Friday, February 27, 2015

Embrace the Chaos or, How I'm Surviving

As a new mom of three, I keep adjusting my expectations in order to survive. I have these mantras to help me get through the day. Enjoy your kidsOne hour at a time. Embrace the Now. My newest, Embrace the Chaos. 

I'm normally a fairly organized person. I like order. Michael and I have had a routine for longer than I can remember that after the girls go to bed we finish putting away any last toys or clothes or chaos floating around. Until we've done that, we can't seem to relax.

When we were first married, a source of newlywed tension was our different approaches to washing dishes. My philosophy was to get them done right after dinner so I could have the rest of the night to "let down my hair." Michael would tell me he'd do the dishes, and he meant that he would, just later. I couldn't stand the mess, so I'd end up washing them myself. I've since been able to let this go, but it took a while.

What I didn't realize until recently is to what level these messes drive me bonkers. The other day our living room looked like a tornado had blown through. In this case, it was actually two cute ones, one named Ellie and the other named Hazel. There we were in the middle of puzzle pieces strewn about, along with toys, shoes, sweaters, backpacks, crayons, markers, and cut up scraps of paper, and I realized I was nagging. As soon as the girls dropped one activity and moved on to another, I began. 

"Clean up those puzzle pieces." 

"Sweep up those scraps you cut up all over the floor." 

"Don't get out that toy until you pick up the other ones." 

In my mind I was doing this because I want to teach them about cleaning up after themselves, that it's not OK to make huge messes and never clean up. And that's partly true, I'm sure. But I realized how much of this was because I couldn't stand the chaos. It was causing me stress because I was letting it.

Then I had an aha! moment. I need to just LET. IT. GO.  

I have become a nagger and a yeller, and it's almost all related to cleaning up. So, I realized that if I held cleaning up messes a bit looser, I might find myself become a happier, less naggy mom. It also meant the girls could actually enjoy play time and the freedom to just be little kids making messes. What a novel thought. This doesn't mean we won't clean up afterwards, but it doesn't have to be the minute they are done playing.

In fact.

We *might* not even clean up the same day. Confession: I have actually left messes out overnight, and even for days now.

The girls had a huge tea party upstairs in their new play area a few days ago. The dishes and food are still in the same spot they are in this picture:
We've been walking around them for a few days now. I've left them, partly as a reminder to just embrace the mess, and partly because I just haven't had the energy to get the girls to clean it up. I know at some point we'll get a burst of energy and do it. Until then, the mess remains. There are other little messes all over the house. 

It helps that the majority of the girls' toys are now in this play area upstairs. What drove Michael and I the craziest was when our living space where we wanted to relax after bedtime routines was a mess. Now the majority of the mess is upstairs. We still pass it several times a day by our bedrooms, but it's a little easier to ignore. 
With two girls I was able to manage the chaos, but I have realized quickly with a third that it's not sustainable to care so much about the toys and clothes all over the house. Feeding or rocking a screaming baby means I might just have to let the girls make huge messes. Yesterday while I was nursing Ruby the girls were playing in the dirt outside and were covered from head to toe in mud within a few minutes. I wasn't planning on doing baths, but they sort of gave me no choice. Yet another change that having three kids has produced. Currently, with Michael out of town, this philosophy is helping me survive a week alone with the girls. I'm embracing the chaos, letting the messes signify fun being had and not a source of stress. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

New House

You may be wondering, why in the world did we move AGAIN? Fact: This move is #17 (18 locations) in 10 years of marriage.

We had been thinking about moving for a few reasons. Mainly, location. Our house was on a very busy road, not too far from the girls school, maybe a 25 minute walk (5 minute drive), but along the front of our house was a very narrow road, unpassable with a stroller. So, walking has not been an option like we'd hoped. The traffic is insane as it's a one-way road on a major thoroughfare, and large semis have to pass through very early in the morning, shaking the whole house. (Once I confused an actual earthquake for what I thought to be another semi-truck passing by).

