Archive | June, 2013

a mom doesn’t go on vacation


a completely unrelated photo of me and my babies from a foggy morning in Sicily

It’s a quiet mid-afternoon on Friday.  I’m sitting outside on my parents’ deck with Elliott; Gil is lying on a blanket at our feet gazing up at the trees; Lena is napping upstairs.

I love being “home” in Virginia.  My mom takes amazing care of us and I always feel so pampered while I’m here.  I wake up in the morning to a pot of hot coffee (that I didn’t brew myself!) and a big smile… and arms that are eager to hug my little ones and take them away from me so I can rest.

I’m learning anew how important rest is for a mother.  After this past weekend — still jet lagged after running around at UVA Reunions — I felt so burned out.  I think part of it was the realization that I, as a mother, was not really on vacation.  Elliott was all smiles and un-knotting muscles; he had left work behind him and was free!  But I was looking at the upcoming month in Virginia and realizing that it looked discouragingly… familiar.

My work does not end just because it’s the summer or because I’m home in Virginia or because Elliott isn’t going to work every day.  My work continues: waking up around 6:30 when the first baby is up, putting them down for naps throughout the day, providing activities for both of them (tea parties, walks, playgrounds, books, rolling over, etc.), getting three nutritious meals on the table for Lena, administering discipline with compassionate listening, putting them to bed, waking up to comfort them in the night, and so on and so forth.

My mom and Elliott help with everyone one of these tasks.  However, the ultimate responsibility for all of these things rests on me.  I need to make sure my children are rested, fed, bathed, nurtured.  I am the caretaker of my family, a weighty and wonderful and never-ceasing responsibility.

It’s somewhat overwhelming to look at this work of mine as never ending.  (Now, of course there will be different stages to this work. Babies are not the same as middle school children, and middle school children are not the same as college graduates.  But still.)  For the rest of my life, I’ll be a mom.  I’ll always feel a sense of responsibility to care for my children, to meet their needs before my own, to love them no matter our age or stage in life.  I’ll never be “free” of this.  Illustrations like “motherhood is a marathon” fall short because in some ways the marathon will never be over.  I won’t stop running — caring — until the day I die.

And the prospect of that is somewhat terrifying.  I have been thinking about it a lot this week, seeking perspective and clarity.  The truth is I must learn to find rest and solace in the midst of this work.  Resigning is not an option.  Two babies and a wonderful husband are counting on me.  They need me.  Right now.

So what do I do?  While I don’t have a single, brilliant solution, I have noticed a few things that have helped me lately.   They seem so small in the face of the enormity and beauty of this task.   But they have helped me to show more grace to my family.  And grace is what gets us all through the day, through the marathon, and Home.

Here they are:

  • Setting goals.  At the start of the day I often say, “[X] is the one thing I want to get accomplished today.”  It might be sweeping the floors, finishing a book, writing a long-overdue email to a friend or sibling, doing three loads of laundry from start to finish, or even making one particularly dreaded phone call.  (I hate the phone.)  Having annual goals helps me too… although I’ve been slacking on my 2013 goals lately.  Maybe in the second half of this year…?
  • Asking for help.  So simple, so hard.  I’m getting better about it since Gil was born.  (I need it more since Gil was born; two is so much harder than one.)  Also it is absolutely key to ask my husband for help graciously and before I am too desperate.  Can I get an “amen”?
  • Getting enough sleep.   I can manage on about 6 hours a night for about 2 weeks and then I fall apart.  I’m terrible about putting myself to bed on time, though, and unfortunately so is Elliott!  Any tips?
  • Drinking enough water.  At home I have this cupand carry it around the house with me.  I need to get back into that habit while in Virginia.
  • Reading books, essays, or even blogs that affirm this work of motherhood and caring.  My favorite book on the topic is Andi Ashworth’s Real Love for Real Life.  Two other books I want to read about caregiving are this oneand this one.  Do you have any other recommendations?
  • Finally, prayer and Bible study.  Why does this often become so optional to me when it should be my biggest priority??  After reading through the Bible twice since we got married, Elliott and I are mixing things up a bit by reading a book about grace.  It’s provoked some great discussion and it’s been good to read together.


