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Apologizing for Nothing

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“We’re casual today,” the mom apologized as she pulled boots onto her daughter’s bare feet. “No socks.”

I regarded her daughter, whose flouncy dress, patterned leggings and blue-dyed rabbit fur vest put my own outfit to shame.

“She looks pretty fabulous to me…” I responded.

As mom and daughter gathered their things and left the playground, I tried to figure out what would make this woman apologize to me, a total stranger. But deep down, I knew.

So many of us feel pressured to be it all for our children. We worry about how they behave in public and how they play with other kids; how they eat and whether we’re following the right feeding strategy; how they handle failure and if their weight is on track and how the hell do we know if we’re doing any of it right???

Of course parents feel judged. I can’t go a day without an email, online article, Facebook post or overheard conversation making me question the job I’m doing. I don’t need to take an online quiz to find out if I’m a “Sleep-Deprived Parent” or if I’m “Winning at Parenting.”

I’m winning at parenting in the same way someone marooned on a life raft is winning at not drowning.

Every now and then, it catches up to me: this feeling that, no, I don’t know what I’m doing. There are no evaluations, no performance reports. There’s no right way to be doing any of this vitally important work. And they need so much every. single. day.

One morning, after a night of questioning myself and feeling insecure about the job I’m doing, I found a note from my husband. There’s one line in particular I’ve repeated to myself over and over since I first read it:

Be as patient and positive with yourself as you are with the kids.

I’ve always believed my kids will learn more from my actions than my words. I model kindness and respect for others in the hope that they’ll follow my example. Yet, until I read those words, it didn’t occur to me that my kids are also learning from how much I love and respect myself.

The past 4 ½ years as a stay-at-home mom have been a journey. I’m still trying to find my balance. I’ve been working so hard to be all the things my family needs me to be —mom and wife and finder of lost things — I’ve lost sight of who I need to be the most: me.

Since reading my husband’s wise words, I’m trying to give myself a break. It’s a process, but I’m working to change the narrative in my head from criticism to praise, from snark to positivity.

In addition to seeing me falter, my kids need to watch me soar.

Fellow moms: join me. Let’s open the windows, let’s sing out loud; let’s buy ourselves flowers and do the things that make us feel healthy and strong. We need to care for ourselves in order to care for our families, and that means tending to our souls as well.

We need to stop apologizing to each other for our messy houses and sock-less children. We have to collectively realize that any mom who seems perfect is either working really hard to look that way or just having a good day. We’ve got to stop judging each other and accept our differences, so our kids will learn to do the same.

We’re setting the example. Let’s teach our kids to tune into their own inner voices; to listen to the songs of their hearts and speak kindest of all to themselves.

But first, my kids have to listen to me, singing at the top of my lungs. Because finding myself means ignoring their backseat protests and cranking up my Janis Joplin and Ben Folds. They may be embarrassed by the lady in the front of the car, crooning off-key and dancing in her seat like nobody’s watching.

But I’m not.

Beating the Jelly Doughnut

Jelly Donut

How could I ever have found this guy attractive?

It’s been about two months now since I started following my strict anti-inflammatory diet. The biggest challenge to this new way of eating is my monstrous sweet tooth, which has only gotten more insistent as this kid inside me grows.

During my last pregnancy, I subsisted mainly on chocolate croissants, sugary cereal and jelly doughnuts (which I usually find completely disgusting). Despite the huge, everything-you-could-possibly-want cafeteria spanning the entire first floor of the Fortune 50 company I worked for at the time, I recall leaving the building to drive to Dunkin Donuts and buy a jelly doughnut. More than once.

Eating whatever I wanted was how I got through my first pregnancy. When I felt crappy, I ate. When I was scared or tired or fed up with being pregnant, I ate.

This time around, I’m missing both the amazing smorgasbord of food all hours of the day and my sugar-laden support group. So you can imagine how excited I was yesterday to have something akin to a treat: homemade granola.

Homemade Granola

Store-bought granola doesn’t hold a candle to this stuff

The recipe I followed is from the beautiful cookbook, “The Sprouted Kitchen,” by Sara Forte, and it’s been republished on the blog, Delightful Crumb. The recipe was simple and so much healthier than the store-bought stuff — not to mention much, much tastier. I don’t care for raisins so I substituted dried cherries (with no added sugar) and decreased the amount of maple syrup called for in the recipe. I also found mine was plenty brown after 25 minutes, rather than the recommended 35-45.

