My New Mantra for Messes

Mistakes shaped into words become a step from which to advance rather than a setback to look back on with regret.

Because of last week's debacle, I have a new mantra for motherhood: "I want the mermaids."

Words are powerful. Have the right words playing over and over in your head and they'll propel you forward or, sometimes, more importantly, help you to pause.

With kids, it's the pause that holds the magic. Before you react, pause. Before you correct, pause. Before you look away, pause.

Messy Mornings

I need to do mess better.

I try so hard. I really do. I am learning to go with her flow. I am trying not to control. I let her use all the colors. I let her draw stripes on her leg so she can be a "stripey zebra." I laugh it off when they don't wash out. 

On Being an Artful Parent

By Ella and Mommy

On my shelf is a wonderful book called The Artful Parent, which teaches parents how to bring out their children's creativity. (A book that I need to reread ASAP, as our morning art sessions haven't been ending in the best way.) In the morning, before her after-lunch bath time, Ella plays with her art materials. It's occurred to me that the artful parent should probably be creating her own art, too. It's only fair, right? Why should children have all the fun?

Making Space

"Mama, there's no space for me," she says. "Please squeeze in." After only a few months, the reading chair  in her room is now too small for both of us. She has grown. I hadn't noticed. 

"Make space" is an oft-expressed plea. For the times when this need of hers is unspoken, her body finds ways to make her need known. It's as if she has made it her mission to find ways to squeeze in. As I'm typing, she sticks her head under an arm and finds her way onto my lap. "Mommy, may I sit here?" she asks, never listening for an answer. As I'm nursing her brother, she fills the empty space beside me and says she too is a baby, "your baby." On my bed, she steals a snuggle. At the dining table, she wants to "be closer." "Remember when I was inside your tummy?" she asks sometimes. "When I become little again, I can be in your tummy." I resist explaining why this can never be true. 

I'm an introvert. I need my space. I like my rooms empty so my thoughts can breathe. Sharing oxygen with another person, no matter how little, has its effects. I am a writer. I need my work. I like my words flowing, not interrupted by made-up combinations of consonants and vowels and endless emojis tap-tap-typed out by tiny fingers. 

But I am a mom and it seems like making space in my body for another being, another soul, was a lifelong contract signed in blood even after they cut the cord. 

I love her with all of my heart, or at least the part that isn't selfish and suffocating. It is hard not to be selfish when every part of your day is marked by bits of yourself being pinched off and taken. If I'm writing, she asks to hold just a finger, but takes my hand. If I'm eating, she'll have what I'm having—not her own, mine is "better." She is still nursing and refuses to wean. My milk is supposedly better than ice cream. "This is mine," she says of my breasts. "No, they're mine," I correct her. "No, they're mine, Mommy," she insists. "But I can share them with you, if you want." 

We tried painting together today. This is your paper; this is mine. No, no, darling, this is my work. Why don't you do yours? 

"But, Mommy, it's better together. Can I paint with you? See, I made it beautiful."

It is useless to argue. There is no me and you. Only us two. 

Today, I Let Her Win

"After I finish my coffee, it's Mommy and Ella time," I announced at the breakfast table. She had been in a lifeless and limp mood all morning. Practically melting into her bowl of yogurt. We blamed low blood sugar (she had skipped dinner the night before) and toddler-ness, but I had a feeling it also had something to do with her baby brother being attached to me since we woke up, getting cooed over and cuddled, and nursed (the thing she hates sharing the most). More than food, she needed Mommy, I guessed. When my announcement got the first smile of the morning, I knew I was right.

"So, what shall we do after breakfast?" Please, don't say paint. Please, don't say garden. Say "read a book," I prayed to myself. "I want to take a walk. With you," she answered. "In the backyard?" I said, fingers crossed. "No. Outside."

Oh. Outside. I never go outside. I am absolutely allergic to leaving the house. It is dusty. There are people. I'd have to look decent, wear a bra, brush my hair. Since leaving my job to become a stay-at-home mom, I'd further embraced my introversion and assigned the "people tasks" to the extroverts in the family: our helper, my husband, and E. They happily oblige: chatting with the neighbors, introducing themselves to strangers. This division of labor, it works. They handle the messy relationship thing. I take care of the indoor games: the art sessions, the block castle building, the storytelling. Yes, we will play, but we'll learn, too. Indoors, in my controlled environment. And I won't even need to find pants that still button up all the way.  

"Wouldn't you rather play upstairs?" I almost said. Like I always do. But, today, I pause, and didn't.

Your Midweek Creativity Exercise

Moms, do you take time to be creative? To make something? Other than your bed, everyone's breakfast, the kids' lunches, and an unholy fuss about everyone else's problems, that is. Sometimes I feel as if I stopped making things after I made these little humans (no easy task, but still, not an excuse). 

I know, I know. Personal projects feel frivolous. Crafts are for mothers; perfecting your craft is for everyone else. Who has the time when your time is no longer your time?

Hello, Monday

Started my week with this article on making life decisions by Jeff Goins. Go read it if you need an extra push to get off your butt this week.

3 Quotes I'll Be Keeping in My Pocket:

1) "Make an effort to get lost more often."

2) "Quit trying to control things...Do you want to plan your life away or live it? Let go and live the story."

