Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Little Christmas

This year for Christmas, I was determined to scale back.

Every time I would walk by the Christmas section at the store, I would be tempted to break with this goal. Oh, look, more lights! We could hang them around the windows and house trim. Oh, look, clear glass ornaments! The boys and I could decorate them! Oh, look, more ornaments! I could make ornament garlands!

I could make my own wrapping paper!  I could make snow globes! I could give handmade gifts to everyone!

Pinterest and Facebook and the entire world seem to be conspiring against me, making me feel like I need to do more, do nicer, more elaborate things all the time.

But then, I remember how tired and busy and hectic things have been. I would try to remember the things I really wanted to do with my kids: read Christmas stories, play games, have pillow fights, eat cookies

My boys don't care if the cookies are hand painted to look like the 12 days of Christmas. They just want to bake something with me that they can eat later, and preferably has sprinkles on it.

Keeping all this in mind, Christmas was smaller this year. There were not as many lights hung. There were fewer Christmas activities. But it was every bit as magical.

Hubster and I were a little worried, because the other thing we had decided to scale back on was gifts.

We had decided to go with a primarily toy-free Christmas. Our children don't need any more toys. They don't play with all the toys they have. We struggle to store and clean up the ones they do play with. The last thing we need are more things they won't play with, we don't have room for, and we have to clean up after. Also, I'm tired of giving into all the commercialism of the season. I don't want to buy BeyBlades just because that's what everyone else is buying. 

Doing a toy free Christmas mandates getting the grandparents involved, because we didn't want to be the parents that didn't give toys, only to have Grandma and Grandpa send awesome, battery requiring noise makers.

This Christmas, there were fewer packages under the tree. Those packages contained books, clothes, board games, flannel sheets, silly slippers, family movies, musical instruments. Yes, Bug and Monkey both got a Lego kit that they had asked for, so there were some toys. But we are to the point where Legos are almost a lifestyle.

Our boys are also getting older. With Bug being 11 and Monkey being 7, I worried that Christmas has lost some of its excitement.

So combine everything: the slimmed down decorations, the trimmed down pile of gifts, and the perpetual growing of my children, I worried about how this Christmas would go.

Like usual, my worrying was fruitless. The boys woke up at 4:30 am and descending upon their stockings, delighting over the treats and puzzles and Star Wars band-aids. They woke us up at 6:30, desperate to begin opening gifts.

Instead of trying to control the wrapping paper and freaking out that things were getting messy, I just let the wrapping paper and bows and ribbons pile up around us, while the boys exclaimed and jumped up and down and hugged everyone with each gift.

There was not one look of disappointment. There was still just as much magic.

Part of what made this work is that in all our scaling back, in all our simplifying, we didn't leave out the important things. We didn't omit traditions.  We still picked our tree from the local tree farm. We still had an evening decorating the tree (this year, I left it totally up to the boys and didn't move a single decoration, except the ones that fell off). We still made paper snowflakes and opening a gift on Christmas eve. There was still monkey bread from Christmas breakfast and our traditional Christmas dinner, eaten in pajamas.

What the scaling back resulted in was not a devaluing of Christmas; it was not an attempt to diminish the importance of the holiday and our time as a family.  What it really was was a chance for us to focus on what really matters: tradition, joy, and each other.

 How grateful I am that little Christmases can be wonderful Christmases.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Expectation Management

In anesthesia, some of the most difficult cases to do are sedation cases, ones we call “monitored anesthesia care” or “MAC.” This isn’t because of challenging physiology or surgical considerations, but because the patient is awake. When the patient goes completely off to sleep, under general anesthesia, the focus can be on pharmacology, physiology, and pathology.          

Once the patient is “awake,” the focus changes. (“Awake” is used in quotes because the anesthesia provider considers the patient awake, even if the combination of medications given for sedation make the patient unable to remember their time in the operating room.)  In these cases, it becomes about the patient’s experience: ensuring that they are comfortable, warm, not nervous, anxious, or in pain.

In order to achieve a good experience for the patient, it is very important to do expectation management. If the patient thinks that they are going to hear nothing, see nothing, and remember nothing during their sedation case, no matter how smoothly the procedure goes, the patient will be upset with the outcome. That’s why I always am very clear about what are realistic expectations are. Patients can experience the exact same thing: the one that knows what to expect, and has a realistic picture, will always be happier.

That’s what I’m trying to do in my own life.  Expectation management.

I'm hoping that creating realistic expectations for myself will make me happier.

It’s hard. I carry about this image of myself. An unrealistic one, but a consistent one.

My house can be perfect, clean, organized, and beautiful. My children will be happy, well behaved, involved in activities, enjoying plenty of quality time with me.  My job will be fulfilling, and I can advance and excel professionally and academically. My meals will all be homemade, healthy, well balanced, filled with organic, local, and varied ingredients. My marriage will be fairy tale, romantic, perfectly balanced, and always supportive. My free time will be plentiful.  I will exercise regularly.  I will read widely. I will be involved in my community.  I will blog, do art projects, write letters, call my family regularly, be a good friend, develop new talents, be politically active.

