It was one of my birthday goals this year to begin exercising again on a somewhat regular basis. I was fanatical about walking on a treadmill at least 3 times a week during my last pregnancy, but the second Norah came out, it was no longer a priority. I manage to lose baby weight without effort (although it happens very slowly over the course of the first year), so this goal is not so much about the way I look as it is about the way I feel.
We have two different gyms less than two miles from our house. It is so easy to get there and back that I’m wondering why I’ve waited so long on this. There’s a childcare room that the kids LOVE, and they can play together and keep up with each other which makes it zero stress or guilt on my part. They play with toys and work on art projects for 45 minutes while I put in some steps on an elliptical and complete a few light weights. It’s so simple, but I know the school year will leave less time for things like this. Still though, if I can even make it twice a week during the school year, it’s a vast improvement over nothing. I’m amazed at how much better I am sleeping in these past couple of weeks with exercise a frequent part of my routine now.
Health is such a focus in our current society, and while I am grateful for that and the time I live in, I sometimes wonder if we obsess too much and worry over things we shouldn’t. Scott and I completed a Whole 30 a few days before we left for Mexico. I didn’t mention it here because I was honestly afraid I’d fail and not complete it, so I didn’t want to announce it. It is INTENSE. Scott was fully invested, so I did it in solidarity, but I am the first to admit that I loosened the rules a little a couple of times (mmmm, black beans), but on the whole, I was 95% compliant which felt like an accomplishment to me. Many people do this program to discover food intolerances, but I really just wanted to reset my taste buds, so to speak, and be more mindful in my approach to food. The rules are essentially no sugar in any form, no dairy, no alcohol, no white potatoes, no beans and legumes, no grains of any kind, no soy. So we pretty much ate only meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruit for 30 days.
I discovered that I genuinely feel better when I have a few whole grains in my diet. (Sorry, Paleo people. It’s true for me!) But I also feel better when I limit store-bought grains, dairy, beer and sugar (weep!). On top of that, I promise I lost 2 inches in my waist (I measured) in the first 5 days. I wasn’t going hungry, and I logged my calories to see no change from my usual intake, so I know it was just bloating and inflammation that disappeared. Still pretty amazing though, even though size was not a motivating factor.
But of course, here I am a few weeks later, and I am not following those rules anymore. It was an interesting exercise, but I feel like I eat healthy enough regardless and decided to try and hold onto a couple of “rules” a little and ditch the rest. I recently heard the term orthorexia used to describe modern eating, and I think there is a valid argument there. I spent 30 days obsessing over most everything I put in my mouth or prepared in my kitchen. I could never live that way – nor do I think it is healthy.
Food documentaries opened my eyes about 4 years ago, and I did a complete overhaul of how we eat. I’m grateful for such a focus on clean eating everywhere you look. But now I feel like we are good enough. Eat real food, pile on the veggies, limit sugar, and enjoy your meals. Those are pretty much my personal rules right now. And if I supplement that plan with an occasional doughnut stop, that’s okay too.
I want my kids to see me making an effort in diet and exercise, but I don’t want them to obsess about it – the same way I intend to teach my daughter to wear sunscreen and take care of her skin in order to avoid wrinkles, but also know that they are going to happen anyway. Time changes our faces and our bodies. My decisions to make steps toward better health are motivated by my desire to feel good and look decent as I age. But age happens anyway. So does birthday cake, warm queso, cold beer, and all kinds of other things that aren’t the healthiest. So here’s to doing the best we can and not obsessing about the rest, to priorities and enjoying our food, to being our best selves by balancing all the advice with the desire to loosen our pants and live a little.
Do you have “food rules” of any kind? How do you approach balance with diet and exercise, especially if you have a little one to feed as well? I am always interested to hear what others have to say about this.
I’ve been listening a lot lately to the Frederico Aubele station on Pandora. When I’m in the car alone, or cleaning the kitchen during the nap time scrub-down, or on the elliptical at the gym. I don’t understand a word of what it says, but it is soothing and inspiring in just the right ways.
I sent a text to my friend to tell her about this latest obsession, and I explained that it led me to feel like I was in Vicki Cristina Barcelona which we were obsessed with about 5 years ago when it first came out. I still love it really, just without the newness of when you first discover something. Anyway, she immediately responded that the particular film would always remind her of our little group of (at the time) work colleagues and our many moments and conversations at a particular happy hour spot. On the whole, I love my life now – of course. But sometimes you just get a whiff, so to speak, or a particular memory trigger that throws you right into the depths of nostalgia so hard it grips your stomach. A song, a scene in a film, a certain restaurant or smell. It can be the smallest detail, but it’s a domino that has you suddenly longing for a certain time in an almost tangible way.
