Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thoughts on Audiobooks from a First-time Listener

In an effort to meet my goal of reading 40 books this year, I decided to give audiobooks a try.  I have tried listening to novels on maybe two other occasions, but never actually managed to finish the book I was "reading."  With that as an introduction, here are my thoughts and advice on audiobooks (with the obvious disclaimer that I speak with no authority on the subject whatsoever!):

1. Audiobooks are excellent background noise for mindless tasks. Washing dishes, folding laundry, picking up toys, grocery shopping, etc.  I found those chores to be so much more enjoyable bearable with the distraction of a good story playing in my ears.  But as soon as I tried to do anything that required a thought process (reading and answering emails, scrolling through Instagram, playing Two Dots (as you can tell, my "thought process" activities are quite mentally stimulating!)), I had to stop and rewind about five different times to figure out what was happening in the story.  Clearly, my multi-tasking abilities do not include listening and reading and thinking all at the same time.

2.  Audiobooks are great for "popcorn plots."  I'm pretty sure I just made that term up, but a popcorn plot is one that requires little to no thought process. (Hmmm.... I'm starting to see a theme here.)  Think summer blockbusters - big explosions, predictable romances.  A story that is so full of stereotypical archetypes, that you don't need to utilize any deductive reasoning to figure out where the plot is headed.  I have nothing to compare this to, but I'm pretty sure non-fiction audiobooks would never work for me.  I usually read non-fiction with a pencil in one hand, ready to make notes in the margins or underline important words or star key passages.  I was listening to Sarah Dessen - the queen of the quintessential YA Romance novel - so keeping track of the story and characters was not rocket science.

3.  Audiobooks are not good for falling asleep.  Duh.  This is probably embarrassingly obvious to just about every other person alive.  I really enjoy reading a book to help me fall asleep at night (the moment when you realize that, yes, it's time to turn off the light because you just smacked yourself on the nose with your book as it fell out of your hands and onto your face?  Oddly satisfying.), so I thought I would try it with the audiobook, figuring I would feel myself falling asleep and turn off the player when the time came.  Uh, nope.  Didn't happen.  What did happen was that I woke up at like 3 o'clock in the morning, with my earbuds still in, the audio still playing.  Seven chapters and half a battery later, I turned the thing off and rolled my eyes at myself as I drifted off to sleep for the second time.  Again, duh.

4. Audiobooks are fun with the right technology.  This is totally untested, but I think I would enjoy an audiobook even more on a different platform.  I checked out a Playaway device from the library, which required headphones to listen, which was okay when I doing mindless tasks late at night, but not so okay when I was wanting to listen to the story during the day and my children, for some reason, wanted my full attention.  I know there are online services and mobile apps for buying and renting audiobooks, so for my next listening experience, I want to try something I can download on my phone.



So there you have it.  My completely unqualified review of audiobooks.  I'd love to know your thoughts and advice (qualified or otherwise). Favorite titles or genres?  Favorite apps or services?  Favorite mindless task to complete while listening?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

This Does Not Define You

Have you seen Moana?  If you haven't yet, I highly recommend it.  Catchy songs, memorable characters, and a heart-warming story.  Fun for the whole family.

My favorite part of the movie is at the end, when Moana realizes that Te Ka, the lava monster they have been fighting, is actually Te Fiti, the goddess whose heart had been stolen and which they were trying to return to her.  In the beautiful climax moment, Moana slowly and bravely approaches the enraged Te Ka and sings,

They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

In essence, Moana is telling Te Fiti that her tragedy does not define her.  The monster she turned into in order to compensate for the grief and anger she felt at her loss was not truly who she was.  Te Fiti only needed to remember who she was in order to return to her true goddess form.

Yesterday marked the five-year anniversary of the death of a close friend.  His death was sudden and tragic and just plain heartbreaking.  At the time, and in the months following it, I very much felt that this incident would define me for the rest of my life, that I would never be able to overcome the trauma of his passing.  And while I do carry the memory of that loss with me, I have since learned that with time and faith, wounds heal, scars fade, and, more importantly, my loss does not define who I am as an individual.


Over the past few days I have been thinking not only of this tragedy, but also of other tragedies that have been occurring in the lives of acquaintances and loved ones.  I don't pretend to know how it feels to lose a child or a parent, or suffer a miscarriage, or any number of trials that can occur in one's life, but I do know that our lives are not defined by what we have lost or the pain we have felt.  Our identity is not determined by tragedy or trauma.

Whether it's a job title or career path, your body after having had a baby, a significant relationship, the physical ability to perform a task due to injury or illness, the enjoyment of a hobby or interest or talent, or, yes, the passing of a friend or child or sibling or parent - whatever it is that is stolen from you for a period of time (or even for this lifetime) - this does not define who you are.