We were looking at our calendar over the next several months. There are a lot of days where Michael will have to travel without us. This meant every time he leaves we would need to figure out transportation for the girls to get to school. It's a headache to deal with a taxi to and from school every day. This had become a big stress for me to think about.

More and more we were thinking that if only we lived closer to the new school and the office, we wouldn't need to worry about transportation.

Then of course there was the crazy construction behind our house. When we moved in a year ago there was one apartment building right next to our house, still being constructed. Little did we know that within one month of moving in the houses right behind us would be bulldozed to make room for a second 7-story building. And the construction has been non-stop since, sometimes as early as 5 in the morning until 11 at night, and weekends too. It was especially obnoxious those first few weeks home with Ruby when we were trying to rest during the day and all we could hear was BAM! BAM! and the whir of the saw right in our backyard.
The new apartment building creeping up behind our old house.
Our contract for the current house was up the first week of February, so I had looked maybe twice in the paper, with no luck. We decided that the only way we'd move is if we found a place within very close distance of the girls' school. That seemed very unlikely since we were looking in a very specific area. We thought we'd maybe drive around the area at some point and see if there were any For Rent signs around.

The task of moving didn't sound appealing, especially with a brand new baby, and given the craziness of our travel schedule.

A couple weeks ago we dropped the girls off at school and headed to get Ruby's Guatemalan birth certificate. A couple blocks from the school, we passed a rental sign. We hit reverse and wrote down the number. By the end of the day we had called and looked at it. It seemed really promising. The house was only two blocks from the girls' school! There were pros and cons compared to our current house, but the biggest pros were the nearness to the girls' school and the distance from the construction.

After some back and forth with the owners, they finally said it was ours.

So, last Sunday we started packing the house, and Tuesday we signed papers and moved in. It was fast, but we wanted to get in this week before Michael had to travel overnight on Friday. And next week he's gone for 6 days, so being able to walk to school every day is a huge bonus.

We are loving the house. There are so many little details about this house that are things we didn't seek out but are super thrilled with. Here's a few things I'm really thankful for in this new house:

1. The kitchen. I have actual counter space, more cupboards than I can use, and a pantry. And did I mention that I have counters, where I can actually cut food and stir and cook? Counters. A big deal.
2. Hot water. Any time of the day. Those are two separate things. In the old house, the way we were connected to the city water we often couldn't shower after 8am because the water pressure was so low. Also, too little water pressure meant our insta-hot water heater didn't work. So, showers had to be timed well, and even then it wasn't a guarantee. Now, we have plenty of hot water. And I can shower any time I want. Double bonus.

3. This guy.
He drives around our neighborhood every evening. He's from a local panaderia (bread shop). Any night we want bread, we can walk outside and buy it from him. I've also seen a woman who walks around selling tortillas during lunch and dinner.

4. Speaking of neighborhoods, we are in a U-shaped street with about 30 houses total. We have a guard and the neighborhood is super secure. If we have visitors at the gate, the guard will call our house to verify before they pass through. This means we can do things like walk around on the street and the girls can ride their bikes. We've already done it twice. In Ellie's words, it's "super fun." Being able to feel like we can walk a little and get outside of our driveway to ride bikes makes me feel like we're back in the States again.
Out on our first bike ride.
5. The girls' school is 2 blocks away, a 5 minute walk on a nice wide road with a sidewalk and lots of extra walking space. To drive and pick up the girls could take up to 45 minutes, because of the very organized pick-up system. Although this new school ends an hour earlier than their last school, they were still getting home at the same time because of the traffic. It was sucking up a lot of Michael's time to pick up the girls every day. Now, I can walk and get them in less time, plus get exercise while I do it. This also means we're now about a 25-minute walk to the office. We're only 2 blocks away from a staff member who walks every day, so I might just start joining her at some point.

6. Other little details about the house: the girls have a bar in their closet that is on the bottom half, so now they can reach all of their dresses themselves. We had just been saying how nice it would be if we had one in their closet, and now they have one. They love to come home from school every day and change into a dress, and now they can get them without our help.

