Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Power of Words

It was a Friday at 5pm. Carter was in timeout for the fourth time that afternoon, Kate was melting down because I wouldn't let her use the iPad, and I was on the verge of losing it. I knew my husband's time at home that night would be brief, as he was quickly turning around to attend a church event that evening, so in order to salvage what little sanity I had left, I loaded up the kids for a little outing.

I had a $10 Kohl's reward expiring the next day, so away we went to spend it. I let the kids get out and roam the toy section while I perused the clothing racks nearby. Although Carter knew he was not going to get to take a toy home that day as a consequence for not listening, he continued to show me things he'd like to buy, and I continued telling him that only Kate got a toy today. Kate begged me to open ("opa") everything, and had multiple tantrums as I explained that they were stuck in the boxes. I wasn't finding what I was looking for, and the kids were driving me nuts, so I grabbed a baby doll for Kate and started to leave.

As I loaded the kids up, I noticed a sales clerk approaching me. My gut instinct was to run, as I was certain she was about to try and sell me a credit card or something, but she stopped me. She asked if she could pay me a compliment. Confused at first, I simply said, "Excuse me?" She then stopped me dead in my tracks, as she said, "I just love the way you are talking to your children."

Say what?!!!

I looked around the store, certain she meant to stop someone else. Since there was no one else around, I simply said, "Wow. Thank you." Again, I tried to leave. But, she wanted to say more. "I just appreciate how patient and gentle you speak to them. It's not always that way. Believe me, I hear a lot of moms working here, and so many of them speak so unkindly to their children." I was dumbfounded.

This was a day when I felt as if my kids were going to drive me to the looney bin, and I certainly didn't feel like I had spoken with kindness to them in that store, but it was such a good reminder for me. I lose my temper very easily, and I've often found myself saying things to them that immediately caused me guilt and shame. (I distinctly remember one time mumbling something to Kate about finding her a new home when she wouldn't stop crying at Carter's first dentist appointment. She was too young to understand me, but hello...low point!)

The words we choose to use with our children have POWER - what our kids hear from us, they internalize. They take those words with them, and those words shape them into the man or woman they become. Everyday, I find myself using words that I heard myself growing up. (And many times, it's the things I always swore I'd NEVER say to my own kids! How does that happen?!!)

So, the next time I find myself telling my kids to sit down and eat their dinner "because I said so," I hope I also find myself encouraging, supporting, and building them up, as I remember that the words they hear from me now will stay with them long after.      
Monday, January 26, 2015

The Only 3 Books New Mamas Need

Confession time. When I was pregnant with Carter, I went a little nutzo. I am one who likes to be WAY prepared. I do NOT generally enjoy surprises, and since the pregnancy was a surprise in and of itself (ahem, we had been married about 5 minutes), I wanted to go into motherhood FULLY prepared for whatever would come my way. 

(Side note: For my friends pregnant for their first babies, learn from my mistakes here. No matter WHAT you do before that baby comes, NOTHING, and I do mean NOTHING will prepare you for your life after. Just prepare to be unprepared.)

So, I read. And read. And read some more. 

And then I panicked.

Everything I read contradicted something else I had read. Books would tell me to eat a high-protein diet while pregnant, but to be careful with meat because it could cause poison the baby. I would read that tightly swaddling the baby is the key to good sleep, but that swaddling could also cause hip dysplasia so it should be a loose swaddle. Keep the room dark and quiet, said one book, but use a white noise machine and turn it up LOUD said another. Rock your baby to sleep, said one, sway your baby said another, shush your baby WHILE swaying said yet another. What's a new mama to do?! How do you know who to trust?! Oy. It's no wonder new mamas are overwhelmed!

So, after raising two radically different babies, and reading more than 12 different parenting/sleep/baby books, I decided to share with you today which three were ACTUALLY helpful. These three applied to BOTH of my babies and are ones that I still go back to when we hit roadblocks.

Up first is my sleep bible: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (by Marc Weissbluth)
When I had Carter, I felt relatively prepared about how to care for him in terms of feeding and clothing and first aid. The thing that was a total kick in the pants for me is that I had no CLUE how to help him sleep. I didn't know how much sleep he needed, I didn't recognize his sleep cues, and I had no idea how to put him on a schedule. (Truthfully, I didn't even know he needed one!) This book changed everything. I am very practical, and what I appreciated so much about this book was the way Dr. Weissbluth actually explained HOW babies sleep. Once I learned HOW babies sleep, I was able to figure out a schedule, I was able to recognize when he was tired, and we ALL started sleeping better. (And bonus - longer!) In addition, I loved how realistic he was. Not every day was the same, and he does NOT encourage a strict schedule at an unrealistic age. He recognizes that not all babies respond the same way to various nap techniques, and he offers multiple strategies to help your baby sleep based on your comfort level and baby's personality type. I started using Dr. Weissbluth's methods with Kate from the beginning, and by six weeks old, she slept 10-11 hours most nights. It was MAGICAL. Love this one!

