Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sometimes It Rains (When You Have an Outdoor Party Planned)

This weekend we attempted to have Everleigh's Kansas City Birthday Party (otherwise known as Party Numero Uno). My family has a track record of dragging birthdays out into a multi-week celebration of sorts, and Everleigh big FIRST BIRTHDAY was no different. When we discovered we would be out of town on for a reunion on my husband's side the weekend preceding her actual birthday (June 6th), my parents sprung into action and began planning an epic party in the park.

We (my mother and I) purchased food, little table clothes, matching napkins and plates, a boat load of felt, and enough cupcake mix to charge an elementary school up for days. We ordered balloons and bought little baskets for the hot dogs and brats ("in case it's windy"). We thought of everything except the beast that is Mother Nature. Scott and I labored over making a giant felt "Happy Birthday Ev" banner (can you tell we got lazy at the end ? :) He made a template for the triangles, I cut them out. He made templates for the letter and cut them out. I used fabric glue to get the letters on, then hand-stitched each triangle to the rope. We deserve a medal really. I tried my hand a making an adorable little felt birthday hat for Evie. If only we had known then what we know now :)

The weather report called for partly sunny and 75degrees up until about 3 days before the party, at which point, it turned to 30% chance of scattered thunderstorms, then 50%. I tend to be an optimist, but it was looking pretty sketchy. Determined not to let the weather ruin our good time, we chose to press on with the park plans. After all, my parents have a tail-gating tent they planned to bring, and how bad can these alleged "scattered showers" be?

Um, just bad enough to kind of turn the whole thing into a brief and chilly experience of eating a quick brat and visiting with a few friends, then hurriedly opening gifts and forcing Ev to eat a little cake while Scott started loading up the car. I have to say, I had a pretty good time regardless. Maybe even more fun than I would have if we had scored our perfect weather day, because I was FORCED to cut loose, throw up my hands and say "F-it."

I'm pretty sure Ev had a great time too, cause she slept like, well, like a normal baby that night.

And wouldn't you know the VERY NEXT DAY was about the most perfect weather imaginable? Life. You just have to laugh sometimes.

Now, for Party Number TWO (taking place this weekend at the reunion). Don't worry folks, there will be minimal stress involved and if it rains, I hope we find some big puddles to jump in.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birthday Smirthday

Me and my mother at the hospital. My ORIGINAL birthday!

Me at age 5 fulfilling the request to "smile with your teeth"

Me and my most special gift. Everleigh (photo by Jennifer Flanagan of Image Market Photography)

It's funny how having a baby around makes your birthday feel like a non-event. I mean, in the last 12 months Everleigh has gone from 6 pounds 2 ounces to about 20 pounds. She's learned how to communicate, to eat by herself, to dance, to play the kazoo :) What have I done? Well, actually lots of things but they truly dull in comparison. However--I thought I owed it to myself to take a moment and celebrate ME!

Today I am 29 years old.

In the past year I have done the following things: finished graduate school, had a baby, gotten a small (and pretty much insulting) promotion at my old job, gotten a new job, paid off the first car I ever bought by myself, gotten a big promotion at work, started my play therapy certification program. I have learned what it means to be a mother (for better or for worse), how to function with minimal sleep and to apply makeup in such a way that it fools people into thinking you are a normal person and not a sleep-deprived trainwreck (concealer and lots of eye-makeup ladies). I have learned how to do just about everything with a baby on my hip (and sometimes on my boob! sorry, tmi), from writing songs to cooking dinner to taking a shower. I have learned about patience and love and selflessness.

In the next year (as I approach the big 3-0), I hope to keep learning. To explore more. To cut loose more. To make more music. To read more books. To get into kick-ass shape (I gave myself to age 30 for that one because I'm nice like that). To learn more about myself. To advance in my career. To keep growing.

I have to say, I'm pretty dang proud of myself so far. And age is just a number anyways. Besides, I married an old guy, so I'll always be young :) (just kidding honey!).

Happy Birthday to me!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dear Tory

Dear Tory,

Today you graduated high school. I'm blown away that the same timid and beautifully awkward 12 year old girl I met 6 years ago is now the coolest person I know. I just wanted to say on this day of reflection, that you have always been such a shining light in my life. From the moment I met you, I wanted to be a better person for you. Wanted to know your thoughts. Wanted to know you better.

And now you are grown. A few years shy of the age I was when I met your father. You've transformed before my eyes into an artist, a writer, a woman, a friend. I'm so excited to see what you become in this next phase of your life as you break away from your small town and enter the exciting world of college. I know you will LOVE having the time and space to really explore who you are, what you think, what you love,  what you believe, what you want. I can't wait to see what the next chapter holds.

Congratulations to you, my sweet Tory.

And by the way, go get em.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Building Internal Definitions of Self-Worth (Part II)

Soaking in some sun after an outdoor bath!

After my last post about this, a few of you asked if I would share a little more about this topic and give some more detailed examples. I will try to fulfill those requests :) Please keep in mind that I'm also still learning, and by no means consider myself to be a subject matter expert at this stage in my career.