Basically, that I can be perfect, can do everything and anything. I know it’s not realistic, but for some bizarre reason, I keep thinking that if I try hard enough, I can be that elusive, mythical Super Mom. That all I have to do is try hard enough, wake up early enough, drink enough coffee, stay up late enough...

Okay, I know that I can’t really. I already know that I can’t do everything, and even if I could, I couldn’t do it perfectly. But the knowledge that perfection is unattainable doesn’t ever seem to stop me from trying.

I’ve been packing more and more into each day, trying to make sure we have homemade meals together as a family, that I keep my house clean, that I’m doing a good job at work. Each day, it seems like I’m able to succeed less and less of the image in my head, that even as the daily to-do lists grow longer, I’m able to do less of them. The harder I work, the less happy I’m becoming.

I’m trying to do everything my working male colleagues are doing: maintain full time hours, be a good educator, stay on top of new developments in my field. I’m also trying to do everything a stay at home mom does: homemade meals, enriching activities, tidy home.

And suddenly, I can’t do any of it.

So I’m going back to expectation management. Sometimes, my house will be dirty. There will be laundry that gets worn before it makes it out of the dryer. The table will be covered in enough crumbs that sweeping it off makes more sense than wiping it off. The family room floor will be an unnavigable wilderness of Legos and Hotwheel cars. Sometimes, dinner won’t be handmade. There will be delivery pizza and frozen meals and failed crockpot adventures. Sometimes, I won’t want to spend time with my children.  There will be times I tuck them in bed early, and watch a show off the DVR with a bowl of ice cream.  Sometimes, I won’t be the best doctor I can be, so I’ll call in sick so that I can focus on things at home.

Sometimes, I’m not going to be perfect. And I’ve got to learn to be okay with that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Our Fall, In Snippets and iPhone Pictures

The days continue to tumble over each other, barely allowing me to come up for air. I keep telling myself that I'm going to stop being busy, that I'm going to stop living each day at this neck break speed, but I can't seem to find the breaks.

That doesn't mean our days are not enjoyable. Even in the hectic pace, we find time for beauty, for fun, and for each other.

Each of these moments deserves its own post; each one of these events should be celebrated. But alas, there's that busy rearing its head again: there is no time for that. There is only time share glimpses. Hopefully, these glimpses allow me to at least capture and hang onto the amazing moments we had this fall.

This fall, Bug and I ran a 5K together. Well, kinda. Bug kicked my butt and finished over three minutes ahead of me.

This fall, Bug competed in his first chess tournament.  He won second place in his age group!

This fall, Monkey joined Boy Scouts. Now we are shoulders deep in outdoor activities and pinewood derby cars and Monkey is delighted by this.

This fall, Hubster and I started a babysitting exchange with some good friends. This has allowed us to go on regular dates with each other. We both really need this.

This fall, there was Halloween and dressing up. Monkey was a ninja. Bug was the Headless Horseman.  They wanted to be "scary." What happened to the cute little costumes?

This fall, we made huge leaf piles and played in the leaves. 

This fall, I ran a 7 mile cross country race in sub-zero temperature. It was awesome and I can't wait to do it again next year.

This fall, we traveled back to Utah and had Thanksgiving with my entire family. This was the first holiday spent with family in over 5 years.

This fall, the boys rode horses for the first time.


Maybe I'll eventually figure out this whole taking life slowly thing. And when I do, I may find time to go back and further elaborate on each of this fall events. Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just be enjoying whatever our winter brings.

Monday, November 25, 2013

One Year, One Candle

How can this little man be a year already?

Not that he isn't acting like he's a year old, because he definitely is. Just because it feels like a few heart beats and sleepless nights ago that we expanded to a family of five.

At twelve months old, Duck is...

Walking everywhere
Not talking much, but starting to say a few "words:" that, bye, done
Points at everything
Stares very seriously at strangers
Waves good-bye
Starting to sign a little
Intermittently gives up on the whole sleeping thing
Loves reading books, being sung to, going for runs with mom, and snuggles
Dislikes potatoes, sitting in shopping carts, and wearing shoes

Turning one deserves a celebration. I know he won't remember. But we will all remember. Every moment I get to celebrate this beautiful little boy, I'm going to take it.

There was cake and a candle and not a single attempt to blow the candle out.

There were presents and, wow, did that baby ever love pulling tissue paper and presents out of gift bags!

There were balloons and silly music and family dancing and a lot of cleaning up.

Duck is just what this family needed. I watch Bug and Monkey and think how wonderful this little brother has been for them. It's given Bug the chance to be nurturing. It's given Monkey the chance to be the example. It's given Hubster and I a sense of completeness.

