What is self care, anyway?

Lucy the Hiker

Toddlerhood is here! There is no looking back.

I’m about a year and a half into this motherhood thing, and there’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. It has to do with the personal, internal work of motherhood, and the concept of self-care. As a new mother, the idea that I need to prioritize self-care washes into my consciousness from so many sources. This message has stuck with me, and sits around in the back of my mind as I try to get a grip on my priorities so that I can actually decide what to do when I have a free moment. I often find myself overwhelmed by all of the possibilities for my “free” time; my time feels so limited that, when I do get a free minute or thirty, I usually just dive in, start doing, and hope for the best. Too often this means that I’m taking care of the basics but not taking care of my Self.

When I was pregnant, I was very aware of the transitional, in-between nature of pregnancy. You’re already a parent, but you have yet to meet your child. Your life has already started to change, but you know that there is so much more coming. This made sense to me, and I did my best to be present for the little life growing within me rather than worrying about the future or mourning the past. And of course you expect the months after your baby is born to be a period of transition as you adjust to your role as a new parent and all of the demands and joys it brings with it. I knew I needed to prioritize self-care and connect with other mamas, and it did pretty well with that. I tried to get out of the house for mommy & me yoga or story time once a week or so.

Here’s the thing I wasn’t quite prepared for, though: the toddler years are a time of transition for parents, too! Your baby isn’t a baby anymore, but they aren’t quite a kid yet either. They are becoming independent, but seem to need more of your attention than ever. Self-care is still so very important for preserving your mental and emotional health, but now that your little one’s moving— quickly!— it’s a lot tricker to incorporate it into your days. At least it is for me. I find myself trying to squeeze self-care into the times when my daughter is sleeping, but that’s also the time I use for things that “need to get done.” I started feeling like there were things that I “should” be doing to take care of myself, but I never could find the time. I felt guilty that I wasn’t getting enough time on my yoga mat, and it was starting to feel more like a chore that was hovering over me than something that I looked forward to doing. New mamas out there, does this sound at all familiar? I think it’s time we step back and reconsider what self-care looks like for a toddler mom.

When I was feeling the most overwhelmed, I began to think critically about all of the things I wanted to be doing for myself and my family. My list looked something like this: plan meals in advance and actually cook them, bake more, sew and knit all the things, do more yoga, take walks, and write more often. I then took another step back and began to think about my life before my daughter. I looked at how all of these things fit into my life before motherhood, and my perspective changed. Most of these ambitions I have? They’ve always been ambitions, even before I had a kid of my own to chase after. I have always enjoyed them, but I’ve never successfully incorporated them into my daily life. I’ve dabbled, but never really committed. That’s true for almost all of the things on my list. The one exception? Writing. I have always, and will always write, even if it’s just a few sentences in a journal each week to mark the passage of time. Writing fuels me and keeps me connected to my purpose and my best self. It helps me find clarity and navigate turbulent emotions. And with all the hormonal turbulence being a new mama brings, that is EXACTLY what I’ve been needing. But, for some reason, writing has been falling to the bottom of my list. Instead of being a daily practice, it’s been sporadic at best.

It must be because all those other things seemed more important somehow. They fit better with the images of self-care that have seeped into me through the media, my peers, and my mentors. Or they felt more important because they make me feel like I’m taking care of my family. Intellectually, I know that taking care of oneself IS taking care of one’s family, caring for the caregiver and all of that, but it’s a really hard thing to put into action. It’s hard to break away from the idea of what self-care SHOULD look like. I mean, I’m a yoga teacher, right? I should be practicing daily, waking up early to meditate, and moving with clarity and full attention from moment to moment throughout my day. Right. That’s never happened, even when I had the time to make it my truth. So what am I doing to myself when I prioritize these idealistic self-care practices? I’m setting myself up to feel less than, to feel like I’m not good enough, because no matter how many times I try to make it happen, a daily yoga and meditation practice is not in my cards right now. And I’m just not motivated enough to plan out all of our meals and stick to that process, week after week. I have faced enough micro-failures in my first year and a half of motherhood. I can find so many things that are out of my control that shake my confidence as a mother, why am I CREATING these expectations for myself that make me feel like I just can’t keep up with life, no matter how hard I try?

