your trunk." But I think I sort of get it. When you have kids, you have more stuff, and it seems like you're always transporting it around. And when you get back home, your hands are never free to be able to carry all that stuff back inside and still be able to reach for your keys to unlock your door. Especially, I might add, if you're carrying a baby.

I took an inventory today of all the things in just the front of my car (driver's seat, passenger seat and floor):

1 t-shirt
1 toy car
1 half empty coke can
2 jackets
2 Toys R Us coupons
1 1/2 Gerber puffs
1 can of spray sunscreen
2 McDonald's toys
1 lip balm
2 crumpled receipts
1 sock
1 pair of tweezers
2 kid's artwork from preschool
1 broken bluetooth
1 formula dispenser
2 rocks (collected by the preschooler)
8 push pins
1 marble
1 baby spoon
1 bottle top
3 dirty Kleenex (yuck!)
1 toy spider

This doesn't even include the stuff that I would have found if I looked in the back of the car below the kids' seats or in the cargo area (dried peas and wet wipes, anyone?). So, I decided that I must add this to the list of things that I'd like to change. Tomorrow, I'll clean out my car and do my best to keep it that way on a daily basis.

How did today go? Well, I started thinking about solutions. Chris took the day off work to help out with the sick baby while I went to work. Significantly less stressful for me, and we made dinner at home. Not enough exercise, but no eating out or fast food. It was a decent start.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Confessions of an Eternal Optimist

Warning: This is going to be long. As anyone who's ever read anything I've ever written can attest, I tend to be wordy.

Today marks the first birthday of my youngest son, Brody. He's grown and learned so much in this last year; he's now starting to walk and even says a few words. He's the cutest thing I have ever seen (don’t tell that to my oldest son). But today, he's miserable due to a bad cold. Runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and unable to sleep. And that means he's making me crazy. I love my baby, but I love him even more when he sleeps. Don't get me wrong, I feel bad for the little guy, but I start to lose patience when nothing I do makes him feel any better. He wants to be held; he wants to be put down. He wants to sleep; he won’t stay asleep. And all of the inconsolable crying really tests my patience. Then I start to get frustrated that I am unable to get anything checked off of my to-do list.

Things I accomplished by noon today:
-I got up.
-I got dressed.
-I packed my four year-old's lunch before sending him off to preschool.
-I sorted the laundry into piles.

I think that was about it. I tried to start washing the dishes, but had to stop to pick up the baby, who just wanted to be held. I tried to start washing the laundry, but had pretty much the same problem there, too. Because we had family and friends come by over the weekend to celebrate the birthday (luckily, before the kid got sick), the house looks like some sort of crazy disaster zone. It is littered with half-deflated balloons everywhere, and the usual minefield of toys strewn about the living room. I find it frustrating that it still looks this way on Tuesday.

Today being Brody's birthday also means it has been exactly one year since I have given birth to him. Perhaps stupidly, I decided it would be a good day to step on the scale. This is something that I have been avoiding for awhile now. First, I should clarify, I have never been a person to really worry about my weight. I don't diet, and I didn't even own a scale for the longest time. It's not that I am perfectly skinny, it's just that I like to think that weight is just a number, and not something to dwell on. I would rather focus on eating healthy foods or staying physically fit. But the sad fact is, even though it's just a number, the higher that number goes, the less likely I am to want to put on a swimsuit. So, how did the weigh-in go? Well, since it's just a number, I won't tell you the exact one. But let's just say that it's more than 20 pounds over what my driver's license says I weigh. If I'm being perfectly honest, even at the time of getting that license, I probably weighed about five pounds more than I said I did. And I currently weigh about five pounds more than I did last summer, when Brody was a few months old, which was about five pounds more than my pre-pregnancy weight, which was about five pounds more than my first pre-pregnancy weight (i.e. before Jake), which... Well, you get the idea, those pounds add up.

But I have excuses. I just had a baby! What, that was a year ago, you say? Well, I'm breastfeeding! What, that's supposed to burn extra calories? Not when you're hungry all the time and consume more calories than it burns. There's never any time for exercising! And the baby cries when I put him into childcare at the gym! And so on, and so on. But the real reason for the weight gain has taken me a year to figure out: I eat when I'm stressed. And babies stress me out. No, not your baby. I actually LOVE babies. There's a reason I work in pediatrics, after all. I can make them smile, giggle, laugh, feed them, change them, play with them. But then I give them back to their parents. With my kids, there's nobody to give them back to. Sure, I can hand the baby off to Chris when he gets home from work at almost eight o'clock at night. But that doesn't change the fact that I am really the one person that is responsible for this child all day, every day. I remember this with Jake, too, when he was a baby. However, I think I was a little less stressed then because at least we had family living nearby. But then my brother and sister-in-law moved back to Arizona. Now, I've got two kids, and no family within 400 miles from here. It's stressful. And I eat.

