Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some days you're the bug...

I love the saying "some days you're the bug and some days you're the windshield".  I love it because it's funny - we've all been driving down the road and had a aircraft-carrier-sized bug splat all over the windshield and cringed at the abrupt way that bug met his end - and I love it because it's true.  Some days it becomes glaringly obvious by about 8:00am that you should have probably just stayed in bed.  But unlike my college days, I'm a Mom now and rolling over, going back to sleep, and trying again tomorrow is no longer an option.

I've had a few bug days and a few windshield days thus far.  Most of my bug days come from my own self-doubt -  Am I good enough?  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I a terrible mother because I stuck her in front of Sesame Street for a second episode just so I can get an extra load of laundry done and will that second episode of Sesame Street cause her to become a less focused child who longs for the TV rather than the curious child always playing outside and exploring the world?  (Yes, I am fully aware of the irrationality of that last question, but don't point the finger... you know you do it too.)  But equally as emotional are some of my windshield days; the days when I feel like Super Mom, the days when A responds to a fun new art project and I can see the intrigue in her little eyebrows as she explores, or the days when I see the relief in my husbands eyes after a stressful day at work and all he has to do when he gets home is relax.  Those are the days that I feel like I.GOT.THIS.  And then, there are all those other days in between when I don't even think about my abilities or my flaws and I just live my life. 

I was having a bug day the other day, and a pretty bad one at that.  It's been a stressful few weeks with a lot of traveling and not a lot of time to settle into a routine during the week.  There was a little bit of self doubt, which then led to more self doubt.  Add in a dose of unusually cranky and overly clingy and emotional toddler and you end up with the "I feel like a failure" text message to your husband at 3:00pm in the afternoon.  

Days like that are tough.  They are few and far between, but still tough.  I just want to be good at this.

Fortunately, I have found another amazing resource in The Power of Moms. This website is a pat on the back, a big reassuring hug, and a motivational pep talk all rolled into one website.  It is a compilation of essays, thoughts, ideas, and resources to help you get through the ups, the downs, and the plateaus of being a Mom.  The best part of their essays is that every one of them ends with a question and a challenge.  Something to make you think and something to make you stronger.  Every story has a purpose.

I first came across The Power of Moms several months ago when a Presidential Candidate's wife was criticized for decision to stay home and raise her children.  At the time, I was still a working Mom, struggling with my own decision and with what my future had in store.  I took the firestorm around this latest media blurb very personally.  It bothered me that the age-old argument between working Moms and stay at home Moms had reared its ugly head again, and this time on a very large stage - a Presidential race.  This essay from The Power of Moms was exactly how I felt, and I took comfort in its words.

On Tuesday, in the midst of my bug day, shortly after the "failure" text message, The Power of Moms released a new essay entitled "The Light at the End of the Tunnel". I would be lying if I said I didn't have tears in my eyes as I read it because it was so perfectly timed to how I had been feeling.  As I finished the essay, I felt better.  Not because I had the answers, nor was I magically stress-free, but I didn't feel alone or irrational any more.  I realized that this job is not easy and there will be some bumps, but that so far I was doing pretty good.  And as long as the good days outnumber the bad, everything will be ok. 

If you need a pick-me-up, a pep talk, an 'atta-boy, or something to make you think, check them out.  You will not be sorry.  I will continue to post some of my favorite articles from them, but in the meantime, they are worth the visit. 

So here's to more days as a windshield!

Friday, October 12, 2012

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"How's morale?"

It's a question asked frequently, both vocally and internally, by any good military commander - from a platoon to a division to a major military command.  The morale of the troops, especially when times are tough, can be the determining factor between success and failure.

My very first boss in the Army was a very loud and very out-spoken Colonel.  He didn't always say the most politically correct things or emote the most empathetic tone, but his number one concern was always the well-being of his Soldiers and Civilians under his command.  He taught me a lot of things, but one of the things I remember most was a conversation we had about morale.  He put building and sustaining morale as one of his foundations of leadership.  He believed that morale amongst the troops was more important in the long term than anything else.  When morale is high, you can more easily face adversity and weather any storm.  It means you believe in what you're doing and you believe in those around you.

I've been a stay-at-home Mom now for a little over a month.  And since I will never fully leave my Army roots, I decided to do what any good leader would do and ask myself "how's morale?"

On a scale of one to ten, I'd say I'm at an eight.  I still haven't quite figured out a schedule, and I have yet to brave the gym daycare for A so that I can get more than just a walk in during the day, but I am surprised at how easy of a transition it's been.