So I’m reimaging self-care, on my own terms. I’m investing my time in the one act that I know I can engage in daily, the one thing that has always kept me grounded and sane. It’s only been a day or two, but I can already tell a difference. I’m calmer. I’m not so fixated on the things I “need to get done.” And when I have some time to myself? I’m not scrolling through an endless facebook feed or looking at photos on Instagram, I’m actually WRITING. It’s helping me realize that I still have the ability to focus and form coherent thoughts (sometimes I feel like my daughter has sucked my brain right out of me), and that kind of clarity ripples out, touching other areas of my life.

I’m sure I’m not the only mama who has a hard time caring for herself. If this speaks to you at all, I’d like to invite you to look closely at what fueled you before you got pregnant. It probably wasn’t mommy and me yoga classes (though those are a great way to decompress and connect with other mamas!) It may have been a glass of wine, a long bath, a girl’s night out, but maybe not. Whatever it was, are you making time for it now? What can you do to own it again? How will our lives change if we step away from someone else’s idea of how we should recharge our batteries, if we step away from someone else’s idea of what our priorities should be? Could we find a little more ease in our days? Would it strengthen our bond with our families, with our friends? I believe it’s a step toward living a more connected, more present life, and the closer we get to that, the better life feels, not just for ourselves, but for everyone we care about, too.

Camping with a Baby

We took our first family camping trip over the weekend. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible, but still have everything we needed in order for Little Squeak to be comfortable and happy. She loves being outdoors, so we were very excited to give this a shot. I had a big how to post planned out in my head. I even started documenting the clothes we took with us, so I could show you all just how we did it.

Then we got there.

Then things fell apart. See, I usually just use my backpacking backpacks to pack for car camping. Usually it works. But I’m learning that being organized with a baby means being able to access what you need, when you need it without having to dig. Everything was organized when we left home, but as soon as I needed something from the bottom of my backpack, all of our stuff was spread out across the back of our car and it quickly became impossible to find anything. Combine this with the fact that our daughter loves being outside and, consequently, refused to sleep until well past her normal bed time, then add in the fact that it was super windy. Squeak managed to sleep, but the grown-ups probably got 5 hours of sleep combined. We packed up at 5:30 in the morning and blearily drove home. So I don’t have any secrets to share for an awesome camping trip with a baby. Would I do it again? Absolutely! We survived, and she got to experience being outside in a new way. She slept in a tent, she gazed at the campfire, she watched the sun slowly thin out the darkness in the early morning. I don’t regret it a single bit. I’m still very, very tired, but am so grateful that we are able to share something so simple that we love so much with our daughter.

I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about camping with a baby to take the plunge. Be prepared to lose some sleep, but do it anyway! Ask for tips, but make your own choices about what to bring based on how you think your baby will react. We brought a pack n play so that we would have a place to set her down, and it was worth every inch of space it took up. We bought a bigger tent and new sleeping pads, plus a little fleece suit for her at Goodwill. Other than that, we made do with what we had. My biggest tip, though, is to find a way to stay organized. Next time I’m going to pack in a regular suitcase or two. Or a reusable grocery bag. Or rubbermaid bins. I haven’t decided yet. Whatever we choose, it will be a system that provides easy access to whatever we might need at any given point without having to do much digging. It will be easy to load in the car. That’s my biggest takeaway from this first little trip. Maybe I’ll have more specific tips for you as we refine our system.