Is there a mourning period for your loss?  Of course.  Does it feel like the pain and sadness will never end?  Oh my goodness, yes.  But there truly is a light, however dim, at the end of that dark tunnel.

We were created to have joy.  What this tells me is that even though we may experience it, sadness is not who we are meant to be.  We are not meant to be in pain or be angry or be weighed down by grief for our whole lives.

So much of life can be temporary or fleeting, and if losing something causes us to question who we are or doubt our purpose on earth, then maybe we need to reevaluate.  It is my belief that who we truly are does not depend on titles or material possessions, but rather in a divine nature that has been inside of us since before we were born into this life.

Circumstances beyond our control may steal our happiness for a time, but this does not define us.

We know who we are, or rather, whose we are.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Who Needs Sleep?

Who needs sleep? (Well, you're never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (Tell me what's that for)
Who needs sleep? (Be happy with what you're getting,
there's a guy who's been awake since the Second World War)

Anyone else remember this Barenaked Ladies song?  No?  Just me?  Okay...

As a mother, especially a mother of little people, sleep is a precious and rare commodity, elusive and even at times non-existent.  During those first months home from the hospital, sleep is such a distant memory that the thought of what you have been missing for weeks on end brings tears (and lots of them) to your eyes.

This is the part where I admit, though, that both my boys are actually excellent sleepers.  Both started sleeping through the night right at about 8-weeks old (like, 10 hours of sleeping though the night), and other than the normal sleep regressions, teething and whatnot, once they are asleep, for the most part they stay asleep.  So these days I cannot really blame my sleep deprivation on my 2.5-year old and 4-month old.

Nope, my lack of sleep is completely my own doing.

As soon as both boys are officially asleep - usually somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 PM - there is a magic moment of realizing that I am "Free!  Body and soul free!" It's a monstrous joy, the thought that I can finally live for myself.  My fancy runs riot along the hours ahead of me (any Kate Chopin fans out there?).  There is so much I could do!  Get some work done on the computer, watch a show, read a book, write a blog post, work on a house project, exercise!  

But then I realize I am tired.  And then I start looking around at the day's devastation all around me.  And then I am exhausted.

Sleep, of course, is probably the best thing I could be doing in times like these, but for some reason I just can't bring myself to go to bed.  It almost feels like a FOMO thing (Fear Of Missing Out).  If I go to sleep, then I am missing the opportunity for alone time, because heaven knows I'm not going to be getting any of it for at least the next 24 hours.  Or maybe it's fearful anticipation.  If I go to bed, then that means I have to wake up, and when I wake up, that means the kids are awake and it starts all over again.  So if I never go to bed... then the kids will never wake up! (I don't claim that any of this has any logic to it.)

So whether it's FOMO or just plain FO, I weirdly stay up incredibly late doing nothing particularly productive or even relaxing or entertaining.  And the sleep deprivation continues.

Actually, I usually end up scrolling through pictures of my boys on my phone, missing their cute faces...



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflections

To be completely honest, I actually don't enjoy New Year's Eve.  The holiday, that is.  In my younger years, I found it to be extremely anti-climactic, and the sentiment of "What's the big deal about this event?!" has followed me to the present.  I'm not ruling out one year finally finding the magic in celebrating the countdown festivities with kids and family and friends, but right now my general attitude towards NYE is a shoulder shrug and a half-hearted "Meh."

What I do enjoy, though, is the concept of a New Year.  A new start, a new leaf.  A do-over, a second chance.  A clean slate, a blank canvas.  An opportunity to think and act differently, to do and be better.

However, before you can achieve all that newness and betterness, you must, of course, reflect on the previous year's highs and lows, strengths and weaknesses.  From there you can begin to make plans and set goals for the next calendar year's success.

My reflections these last few weeks of 2016 have been all over the place, but especially in the last day or so, I have been thinking of the personal changes I want/need to make in order to be a better version of myself.

These past four months of being a stay-at-home mom to a toddler a baby have been difficult, to say the least.  I did not anticipate the change from being a full-time teacher to a full-time mom to be this hard.  Survival mode was my permanent setting for the first two or three months, and even now it's still my daily default.  At times I look in the mirror and don't even recognize myself.  I know I'm not the first and certainly not the last person to come to this realization, but motherhood is exhausting, dang it!  The physical, mental and emotional toll is overwhelming.  The feelings of isolation and loneliness are real.  The social media-induced guilt and stress are real, too.

For me, the outer display of this inner tornado of emotions is usually anger or tears (or both!), directed first towards myself, and then to those closest to me.

Tonight was no exception.  The boys and I have been quarantined inside the house for the past three days with varying degrees of colds, coughs and runny noses, and tonight I reached a breaking point.  Call it cabin fever or whatever, but I momentarily lost it.

Two tender mercies pulled me back from the edge and gave me a lot to reflect on.