My second favorite book is a child development book: "Touchpoints" by T. Berry Brazelton
This book is the one I go to when my children start doing things that drive me nuts. Or when I want to get a preview of what lovely things I can expect from my children as they get older. Dr. Brazelton has such a unique approach to child development - he explains the behaviors you are seeing from the perspective of the child. This book cultivates empathy for what your children are going through when you are frustrated by them. When my daughter started throwing tantrums at 14 months (yes, full out, on the ground hysterical tantrums at barely a year...she's drama, y'all...) and I was about ready to drop her at the local fire station, I went to this book and read about what was going on in her world from her perspective. When I read about her struggle for autonomy and how it was so conflicted with her dependency on me, it made sense. I started looking at the tantrums differently, and I learned how to respond to them in a way that would both encourage her independence and lessen my embarrassment. I still have days where I'm ready to just quit, but this book just helps me see things through their eyes and is just amazing at explaining why babies do what they do at various ages. A must read, but one that could probably wait until your baby is here. :)

And, of course, gotta have a discipline book: "Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood" by Jim Fay
This is hands-down my favorite book for discipline. EVER. It even scripts out various situations for you...that's right, you can literally be a puppet. And it WORKS! I used Love & Logic techniques in my classroom as a teacher for many years, so this came somewhat naturally to me, but it is SO easy to implement and the results are phenomenal. I started using the "Uh-Oh" and time-out technique with Carter at about 18 months, and we plan to start using it with Kate soon as well. It's amazing how those two little syllables can just strike fear in a toddler. The thing I like so much about this book is that it empowers the child to make choices and think for himself rather than just forcing him into submission. I started giving Kate little choices here and there the last few months, and y'all, she LIGHTS UP because she actually feels in control of something. I've started small with her - holding up two different fruit pouches, for example, and letting her choose one - but I can already tell that she's going to love this technique as well. If you are frustrated with uncooperative children and tantrums, get your hands on this bad boy.

That's all for today! What are some of your favorite parenting must-reads? Would love to hear!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Throwback Thursday...Kinda

This past Sunday, Blake and I started a new bible study at church, and we were having some table discussion with our group members at the end of class. One of the items we were supposed to discuss was the best piece of advice we have ever received, and to answer that question, I had to go back to high school. I'll never forget one of my teachers, who clearly saw me struggling with my completely nutty perfectionism, pulling me aside and telling me to be gentle with myself. You see, I'm what they call a people-pleaser. My love language is "words of affirmation" and nothing makes me feel more on top of the world than someone telling me I am doing a good job at something. (Or that my kids are cute, my outfit looks nice, you get the idea.) I am my own worst critic, so being gentle with myself is not something that comes easily.

Joining the tribe of mothers puts being gentle with yourself in a whole different light. For those of you who don't have children yet, you may or may not know this, but there's this bizarre phenomenon amongst moms that is sometimes called the Mommy Wars. When you become a mother, you have to make a whole host of decisions (that you likely know nothing about) in a short period of time - breast or bottle, crib or co-sleep, work or stay home, Pampers or Huggies (or, gasp!, generic), cry it out or rock to sleep, and the list goes on. Suddenly, you question every decision. You feel judged about every little thing. Random strangers (typically those YEARS removed from having little ones themselves) offer their opinions in the middle of the supermarket on how to calm your daughter. You begin to feel like you are doing something wrong because your baby is being...well, a baby. Being gentle with yourself becomes exponentially harder.

So, I've decided to make gentleness my goal for 2015. This year, I am going to try to be gentle with my kids, my time, and myself. So the baby had three meltdowns at Kroger? Oh well. It wouldn't be the first time there was a crying kid in aisle 12. So that is my encouragement for you today - be gentle with yourself. Life's too short to get worked up over the little things. (And let's keep it real - it's almost ALL little things!)
Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday Tidbits

Kids are funny.

Sometimes, even when they do something "bad", you just have to laugh at it and call your village to help. (After documenting the hilarity on Facebook/Instagram, obviously.)

That's exactly what I did last night when Carter gave himself a pretty sweet Mike Tyson inspired tattoo IN SHARPIE while I changed Kate's diaper. 

So, the lesson I learned yesterday is that when your kid does THAT, your best friend is THIS:

You're welcome.
Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Meal Planner

I am typically one to plan out the menu for the week on Sunday night, but since we've recently joined a Bible Study on Sunday afternoons at our church, it got put off until today. I typically choose 2-3 meals to make during the week, and we fill in the rest of the week with a night of leftovers and a night out. (We are major fans of Taco Tuesday. If you haven't tried it, GO and thank me later. $8 typically feeds our family of four!) 

The recipes I'm making this week are the two that I typically take to friends or family when they've had a baby/death in the family, etc because they are BIG, and I'm always asked for the recipes, so I thought I'd share them here! They are crazy fast, crazy easy, and crazy GOOD.

Baked Parmesan Turkey Meatballs (This is Carter's favorite meal. Like EVER.)
1-1 1/4 pound ground turkey
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I prefer Italian-seasoned)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
(Optional: If I have it on hand, I sometimes throw in a cup or so of frozen, defrosted spinach. The kids never know it's there, and it's a bonus for getting some greens in them!) 

So simple - First, line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with some nonstick cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, form into golf-ball sized meatballs, and drop onto cookie sheet. (Optional: Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of each before baking.) Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 15-20 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce over your favorite pasta. 

Crockpot BBQ Chicken Sliders (Makes 6-8 servings)
6 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or fresh, if desired)
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) BBQ sauce, any flavor 
1/2 cup Italian dressing
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar

Place chicken breasts in bottom of slow cooker. Whisk together the next four ingredients in a bowl, and pour over chicken. Cook on high 3-4 hours or low 6-8 hours. Shred with two forks and serve on King's Hawaiian rolls topped with a little more barbecue sauce. I always send this meal to friends with some potato salad and fruit, but the sides are really up to your taste - cole slaw, chips, beans, fries, anything you'd find at a BBQ joint would really be fantastic with it.  