I lost a lot of momentum for getting things done at the end of the year. I guess all my energy was going into growing the little life within me. It was so worth slowing down for. And it’s taken some time, but things are starting to feel normal again, even if very different.
It all happened the night of January 10th into the morning of the 11th. My water broke at 9pm, and our little squeak joined us at 9:30 the next morning. She was born at home and weighed seven pounds, six ounces. I’ve written out most of her birth story in my journal and I may or may not share it here. It’s all a matter of how much time I’m able to devote to blogging from my phone. Yes, that’s what it’s come to, so please forgive any autocorrect typos.
I have a pre-birth post that I started and never finished, too. Maybe I will share that one day. For right now, I’m trying to decide how to move forward with this blog. I’m debating whether or not to start a new one, actually. I’m sure I can find plenty to write about regarding simple living with a baby, but I’m going to incorporate Montessori method into our home life, and I feel like that deserves more focused attention. At the very least, it deserves its own series on this blog. That is probably the easiest way to go, which means it’s probably more likely to actually happen. Just things to think about. Hopefully I will have more naptime posts coming your way soon.

A Recap: My August Break

Well, this post was supposed to go out on September 17th, but I just realized that I had published it privately. So here we are, over a month later. I’ve taken a lot more photos since I put this together, but I’ve also been sleeping a lot more as I’ve come into the third trimester of my pregnancy, which means I haven’t been terribly active online. So, from last month, here’s my August Break photo collection.

 

I have been feeling highly motivated to write and share lately. Unfortunately, as soon as I got over the morning sickness from my pregnancy, I started getting migraines! It’s been a while since I have gone more than a week without a headache of some sort. Such a pain. When a headache hits, I lose all momentum. So all of my projects (blogging, knitting, decluttering, cooking) have taken a back seat to self-care. My life and routine have slowed down A LOT.

I had a really great August, though, and thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent taking photos for the August Break. Today, all I want to do is share some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them!image

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Tuft & Needle Mattress Upgrade: Initial Impressions

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, and I mentioned that we were going to get a new mattress soon. “Everyone gets a new mattress when they’re pregnant!” she exclaimed. I had never had confirmation on this idea, but it’s one that totally makes sense to me. Most people I know have had the same mattress for years and put off buying a new one because they are expensive and they just haven’t found a good enough reason to make that leap. But what better reason is there than an achey, temperamental body that makes it hard to get a good night sleep? If you combine that factor with the idea that pretty soon there may be a third person sleeping sideways in your bed, even upgrading to a bigger mattress begins to make sense. And that’s exactly what we decided to do. We upgraded to a king size mattress, which in turn has inspired a bit of a bedroom makeover (which we’re trying to manage simply and frugally, and I will write more about later). For now, I want to focus on the mattress.

After looking around at our options, we decided to go with a Tuft and Needle 5″ king size mattress, which set us back $500.* The company offers free shipping and a 30 return policy, plus really great customer service. There is a catch, though, and that’s that you have to purchase the mattress sight unseen. One of the cool things about Tuft & Needle is that they produce and sell the mattresses themselves, so you don’t get any of the markup you would with other mattresses that have a middleman involved in the sales process. I personally love that, but it means that you can’t test out the mattress before you buy it, which can be a little nerve-wracking. I was reassured by the 30 day return policy, but I still felt like I needed to do as much research as possible to make sure that I knew what we were getting ourselves into.

I dug into the company’s website, obviously, and I liked what I saw. All of the materials are sourced in the U.S., and the mattress is actually recyclable. Sweet. I checked the Amazon reviews next because they are “the highest rated mattress” on Amazon, and I noticed a couple of things. The five star reviews all looked good, so I looked at the less-than-five star reviews. The really low ones basically said two things: this mattress is too firm for me, and there’s no way this company is legit with so many positive reviews… they must be paying people off to up their ratings. Hmmm. The bulk of the 4 star reviews were actually people who had ordered but not received their mattresses and just wanted to share their promo code (they are currently giving you a code to share with friends that gives both the user and the sharer of the code $50 off…). That certainly didn’t help me decide whether or not this was a scam, and probably doesn’t help any other conflicted would-be buyers either.