Certain periods and moments are so pivotal that you expect to recollect them years later – graduation ceremonies, big vacations, your wedding, the birth of a baby. But what continues to surprise me are the moments that seemed so mundane at the time, but you still long for them later. I mean this particular time that we were talking about with the discovery of my new Pandora station doesn’t seem like something I’d ever necessarily long for again – 26 years old and working my butt off on grading and lesson plans, married and living in the suburbs, enduring the annoyance of 32 ninth graders everyday. And I wouldn’t want to repeat that again for longer than a few hours, but somehow the message shines through. That time is over, gone. It will never be again.
It’s such a reminder to wring dry the everyday moments I have now as well. The mundane of today will feel so special in a few years when those days are over and not to return again. Today is the summer solstice. The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. June 21, 2014 will never happen again. We had zucchini noodles and shrimp for dinner. The kids played happily with a puzzle while I sipped a margarita and stirred at the stove. They splashed at bath time. It remained light outside well past 9:00, and now I am covered in a fuzzy blanket on my couch, writing and thinking and looking forward to sleep. I am 33. This won’t happen again.
Through all the mundane – the poured coffee, the laundry piles, the tiny toys and clothes scattered everywhere – I’m trying to remember that the extraordinary is never felt in the moment itself, but nostalgia tugs so strongly later.
There’s a Linda Pastan poem I hold on to and re-read from time to time that relates to this. If only we can recognize the happy as it happens and not years later.
The Happiest Day - By: Linda Pastan (from Heroes in Disguise)
It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.
We’ve returned from a week in Mexico, and while I was a little disappointed that our first couple of days were pretty overcast, it ended up being a great trip with sunny skies as the week went on. We had a fun time.
Traveling with these two was NO JOKE this year. I know it was dumb of me to do so, but for some unknown reason, I expected this year to be a little “easier” than last year’s trip with a one and three year old. (hahaha, LOLOLOL. That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in hindsight.) But now that Norah can keep up with Jude, they are on the move all the time. It is exhausting to prevent catastrophe and keep them reasonably quiet and in line in airports and restaurants. But the reward is pretty sweet as I watched them explore together and make memories. I hope they have many more adventures together, some even without me one day.
We spent the majority of our time at the resort, but we ventured out on a bus to see more a couple times. We wanted so badly to tour Chichen Itza, but I just didn’t think they could handle a total 4+ hours of travel time back and forth for that purpose, so we’ll save that one for another trip one day. Even with our quick jaunts though, the Yucatan delivered with bright colors, kind people, fresh corn tortillas, and one delicious mango margarita.
All in all it was a great trip, and seeing the ocean for a few days always makes summer seem more official somehow.
We’ve got many more things to strike from the summer goal list though — I’m hoping for more grilling out, more pool days, more library trips, more reading, and more trips to the farmer’s market. Home never feels as good as when you’ve been away, and despite the piles of laundry and emails to answer, I’m glad to be back and looking forward to what this season has in store. Cheers to summer!
When I was a full-time stay-at-home-mom, I definitely had my fair share of comments from working mothers about how hard staying home was and how draining it can be on your nerves and energy. I had my moments, admittedly, but on the whole, I think I just grew used to it. That bone-tired feeling at the end of the day. The constant watching and correcting and cooking and cleaning. But after a few months of having an office and an outside focus for a few hours of my day, my stamina has declined. Because ohmygosh I am so tired chasing these kids.
I love being home and I am grateful it is summer. But these ages are no joke. A Facebook friend of mine posted a photo last week to explain she is doing an etiquette “camp” with her ten-year-old daughter this summer – complete with a walk through Emily Post’s guidebook and a final exam that culminates in a dinner party where her daughter has to correctly host and carry on conversations with invited guests. I think the idea is admirable and sweet and maybe one day I will teach these skills to my two, but I also laugh a little. My kids are two and four, and my summer plans are to keep them alive, happy, fed. That is pretty much it.
But so far we are making it and basking in the glory of some lazy days ahead. We’ve splashed around at the neighborhood pool, climbed trees, spent time with cousins and friends, and eaten outside more often than not. I know it’s the teacher in me, but summer really is my favorite.
We are on summer break, and as I read a little outside on the porch yesterday while Jude played and Norah napped, I was reminded of what a gift it is to work only 9 months a year. I will never get rich in academics, but I have a passion for what I do and as a very special bonus, I get these months off every year to exhale and re-center and spend time with my kids. It really is the perfect balance for me. My first year back at work has come to an end, and on the whole, it went really well. It feels good to have it behind me.
Last weekend was busy with the birthday of one very shy little girl. It astounds me how talkative and energetic she is when it’s only us hanging out at home – yet how incredibly shy she is in a crowd. We had such a small party this year, and she was still bashful when her big moment came.
