Life, Parenthood

Minimalism

I am a minimalist. Well, actually I wish I were a minimalist. I don’t know if I can give myself that title just yet. I am at least an aspiring one and have been for the past 3 years. Friends and family who have lived with me, you are right to laugh because you understand that I am not your typical, type A, neat freak. Piles of dishes in the sink, clothes all over the floor, and my stuff randomly scattered throughout the house would be a good description of the scene in a typical day in the life of Stacy. I wish I was naturally inclined to be tidy, but I’m not. I have to work at it like one might work at running a marathon. I used to feel bound to a world of clutter. Overwhelmed really. And then one day I started working for a family who lived differently than me.

Let’s just first say, that these folks were really all-around-cool.  But what stood out to me was their home. All of their decor was in neutral colors, house and home all consisted of clean lines, and there was art everywhere (like real art that they purchased from an artist). The places where you might expect there to be hidden junk/clutter/skeletons, say in the basement or in the closet, there wasn’t. They had 4 or 5 neatly organized, clear tubs in the basement and that was it. The spare closet only had a vacuum cleaner.  The house was open and airy. It was stress free. And let’s not even mention their collection of antique mid-century modern furniture (maybe off topic, but needs to be mentioned).

It wasn’t just that their house was tidy.  It was that it was — well, minimal.  The décor and style was simple and planned. The things they did have had a purpose and a place. Décor was limited to a well curated art collection, interesting yet simple furniture, a sprinkling of plants and a coffee table book here or there.  And yet the effect of the style was conspicuous.

This was my first introduction to minimalism (as well as mid century modern design) and it changed me. I couldn’t believe how free I felt in their home. First of all, I felt like I was in an art gallery with its almost white, grey walls, fresh and modern furniture and impeccable natural lighting. But mostly I felt like I could breathe for the first time in a long time. They had created a space that felt like being alone in the great outdoors with only you and your breath to accompany you. And I was a better person in that atmosphere.

In early adulthood I was diagnosed with ADHD. Those of you who know me may be shocked because I am the most awkward and often times quiet of introverts. Not your typical stereotype for this particular learning disorder. I have what was called then (and may be now — I don’t stay on top of the DSM), an inattentive type of ADD that doesn’t result in super hyper activity but still manifests signs of the classical disease such as distraction, difficulty taking tests, and being a slob. A description of a typical child with inattentive ADD is described as a shy and quiet (usually) girl who daydreams a lot.  That pretty much describes my entire childhood.  Although I had the disease my entire life, it was never noticed unitl later in life because I didn’t fit the stereotype. As a result, I had learned to cope my with symptoms rather than depend on medication (not that I’m against medication, just what happened to me). Ever since I realized I had a learning disability, I found many new ways to cope. And ever since I became a mother, minimalism has become a major one.

Listen, before you have kids we westerners seem to believe that children need all this stuff. And not just stuff — big, ugly plastic stuff. It felt very intruding to design your living room with a simple, clean aesthetic in mind and then plop a huge purple, plastic exersaucer in the middle of the room.  And then just walk around the house scattering loud, abnoxious toys that light up. And for a time, that’s what we did. Until I realized that children don’t need much. Other than warm clean clothing (and if I’m buying it, it probably fits into the neutral side of the rainbow) some good books, a handful of developmentally appropriate toys and a boob, children do not need much more than you.   So, how do you live as a minimalist and have a child you may ask?

The answer to that question is ever evolving.  I find minimizing Willow’s things difficult because she is given so many wonderful things by family and friends.  Our solution, for the time being is that we just don’t buy her anything. I would say 98% of all of Willow’s toys we did not buy. If there’s something she needs, we put it on her gift lists for birthdays and holidays.   Once she outgrows or stops using a toy, it goes into storage (in case of the chance of a sibling in the future) or is donated.  In keeping things simple, tidying up becomes less of an overwhelming chore for both us (Jazz and I) and for Willow.

minimalism 1

In the end, we have many a moment of clutter and junk in our home.  Like I said, we are aspiring minimalists.  But something about being intensional about the space you spend time in and aware of the things you have relieves stress.  At least it does for me.  Yes, minimalism may be trendy right now, but it seems to me to be the kind of trend that is beneficial (like bike commuting or kale smoothies) rather than gratuitous (like ripped jeans and ombrés).  So for right now, less is more.