So I dug a little deeper.

And I found this article, which actually gives a little more background on the company’s founders. They formed Tuft and Needle after leaving jobs in the tech industry and take the quality of their product seriously. They take customer feedback seriously and use it to make improvements to their product. I like that. I also learned that they regularly donate mattresses to foster children who are in need of a bed of their own. I really like that.

Finally, I found a couple of reviews on blogs that really helped me feel good about giving this mattress a shot. I looked at Our Freaking Budget and the Surly Biker, specifically.

So, what do I think after just one night of sleeping on this thing? I’m a fan. We set our 5 inch mattress up on the floor because we didn’t want to take our new bed frame out of the box if we weren’t going to keep it, and I was amazed. I’ve been sleeping with a body pillow for over a year now, and since I got pregnant it has been crucial to my being able to sleep without aching hips and shoulders. At this stage in my pregnancy, I haven’t been able to spend more than a few minutes on my side without the body pillow before I get uncomfortable. This morning, I rolled over to face my husband, free of aches from the night, and was able to lie there and talk to him COMFORTABLY until we were ready to get up. This is just crazy to me. All from a five inch mattress placed directly on the floor. I can’t wait to try it with the bed.

The other really great thing was that the mattress doesn’t transfer movement the way our old spring mattress did. I toss and turn a lot, typically, and with the Tuft & Needle, it didn’t bother my husband at all. And I didn’t wake up when he got in and out of bed, either.

As many have said in their reviews, the bed feels firm when you lie on it. This is good for us, as we both tend to like firm mattresses. My hips and low back, though, need a firm mattress that is a little more forgiving, and that’s just what this is. You can press your hand into the mattress and it yields to your touch, but when you lie down it doesn’t allow your whole body to sink, just the parts that make the firmest contact (i.e. hips and shoulders for pregnant side sleepers). It’s barely noticeable, but it makes a huge, huge difference.

I realize that it’s possible that I may have just really wanted to like the bed, so I’m going to give it a few weeks, then post again. I’m really optimistic, though. And who knows, maybe I’ll even include the promo code next time.

UPDATE:  We love, love, love our mattress. It’s even better now that we have it on a bed frame. I keep calling it a magic bed because I can be super achy and uncomfortable at the end of the day, but if I get into bed everything feels better almost right away! Plus, I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, even when I’m wide awake. Both of these things are big shifts for me!

UPDATE #2: It’s now June of 2016, and we still LOVE our Tuft and Needle mattress. We ended up buying a second, twin size mattress to use in our daughters room, and it made middle of the night feedings once she was in her own room SO much easier. I still stand behind my review 100%. Tuft and Needle no longer offers a rewards program for referals, so the above link is irrelevant.

** It looks like Tuft & Needle no longer makes a 5 inch mattress. The 10 inch mattresses are a bit more expensive, but still cheaper than a mattress from a mattress store!

Bring on September

Last week, after a full day of work mid-pregnancy, I felt fried. I tucked myself into bed with a cup of Tulsi tea & mellow bluegrass playing on Spotify at 5 pm. I was craving the weight of blankets and the buoyancy of pillows. The weather is beginning to cool here in Colorado, and I felt like indulging in it.

It’s technically still summer, but with the temperatures we had last week, it felt like fall enough for me. I am from Houston, after all. I have been waking up early on the cooler days, throwing on one of my hand-me-down maternity sweaters, and walking to the store for breakfast foods. I just can’t get over it– the cool in the air, the warmth of the sun on my skin. The flood of memories that hit me every perfectly fall morning.

As much as I love the world around me all year long, fall is my absolute favorite. I’m a September baby. Plus, I got married in September, so now there’s even more to celebrate. Fall fills me with optimism. I get excited about knitting and tea, books and sweaters all over again. Even as the world around me begins to shed its skin in preparation for winter, everything feels new and full of promise. I find myself digging out blankets and seeking cool evenings on the front porch. I long for evenings in, playing board games. I crave the colors, and the warmth that we feed ourselves. I seek out the grey morning light because even the grey days have always held an underlying sense of looking-forward-to for me. Come on fall, I’m ready! Let’s celebrate and clear the way for the new life that’s headed our way in 2015!