Here goes: as we discussed in the last post, the way we choose to compliment or critique our children can shape the way they perceive their core "self". I'm sure most of you would agree that we are not defined by the clothes we wear or by our jobs or hairdos or even our thoughts. Who ARE we then? The "self" is a construct that has been defined in many ways over the years by various theorists. I believe that we all have a core existence, or "soul" that is the true self. The rest--body, mind, and certainly external objects, talents, or abilities are secondary to who we are. Thusly, if everything in your life is stripped from you, you are still you. This is true whether or not we choose to actively define ourselves this way on a regular basis.

(We get it, you've read A New Earth.  How does this apply to our kids?)

Non-directive play therapists believe that, given the proper direction, kids will naturally form this identification of an internal self worth BUT it takes some work from the parents/caregivers/therapists. Die-hard non-directive play therapists believe that you (the therapist) should not ever compliment a child's talents or abilities. If a kid paints you a picture and says, "what do you think of my painting?" you're supposed to respond by saying, "hmm...you really want to know what  think of your painting." To which the kid will likely say, "YES. What do you think?" and you reply, "well, what do YOU think about your painting?" If the kid then says, "well, I like it." Then you say something to the effect of, "you really like your painting and you are proud of yourself."

I know. Classic therapist move right? This technique seems to really frustrate some kids who just want to know what YOU think dangit. But for many others, it gives them the chance to shrug off your opinion and own their opinion.

I know it seems weird. It's difficult for me in my training not to say, "that's AWESOME! Good for you! You did so well!" Because I love kids. I love their artwork, and their new Disney princess dress, and their ability to build a huge tower out of fake bricks.

But I believe in the process. By encouraging the child to decide what HE thinks of his art/dress/tower, you are fostering independence and a sense of mastery in the child, as well as building up this internal sense of self-worth.

You see, while it seems like the right thing to do to praise the child, we are then setting the child up to try and constantly impress us with his abilities. What if you don't make as big of a deal when he paints the next work of art? Will he think it's no good and crumple it up? Or will he say, "I like it. I'm going to hang it up".

This whole philosophy is steeped in play therapy theory, and not necessarily parenting theory. I realized that it's probably unrealistic that you would go through day after day never complimenting your child. I'm not saying that's the way. I guess I am just witnessing this process unfolding in the therapeutic setting, and I've seen how effective it is, especially for kids with low self esteem or high external demands.

Will I compliment my daughter on her masterpieces? I'm sure. I happen to think everything she says and does is absolutely profound ;) But will I think about what non-verbal messages I am sending in the verbal feedback? You betcha.

I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this.....COMMENT! :) But regardless of what you think, I think I did an okay job explaining this topic and I am proud of myself. See, it really works! j.k.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Helping My Infant Find Internal Definitions of Self-Worth

Okay, let me first say that I have a Masters in Counseling and am currently pursuing my state licensure as well as my post-graduate play therapy certification. So my take on parenthood is slightly more...how shall I say...OBSESSIVE  than some. You know how people with parents who are therapists are usually a little different (all the analysis can be overwhelming at times for a kid or teen)? I'm trying not to be that gal. And yet, I obviously buy into the theories I work with and they have a huge impact on how I plan to raise my daughter.

One thing I think plays a huge role in raising healthy kids, is how we encourage them to define themselves. We do it all the time without much thought--"you're so pretty!" or "you are so awesome at basketball/dance/soccer" or whatever. At a very young age, kids pick up on these definitions of self, and it can create in them a sense that "self" is defined externally rather than internally. Or in other words, it enforces the idea that we are what we do/what we look like/how well we perform.

The biggest problem with that kind of enforcement, is that kids then start to seek outside sources of self-worth. Which may seem okay for a minute if your kid is the drop-dead gorgeous soccer star, but what would happen if that kid had an accident or illness that changed his looks or athletic ability? Most likely the child who identifies himself externally is going to then feel like he has lost everything. He is no longer beautiful or athletic. He is no longer himself. Or even in a less dramatic situation, if that kid is constantly seeking external affirmation of his self-worth, what happens when he gets a bad report card or becomes the victim of negative school gossip? Again, this child will feel like he is no longer valued as highly, therefore he is not worth as much.

If we instead teach our kids to find their self-worth inside and not look for it from others, we give them the gift of self-assurance. These kids know who they are and are proud of it. If someone doesn't like this kid's artwork, he shrugs and says, "well, I like it and that's really what matters". It's a slight difference in approach that can make a huge and lasting difference in self-perception from childhood to adulthood.

The thing is,  enforcing the external is so easy to accidentally do. My husband and I noticed that we were really saying a lot to Everleigh (my eleven month old daughter), "you're so pretty!" and "you're beautiful" and so on. Of course, we believe this to be true :), but we had to put ourselves in check and change our language to be more reflective of who she is, rather than what she looks like. Now, we try to say more things like, "you're so brave" or "you're so smart", or "you're proud of yourself for climbing that, aren't you?"