Here are 6 simple rules we have to live as aspiring minimalists: 
1. Toys that have been hiding for the past 6 months or are kind of junky get donated or into storage.
2. Any clothing you haven’t worn in a year and/or you don’t love to wear anymore, go. We thrift most of our clothing which makes giving it away or selling it seem like much less of a loss. It helps to simplify your wardrobe to a few quality building blocks that can be worn with everything (think netural colors or chambray. Do you need 10 pairs of jeans? Start by cutting everything in half)
3. When decorating, less is more. Bright white walls with a few pieces of art and some green plants help keep a home from feeling too cluttered.
4.  Be mindful — constantly evaluate what you need and what you don’t, recognizing when you are holding onto stuff (or neglecting to deal with it) for emotional reasons rather than necessity.
5. Avoid piling.  Sometimes, when we’re in a hurry to tidy, things end up in piles.  Try to take some time every week to file papers and put things in their places.  If it doesn’t have a place, either make on or let it go.
6. Books — actually, this is our week spot.  We are book hoarders.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

May you find yourself living at peace with less.

xoxo

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Parenthood

Defeat

I had a very distinct moment last year when I decided I wanted to quit parenting.

It was maybe early winter and Willow had just turned 2.  We we were going through this phase where Willow’s sleep was far below par for her age.  We share a bedroom with Willow (because adding an extra bedroom in Toronto costs a least an extra $400 a month). As a result we end up sharing our bed about 75% of the time.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  Willow was starting to develop language, which was really fun, but could become easily frustrating for Willow when she understood more than she could communicate.  This lead to the typical terrible 2’s tantrums and other difficulties.  She was also starting to learn other social skills, like hitting and, my personal favorite, biting.  All of these new things were happening and I didn’t know the best way to deal with it all.  I felt out of control and hopelessly alone.  When I became stressed or overwhelmed I lost my temper.  I yelled.  I threw an orange at the wall.  I threw it so hard it exploded.  I jumped up and down like a 2-year-old in a fit.

This day, the day I told you I wanted to quit, it was a particularly hard day.  I was particularly tired and Willow was acting particularly difficult.  Each act of defiance started to create this ball of anger inside of me that only seemed to grow.  My hands were in tight fists and my teeth were clenched.  Every time I had to discipline Willow I would run through my head the kind of discipline I really wanted to give, something we don’t practice in our home, a real big smack.  Nap time had finally arrived and I found the couch facedown and started to cry.  I wanted to quit.  Like if being a parent were a career, I would be sending in my letter of resignation.  I was done.  The sea of guilt, synonymous with being a parent, started to pour in as if I were a sinking ship freshly punctured by an iceberg.
“I’m not any good at this”.
“Why am I so angry?”
“I am destroying my child’s self esteem.”
“I am not cut out for this.”
“I am a really bad parent.”

And then I checked my email.

When Willow was born I signed up for an age-appropriate developmental screening survey that helps track your child’s development.  Every month I do some activities with Willow to see how she is doing with her developmental milestones.  After the results are analyzed, they send me a kind of report card for her development along with a lengthy newsletter pertaining to her current age and the phases she is going through.  I just happened to receive this email on this very bad day.

I read through the pamphlet and with every word grew increasingly more engaged.  Because everything they were describing about children at Willow’s age was everything we were going through.  It described how Willow was feeling, what she could comprehend, and how to help her through difficult and frustrating moments.  They talked about ways to stay calm as a parent and practice positive discipline methods (because that whole orange thing wasn’t working).  And in a matter of 20 minutes I went from completely defeated, ready to walk out the door and start day drinking, to a confident parent.  I realized that what we were going through was normal and gained a handful of tools to help deal with it.