As I sat in a chair, eyes closed, tears silently falling, my sweet, perfect little 2-year old came to my side and said, "You're fine, mommy.  You're fine."

Later, as I was trying to convince a very wide-awake 4-month old to, please, go to sleep, he looked at me through the dim lights, eyes dancing, and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

First Reflection:  I'm fine.  I'm going to be fine.  Everything's going to be fine.  Whatever changes and goals I work on for 2017, it will be fine.  I don't have to be perfect, don't have to do it all, don't have to have it all together.  I'm fine.  You're fine.  We are all fine.  (Thank you, Jackson.)

Second Reflection:  A baby's laugh can cure anything and everything. A baby's laugh is also the perfect reminder of what really matters most.  (Thank you, Charlie.)

Here's hoping your 2016 reflections bring you peace and comfort for 2017.
Happy New Year!  Happy New You!


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Remembering to Love My Baby

This afternoon Baby Charlie and I stopped for a visit at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  They had been out of town, and therefore had not seen Charlie for about a week.  As my mom took Charlie in her arms to hold him, she immediately started smothering him in kisses, telling him how much she loved him.

In that moment, I realized that sometime, somehow in the past few weeks, I had forgotten to love my baby.  My heart sank, and I was filled with guilt.  How could a mother forget to love her own child?

Let me explain.

When Jackson was born, I spent hours upon hours just holding him.  Looking at his face, kissing his squishy cheek, listening to him breathe, trying to make him smile, whispering soft "I love you's" into his ear.  I remember one day just holding him and sobbing, overwhelmed at the feeling of finally being a mother, realizing it was the best feeling in the world.  Up until about two months ago, he fell asleep in my arms almost every single night.  And he really was a perfect baby - hardly ever cried, cute as can be, just a happy baby.

I went back to full-time teaching when he was seven weeks old, so all I wanted to do when I got home from work was hold and love my baby boy.  Granted, so much baby-holding wreaked havoc on my arm, shoulder and back, but holding him was the absolute best.  All of that holding created a very close bond between mother and son.   School was stressful, of course, and there was always something going on, but it never seemed to interrupt my time with Jackson.  Loving him was easy because it was just him and me (oh, and Mitchell!).

Six weeks ago, Charlie joined our family, and we could not be more obsessed with him.  He is almost an exact carbon copy of Jackson when he was a newborn, so apparently we can only make ridiculously cute babies.  I probably spend just as much time holding Charlie as I did Jackson, but there are some major differences in our lives now vs. our lives then.

First of all, two years ago I only had the one child to keep alive.  Now, with two of them, I feel like at least half my day is spent being screamed/cried at by one if not both of my children.  Constant headache.  I fully admit my 2-year old watches an inordinate amount of TV (Netflix - a blessing or a curse?).  If not for Thomas & Friends and Dinotrux, I would never be able to survive a day with these boys.

Speaking of crying, Charlie is having a hard time figuring out the sleeping thing.  I have not had more than 3 hours of sleep at a time in the past month and a half (I think I've gotten just a couple 4-hour sleeps in there somewhere).  I am exhausted.  I feel like I shuffle around the house like a zombie most of the time.  If I leave the house without at least a little mascara on, I feel sorry for anyone I have to interact with.  I am so tired of being tired.

We moved into our new home about 3 months ago, and I am still living in chaos.  I don't have a closet yet (it's a work in progress), so all of my clothes are still in suitcases.  I have access to about 15% of my wardrobe, and it's the 15% that is maternity clothes, t-shirts and yoga pants.  We are currently in the beginning stages of remodeling the boys' bathroom (it was demo-ed in the initial remodel phase and has just been waiting for a little attention).  The study was the dumping ground for everything that didn't have a home when we were unpacking boxes, and not much has changed or improved in the last two months.  Chaos.  And I don't function very well in chaos.

Also, C-section recovery.

In the middle of all this, I hold Charlie.  Practically all day, it feels like.  What I forgot though, and what I just today realized, is that I should be loving my baby, not just holding him.

Despite all of the stress, the exhaustion, the guilt, the worries, the pain - I need to just love him.

Even when he is crying and fussing and screaming.
Even when I am tired out of my mind.
Even when I am trying to make dinner and he is wrapped around me.
Even when the house is a complete disaster.
Even when I haven't been able to get any online work done.
Even when he is spitting up all over me.
Even when he refuses to sleep in his crib.

I should be looking at his face, kissing his squishy cheek, listening to him breathe, trying to make him smile, whispering soft "I love you's" into his ear.

And I do.  I do love my Charlie Boy.


Obsessed.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday Recap

I have about half a dozen different blog posts in draft form (including Charlie's birth story), but for some reason the only thing I want to write about right now is the day I have just had.