Let's be honest, not setting an alarm and wearing yoga pants and t-shirts all day is an easy +1 in the morale category.

I also knew that being with A all day would make me happy.  What I didn't know was to what degree.  I didn't realize how much I would love watching her learn and explore.  I was worried that I wouldn't be a good enough teacher or that I wouldn't know how to provide the best learning environment possible.  But with a little planning and a little common sense, plus a pep-talk from the pediatrician at A's last appointment, I realized that by just being involved in A's daily life, and not just plopping her in front of the TV all day, I am able to help her continue to grow. 

When it came to finances, that was the issue I was most concerned about.  What would a cut in family income do to our lifestyle?  Surprisingly, it's changed for the better.  When we had two incomes, we were very comfortable.  We were fortunate to not have to ever think about money.  We just bought what we needed and wanted without really thinking about it.  Now, we have to think about it.  I think about every penny that goes in and out of this house.  (I'm a control freak anyway, so it's a natural transition.)  We bought ourselves Quicken to better manage our money, enrolled in our bank's Bill Pay feature to have more control over our bills, and have begun relying more heavily on carrying cash, rather than the debit card.  (Those damn $1.79 charges on the debit card always drove me crazy.)  My husband and I also make it a point to have a money-date every few weeks; a night when we put A to bed, turn off the tv, and sit at the computer and take a look at the bank account and bills and make sure we are both on the same page.  This was also something we weren't doing in the past, but has had tremendous results for both of us.  I am more comfortable now with our financial outlook than I was with a second income.

I will be honest.  I'm a little worried about how our schedule and routine will change in the winter months, when going for a daily walk or playing at the park is no longer an option.  But like everything else, I guess we'll just adapt.

And for those of you thinking it; no, I'm not bored.  (That's a whole other topic I plan to write about later.)

So, how's morale?  Higher than it's been in a long time. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Time to plan some fun!

I used to despise Mondays.  Not because of work.  I loved my work.  I loved what I did and I loved doing it.  I despised Mondays because it meant another five days of only getting a few hours in the evenings with my husband and A.  And let's be honest, the A I would get between the hours of 5:30 - 8:30 pm, after ten hours running around at daycare, is not the same person she is at 1:00 pm in the afternoon.  She was usually grumpy, tired, and short-fused.  And quite honestly, after ten hours away from the house at work, so was I.

Now, I look forward to Monday.  I'm a planner by nature.  Some (most) would say I am type-A.  I love the feeling that Monday starts the week and gives me a whole five days to plan whatever I want with A.  We've slowly found a bit of a rhythm and schedule, but there is something exciting about having the flexibility to do what I want, whenever I want with her.  Like this morning, we went for a walk and I decided to detour off our normal path and go to the park.  She was so excited as soon as she saw the slide, and was racing up the steps before I could even put the brakes on the stroller.  Staying at home full-time has given me a freedom I haven't felt in a long time.

One of the websites I have absolutely fallen in love with is No Time For Flashcards.  Allie, the website's founder and editor, is one of the most creative people I've ever come across.  With her degree elementary education, all of her activities are focused on learning in some capacity.  My favorite thing about this website is that she has an entire section dedicated to activities for children under the age of 2 years old.  But I must warn you, it is absolutely sensory overload.  I have such a hard time trying to decide what to do next with A.  The great news is that all of her activities are very budget-friendly and utilize household items.

A and I have done many of the projects already.  I couldn't believe how A took to some of them.  It's like she knew instantly what to do.  Hands down, the favorite activity has been this toddler craft.  A and I have made several variations with different cut outs.  I have her sit at her little picnic table in the kitchen and I put the scraps of ribbon on a plate next to her cut out.  She will sit for an hour and meticulously place each piece of ribbon, carefully analyzing it before she places it down.  And while this is a great time for me to get dinner ready or fold the laundry, I find myself mesmerized by A's intensity as she works.

The most expensive material was the contact paper, but it comes in a large roll, so it will be along time before we ever need to buy more.  And, I grab $1 ribbon from the clearance bin at Michael's.  I think our next version will be leaves and pumpkins!

You will find me posting quite a bit more about some of our different activities we love from No Time For Flashcards.  I think I'm going to start doing the Letter of the Week today with A when she wakes up.  She's started to show an interest in letters and singing her ABCs.

The letter A.  Hmmm... apples, acorns, ants, airplanes... time to go plan!