Why does my list of today's "accomplishments" stop at noon? Because that was about the time that my sad-eyed baby looked up at me, waved, and said, "Bye bye." Instead of choosing to believe that he was telling me to get lost, that he was done with me, I took that to mean that he wanted to get out of the house. He decided it was time for a change in scenery. I decided it was time for a change in my life. So, instead of being grateful for all of the wonderful things in my life (add that to my to-do list for another day), or reflecting back upon all the joys that this last year has brought me (and there are MANY), here's a list of things that I would like to change in my life:

-I don't like the way that I look in a swimsuit. No, it's not really about what the scale says, but they sure go hand-in-hand.

-I'm not physically fit. In fact, I felt worn out just cleaning the windows in preparation for our company this last weekend. I've never had a regular exercise regimen, but once upon a time, I used to go for walks, hikes, rollerblading, yoga, or the gym occasionally. And I know that my lack of physical fitness is related to the back problems that I have experienced since having kids. Actually, I blame the initial problem on bouncing baby Jake to sleep on an exercise ball every day for at least a year. But my lack of hamstring flexibility and core trunk strength doesn't help the back problems, either. I mean, as a physical therapist, I really should be more committed to an active physical lifestyle, right?

-I eat out too often. Well, that's not exactly true. We eat "in" quite often, but always pick up food to bring it home. To be totally honest, I probably only make something at home a handful of times each month (lunch or dinner). This I also blame on the kids, who demand a lot of attention in the evening hours when I should be preparing something for dinner. But really, it's a habit now, and who has time to plan meals, go shopping, cook and clean up afterwards?

-I eat too much fast food. This goes along with the one above, as eating out often leads to going through the drive thru. I hate that I am setting a bad example for my kids. I try to make sure that their meals always include fruits, vegetables and healthy grains. But I don't eat the same things they eat. What is that telling them?

-I don't have a special talent or hobby. My friends are writers, painters, runners, sculptors, photographers, readers. I've never considered myself to be a creative or talented person.

-I spend too much money at Target. I love Target; it's my favorite place to shop. But the problem is that I tend to think of Target as being so reasonably priced, that I can buy just about anything that I find on sale there. Which means that I end up buying too much "stuff" that I didn't really need. I really didn't need to spend that money, or create more clutter in my home and my life, for something that's just going to end up in the landfill eventually.

-I don't do things regularly to make the world a better place. I should volunteer to clean up trash along the beach, feed the homeless and help underprivileged kids, but I don't.

-I drink too much soda.

-I don't always use my re-useable bags.

-I spend too much time on the computer.

-I check my email and Facebook while driving. It's usually at red lights, but still, it's probably unnecessary since I just checked it five minutes ago, right before leaving the house.

-I don’t always tell my husband how much I appreciate him.

My brother thinks that (in general) I have unrealistically high expectations. I like to think of myself as an eternal optimist. I mean, I know I can't change everything overnight, but I can make changes, right? So, I am putting this out there now. This is my list, an inventory of things that I would like to change over the next year. My "New Year's Resolutions", created on the anniversary of my baby's birth. I will try to write about them regularly, if nothing else, just as a reminder to hold myself accountable. I know that I should frame it in terms of positive, measureable goals (i.e. instead of "Drink less soda", I should say, "I will drink eight glasses of water everyday", which will give me less opportunities to drink soda). But that's not how I work. Maybe someday I'll get around to writing actual goals, but for now, a list will have to suffice. Because that's what I'm good at.

So, where did Brody and I go when we left the house at noon? Well, it was lunchtime, so we went to Chipotle to eat, and then to Target. Hey, there was nothing yummy in the house, and I was just about out of laundry detergent. Change sometimes comes gradually. But, once we got home, we did go for a long walk and watched the airplanes. I didn't walk super fast or super far, but I was pushing the stroller, and walked long enough that I was tired and a little sweaty. And then I still had to turn around and walk back home. The people on the airplanes were going somewhere different, so why can't I? It's a start. We'll see where this goes.

I warned you ahead of time that this was going to be long. Oh yeah, and Happy Birthday, Brody. I hope you're feeling better very soon.