Another perk of making your own granola is having more than one serving — as long as you can keep yourself from eating the entire batch warm out of the oven. (It was not easy.) This morning, I made Angela Liddon’s Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal from her amazing blog, Oh She Glows. (If you’ve never visited this blog, you must do so immediately. Her recipes are mostly free of meat, dairy, gluten, soy and processed foods, and everything I’ve made has been delicious.) I topped it off with some of the granola and it was pure heaven.

If you’re following an anti-inflammatory diet, don’t mistake this stuff for the perfect food. Although the ingredients are all pretty wholesome (oats, pumpkin, spices, olive oil, etc.), I’m still careful not to eat it on an empty stomach. I start every meal with protein — especially first thing in the morning — and save anything that’s higher in sugar or carbs for after I’ve eaten something more substantial. This prevents a rapid rise in blood sugar, which is widely considered to be pro-inflammatory.

Since I’ve been following this dramatically healthier diet, I’ve made some crazy discoveries. I’ve been shocked to find that my taste buds are rapidly expanding and widening their world view. Whereas I used to just melt cheese over everything I ate, now I’m seasoning my food with interesting spices and flavors from nature. Foods I didn’t like before — such as pumpkin! — are suddenly tasting wonderful to me. I’m loving ginger (a great anti-inflammatory food) and can’t get enough spicy mustard. Is it possible my tastes are finally growing up?

And those jelly doughnuts? They’re kind of like that boyfriend you used to think was so hot, but now you cringe when you see old photos of the two of you. This time around, I haven’t thought about eating a jelly doughnut for a single instant. At least I hadn’t before I started writing this …

Here We Go Again

Baby On The Way

Hello, world!

Friends, the bump is back. Baby #2 is on the way, due December 2!

Now that all the initial feelings of fear, anxiety and nausea have (mostly) passed, I feel incredibly blessed to be expecting again. My son will have a brother or sister, and I know from experience that’s a wonderful thing.­

The first few weeks of this pregnancy were tough, which is why I’ve been underground for a little while. I’ve been dealing with a couple health issues, one of which is an autoimmune disorder and both of which cause fatigue and general malaise. Adding pregnancy exhaustion on top of that left me feeling pretty awful overall.

In those early weeks, I ignored what my body was trying to tell me and went into full indulgence mode. Like the first time around, I completely abandoned my healthy eating plan and started stuffing my face with whatever sounded delicious: cereal, toast, ice cream, waffles, pasta, butter, bread, sugar, bread, sugar, sugar, sugar …

As a result, I started feeling worse and worse. I was dragging myself around the house, barely functioning and not at all being the fun, attentive mom I wanted to be. I found myself feeling pretty negative about the whole pregnancy experience.

When life gets hard, nothing soothes the soul like a conversation with a good friend. For me, a simple phone call from a friend turned out to be a beacon of light in my time of need.

My friend reminded me that I can’t take care of this baby without taking care of myself. My autoimmune disease means that I have inflammation throughout my body, which flares up when I’m not following a healthy lifestyle. The most reliable trigger is unhealthy eating and — although I’ve been following an anti-inflammatory diet for the past couple years — I finally had to admit that I never fully committed to it.

Most importantly, I learned that my autoimmune disease can have a serious impact on the baby. That was enough to make me turn things around for good.

The morning after my friend’s pep talk, I went back to the anti-inflammatory diet I’ve been casually following, but this time with a vengeance. No wheat, no dairy, no rice, no corn, no sugar (!), no pasta, no cereal, no bread, crackers or cookies and only a limited amount of lean, organic meat. Processed foods, snack foods and even gluten-free substitutes are out. And, hardest of all: no coffee.

Despite the difficulty of coming off more than 15 years of unconditional love for coffee, I felt instantly better after quitting cold turkey. After feeling bad for such a long time, it was like coming out of a dark cave into the light.

This is not to say that pregnancy is all light and joy, of course. I’m not a terribly disciplined person and I fall off the wagon from time to time. I’m haven’t completely figured out which foods are best to include or exclude from my complicated diet, and my energy level is still pretty low. But there’s no question that I’m doing better than I was, and that makes it all worth it.

So you may be wondering after all this, what do I eat? Lots of fruit and veggies, beans, quinoa, green smoothies, salads, goat cheese and many cups of tea. I’ve found some incredible cookbooks and food blogs that have helped me and I’ll share the recipes I like over the next few weeks.

Hopefully I’ll continue to feel pretty good. Maybe I’ll even stay within the recommended weight gain this time around instead of blowing right past it. Just the other day my husband told me how good I look, cheerfully remarking, “You don’t even look pregnant from the front or the side. Just from the back.”