Hope you enjoy!
Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Day in the Life...One Year Ago!

So, I originally posted this on the family blog a year ago, and I took a fun little walk down memory lane tonight reading this. Kate was almost six months old, and Carter was 2 1/2. It's amazing how much changes in a year!

5:40am: Carter is awake and crying, "I want my mommy!" I hear it, but the monitor is closer to Blake, so I smack him and ask him to go see what's going on. He grumbles something inaudible, but obliges me and informs me that my son (at 5:40am, he apparently belongs only to me) is hysterically wailing for me. I run upstairs in an attempt to quiet him before he wakes his sister, and he informs me that he is scared of his noise machine. (The same noise machine that he has had in his room since the day he came home from the hospital...) I translate that to mean he had a bad dream, but I turn down the white noise anyway and get in his bed with him to help him go back to sleep. I doze off briefly.

6:00am: I startle and notice Carter has fallen back asleep, so I attempt to creep out of the room. Fail. He wakes up, I kiss his head and tell him I'm going back to my bed, and just as I open the door to sneak away, I hear a booming, "Ah-choo! Ah-choo!" Two earth-shattering sneezes (of course) happen during the four seconds his door was open. I catch my breath, uttering a silent prayer that Kate didn't hear it, and I tip toe down the hall. As I reach the top of the stairs, I hear, "Wahhhhh!" Kate's awake. DANG IT! I decide that it's Daddy's turn, so I come back downstairs and inform him that HIS daughter is awake and crying for him. (Karma is a B.) I go back to sleep as he heads up to get her up and feed her.

7:45am: I startle awake to the sound of Kate fussing. Blake has come in to inform me that she is ready for a nap and that Carter is awake, so I should probably join the human race. I fumble into the kitchen for my coffee and fill Carter's OJ cup.

8:00am: Kate goes down for a nap while Carter and I drink our respective beverages and watch a little GMA. Blake heads off to work, and I turn on a Blue's Clues DVD while I get ready for the day.  I am starting a new women's bible study at my church this morning - yay! An hour and a half of ADULT time every Tuesday for 7 weeks?! Sign me up! :)

9:00am: Carter informs me that he's had a "poo poo party" in his pants. Joy. After a quick change, we get him dressed, and he has a meltdown because he wants to wear his Christmas jammies today instead of the jeans and t-shirt I chose. I distract him with a "drack" (snack) and get him a Nutri-Grain bar while I start pulling things together for church.

9:15am: Kate's up, so I get her up and dressed. I put her in the car seat and ask Carter to get her a toy for the ride to church. He wants to get a toy, too, and he proceeds to have another meltdown when I inform him that his remote control car won't work in the car seat. It's tough being two and half sometimes.

9:42am: We arrive at church (10 minutes late...not bad!) where I discover that Carter's cup of water has leaked ALL OVER Kate's diaper bag. I quickly grab her bottle and a dry diaper and stuff them in my purse. That'll have to do for today. I get the kids checked in and into childcare, and then I begin checking in other moms and kids. (I was asked to arrive early since it was the first day to help with the check-in procedure. I mentally note that I need to learn to say no more as I wipe formula off my shoulder.)

10:10am: I take my seat in bible study, and I begin to chat with some other moms. We talk about our kids (of course), and I learn that my table mate has a daughter two weeks older than Kate, so we commiserate over our lack of sleep and mutual disdain for formula. It really DOES smell terrible.

10:45am: Our table needs a group leader to facilitate discussion of our book. Guess who gets the job? (No, Allison. The word is NO. Add it to your vocabulary!)

11:40am: I pick the kids up from childcare where I am informed that Carter was an angel, and Kate was terrible. No surprise here. The nursery worker thinks she's teething and tired...nope, that's just Kate. She's neither of those things. Carter begs for Chick-fil-a, and I oblige him. I give Kate a Mum-Mum to quiet her in the car.   

12:10pm: We arrive home and eat our respective lunches - chicken nuggets and fries for me and Carter, rice cereal and applesauce for Kate. I am trying to teach Kate a little bit of sign language, and she laughs at me any time I do the sign for "more" or "all done." I soak up each and every laugh I get out of her - she's a tough cookie to crack!

1:00pm: I put Kate down for her afternoon nap, and Carter hides in his closet because he says he doesn't want quiet time. Truth? He pooped again and didn't want me to change him. Stinker.

1:30pm: I close Carter's door - freedom!!! I assess the kitchen situation and realize I am out of clean bottles. I start to wash the dirty ones, but I get distracted because the dog is acting weird and skittish lately, and I remember I need to call the vet. I open the door to let her outside while I call, but I quickly close it and panic because I'm 99% positive I spy a dead animal in our bushes outside. Sick. After a quick call to the husband to inform him of the carcass (and forgetting about both the call to the vet AND the bottles in the sink), I sit down to complete Carter's class valentines for his party at school tomorrow.

1:50pm: Valentines are done. I check the monitor quickly and see Kate sleeping and Carter singing in his bed with his blanket on his head. Whatever - he's not crying, so I leave him be.

2:15pm: Kate's up. No clean bottles. Crap! I stick her in the Bumbo with a Mum Mum - what would I do without those dumb things? It momentarily distracts her while I get a bottle ready.