First, Charlie's night sleeping is getting a little better (4 hour stretches, whoo-hoo!), but every morning at about 6:00 AM, I struggle with the decision to stay awake and get the day started (shower, clothes, food), or to collapse in my bed and try to catch up on a couple of hours of sleep that I missed out on during the previous night.  Getting a start on the day almost never wins, and this morning was no exception.

Once I actually did get out of bed (at who-knows-o'clock), I decided that today was the day I was going to start exercising again.  And by exercising, I mean simply walking around the block.  What would have taken a normal person (ie: a person not currently adjusting to life with a toddler and a newborn) about 30 minutes to accomplish took me no less than 4 hours to do: wash face, brush teeth, put in contacts; pull hair up into non-attractive messy buns; put on running walking clothes; find watch, sunglasses, iPod and visor; fill jogging stroller tires with air; get baby ready to go on run walk.

At regular 5 minute intervals, the task I was trying to complete was interrupted by one of my children.  So I stopped what I was doing to tend to the need or want of said child (who was usually crying).  After a massive meltdown involving Lightning McQueen and Mater toy cars, I finally gave in and put Jackson in front the TV so I could finish getting ready.  Miraculously, I somehow made it out the door and down the driveway (at 1:00 PM) with Charlie in the jogging stroller, sunglasses and visor on, music playing in my ears, ready to finally start moving my body.

I DID NOT EVEN MAKE IT PAST THE MAILBOX.  Charlie has a strong aversion to his car seat, and no amount of pacifier-stuffing or stroller-rocking was going to calm him down enough for us to make a loop around the neighborhood.  So back up the driveway, back inside, back to the chair.  

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening (and now late night) in my running walking clothes, alternating between being somewhat productive (working on the computer, making dinner) and trying to calm a fussy baby.  But, like, trying to calm a fussy baby every 15 minutes.  Not that I had hoped to accomplish grand things today, but I would have liked to have done something - for the house, for myself, for work - something that made the day worthwhile.  But, no.  The entire day was stop and go, stop and go.  One interruption after another.

And then, tonight before bed, this happened:



It is now 1:00 AM.  I'm still in workout clothes (which really just means that I didn't shower today).  I've been working on this post for about 2 hours because Charlie has apparently decided that sleep is not for him tonight (actually, I'm typing this one-handed because someone is hungry again).  The kitchen is a mess.  There are toys, pillows and couch cushions strewn across the living room floor.  There is a pile of clean clothes on top of my bed, waiting to be folded and put away

But, oh well.  There's always tomorrow.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Back to School

For the majority of my life (like, 25 of the last 34 years!), this time of year has always meant one thing: Back to School.  Whether as a student or a teacher, the end of August has been a fun mixture of all the emotions: anxiety, excitement, stress, relief, nervous anticipation, unexplainable giddiness.  Even now, as an online instructor, I think my year will always be measured by the beginning and end of new semesters.

But while my online class doesn't start for another few weeks, I have been feeling left out of all the back to school festivities this week.  True, I am so grateful to be able to stay home right now, but I definitely miss my school family.  Part of me still feels a responsibility towards my principal, co-workers, and especially my students.  I know the school continues to function in my absence, but still.  After spending five years helping to build a program and a culture, it's hard to let go.

I've been thinking, however, that even though I am not technically going back to high school this August, I am definitely going back to a different kind of school.  In what I hope is no more than a few days, I am going Back to Baby School.

You know how kids forget all that they learned the previous school year over the summer break?  That's how I feel right now.  It's been two years since I had a newborn...now tell me again, how do I do this?

How do you keep a baby alive?
How often do you feed a baby?
How do you get a baby to stop crying?
How do you change a baby's diaper?
How do you hold a baby?
How do you survive on only 2 hours of sleep at a time?

And don't even get me started on how you take care of a newborn AND a toddler at the same time.  That's college-level stuff, and I assume it involves a lot of show-watching and bribery.

So, back to school I go, accompanied by the fun mixture of all the emotions: anxiety, excitement, stress, relief, nervous anticipation, unexplainable giddiness.

Still not sure when my schooling will begin (please, please, please, don't make me wait another week!), but here's to a great year!

My First Baby School Instructor


BONUS!

For three of the past four school years, I have had a silly tradition to take selfies to mark the passing of the days and weeks.  The first year I did it, I took a daily outfit picture.  The second year, Jackson and I took a picture every Friday morning before we rushed out of the house.  Last school year, we continued the Friday morning selfie tradition.  He was definitely a less willing participant as he got older, and admittedly we missed a few weeks (mornings were and still are rough around here!), but it was something I looked forward to each week because it meant the weekend had finally arrived.

(Several people have inquired whether or not we will keep up our weekly pictures this year - and how in the world I'll be able to take a selfie with a child in both arms! - we shall see!)

So, without further ado, here is our #katiejandbabyjfridayselfies from the 2015-2016 school year.  Enjoy!