Today Is…

A lot has changed in the past year. I got married. I got pregnant. And I’ve gone from teaching 7+ yoga classes per week to one day of teaching. Right now, I’m teaching three classes, two public and one private, on Thursdays and that’s it. On Thursdays, my focus shifts away from my other job (at a small publishing company) and my other responsibilities, and settles on myself and how I can best show up. How can I best show up for the families that come to me to share yoga with their little littles (18 months – 3 years old, usually), and what I can offer of my own experience to the women who find their way to my prenatal yoga classes on their journey to becoming mothers? Usually showing up, for me, means being present and able to connect. Sometimes it means having a solid plan for what I’m going to do, but more often it means letting go of attachment to any plans I may have had and listening to what my students really need on that particular day.

That’s where I was on Thursday, and turns out that’s where I needed to be. Most of my mamas, whom I’ve been working with for over half of their pregnancy in some cases, are getting closer and closer to meeting their babies. This means weightier babies, which means more physical concerns to address. It also means they are bumping up against the big decisions that pregnancy brings in a much more immediate way. Figuring out how to tend to one’s own needs at the end of a pregnancy can be a challenge; we often put the needs of others before our own, and it isn’t always easy to let that go and put ourselves (and our babies) first. With all of the looming change in my students’ lives, I think what they really needed was for someone to be present, listen, and, when appropriate, respond. Just showing up as fully as I possibly could seemed much more appropriate than any scripted theme or class plan I could have put together.

So we focused on coming back to the breath even when there are pressing matters that deserve our attention. Interestingly, in my experience, being able to settle in to the moment and stay with the breath doesn’t mean that the things we want to be thinking about don’t matter; rather, it is a valuable tool in helping us make sense of the forces that are pulling us in different directions. It is often in the silence that the solution can be found. It is often in the space in between our thoughts that we can really recognize our instincts and intuition. If we can connect to that, those big decisions become a little more clear, a little less muddy. Not any less complicated, but at least a little bit less confusing because we have some sense of where we, at our center, want to go. Where we need to go. This is why I teach yoga, and this is why I choose to teach yoga to populations facing transition and deep personal growth (pregnant women, new moms, toddlers and preschoolers, middle schoolers and high schoolers…). So Thursday was worth shelving my other commitments and projects for. Well worth it.

I’m participating in the August Break this year, so I’ve been taking a lot of pictures. I’m using it as an opportunity to reconnect to creativity— photography and writing, primarily— and disconnect from TV and mindless surfing of the web. The August Break was created by Susannah Conway a few years back to give bloggers a break from blogging, but I haven’t been present here in so long, it feels like a good time to step back from what’s been distracting me and reconnect to who and where I want to be. A writer. A maker.

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Thursday’s prompt was “today is…”. The only picture I took was of a cookie with a bite out of it.
But that’s okay because I needed to set aside my preoccupation with capturing moments to be able to show up completely. So I ran with it a bit more yesterday. It was a day of weaving in loose ends. Sorting through all of the maternity clothes I’ve been gifted lately.

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Catching up on work at my “other job.” Tidying up a bit. Writing. Photo-ing. Making the effort to find extra little moments to revel in this journey.

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It wasn’t picture perfect, but who cares?  My life has never been picture perfect. I value experience and connection over image and stuff, and there was connection in my day, too– an evening of Happy Hour and patio sitting with the husband. I was perfectly happy with my virgin drink, chowing down on half-priced chicken wings. It felt like we were able to carve through some of the mess, both literal and mental, that accumulates throughout the week and make space for ourselves to just be. Share. Explore. Wander. Enjoy. And Love Love Love.