That day I learned the key to good parenting: education. Yes, I think it’s important to listen to your intuition and draw from your gut, but there are people out there who research and educate about childhood development for a living.  They write really good books, put on workshops and run community programs.  They are experts and parents who have worked with children for years.  There are some things your gut just can’t tell you.  Google is fine for the quick, “how do I help my child stop sucking their thumb” or “how long can breast milk stay in the freezer”, sure, but for the big stuff, the stuff you are pulling your hair out about, trust that to the experts.  And never, NEVER draw anything about being a parent from social media.  EVER!!! You will just fall down a rabbit hole of guilt and shame because everyone comes across as the perfect parent on Facebook or Instagram.

Every parent has moments when they want to quit.  If you are not a parent, don’t trick yourself into thinking that you won’t be like that.  You will.  It’s ok and it’s normal.  Find someone to talk to who is a parenting expert.  Find a community resource.  Find a great book.  Education is empowerment!

I still have tough days, but now I know when that feeling of desperation starts to kick in or I find myself regretting some of my parenting moves, all it means is I need a little more knowledge.  I find a highly recommended book, drink some kombucha, and eat a square of really dark chocolate (this is the trinity or parenting survival — well at least for me) and then I feel pretty freaking amazing.

Book I am currently reading: “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk” (and it’s life changing)

xoxo

 

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Health, Parenthood

Raising an Adventurous Eater

The first solid food we ever fed Willow was an avocado.  I mashed a nice ripe and soft, really a beautiful avocado.  We opened our new baby bowls and spoons.  We put her in the high chair for the first time.  iPhone was ready to record every moment.  I was really hyping this up to be a momentous memory in our lives.  Because food, it’s what makes us who we are in many ways.  What we put into our bodies shapes us both mentally and physically.  I was d$%& motivated to get this parenting move right from the start.  So, why not start with an amazing superfood like avocado?  Little did I know that it really would be a momentous memory in our lives, because the moment we put a little smidgen of avocado in her mouth Willow barfed EVERYWHERE.

One might assume, “Oh, it was her first time.  Lots of babies puke the first time they eat solid food”.  But no, Willow would not touch avocados.  For many months actually (oh, I tried and I tried and I tri—ed).  Really, the only thing I could get her to swallow was some homemade, unsweetened applesauce.  Things got off to a rough start and I was really starting to feel defeated.  I was beginning to think that it was impossible to teach a child healthy eating habits.

So, you may have noticed, from a handful of previous blog posts, that I enjoy the art of eating and cooking good food.  But my care for food goes further than just that. I’m extremely interested in where my food comes from, how it is grown and how animals are treated. I care about putting whole foods that you’d find at a farmer’s market into my body. So when it comes to feeding my daughter, these things become twice as important as they were before I had to only think about feeding myself. Teaching Willow how to eat well from a young age is an incredible gift that may lead her to living a long and healthy life.  I want to give her that gift.

Really badly.

Flash forward to the present.  Willow is 2+ years old now and last night for dinner we ate a tomato and ricotta pasta, a large kale salad with a lemon, tahini dressing and goat cheese, and soft boiled eggs.  She is not a picky eater.  She loves a variety of bold flavors and textures.  But she was on her way to being one.

I’m going to come right out and say that I do not believe that kids are just inherently picky or not picky eaters.  Sure, a genetic disposition towards certain foods is a possibility.  But I think we train children how to eat. I mean, think about all the crazy things kids in non americanized cultures eat.  Like crazy spicy, hot food.  And weird animal parts.  And seaweed.  Children don’t come out of the womb only wanting buttered noodles and goldfish.  We teach them that.

**(Ok, an disclaimer is needed.  Please, just hear me out.  This is not meant to shame anyone.  This right here is not parent bashing.  I want to provide empowerment for parents who desire to teach their children to be adventurous eaters.  For people who find this very thing to be a high priority in their parenting method.  If you feed your children buttered noodles, I don’t care.  This is not to convince you that you should not do that.  This post is to help parents who don’t want to just feed their children buttered noodles.  People who are pulling their hair out of their head because their children won’t eat vegetables.  If that’s not your thing, then there’s no reason to read on.)