Friends, you win some, you lose some.

Honest and Raw

Baby breakfast

A healthy start

Yesterday, a dear friend described my blog as “honest and raw.” As much as I valued the compliment, I hung up the phone feeling a bit sheepish.

I haven’t actually been all that honest with you.

There are some things going on in my life that I haven’t been writing about. And, I haven’t really been talking about them with most of the people in my life, either.

That’s a far cry from “honest and raw.”

Without question, there are parts of my life that are Hollywood-movie perfect. I am so thankful for my beautiful, funny, healthy son — I really don’t have the words to capture how grateful I am for his presence in my life. And, I’m truly blessed to have a husband who’s working extremely hard to allow me to be home with him, even though this situation creates some financial stress for our little family.

But.

I’ll dip my toe into the waters of honesty by saying I’ve been struggling a little. I’ve been dealing with a couple of health issues that have been making things tough for me, and I haven’t handled the emotional aspects of this as well as I could. Perhaps I’ll find the courage to write about this more. I think doing so would help me make peace with the things about me that are not as I’d like them to be.

What’s holding me back? The Internet is a big place. Once you put something out there, you can’t take it back. (Hudson, please remember this one day when you have a Facebook account.) When people interact with me, I want them to see me rather than what’s not right with me.

It’s a new year. Usually, I’m above New Year’s resolutions. To me, they’re a little like Walmart or the Kardashians: cheap, popular and lacking in substance. I turn my nose up at them and compare them to going on a fad diet rather than adopting a healthy lifestyle.

But the truth is this: I don’t like New Year’s resolutions because they’re hard. They require work and accountability and change. None of those things come easy.

And so, just nine days overdue, I’m going to make some New Year’s resolutions this year (cringe). Maybe I’ll even get the courage to make them public and force some real accountability on myself.

Here’s my first attempt: a healthy breakfast not just for my son, but for me as well. This morning we both started our day with a Nature’s Path Chia PlusTM waffle, topped with a compote of cherries, blueberries, raspberries and avocado and finished with a dollop of Greek yogurt. It was delicious, and a great start to our day.

Healthy breakfast

(Okay, I admit: he and I are both pretty hungry people, and this didn’t satisfy either one of us. He ate another generous portion of the fruit and yogurt, and I ate a second waffle with more fruit and yogurt and then ended up making some eggs an hour later. But, it’s a start, right?)

Here’s to 2013: a year of acceptance, a year of productivity, a year of honesty, a year of peace.

Or at least until I get tired of it.

Om Sweet Om

Baby yogi

Happy baby in Happy Baby

For the past few weeks, I’ve been getting back into yoga after a long time away. So, I found myself one evening in a room full of people, all of whom seemed to have been given instructions I somehow missed.

One by one, the yogis laid out think woolen blankets, then spread out their yoga mats, then layered towels atop the large pile. They rolled back and forth over giant bolster pillows: warming up, loosening their spines, releasing inhibitions and stressful thoughts. As I watched person after person go through their own personal routine, I felt more and more out of place.

Is this a yoga studio or a homeless shelter?, I thought.

When the instructor started moving us through poses, I looked around frantically, trying to decipher the arcane language she was speaking.

“Chaturanga Dandasana!”

“King Pigeon!”

“Happy Baby!”

Ah! Finally one I know! I laughed to myself as I lay on my back like an overturned beetle, wrapping my palms around the soles of my feet. In that moment, my son’s grinning face came to me like a beacon of light through the clouds. I smiled and relaxed a little, easing into the poses and not worrying as much about whether or not I was doing them right.

Moving and stretching, I began to think about how detached from my body I became during pregnancy. My strategy for dealing with the various parts of me growing larger was to just ignore them.

Butt? What butt?

Cankles? What cankles?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as your belly grows, you can no longer see your thighs. It’s the one merciful thing that happens during pregnancy.

As I reached and bent, rolled and contorted, I tried to get reacquainted with my body. Tried to see the good, make peace with the fact that my body isn’t quite what I’d like it to be. And suddenly, I thought of a favorite passage from Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within, where she reflects on her own process of letting go, forgiving herself and celebrating herself.

I realized that, while I may not be happy with my body today, there will come a time when I’d give anything to look like this. To be able to bend and twist, to sweat, to experience the feeling of accomplishment that comes after a workout. Instead of criticizing myself, only to one day realize how silly I’ve been, why not celebrate the youth and vitality I have today?