Hopefully by making small changes like this, we can help raise a girl who puts less stock in what everyone thinks of her and more stock in what she thinks of herself.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everleigh's First Dip in her Little Pool

It FINALLY got hot enough today to let Everleigh try out her little hard-shell pool Grandma and Grandpa bought her. Oh, and it gave her a chance to rock out her little baby bikini and show off some of those little rolls we all love so much. Enjoy!

Breastfeeding at 11 Months--Never Thought I'd Make It

First off, let me say that I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. My mother breastfed my sisters and I, and I guess I grew up watching it go down and so it became part of my world. When I first shared with others that I planned to breastfeed, I have to admit the reaction was mixed. I'm pretty sure some people I know were like,"really?! why?" or even "gross". But it felt right to me. I wanted that closeness, that nurturing experience, that bond that nursing really forms (even if it sometimes feels like that bond is pretty much between your boobs and the baby). I read a book on it. I took a class on it. I asked some of my nursing mama friends candid questions. But nothing can really prepare you for what it's like until it happens.

Anyone who has nursed their baby knows the first two weeks can be really tough (the nipple sensitivity, the cracking nipples, the crying, the wondering if you're doing it all wrong, the frustration and feelings of failure, the constant contact where you wonder why you even bothered wearing a shirt). But if you can hang in there and make it over the hump, it gets easier and easier. When Everleigh was one week old, I was struggling and asked some friends and family members for nursing advice. When my mom shared with me that she had nursed most of us girls until we were a year old, I just about fainted thinking about how much I was struggling and how long eleven months and three weeks more of this sounded.

All the pumping and the teas and the worrying about supply, all the leaks and accidents and discomfort and ugly bras. A year seemed like a lifetime.

But now? It's easy, pleasurable, and a really special time for me and Evie. She still nurses about 4 times during the day and 1-2 times every night. I have come home literally every single day for lunch to nurse her since returning to work when she was 6 weeks old. I have sacrificed in many small ways, but it has all been worth it.

Now as her first birthday approaches, I'm planning to continue with extended breastfeeding and baby-led weaning. Thinking about this special time coming to an end makes me sad, although I know the day will come (and no, I won't be like that British lady who's still breastfeeding her 8 year old or whatever).

So to you pregnant chicas or newly nursing mamas, I have to say--hang in there because it gets better. Try to slow down and enjoy the quiet moments because they are really gone in a heartbeat. Oh, and invest in some good bras. I actually kicked my nursing bras to the curb awhile back and found that Victorias Secret Incredible bra (especially the one with the front clasp) is so much prettier, more comfortable, and gives your girls a little boost which we can all appreciate, right?

 Happy nursing!

Dear Everleigh (11 Months!)

 Everleigh Harper,

Today you are eleven months old. It's difficult for me to accept that you are almost one (where does the time go?!), but also equally impossible to imagine our lives without you. You are so beautiful, brave, and strong. This month has been challenging, because I've been extra busy with work and school and have been more stressed than usual. And you, little miss, have been busy too!

Here's what you've been up to this month:

Now that you've got walking down pat, you're experimenting with running, climbing, and doing what appear to baby yoga moves. You are really exceptional.

Watching the Quixotic street performers at First Friday with Daddy. You loved the drummer the most.
We've been taking you to the park to get some exercise and fresh air as much as possible lately, and you've been loving it. Whenever you see other kids playing, you get super excited and start kicking your legs and talking. You LOVE the "big kids" and believe that you are cool enough to be a part of their group (PS: you totally are). Something I love about you is that every time you go to the park, you seem to make a new friend. It's so sweet to watch you connect with other kids, even if you can't climb the rock wall like them but think you can.

You love the outdoors, which is something I was thrilled to discover. The Missouri winter was not kind to us, so we're just now discovering spring in all its glory, and I love that you're literally seeing everything for the first time. It's so amazing to watch your face as you see a bird fly by, feel rough tree bark in your hands or delight in splashing in a puddle. Sometimes you just stare and stare at people with your fists clenched and an intense look on your face. I'm pretty sure you're just processing it all, but you also seem kind of intimidating, which is hilarious.
Plotting your next move on the playground.

You are talking more, which is so fun! You now say "Mama" (sometimes), "Dadda" (over and over constantly), "Doggie" (which you specifically have said a few times in the right context and blown us all away), and "Nang- Nangs" which is not a real word, but is the word you have chosen to represent your Gerber cereal snacks. You are also communicating better non-verbally by using some baby signs (primarily the sign for MILK) and responding to the question "are you hungry?" by pretending to chew if you want fed. It's pretty awesome to finally get some feedback and reduce the guess-work about what you may or may not want. Beyond that, there's lots of conversational babbling and some singing thrown in to the mix. I love hearing your voice and playing games with you where you imitate what I'm singing. I'm pretty sure you're going to be a rock star ;)
You love to hold your little Oragel tube, which I think is adorable.

One of my favorite times with you is early in the morning when you first wake up. As long as you got enough sleep, you're so sweet and happy, with your little puffy baby face all sleepy-looking. You smile at me and I say "good morning!", then you cuddle me and kiss me and stretch and yawn like a kitty in the sun. It's such a quiet, sweet time, and I love being right there when you wake up for that very reason. You give me so much joy.

All my love,