7. We have a patio upstairs. It's connected to a great big living area where the girls now have their own play area. Also, notice the mural? It's a picture of the 7 days of Creation. In the upper left hand corner, is Day 1, lightness and darkness. And it continues through the stars and the animals and even Adam and Eve. Funny.
8. We have a little front yard and back yard, and the girls have already spent a lot of time in the front yard/driveway. I love that they can bop outside and play in our yard.

9. On the other end of the 2-story house is a separate set of stairs. At the top is one room, perfect for a guest room or office (we'll use it for both), with a bathroom at the bottom. Michael sometimes likes to work from home, but finds it difficult to do with the girls wanting his attention and trying to find space. Now he will have his own office space where he can work and get away when needed. Bonus room for sure. It will also make a great guest space away from the rest of our bedrooms.

10. Quiet. It's quiet. The loudest noises are birds and a few dogs barking (though luckily never at night).

11. We're within walking distance to the market.

12. Our new landlords live a few blocks away in a nearby colonia that has a huge green space, park with slides and swings, and a basketball court. The wife said we could walk there anytime and tell the guard we are visiting her so we can use the park. Finally, we live near some kind of outdoor park!

This house is such a good fit. Of course there are always some negatives to every place. We lost a master bathroom, a huge driveway, awesome neighbors, a bigger and more open living area space.
Our driveway at the old house. 
But, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons in this move, and we feel so blessed with the timing, and the little details, and the peace we feel about this. We are already completely unpacked, organized, and moved in. We've been working hard, and with the help of a few of our staff, we were able to get everything moved quickly. It was a crazy week, but it was fast, and more than worth it. We are so content.
Our living room

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Knowing She's Our Last

Having our third (and final) child has already been a fascinating experience. Today Ruby is 5 weeks old. There is such a range of emotions with a newborn in the house, and it's definitely true that the last one brings its own unique set of experiences.

Knowing it's my last means I can acknowledge the parts I will miss. Like, the incredible miracle of seeing that positive pregnancy test; feeling those first flutters of movement and knowing a baby is moving and growing; excitement and wonder about what the gender is, and what name we will choose, and who this little person will become.

On the other hand, I was so ready to be done being pregnant. I won't miss feeling humongous and not being able to sleep on my stomach. I won't miss the nausea or having to pee every 5 minutes. I won't miss having no lap for my girls to sit on, or not being able to tie my own shoes, or the swollen feet. I'm looking forward to being able to exercise and know that every effort I make won't be in vain, since I won't be expecting another round of weight gain.

I won't miss everyone telling me how big I am. I won't miss maternity clothes, though since I can't fit into my regular clothes yet, I have yet to say goodbye to most of them. I look forward to the day I pack them away, though this time will feel different, knowing I won't be saving them for a potential "next time."

I won't miss the dread of potential labor pains and fear surrounding the birth. Yet, I can never replicate hearing that first loud squeal right after birth, when I'm so relieved to hear her crying and my heart is suddenly flooded with so much love that it feels like it could burst. I've been blessed to experience that three times in my life, and nothing will ever come close to the emotions and love I have felt in those first precious moments of relief mixed with tears of joy and thankfulness and awe of such perfect creation.

I won't miss being spit up on, but I will miss having a baby so small she can cuddle on my chest.
I won't miss waking up every 2-3 hours in the night to a deafening cry, but I will miss being able to soothe and comfort her when no one else can.
I won't miss the stress and soreness of those first few weeks of learning together how to nurse, but I am grateful I have the ability to provide nourishment for my child, and that we've figured it out. I'm thankful I have the option to nurse, that my body is strong and that I get enough nourishment myself to be able to feed my baby too. (I've been reflecting on this privilege because I know there are many women who would nurse if they could, but may be so malnourished or have other issues so that they can't produce the milk they need to adequately feed their baby).