2:35pm: Kate's done eating, and I check the monitor again. (We make Carter have at least 1 hour of quiet time every day, even if he doesn't nap.) He's sleeping today. Sweet! I sit down to start this blog, but Kate is fussing for my attention, so it'll have to wait until later.

3:00pm: I turn on the TV hoping to watch Ellen (my happy place), but instead it's the dumb Olympics. Ugh. I eat a chocolate chip cookie to make myself feel better. Delish. I think I'll have another.

3:35pm: Carter is awake. I get him up and give him a snack and let him watch an episode of "Caillou." Kate is getting grumpy due to her short naps today, so I decide we should go on a drive and let her fall asleep before we head to the mall for some play time. She sleeps for a whopping 10 minutes before waking up hysterical due to the dumb cold.

4:30pm: We arrive at the mall where Blake is waiting for us. (The mall is 2 minutes from his office, and he was done early today.) In the play area, Carter tries to play tag with some older (and by that I mean 5 years old) girls. They have no interest in the little boy chasing after them, but he is blissfully unaware and keeps jumping into their game. (It starts young, people.) I attempt to wander and go look for a dress for Kate's baby dedication next month, but Carter insists on following me into the store despite Blake's efforts to keep him back. He gets into everything in there so we head home, and I vow to shop online only.

6:00pm: We arrive home after Kate has screamed the ENTIRE ride home, and we reheat some leftovers for dinner. (Mom of the year!) She munches on some Mum Mums and puffs, and Blake feeds her some squash while I dominate the microwave.

6:30pm: Bath time - the only guaranteed time that neither of my kids will be crying. Bliss.

7:00pm: Kate finishes up her bottle and goes down for the night. We move Carter down to play in our room since he's not quite ready for bed yet. The next hour is spent playing Hide and Seek, rough housing on the bed, and having some iPad time.

8:00pm: Carter begins coming up with excuses not to go upstairs and read stories - he wants more milk, "something is funny" on his pajamas, he wants another "drack," he needs a band-aid. You get the idea. I give him some milk, ignore the rest of the excuses, and drag him up for stories.

8:30pm: Carter's door is closed. Day is we think. Now it's time for some trash tv on the couch, a few more cookies, and then we cross our fingers and hope it stays quiet until morning.

It ain't glamorous, but that's a day! Whew, I'm tired just reading all of that!

Stepping on My Soapbox...

Brace yourself. 

Momma's about to preach.
I was walking out of my gym the other night, and I happened to catch a glimpse of the events table. Something struck me, and to be 100% honest with you, I'm not exactly sure what upset me so much about it, so I'm going to start writing and see if I can figure out why it bothered me in the process.

If you know anything about me, you know that I have a little girl, but you may or may not know that I was (and still am) absolutely terrified to be a girl mom. When the doctor told me she was a girl, I cried tears of fear, not tears of joy like a normal person. No, I immediately conjured up images in my head of middle school cheerleading, mean girl cliques, and a bedroom covered in pink butterflies. I had always seen myself as a boy mom, and yet there she was...100% baby girl. Lord, have mercy.

 SO, what bothered me so much the other day was what you see below. As I was walking out the gym, a bright pink flyer caught my eye advertising "I'm Awesome! Empowerment Workshops for Girls."

Besides the obviously moronic title, I still haven't been able to put my finger on exactly what bothered me so much about this. Being a girl mom has made me much more sensitive to the types of things targeted to young girls, and I just kept coming back to the horrific title. ( uncreative is this person?) I think I'll start there. Putting aside the incredible corniness of the title, I think part of my beef with this is the fact that this seminar is encouraging girls to focus on THEMSELVES. Can I just say, nothing, NOTHING good comes from putting all of your energy and focus on YOURSELF! When we continue to look inward at ourselves, we begin to put our focus and priorities on OUR wants, OUR desires, and OUR skewed perceptions.

And, here's the's not about US.

And secondly, I kept coming back to the fact that this was ONLY a workshop for girls. (Out of curiosity, I looked at what camps/workshops were offered for boys at this particular location, and, to name a few, they offered a Chess Academy, Lego-building classes, and Young Entrepreneurs seminars...hmmmm.) Why is it implied that only girls need this? Why is it implied in this flyer that girls don't feel good about themselves? Do we just automatically assume that because someone is a young girl that they need some idiot in an "I'm Awesome!" workshop validating their worth? 

Where did we go so wrong??!!

If we really want young girls to see their value and worth, we need to be shifting their eyes AWAY from themselves, and UP to Jesus Christ. We need to be moving their focus away from their own little world, their own little bubble, and getting them out into the real world. If we want them to see their worth, we need to take them to serve others. Show them just how "awesome" they are by taking them to feed the homeless. Let them feel empowered by donating their old clothes and toys to a women's shelter. Help young girls (and boys!) cultivate love and empathy and kindness by sending them on a mission trip.  Where I believe we are going so wrong is in seminars like this. As well-intentioned as we are, we are going astray by teaching kids to be self-centered when we need to be teaching kids to find their "awesome" by looking OUTSIDE of themselves.

 All right. I'm out of breath. I'll step off my soapbox now.

  What are your thoughts on this? Would love to hear!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why "A Hot Blessed Mess"?