How do you pace yourself in the midst of this great, vacation-less work of motherhood?

10 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, motherhood, thoughts

a little update from Virginia

photo 3

Friends, I’m sorry.  We’ve been in the States for almost a week now and I haven’t managed a single post.  Here’s a quick attempt at an update, and then later in the week I’ll hopefully have more news, photos, and… the most amazing giveaway this blog has ever seen.  (I’m especially excited about that one!)  In the meantime, here are some fun photos from this past weekend and a little update on life.

Anyway… we’re in Virginia!  We left Sicily on Thursday after a whirlwind, last-minute decision to fly commercial instead of taking our chances with free military flights.  After Elliott spent hours on the phone calling military terminals, he could tell that it would be unlikely that we would be able to fly all the way home on Space A/military flights.  With the chance of being stranded in Spain or Maine with two lusty-lunged, jet lagged children, we opted for the last-minute bargain on Delta flights.  This mama is so glad we did!  It’s good to be “home.”

We were especially keen to get home because of Reunions this past weekend at the University of Virginia.  Elliott graduated in 2003 and I graduated in 2008, meaning that this year is his 10-year and my 5-year reunion.  How could we not go back for that?!

We had a fabulous weekend visiting with so many old friends, some of whom we haven’t seen since we “walked the Lawn” at our own graduations years ago.  More wonderful friends of ours — Will and Johanna — offered their house as our home away from home, and that’s just what we needed with two little children and jet lag.  We spent the weekend visiting our favorite old haunts in Charlottesville, reuniting with some of our favorite people, and dreaming about moving back there one day….

If you were there this past weekend, it was wonderful to see you… and let’s not let too much time go by before we meet again!


Waving at the pilot as we boarded in Sicily &
he slept on my lap like this all the way from Rome to Paris


Charlottesville City Market early on a Saturday morning!


A photo that I stole (hi, Kim!) from a lunch with some dear friends.  Kelly (far left), Tara (next to her), and I were all in nursing school together at UVA… and now we’re all grown up, married, and have kids!


Lena and Gil met and loved our friends’ children: Sasha on the left and Cornelius on the right.


Hanging out in the Center for Christian Study with Cornelius… which we all hope they will be doing again as students in about 18 years!


My dear friend/roommate Abi and her new baby Lucie (Gil was born on Lucie’s due date!) &
Auntie Jess (now a nurse in Charlottesville) snuggling with her nephew for the first time

13 :: in DC, family, friends, Instagram, life lately, travel, University of Virginia, Virginia, weekend

5 Ways to Improve My Parenting


I just finished an absolutely fabulous book called NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.  This NY Times bestseller came out in 2009, so I’m a little behind the times.  Maybe you’ve already read it?  I picked up the book last week and — despite my sister visiting and my two small children — I could hardly put it down.

The book is an entertaining, highly readable review of multiple studies about child development that have not yet trickled down into common knowledge.  I love nerdy non-fiction like this, especially when it’s related to parenting.  (See my two other book reviews about books that have transformed my parenting: Simplicity Parenting and Bringing Up Bebe.)

After reading NurtureShock, I poured over the book for awhile and came up with five things that inspired me the most.  Then I sorted out five goals to help me turn that inspiration into action.  Here are my goals… maybe they’ll inspire you too!

1. I will praise my children for their efforts rather than their achievements.

Studies show that praising children for their achievements and intelligence (“Great job!  You’re SO smart!”) makes them work for the praise and thus become afraid of failing and showing they’re not “smart.”  Put another way, boosting self-esteem has not produced positive results. Inversely, praising children for their effort rewards them for the process instead of the result (“You concentrated on your homework today without getting distracted.  I’m proud of you for working so hard.”).   Thus they are motivated to work harder along the way rather than to be afraid of losing the praise if they fail.