I will miss the smallness of a newborn and those little frog legs that haven't stretched out yet.
I hope I don't forget how enamored Ellie and Hazel are with Ruby. I want to remember how much they love holding her and kissing her. How much they adore her little nose and feet and how excited they get when Ruby grabs ahold of one of their fingers. How Ellie constantly tells me how cute Ruby is. How Hazel calls Ruby, "mine." I want to remember those moments someday when I have three girls fighting and screaming over what I can only imagine to be my future with three girls.
I don't want to rush through these moments with Ruby as a newborn since I know they are the last. I'm trying to savor the parts that I know I will miss of this stage of life with my three sweet girls. 
It's going to be a crazy, wild ride. Not a day goes by that I don't remind myself what a blessing it is to have three amazing, beautiful, healthy little girls, none of which I want to take for granted.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hour by Hour

While trying to embrace the now (previous post), I'm focusing on something else these days too.

I'm taking every day/hour/minute one at a time.

Life with three girls ages 4 and under is a bit hectic. Throw in school schedules and an intense job full of lots of responsibilities and living in a foreign country and a brand new baby, as well as things like our bosses are coming to visit and we have another work visitor coming right after that and we just found out we are moving to a different house this month and then we have meetings to plan and then we are traveling out of the country for 2 1/2 weeks, which means we are working on getting Ruby's passports (both Guatemalan and US) as we are living it these days.

It is easy to get overwhelmed as a parent, regardless of the current scenario. We all have our perfect storm of stress and craziness.

In general, I perceive myself to be able to "handle" it all. But then, the daily grind hits and I find myself stressed or worked up about a particular day or situation. So, I'm trying to not overwhelm myself by taking each day as it comes.

For example, Hazel is in a transition stage where she's still napping, but can have days without a nap. She won't fall asleep unless I tuck her in and stay for a few minutes. With a small infant and a 4-year old, this is only possible on days when Ruby is also already napping or content. Instead of worrying about how and when to transition Hazel out of naps, and how to juggle multiple children napping, I'm just letting each day dictate whether or not Hazel gets a nap. If Ruby is napping or content, I have the time (and patience and energy) to get Hazel down for a nap. If not, Hazel might just be going to bed earlier that night.

Dinnertime is another example. Most nights this week I've been able to make dinner since Ruby has been taking really good afternoon naps and I'm utilizing that time to prep dinner. But I've already promised myself that if we have a crazy day we might just have pancakes or crackers and cheese for dinner.

Some days I break it down and have to focus on one hour at a time. I ask myself, "What's the best use of this hour?" (Usually asked during Ruby's naps). Should I make dinner, or clean up, or fold laundry, or play a game with the girls? How can I use this time to focus on quality time with Ellie and Hazel? What's one thing I can do to feel a little less frazzled? It might be that I make myself a coffee and just sit. Or maybe I take the time to write or blog. Or sit and color with the girls. And for those minutes I just allow myself to be, amidst the mess or piles of clothes to fold or the zillion other things I could be or *should* be thinking about.

Michael is going to be doing more traveling in the next weeks/months, which means this philosophy of focusing on one day at a time will come in handy when I'm at home alone with all three girls.

Today's accomplishments (which may seem mundane, but are significant in this time of life): got the girls (all 3) dressed and ready to go for the day, took a shower and got myself ready, walked to a place nearby to check in about some work stuff, ate lunch, put down Hazel and Ruby for naps, nursed Ruby several times, made (fairly healthy) chocolate chip banana bread (BONUS, because I got to eat it warm while drinking tea), and wrote on my blog. These hours have been good ones and unfrazzled.

Here's hoping the next hour is smooth. And if not, there's always the hour after that.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Embracing the Now

It's a quiet moment.

My baby is next to me on the couch, blissfully asleep. I hear horns honking, trucks revving, and the hammering of construction workers next door, but they are the busy city noises we're accustomed to.

My two oldest girls are at school. Though I fully appreciate this time at home with just Ruby that I am blessed to have, it's hard to ignore some of the thoughts that interrupt my solitude.