So, this isn't my first blog. It's actually my third. You see, for the last four years, I've written about all things family here. I had a handful of faithful readers - primarily my mom, my mother-in-law, my college bestie, and the occasional extended family member. I saw that blog as an homage to my kids, and I plan to continue updating there from time to time, although I'm certain it will be of little interest to anyone who doesn't know us personally.  But, a few weeks ago, I tried something new. After hearing my pastor preach about telling our stories of hope, I felt called to write my testimony and share it with the world in the hopes it might encourage someone else to trust in Jesus with their own battles. To be honest, I didn't really tell anyone my story was there at first, and I really had no intention to.

Well, God had other plans. (Doesn't He always?!!)

I posted my story on a Tuesday morning, and the following day at MOPS, we had the amazing Heather Creekmore ( come speak to us about body image and finding our worth in Christ. I listened intently, and as a table leader, I facilitated a discussion with my table very hesitantly. I wasn't sure I was totally ready to let them in on my story at first, but as I slowly began to recount what I had just written the day before to them, the response was overwhelming. With a lot of hesitation, I shared my post with my table. They were beyond encouraging and gave me the courage to share it with Heather. I expected her to reply with something simple. Maybe she would say, "Glad you are doing so well. Thanks for sharing." Or maybe even something like, "I experienced that, too. I'm so glad you are healthy now and finding freedom in Christ Jesus." Well, she said some encouraging things for sure, but then she asked me if she could share my story on her (much larger and more well-read) blog with her readers.

Wait, share MY story??! Why would anyone really care about ME?!! I'm just a hot mess of a suburban mom with an excessive stock of yoga pants, a ridiculously large weekly Target bill, and spit up on her shoulder. But as I began to think about her offer, I began to think to myself, why NOT me? Why not allow strangers to see my broken past when the result of it could further His kingdom? Why not allow some teenagers who might be struggling and contemplating that next diet to be encouraged by my story? What if it could help? What if my courage could change just ONE person's mind about getting help? Wouldn't that be worth it?

I ultimately, of course, gave her the go ahead, and in a few weeks, you can read my story there. But writing this story stirred up a passion in me that I forgot I had long ago. I've spent the last three and a half years buried under diapers and formula, and in the midst of all that goodness, I forgot that I had a passion to WRITE. A passion to CONNECT. A passion to HELP. Writing my story that day lit a fire in me that I haven't felt in a long, long time. I forgot how much I love this art.

So, here we are. I decided I would create my own little corner as an outlet for this passion. I'm not sure what all I will write about here...we'll take it a day at a time and see where we go. But, I am SO looking forward to the journey.

OH. And as far as the title is concerned...funny story for you. During my sweet girl's colicky months, which you can read about here, I managed to escape occasionally for mom's night out with my sweet MOPS girls. Well, on a December night while we were having a Christmas party, she was apparently a whole new level of crazy, and my husband couldn't take it anymore. He sent me a text begging me to come home and help, and at the end he used his very first hashtag to describe sweet the end of the text he wrote, #hotmess. We just about died laughing, and thus, baby Kate's new nickname became #hotmess. (And y'all...she really is. It fits her perfectly. God love her.) The blessed part of the title came this year at Christmas, when I received this shirt as a gift...I about died. (And no, that's not me in the picture. My hair is not that fluffy.)

So, I combined my #hotmess with the message from the shirt, and thus, we have "A Hot Blessed Mess." And after all, if we're really honest with ourselves, aren't we ALL just little hot blessed messes? :)

The Things I've Learned from Colic...

Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor, nor do I have any medical knowledge on colic. I am simply sharing my experience with it last year, and some strategies I used to survive this trying rite of passage. 

I will never forget the moment my sweet baby girl was first laid on my chest. She had a full head of dark brown (almost black) hair, the tiniest little hands and feet, and these curious little eyes that I just immediately fell in love with. She was a mere six pounds, two ounces, but I still remember the nurses in the hospital commenting on how she had such strong lungs. (Translation: The girl is LOUD. I don't know WHERE she gets it...) There was a brief honeymoon period after her birth, of course, where we made comments about how "easy-going" and "laid back" she was. And then at about two weeks old, she lowered the boom on us.

Out of nowhere, she began crying more. And more. And MORE. At first, we thought it was digestive, as she spit up frequently, so we tried smaller, more frequent feedings. No dice. We tried gas drops, gripe water, introduced a formula for "persistent feeding issues." Nothing helped.

Evenings were hell. She would start about 5pm and finally give up about 11pm when she would finally pass out for a stretch. We would swaddle her and bounce with her on an exercise ball, and that would quiet her for a few minutes at a time. I still remember many nights pacing our driveway in the backyard, patting her back, and quietly singing "Amazing Grace" to try and settle her.

On one particular night, I couldn't handle it anymore and woke my husband up. I handed her over, and I believe I said something along the lines of, "I love her because she's ours, but I don't even like her right now." I locked myself in my closet and blasted praise and worship music on my ear phones. Through sobs, I shoveled fistfuls of Lucky Charms into my mouth in an attempt to find some comfort. I thought it would never end.

Everyone told me that it would be over by the time she was 12 weeks. Well, 12 weeks came. And went. It continued on. And then, one day, she turned a corner. At four months old, we noticed her calming down and going down at night easier. The days became more tolerable as we all began to FINALLY get some more rest. By six months, our easy-going, laid back girl had returned. There were times I never thought I'd see the day when I'd actually ENJOY my baby...but lo and behold, I survived and that horrific stage of our lives was behind us.

While I wouldn't wish colic on my worst enemy, there are a few things that I learned from it that I hope will encourage any mothers experiencing this phenomenon right now.