So, I’ve taken a little time to think about what it is we do that encourages adventurous eating habits in Willow.  I am not an expert. I don’t have a degree in anything related to this.  But I’ve worked with children for a while, and these things seems to make a difference.  So, I made a little list.  Right now, I just want to list them.  Keep following along, and I will break down these elements into more detail (my oh my, is this turning into a 10-step, self help book?  Gods I hope not (did you pick up on that GoT pun -eh?)). Ahem.

1. Never Give Up:  Willow has never liked carrots.  I still give them to her regularly.

2. Be an Adventurous Eater:  if you are not an adventurous eater, don’t expect your children to be as well.

3. Feed your children the same things you eat and eat them together.

4. Ban Snack Foods:  don’t ban snacks, but get rid of all the processed food that is commonly thought of as food for children.  That even goes for cereal.

5.  Eat Whole Foods:  I’m thinking bananas, broccoli, eggs, nuts, etc.  Eat food that is not or has been minimally processed (i.e. plain greek yogurt).

6. No Sugar:  We don’t let Willow eat sweets or things containing sugar.  Every once in a while we will let her have a special treat, but that is usually naturally sweetened with dates, maple syrup or honey (and that goes for us adults too).  But she would much rather just have an orange.

7. Listen to Your Child Listen to Their Body:  If they are full, don’t make them eat more.  If they’re still hungry, let them have more.  Children learn what their body needs by listening to hunger signs.

8. Breastfeed:  if a mother is able to breastfeed, you will teach your child about the different flavors of food through breastmilk (which changes in flavor based on what you eat).  Breastmilk is awesome!

9. Cook with Your Kids:  I let Willow stand next to me while I prep dinner.  I show her the different foods I’m preparing and let her taste them.  I even let her hold the end of the knife while I chop.

First of all, I may have intentionally only list 9 things so that this would not be a “10 step” list.  But, it’s still kind of a boring, not very creative list.  I wish I was cooler than that.  Second of all, if your household does not eat in the ways mentioned above, then this can seem exhaustive, overwhelming even.  Don’t worry.  I’m going to break this down one step at a time, hopefully making this something more easy to take a bite into (that was a pun).

I care about this stuff you guys.  And I just want to share what I’ve learned.  I hope some of it can be of some help to those wanting to study up on the topic before jumping into the world of parenthood or for those parents who just want a change.  I hope this doesn’t come off as too hippie-ish or inaccessable.  I promise this stuff is really simple. But I don’t promise I won’t be a total nerd about it all.  I’ll try not to have too much fun.

Until next time.

xoxo

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Parenthood

Breastfeeding My Toddler

Our move to Toronto has been really great, mostly because of my friend Emily.  Emily is my ambitious friend who is passionate about birth, women’s health and feminism.  She (and her husband Dean) have been there for us more times that I can count on my hands, mostly just being really great friends.  Emily is just starting her career as a doula and asked me to write a guest post on her blog about my experience breastfeeding Willow, who is now almost 2 1/2.  Of course I agreed.

Here is the link to the post I wrote about breastfeeding, the good, the bad and the yoga moves.

Breastfeeding My Toddler

xoxo

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Dating Jazz

Dating Jazz // love and relationships in the midst of parenthood

It was 2007, early fall/late summer, and the evening was a quintessential summer night.  A gorgeous sunset, warm breeze and the sweet scent of dusk and soon-to-settle dew.  We didn’t know it was our first date because, you know, we were “just hanging out”.  My relationship with Jazz– my then date/now husband– has been very centralized around coffee experiences.  Four Friends was the “good” coffee shop in town at the time, and if you were anybody, that’s where you hung out.  We sat outside overlooking Rosa Parks Circle, a kind of park/community space/outdoor venue, smack dab in the center of downtown Grand Rapids.  Jazz was wearing the same dirty t-shirt he wore everyday, along with the same dirty pants he wore everyday, adorned by a newly sewn patch.  His mid-length, blond dreadlocks along with a faint waft of body odor was blowing in the wind (so dreamy).  We sat and talked for hours.  When we had finished, we stood up and he grabbed my hand.  Panic set in.  Not because I was repulsed by the romantic gesture but because I was so frickin’ excited.  I liked him.  Jazz was not like other guys.  (sorry if you feel the need to barf)