For me, it’s a big mental shift to praise the effort rather than the result.  I’ve been trying, though, and one area is toilet training. Lena has been toilet trained for months but is learning to get herself to the toilet without damp underwear due to some dilly-dallying along the way.  I’ve been making an effort to praise her for going to the toilet quickly and to praise her for trying even when she doesn’t think she needs to go.

2. I will prioritize their sleep their entire childhoods.

Depriving children of the sleep they need has been shown to lead to ADHD, obesity, loss of emotional well-being, and lower IQ.  We work hard now to let Lena and Gil sleep as long as they need to and as much as research says we should, but what about when they are in elementary school and there are sports activities that push back dinnertime, homework, and bedtime?  What about when they are in high school and need more sleep than they did in middle school (surprise suprise!)?

After reading the compelling research in this book, I want to always be hyper vigilant of my children’s sleep needs, not just now as a sleep-deprived young mother.

3. I will talk about race with my children.

Studies show that many parents — white parents especially — think their children don’t notice difference in skin color.  Therefore they choose to take the path of least resistance and basically pretend that race, differences in skin color, and differences in culture don’t exist.  However, studies reviewed in this book show that children do notice differences and pick up on their parents’ response to them. “[Child development researchers] argue that children see racial differences as much as they see the difference between pink and blue–but we tell kids that “pink” means for girls and “blue” is for boys.  “White” and “black” are mysteries we leave them to figure out on their own.”  Conversations about race are often only initiated after a child makes an embarrassing public statement; research shows, however, that the most positive outcomes occur when parents and children talk openly about the differences as their children grow.

After reading this book, I want to read books with my children about skin color, civil rights, and world cultures.  I will aspire to talk frankly and thoughtfully about race.

4. I will nurture self-control and self-directed play in my children.

“[T]he predictive values of self-discipline in many cases are better than those of IQ scores.  In simpler words, being disciplined is more important than being smart.”  The authors used an example of a highly effective preschool and kindergarten program (Tools of the Mind) that encourages children to structure their playtime and uniquely cooperate in their reading, playing, and learning.  This program has had an amazing effect on classrooms by producing calm, well-behaved, self-directed students who score phenomenally better on standardized tests.

The discussion in this chapter reminded me a lot of all the reading I’ve been doing about Montessori education (a couple of blog posts about that coming soon!) and inspired me more than ever to encourage structure, routine, self-discipline in my home for my children.  I’m also inspired to learn more about several complicated educational ideas (like symbolic thought and executive function).

5. I will respond to my children’s speech… even when it’s just babble.

This chapter started with a fascinating discussion of two things we once thought were helpful: baby-targeted media (like Baby Einstein DVDs) that are supposed to boost language comprehension and talking non-stop so that your child hears as many words as possible.  Studies have shown that these methods are sometimes more harmful than helpful.  Instead, new studies have shown that infants’ vocabulary expands most quickly when parents respond either with a caress or with words to child-initiated speech.  An example: when a one-year-old is asking for a spoon, rather than just ignoring the child or continuing an unrelated stream of chatter, a child will most quickly pick up on language when the parent might respond, “Yes, Charlotte, that’s a spoon.”  Even just touching or kissing the child to affirm their attempts at language has also been shown to make remarkable differences in children’s language development.

After reading this, I am more aware of periods in Lena and Gil’s days when they are more vocally interactive.  They are looking for a response from me, whether it’s cooing and smiling back, hugging or kissing them as we babble together, or answering Lena’s new refrain of, “What’s that, Mama?”  I also want to follow their lead, watching what they are interested in and what they are asking about.  I want to be attentive to them and encouraging of their efforts at language.


There’s so much more in this book: why teenagers rebel, why kids lie, why siblings fight, and “why modern involved parenting has failed to produce a generation of angels.”  Have you read this book or heard of some of these studies?  Do any of these changes ring true with you, or have you tried them in your own home?

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22 :: in book reviews, motherhood

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