1) THIS TOO SHALL PASS. Write it on your mirror in lipstick. Put a sticky note on your windshield. Tattoo it on your forehead, but never EVER forget that this is a phase. You WILL survive it, you WILL bond with your baby, and you WILL sleep again. Promise.

2) TAKE BREAKS. Enlist the help of a trusted friend, neighbor, babysitter, or a family member to give you a break from time to time. Your baby will be fine, and you will be a better mom for it. Even a quick thirty minute trip to the mall or the bank alone will feel like a vacation if you've been trapped inside with a colicky baby all day. (Bonus points if you can swing a girls' night out with some supportive friends.)

3) GET OUTSIDE. If the weather is nice out, put that baby in a stroller and go out for a walk. Not only will the endorphins be good for you, your baby will love feeling the breeze, watching the clouds, and hearing the birds chirp. And heck, you may even get a nap from the baby out of it!

4) DON'T BE AFRAID TO LEAVE THE HOUSE. This one was hard for me. I was petrified that I'd be the one in the grocery store with the screaming baby, and that I'd be embarrassed and just have to leave. The reality is that you might be that girl. You might have to leave if it gets ugly. But you'll never know if you don't try. And who knows? Your baby may like the socialization of seeing new faces and a change of scenery.

5) WEAR YOUR BABY. Colicky babies LOVE to be worn. I am far from a granola mom, but I could be found many afternoons and early evenings those first few months pacing the streets of our neighborhood with the baby hanging out in the Baby Bjorn while I chased big brother on his scooter. I'm not sure if it's the closeness to mom, the movement, or the confinement that colicky babies love, but to be honest, I DON'T CARE. Baby carriers are your best friend, and I don't care why. Ergo, Moby, Bjorn, K' doesn't matter. Just find them.

6) WHITE NOISE FOR THE WIN! I swear by noise machines. Since the day they were born, both of my babies have had this little piece of amazingness going in their rooms when it was time for sleep. My big boy now turns it on himself at bedtime, turns it off when he gets up in the morning, and even asks to take it when he spends the night away. It is compact, has a timer and a night light, and plugs into an outlet. Need I say more? You need it.  

6) TRY TO ENJOY THE QUIET MOMENTS. During those few and far between times when your baby is peacefully sleeping or happily laying on a blanket, enjoy it. Notice the tiny fingers, kiss those tiny toes, and appreciate those first smiles and coos. I spent most of my girl's first months wishing them away and begging for her to grow up, and I missed so much. Baby girl is now a wild and crazy toddler, and I'd give just about anything for some of those sweet baby snuggles back!

7) Finally, and this is a big one, IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT. Oh, how I struggled with this! I am very curious and a problem solver by nature, and it drove me absolutely batty that there was no reason behind her colic. I was desperate to fix her and find the root of her unhappiness, and there were many nights that I questioned everything. Had I had too much caffeine during pregnancy? Was I not drinking enough water to keep up my milk supply? Did I not give her enough attention? And here's the thing that took me a while to realize...I did NOTHING wrong. I had cared for my baby well during pregnancy and after she was born. Colic is a FLUKE. Do not blame yourself!

Oh, and a little prayer (and wine) never hurt anyone either. ;) Hang in there, momma!!

My Story of Hope...

This past week at church, our pastor, John McKinzie, challenged the congregation to tell our stories of hope. I am not normally one to talk much about myself, as you can probably tell from this blog, but I felt like God was really pushing me to put my story out there, so here I am...completely transparent...and completely terrified.

You see, my story of hope is not a happy, flowery, joyful story. My story of hope is not pretty. My story of hope involves a battle that I endured with the devil for nearly four years. My story of hope was almost a story of death. I'll start at the beginning.

I was raised as the younger of two children in University Park, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. My mom stayed at home with the kids while we were younger, and my dad was (and still is) a doctor. My brother was about two and a half years older, and we fought like cats and dogs. It was a pretty typical, albeit very blessed, upbringing. We never wanted for anything. We attended great schools, grew up in a Methodist church, took family vacations, and every summer, I was fortunate enough to attend Camp Ozark in Mt. Ida, Arkansas, for two weeks. It was the greatest two weeks of my year.

God began knocking on the door of my heart very young, and I committed my life to him at the age of 12, sitting at the foot of a cross after a hike up the Ozark mountains one summer at camp. It was almost poetic. After that, I became very involved with my church youth group and missions, and for some unknown reason, they even let me sing in the youth choir. Life was sweet.

While in middle school, I became very involved in dance and cheerleading. My dream was to make the Highland Belles drill team once I got to high school. I spent 10-15 hours a week clothed head to toe in Spandex while staring at myself in full-length mirrors. And believe it or not, I felt okay about myself. Could my thighs be thinner? Sure. But was I willing to give up my beloved bagels and cookies? Nah. At five feet, five inches tall, I weighed a very healthy 125 pounds. Generally speaking, I felt good about myself. That is until I took a trip to Mexico with a sweet friend over Christmas break of my eighth grade year. That trip, and the pictures taken there, changed the course of my life forever.

Back in those days, we took pictures on disposable cameras. We didn't see the photos immediately. We had to take them up to a drug store and wait an AGONIZING 60 minutes for the film to be developed. As I waited for my pictures, I remember purchasing a Tiger Beat magazine to pass the time, and a York Peppermint Patty and 7Up to enjoy on the way home. I never had either one. 