3) "Where you’re going doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Just go. More often than not, you just need to move in a direction, not the direction....As you build momentum, you can learn to steer."

Okay, one more for good measure:
"Often, the decision isn’t between this or that; it’s between acting or not."
That's why I love coffee. No decisions necessary. The answer is yes, please. 

Links I Shared with Friends #5




We're Reading: Adarna House Books

We just returned from this year's Manila International Book Fair, braving the traffic, the crowds, the potential bankcruptcy, all for the love of books.

For us, this year's star was Adarna House. I'd planned on buying just one or two storybooks for our helpers to read to Ella (and Little J), but seeing the shelves and stacks of great titles, I picked up a few more. Workbooks, storybooks, ABC (alpabeto) books for baby J, books for when the kids are older. I'd have brought home these posters if I had anymore wall space. 

We can't get enough of Adarna House books! Find out why after the jump.

We're Loving: The City Gym Play Mat

The search for the best play mat/play gym is over. I can close all the tabs and mark this project done. And the chosen one is: The City Gym from Oops!

I'd been looking at a few of the usual brands and had almost gotten a play mat by Tiny Love (another brand we like) when we found this one at The SM Store (It's also available at SM's Baby Company—Oops is exclusively distributed by SM). I've been eyeing this Swiss brand since I first featured some of their products in a New Mom Must-Haves feature for Smart Parenting magazine in 2013. I love how their designs are modern and design-y, while still being fun. The colors are bright but not neon and not limited to the primaries or the rainbow.  Call me selfish, but I like my baby gear to be pleasing to my eyes, too. Not that the other play mats weren't also adorable (Skip Hop and Infantino also have great designs). Every mom has her own preference. But the City Gym had the features that were in my must-have list. 

Help Your Helpers: Talk to Your Toddler

Today's nap time project was inspired by this post from Imprints From Tricia. Tricia wonderfully suggests six open-ended questions parents can ask their kids during playtime to help engage their littles in a conversation and also stimulate their thinking. The questions are simple enough to add to your playtime interaction but they're also so simple that we may not think to ask them unless we're intentional about saying them. Definitely something I want to put into practice.

Tricia's inquiry questions are too good not to include in E's regular playtime, even if I'm not around to ask them. In Tricia's home, the questions are posted on her kids' playroom wall as a visual reminder. So, for our play space, which is outdoors and visible to everyone from the dining room, I thought, what better way to display them than in bunting form (Yes, i know, buntings. I need an intervention.)

A Lesson in Boundaries

Mommy motto to remember

Despite what you may think based on the split second captured and filtered on Instagram, E and I have been struggling with finding our groove when it comes to playtime. Seeing all these parents so joyfully accepting—even reveling—in their little ones messes has brought on the mommy guilt big time. And while there is a time and place for messy play (specifically, in the backyard, after I've had my coffee), there is also nothing wrong with setting limits that you are comfortable with. We tell our children that they should be true to themselves, while at the same time sacrificing so much of ourselves in the name of "good parenting".

Any dishonesty in a relationship will eventually lead to resentment. The cracks are tiny, but they are there. Over time, they will turn into breaks that are harder to repair. This therapist me speaking to future me; it's a lesson I need to keep repeating to myself.

E and I have been painting together. I am not an artist. I do not have the skills to turn her scribbles and splotches into beautiful collaborative pieces. I am a student. I need space to make my own mistakes without having to make the most of her mistakes contributions.

Halfway through every art exploration session, I hear her ask, "What are you doing, Mommy?" But that's not her real question. What she wants to know is "Why are you doing something without me?" How dare I! Without fail, she asks to join me. Sometimes, I don't mind and I let her. Sometimes, I do mind—I'd just figured out how to freehand a flower or I liked the shade of blue I'd mixed—but I let her anyway. That's what good mommies do, right?

Then it hit me: No wonder I get so upset by the smallest acts of defiance—paint mixed with the wrong colors in the pan, water spilled on the floor. I had sacrificed something important to me for her happiness and this was the thanks I got? But my sacrifice was not coming from an honest place of love and generosity. And it was causing a crack.

Today, I painted a floral border. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty to me, for a first attempt. Today, when she asked if she could paint on my paper, I said no. Then I calmly placed my work where she couldn't reach it and offered her a blank sheet of paper that we could explore on together. And play continued without missing a beat, we even got a bit messy, and I enjoyed it, honestly.

Janet Lansbury writes about boundaries on her blog, how they lead to freedom, how they "are and look like love." I couldn't agree more. When we know where the fences are, we can dance without worrying about falling off the edge.

Tiny Baby Month One Must-Haves

Day 4: My shorts are pants!
Where did that tiny baby go?
Little J just reached the one-month mark! He's now got the chubbiest cheeks and his neck has disappeared. If I didn't have photos to prove it, it'd be hard to believe that he used to be a tiny baby. Despite my doctor warning me that I should be induced before the baby got too big, J came out at 5.64 pounds (2.64 kg) and 20.47 inches (52 cm). My cousin's preemie even weighed more at birth than J did!

A lot of shopping guides I found online were really helpful for coming up with a preliminary must-buy list before J was born, but what I couldn't find was help finding things that fit or worked for our tiny baby. I can't be the only mom who has adorably petite babies, right? If you're expecting a tiny baby, I hope this list helps you. Pass it on!