Fast forward to the present.  Eight years have passed. We’re married, live in another country and have, in my humble opinion, a pretty great 2-year-old daughter.  That coffee shop I told you about, Four Friends, it doesn’t exist anymore.  Much like our dating life at the present.  The sad, honest truth about having a young child, when you don’t have a serious network of friends and family to relieve you of your parenting duties from time to time, or can’t afford a sitter until after you pay off your student loans in 45 years, is that you spend a lot of time not on dates.

We were sitting on the couch, Jazz was reading some weird science fiction novel, I was reading “A Game of Thrones”, duh, and we hadn’t talked much all evening (p.s. aren’t we total dweebs?).  As a matter of fact, we had been rather short with each other for a couple days now.  And while I was trying to read my book, I was really thinking about how badly I just wanted to go get a slice of pizza alone with this guy across the couch and pick his brain for a couple hours (well, really anything that had a proportionate ratio of carbs to dairy).  So I put down my book and asked, “what if we start intentionally dating again?”  Knowing our current circumstances, Jazz looked a little confused. So I explained further.  My idea was this: What if we started thinking about dating as something other than just getting out of the house but more about creating a time and space that is focused on our enjoyment and interaction.  What if rather than letting our circumstances happen to us we adapted our dating life around our current circumstances? For instance, what if once a week we each take turns planning a date night in?  An activity, a game, a cocktail, a … number or endless possibilities.  We started talking about making some subtle changes that would allow the space for us to willfully enjoy each other’s company.

So we’re going to try.  And we want to share what worked, what didn’t, some really awesome meal ideas, cocktail recipes and fun stuff to do when you’re stuck at home on a Saturday night, in the hopes that it will be helpful to others who need a good “date night in” idea, or really just want to try a new twist on a Sazerac.

To kick off this little escapade, this past weekend my parents took Willow for 3 nights.  THREE WHOLE NIGHTS.  So we had like a serious date weekend.  We deserved it after having only one date in the past 6 months.  And in the spirit of what works and what doesn’t, weekends with the grandparents most definitely works.

We went to a crazy, hipster, indoor, music festival that we waited in below zero temperatures to attend.  We visited numerous coffee shops, a really awesome brewery, and an art exhibit.  We went out for drinks with friends and then slept in until the sun kissed our eye lids.  It was sheer bliss.

And yet, my favorite part of our weekend, even in light of all the fun things we did, was the same thing we did on our very first date at Four Friends, having a three hour, uninterrupted conversation about nothing particularly important in the car after we dropped off Willow with my parents.  It was refreshing.  I would have driven all that way simply for that.

There are a lot things I had to un-learn about parenting when I became a mother and one of them is that having children ruins your romantic life. Parenting didn’t kill Jazz’s and my romantic relationship.  Not at all, we are still very much in love, even more so in fact, and have all kinds of fun the majority of the time.  It’s just that our life has changed and so I guess dating has to change too.  I think the trouble a lot of people who are parents get into has to do with not changing, just expecting things to go on as they did before they were parents (that and the fact that all humans have issues and baggage and honestly need to spend some QT with a therapist on a regular basis, myself included).  But it just can’t.  Not at least until your little baby can drive and that’s way too long to wait.  I don’t know, maybe you can wait and see if it will all flop, but I’m hoping you’ll eat nachos and drink martinis with us instead.

Here’s a figurative toast to love and dating in the swell of parenting.  May you always remember, that once the baby is in bed, given a little imagination, the living room can be anywhere you want it to be.

xoxo

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