As I held those pictures in my hands, something in me changed. For the first time in my life, what I saw in those pictures was different. The faint whisper of comparison crept into my life. Sitting side by side in our swimsuits on those beach chairs, I noticed that my friend's thighs were thinner than mine in the pictures. Her stomach was flatter. Her arms more muscular. I didn't know exactly how to process what I was feeling, but I did know that I did not like what I saw.

When I arrived home, I remember walking upstairs to talk to my mom in her office. I sat on her desk, and I confessed how I was feeling. I knew she'd understand. I had watched my mom, like most women, go on and off diets my whole life. Although I'm positive she offered me some reassuring words about how I was beautiful just the way I was, I don't remember them. What I do remember very clearly was her proposed solution - we would go on a diet together and support each other. Sounds innocent, right? What my mom didn't understand about me then was my competitive drive. She offered me support and accountability, but what I saw in that moment was a competition. And man, did I want to WIN.

I began walking on our home treadmill in addition to my dance classes. I read nutrition labels and started counting calories. I still remember my food logs. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt watching the calories I ate each day drop from 1700 to 1200 to, at one point, 500. 500 calories for a very active young woman in a whole day. (To put that into perspective, that is the typical calorie intake of an infant. An infant!)

The weight fell off rapidly. By March, I was down 10 pounds, and by May, I had lost 10 more. Each time I put on clothing that was too big, something in me rejoiced. Each time someone complimented me or told me how good I looked, my heart sang. Each time I looked into those mirrors in the dance studio and saw my shrinking thighs, I felt accomplished. I relished every second of it. The praise, the smaller clothing sizes, the way I could jump higher and turn consumed me.
By that summer, I had lost my period. My face became pale. The compliments became words of concern. My friends' parents would call my parents, worried that I was ill. A dance teacher who hadn't seen me in several months pulled me aside one day and told me I looked like I had been in a concentration camp. As sick as it was, that comment didn't frighten me as it should have. It made me smile. It pushed me to lose even more weight. By this point, Satan's grip on me was so strong that I didn't see the harm in what I was doing. I just thought I was winning the competition. After all, I was down to a mere 90 pounds.

At home, things were rocky. My dad tried to help me. He was a doctor after all, so he knew something was terribly wrong. He made me step on his scale every Sunday and would lecture me if I had lost weight. (He didn't realize I had my own scale hidden in my bathroom that I had bought without my parents' knowledge.) Meal times became a battle zone. My parents were terrified to send me off to my beloved Camp Ozark that summer, worried about what would happen when meals were no longer monitored. But I made promises to them to stay healthy that I didn't keep, and of course, their fears were realized when I came home weighing even less than I had when I left. They hired a nutritionist to help me, but all I did was tell her lies and claim that I was eating all kinds of things that I wasn't. She believed me, and  it eased my parents' concerns temporarily to at least know I was being seen by a medical professional. 

That fall, I began my freshman year of high school and survived primarily on Extra spearmint gum and Diet Dr. Pepper. My face was sunken and my arms looked like toothpicks. My clothes hung on me, but I continued in my quest. That winter came Highland Belles tryouts. I was weak and unhealthy, and the judges knew it. I didn't make the team. At that point, I thought I was at rock-bottom. My beloved dream had been shattered. (If only I knew then what was coming.) What I found out from the judges afterward was that I had the dance technique to make the team, but they were concerned about my weak muscle tone and didn't feel I had the stamina to keep up with the practices and games. What they were telling me was that I was too frail and weak. What I heard was that I need to exercise even MORE.

I joined the YMCA (unbeknownst to my parents) and began working out in secret after school. Before school, I could be found in my room doing Tae Bo workout videos on mute, in socks, in the dark, so that my parents didn't know what I was doing and wouldn't think I was already up. I continued in my dance classes and began private lessons. Although I was hovering in the low 90's, my weight stayed status quo for the time being as I began to build muscle. I read nutrition books and tried "clean eating" although I kept the calories excessively low. If I gave into temptation and allowed myself something "bad" or "off-limits," I punished myself with even more exercise so I could purge the calories. Although I didn't know it at the time, I would learn later that this new strategy I had discovered is actually known as Exercise Bulimia.

Things continued in this manner for the next two years. I actually made the drill team the following year - a dream come true. My parents continued taking me to doctors and nutritionists, and I continued to lie and cheat my way out of their help. I still hadn't had my period in 3 years, so my mom made me an appointment with a gynecologist in the spring of my junior year of high school. Had she not taken this step, I would not be alive today. As the doctor completed my exam, she listened to my chest, as all doctors do. It was very routine. But I noticed her face as she was listening to my heart seemed to change. She looked concerned. She listened again, and then sat down in her chair. She told me she didn't like what she was hearing, that my heart was making a swooshing sound that it shouldn't be, and she wanted to send me to a pediatric cardiologist for further testing. I was terrified, but I continued doing what I was doing. 

I didn't realize that my body was literally breaking down.

The next week, I woke up on a Thursday morning in early April, and after my mom had left for work, I drove myself up to the YMCA and worked out on the Stairmaster. I came home, changed my clothes so I wouldn't smell sweaty, and headed up to her office so we could go to my cardiologist appointment. They took me in to perform an echo-cardiogram (basically an ultrasound) on my heart, and then we went upstairs to wait for the results. As the cardiologist came in the room, the first words out of her mouth to me were simply, "Not good." She explained that the "swooshing sound" my doctor had heard the previous week was fluid moving around where there shouldn't be fluid, and I was diagnosed that day with something called a pericardial effusion. Essentially, two of my four heart valves were leaking fluid into the sack around my heart. If that sack got too full, my heart would stop. She explained that I had basically done so much damage to myself that I was lucky to be alive and sitting in her office that morning. I had starved and exercised myself to the point that my body was eating my own muscle in order to stay alive. I learned that, at any given moment, my heart could stop, and I could drop dead unless we did something. NOW. 