I should be resting, but it's hard not to think about the piles of work that continue to grow, that my husband is trying to sift through on his own, as he's back to work and I'm still on maternity leave. This is an insanely busy season for us, work-wise. It wasn't the most convenient time to have a baby and take maternity leave, but on the other hand, our calendar for 2015 is already almost full. My husband is managing more stress than any one person or new father should. But he's doing it with grace. Yesterday he and the girls took a trip to the market to buy produce while Ruby and I slept. They came home and the three of them worked together to clean it all and put it away. They made a great team.
A constant struggle for me over the last almost two years of being in Guatemala is acceptance of our decision for me to work, and for the girls to be in a daycare/preschool. I've written about this, processed it, embraced it. I know there are a lot of benefits. They are learning social skills and (the big one) Spanish. They are learning their letters and numbers and getting to paint and be crafty and play with cool outdoor toys. They have physical education and Ellie started a computer class once a week. And most importantly, they love it. They rush right into their school, barely glancing back at us. So I have peace in that.


I thought I'd be a stay-at-home Mom. I thought I'd be planning playdates and library runs and coming up with my own preschool/learning crafts. (Side note: I'm not very good at coming up with lots of fun preschool activities. So in that they are getting the best end of that deal at their school.) I look at Ellie and Hazel and they seem so grown up. They are learning and changing right in front of my eyes.

Ellie is going to be 5 this year. If we wanted her to, she could start kindergarten here a year from now.

Hazel is 2 1/2. She has been going to a daycare half days since we arrived, when she was 9 months old. That's the hardest part for me to swallow. She is so young still, yet 27 days ago ceased being my baby.

And here I am at home. I experience moments of guilt for sending them off to school while I stay at home. And then moments of relief in the quiet, or in the moments like 5 minutes ago when my infant was crying inconsolably and I had to stop writing, and I'm thankful I'm not trying to appease my older two at the same time (that lovely stress happens when the girls come home at lunch time, and every afternoon and weekend).

So I remind myself it's OK to have this time with just Ruby. That it's OK to send my girls off to school even though I *could* keep them at home with me for a few weeks. We're probably all better for being in a routine.

I just have to embrace the moments. See the blessings. Drink in the quiet of snuggling my newborn who is already changing in her own ways. Because this too, shall pass, and then I will too soon be mourning its passing.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

40 Days: A Guatemalan Custom

At Ruby's 2-week check-up (actually she was 18 days old) she weighed in at a whopping 8 pounds 1 ounce. This was odd, since that's what she weighed when she was born. At least, that's what the scale said.

Since her birth we have had doubts that she really was that weight. She felt so much smaller, and reminded us much more of Ellie's size (who was 7 pounds 4 ounces), and less like Hazel (who was 8 pounds 6 ounces). So, when the scale rang in 18 days later as her birth weight, it made us pause. She's been eating great so that isn't an issue. Hazel gained almost a whole pound in her first weeks, so we assume Ruby has been gaining weight. We will never know for sure, but our guess is that she was incorrectly weighed at birth. Either way, everyone at the hospital kept telling us how big she was (8 pounds is a very big baby in Guatemala), while to us she felt tiny.

Today we took her to church for the first time. We've had several outings since she was born, and haven't really hesitated to do so. Our entire family had nasty colds over the last week or two. Ruby was probably exposed to more germs at home than when we've left the house.

In Guatemala, the common practice is that the baby and mom stay at home for 40 days and don't go anywhere. Usually this time includes the grandmother staying with the family (or the family staying with the grandparents) to help out. There are no meal deliveries from friends at church (oh how I miss that from the States!), or people stopping by to help. Instead, the mother of the mother is usually relied on for this time.  Fortunately for us, my mom was able to be here for about three weeks. It was a big help to have an extra pair of hands to cook and do laundry and just be around to distract the older girls. She left yesterday, and now we are beginning to adjust to life as a family of 5.
Today, as a family of 5
Because we've been out and about, we have been getting a lot of stares and surprised looks when people ask us how old Ruby is, and we tell them. She's less than 40 days, yet we are not at home.

Between her age and her small (to us) size, and the fact that we are white Americans with a small baby, something not too common around here, she's somewhat of a phenomenon everywhere we go.

Tomorrow Michael goes to work, and the girls will be at school in the morning. Ruby and I will have our first morning home alone together. Another new normal begins.