As the week went on, I’ve crossed a few things off the to-do list with a check-up for Norah and a dermatologist appointment for me. But we also managed to squeeze in a morning of strawberry picking as well. This little farm is only a short 25 minutes up the road for us, and it was small and manageable with two kids and one mom. We had a great time.
Jude was really interested in it this year and a great berry-finder. I was genuinely impressed with his determination to only pick the very best ones! We ended up with a full gallon, and he was really proud. He’s been asking a lot of questions lately about where his food comes from, and he’s taking a new interest in gardening ideas. It’s sparked some really fun moments in the kitchen and outside.
So summer has begun in the very best way, and we are enjoying it already. We have all of next week to be lazy and get excited about our trip to Mexico next month. More soon, friends.
Somehow you are two today, and my baby doesn’t feel like such a little one anymore. This year has been monumental for you in so many ways. You run steadily rather than toddle. You use words we are beginning to understand. You process the world around you faster than we’d like sometimes. Your knowing eyes are firm, your gaze is insistent, and you have a mind of your own. I find that this is such a weird age – so big yet so little at the same time. But I guess I could say that about you every year from now on. As I grow older and as I watch you do the same, my perspective changes. It’s my favorite thing about being a mom – new eyes all the time.
I have to laugh a little as I think back on what we were doing two years ago and how you came into this world. The days that followed your entrance were so quiet and peaceful. I had relatives ask in the early weeks if you had ever cried before because they were genuinely concerned that there could be a medical reason for your silence. And in hindsight, I don’t know when you crossed that line as you became more comfortable in your own skin, but quiet is not exactly the word I would use to describe you most of the time. Happy? Sad? Angry? Excited? You tell the world, loud and clear.
You’ve found your voice, and you aren’t afraid to use it. Much of it is minimally understood by the general public right now, of course. But those of us who live with you have learned Norah-speak. We have no choice but to listen. You’ll sit (or “disss”) on the couch and yell “babink!” louder and louder and LOUDER until someone brings you the blanket you want. Same with your morning demand for water in a very particular cup (never the easily reachable one at the front of the cabinet) or the million other requests and orders you shout at us all day. Persistence, my dear. I will never have to teach you that one. But it is a trait that will serve you well, and I love that you assert your ideas and wishes already.
When I think about you as my daughter and what that means, it makes me a little nervous. I worry about the same societal pressures that have been apparent for generations but just keep getting stronger with time, it seems. But for every demand of yours to put on a fluffy dress, you request Jude’s Thor costume and have acquired a pretty convincing use of its hammer. For every time you say “princess,” you also yell “Batman!” and put on a superhero cape. You are feisty but gentle. Content but persistent. Shy but opinionated. Energetic but observant. What is it Louisa May Alcott says? You can be “a great many things.” Hold onto that idea as you grow and change. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can only be one thing. You are way more than that, and we see it already.
You have taught me so much in these months. You lead me to question my long-held assumptions about girlhood and independence and attachment and my expectations of what it means to be a mother. You have an independent streak I don’t recall seeing in your brother at this age, and though you love to be held, you wave goodbye when you want to without looking back. I know one day you’ll do this on a much bigger scale when you cross highways and continents and all kinds of symbolic thresholds without me. For now, this is hard enough. I welcome a little longer with you safely in my nest.
It’s hard for me to visualize what life will be like as you get older, especially knowing you are likely the last baby in our home. You’ll tie your own shoes one day. Grab your own snacks from the fridge. Brush your own hair. These simple tasks that fill my moments will disappear. Your interests will move far beyond me and our life together, and your dreams will get bigger and bolder. When I consider all that waits, I don’t mind your insistent hands and grunting voice reaching for me when I’m making dinner. Having done this before with your brother ahead of you, I know we are looking at your last year as such a portable little sidekick. Let’s enjoy it.
You want to be bigger, older, stronger, and I want to tell you to hold off and stay right here for a while, but I know it doesn’t do any good to wish time could pause – not now and not when you are ten or sixteen or twenty, or in my case thirty-three. So for the moment, I just take these mental photographs and try my hardest to remember every detail as you are now – still soft and squishy and compact for a little while longer. We have a lot to do together before you leave my grip.
To my mischievous, spirited, perceptive, tenacious daughter: thank you for entertaining me, for keeping me on my toes, for reminding me to pay attention and see the joy in everyday life. I love you.
Happy Birthday, Norah.
____________________*Photos snapped on my iPhone or taken during our session with Atlanta photographer Andrew Thomas Lee. *** I write letters to my kids on their birthdays. You can see Norah’s previous ones here and here. And you can read Jude’s first, second, third, and fourth letters here.