I came home and took Revolution from Within off the shelf, and reread the passage I had been thinking of. It resonated with me as much today as it did the first time I read it. I hope it speaks to you as well.

Sometimes, when I enter a familiar room or street, I think I see a past self walking toward me. She can’t see me in the future, but I can see her very clearly. She runs past me, worried about being late for an appointment she doesn’t want to go to. She sits at a restaurant table in tears of anger arguing with the wrong lover. She strides toward me in the jeans and wine-red suede boots she wore for a decade, and I can remember the exact feel of those boots on my feet. …

I used to feel impatient with her: Why was she wasting time? Why was she with this man? at that appointment? forgetting to say the most important thing? Why wasn’t she wiser, more productive, happier? But lately, I’ve begun to feel a tenderness, a welling of tears in the back of my throat, when I see her. I think: She’s doing the best she can. She’s survived — and she’s trying so hard. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and put my arms around her. …

We are so many selves. It’s not just the long-ago child within us who needs tenderness and inclusion, but the person we were last year, wanted to be yesterday, tried to become in one job or in one winter, in one love affair or in one house where even now, we can close our eyes and smell the rooms.

What brings together these ever-shifting selves of infinite reactions and returnings, is this: There is always one true inner voice.

Trust it.

—    Gloria Steinem
Revolution from Within

My Marshmallow Days Are Over

Madonna's Buff Bod

This can't be too hard, can it?

It’s been eight weeks since I gave birth to my son. Those eight weeks were preceded by 10 months of pregnancy, during which I ate pounds and pounds of ice cream and considered walking to the cafeteria my daily exercise.

As my delivery date neared, I started working from home exclusively and was so sedentary my sister worried I’d develop blood clots in my legs. My coping strategy for getting through the end of pregnancy involved moving everything I needed — laptop, phone, TV remote, several of my husbands oversized t-shirts, bag of jumbo marshmallows — into bed with me and getting up only to pee.

If you know me, you’re aware I’m not a terribly athletic person. I was in Coke-bottle glasses by age seven. I was the kid who had to be thrown into the pool for morning swim team practice. I was 10 before I mastered a bike. I was a reader, a drawer and a daydreamer. My idea of a fun, competitive activity is lobbing a tennis ball over the net without serving or keeping score.

You get the picture.

My lack of competitive drive causes my husband — a natural athlete and the most competitive person I know — great consternation. Early in our dating years, when we’d visit a sporting goods store, he’d yell out my name and then throw a bouncy ball or Frisbee at me to “test my reflexes.”

I knew what that really meant: he wanted to find out if I carried the necessary amount of athletic genes to produce a champion football player. While I’m certain I never passed these tests, as I surely fumbled every pass thrown at me, my husband decided to marry me anyway — poor vision and “let’s all get along” attitude be damned.

So, now that I’m faced with the challenge of getting back in shape, I’m not exactly brimming with confidence. This just isn’t my area of expertise.

During the past eight weeks, I looked for every any excuse to avoid getting in shape. I was thrilled when I read that I should wait for my doctor to give me the “all-clear” at my six-week checkup before doing any strenuous activity. On the day of my appointment, I was sure my doctor would say, “Absolutely no exercise for you, young lady! You are still far too fragile. Just relax with a bag of marshmallows for a few more weeks.”

That did not happen. Instead, I got a breezy, “Looks good!” and a stack of brochures about contraception. What??!! Does this mean my 10 months and six weeks of special treatment, of having the perfect excuse for total laziness, are over???

After spending the past two weeks in denial, it’s finally time to face facts. Truthfully, I’m tired of wearing the same pair of yoga pants (yoga — ha!). It’s time I got reacquainted with my wardrobe, which I’ve been pointedly ignoring up until now. The only place that’s more of a “factory of sadness” than Cleveland Browns Stadium is my closet.

I’m ready to get in shape. I think.

The last time I felt this motivated, I told my sister (who was working as a personal trainer at the time) to put together a workout plan that would make me “look like Madonna.” After seeing what it would take to look like Madonna, I decided looking like myself wasn’t so bad after all.

But will I ever again look like myself? Veteran moms, please tell me: has my formerly stick-straight shape permanently changed? I’m okay with having a few more curves than I used to, since my former body shape resembled that of a 12-year-old boy. I just want to know what’s ahead.

And, if you have any tips for getting into shape, please feel free to share those too. Especially if they involve lobbing a tennis ball over a net, reading a book or eating marshmallows in bed.

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