I didn't go home after that appointment. I was admitted just minutes later to the cardiac floor of Presbyterian Hospital for emergent treatment. My body needed rest. My body needed nourishment. My body needed to heal. 

After I was admitted and taken up to my room, a nurse came in and told me I was going to be hooked up to a feeding tube. I didn't understand. I promised them I would eat. I promised them I would rest. But you see, Anorexia is a liar's disease. And they knew it. I'll never forget my dad holding me down as they inserted the tube. We both teared up as it was put in, and I told him I hated him for letting them do it. He told me that I would understand one day when I was a parent myself, but at the time, I hated him. I get it now.

That night, after my parents had gone home for the night, I laid in bed, tossing. I rolled onto my side and caught a glimpse of myself in the hospital room window. For the first time in years, I saw the reality of my situation. I saw the lack of color in my face. I saw my hollowness. I saw myself on the verge of death. And I gently felt God saying to me, "This is NOT the end for you. I can do better. Come back to me." I cried, and cried, and cried some more. I remembered what the Bible said in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you...plans to give you hope and future." And that night, in room 308 of Presbyterian Hospital, I prayed to God for a miracle. I surrendered my disease to Him. And boy, did He ever come through.

That week in the hospital, I allowed myself, for the first time in years, to rest. I slept. A lot. I ate real food. I read books. I allowed my body to heal. And by His grace, and to the shock of my doctors, I did. I was released a week later after a repeat echo-cardiogram showed that one of my valves had healed completely and that the second was improving. I was sent home on bedrest, and a few weeks later, I was allowed to go back to school for half-days in order to complete my junior year. I resigned from my beloved drill team. God placed the most amazing team of doctors in my life, and I had weekly meetings with my therapist and nutritionist for the next year. I slowly began to put some weight back on. My color came back. My life came back together.

As I began my senior year, I felt God calling me to tell my story. I was very involved with the high school newspaper, so I took a leap of faith and published my story up until that point. The support was incredible. From there, I found the courage to begin a disordered eating awareness group for high school students that is still present in North Texas today and has helped many young girls with their struggles. Over the past ten years, God has given me the opportunity to speak in many different settings and to tell my story, although really it's HIS story, of hope.

I didn't know it at the time, but God's plan for my life was SO MUCH BIGGER than a number on a tag. My life was about these two incredible little people who made me a mom.

If I know anything now, I know with 100% certainty, that God has a PLAN, and his plan is PERFECT. I pray that all who read this would feel confident and know that truth today, too.
Monday, January 12, 2015

21 Things I Want My Daughter to Know

My Littlest Little:

Just six short days ago, I watched you turn one. It hit me like a ton of bricks. As I looked around our backyard that night, listening to our dear family and friends singing you "Happy Birthday" for the very first time as you soaked in the attention, I thought about how far we've come this year and began to dream about your future. In that moment, I realized that I had SO many things I wanted you to know about life, love, and being a woman. Life is so incredibly uncertain, and before you become even more opinionated and sassy (if that's even possible), I want to write down a few things I hope you take to heart as you navigate this crazy adventure called life. And, no, I'm not dying. Not yet anyway.

1. You are wildly beautiful. Period.
2. Your beauty has absolutely NOTHING to do with the way you look.
3. You are important.
4. Your importance has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything you did or didn't do.
5. Be kind. Always. Even on the hard days.
6. Kids can be RUTHLESS. Don't be one of them.
7. Life's not fair. Get used to it. (That one stinks, I know. But it is so true.)
8. Education is the most valuable gift I can give you. Even on the days you don't want to be there, pay attention in school, respect your teachers, and never EVER give up.
9. Teachers are not perfect. Not by a long shot. Respect them anyway. 
10. Always write hand-written thank you notes when you are given a gift. Old school? Maybe. Classy? Absolutely.
11. Chocolate is a magical, wonderful miracle drug that cure many ills. 
12. Biting your nails is a nasty habit that will be harder and harder to kick as you get older. Don't EVER start.
13. Choose your friends carefully. In the words of John McKinzie, "Show me your friends, and I'll show you your future." WORD.
14. Once you've found good friends, do everything you can to keep them. 
15. Show up when you commit to something. Nobody likes a flake.
16. Boys under the age of 25 are completely clueless.
17. You may not get married or ever utter the words "the one" until you are 25. (See above.)
18. When you become a mother, don't sweat the small stuff. If your baby is cared for and loved, nothing else matters. It's just doesn't.
19.  Write things down. Take lots of pictures. (And no, I'm not talking about selfies.)
20. Trust in God. He has a PERFECT plan for your life that was laid out for you before you even existed. It may not make sense at times, and it may not be fun at times. But, sweet thing, I assure you that it is PERFECT. Keep your eyes on HIM, and the rest will fall into place.
21. Lastly, LOVE. Love hard. Love intensely. Get your heart broken a few times, pick up the pieces, and try again. A life without love means nothing.

I love YOU, my sweet baby girl, and I cannot WAIT to see what amazing things are going to come your way as you grow and change.
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