Duck is the perfect last baby. He is cuddly and snugly and happy and fun and every reason I so wanted a third baby. He is also full of enough mischief, eating his brothers' school books and throwing shoes in the trash can, that I look at him and think - that's why he's the last!

I'm so grateful for him. This last year has been everything I wanted it to be. I'm glad we got to celebrate it over cake and a candle.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Still Busy, But Still Here

Three times a week, I go running. This hour in the chilly afternoons is rapidly becoming the only time I have to myself. Which isn't even accurate, since I run with Duck in the jogging stroller. But since Duck loves this, and spends the miles cooing to himself and then napping, it is uninterrupted mental time for me.

I use this time to recenter myself. Think about how things are going at home, at work, with my friends, with my family.  I think about weak areas and develop solutions.

I compose blog posts. Things I want to say. Posts about things I've learned while running, things I've learned in 11 years of parenting, about the crazy squirrels in my backyard.

This weekend, as my feet started moving and my mind starting writing, I suddenly realized how few of these mental blog posts were actually making it from my brain to the screen. And by few, I mean none. I couldn't remember the last time I had written, actually written. Not just updated about the fun activities we were doing as a family or how fast Duck was growing, but keyed out a heart felt post.

I had a small anxiety attack.  Was my blog dead?

I hadn't written about my second 5K, I hadn't written about Halloween, I hadn't written about my job, or Hubster's ongoing adventures in dental school.  I hadn't written about anything really. Had I let my blog that I had loved and nurtured for years, had I let it die?

Blogging has rapidly been changing. There are new ways to follow blogs, new ways to read blogs, new ways to stay connected and new ways to comment. I understand none of them. I've seen my traffic and my comments dwindle just as rapidly as my postings (which is to be expected.)  As this blog is not a source of income and purely for my own enjoyment (and hopefully a little for yours), I haven't invested heavily in keeping up with new technologies and new platforms and new formats. This is pretty much the same place it was when I typed out my first awkward post 5 years ago.

When I graduated residency, I thought I would have oodles of time, mountains of time, more time than I knew what to do with. After all, I would be working 4 days a week, taking no call, working no weekends.  I was going to organize my house! Craft! Read! Blog!

Instead, life has a way of filling every moment, seeping into every new minute it can get, like tide waters cresting a river bank. There was no extra time.

All that extra time I thought I would have became filled with meals and homework and running and story time with Duck and laundry and grocery shopping and vacuuming and parent teacher conferences and the generalized attempts at keeping my head above water while trying to enjoy the ride.

Work has kept me busier than I expected. Covering all the things that Hubster used to do so that he can focus on dental school has kept me busier than I expected. Three kids keep me busier than even I could have imagined.

In reality, this is just a long winded way to reassure myself that this blog isn't dead. I may have only posted once or twice a month for the last year, but that doesn't I still don't have things to say. I may not say them as frequently or to as many people. But it was never about that. I wrote for a year before getting my first follower, and at no point during that time was I discouraged because of the lack of an audience. I'm going to continue to write for the same reason I started. To empty my brain. To capture the memories. To tell a story.

To enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taste of the Season

Fall is not my favorite season.

I love the changing leaf colors and the golden light as much as the next person. I enjoy playing in leaf piles and going apple picking. I enjoy fall.

But I just can't bring myself to join the throngs of people that clamor about autumn being their favorite season.

The reason fall hasn't won me over is that each day, the temperature drops a little, the days become a little shorter, the dark lasts a little longer. The cicadas no longer sing. Each passing autumn day, no matter how golden, how bright, how colorful, just brings me one day closer to winter.

There is one part about the season that I do love, though.

The food.

I love fall food more than any other food. Everything is apple, and pumpkin, and spice. And soup.  Oh, how I love soup. That is the one shortcoming of my beloved sweltering summer days: you just can't simmer soup all day on the stove in 100 degree weather.

Apple turnovers.

Pear tarts.

Caramel apple cake.

Apple cider marinated grilled chicken.

Pear spiced pancakes.  Pumpkin pancakes.  Apple pancakes. Cinnamon pancakes.

Butternut squash soup.  

My house smells delicious and fall like nearly every day.  I could cook and eat this food all year long.  Well, until the weather changes to summer and I go back to despising having to turn on the oven.

So until my beloved summer returns, I will comfort myself during the rapid approach of winter with warm, spiced, delicious food.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Overachieving Pumpkin Carvers

Sitting around our kitchen table late into the October night, carving our carefully picked pumpkins, Hubster and I started wondering how we got to this point.  How did we become a family of super competitive, overachieving pumpkin carvers?

We think it began with Hubster's brother, about a year after Hubster and I got married. Hubster's brother, Roo, had bought a carving kit and carved a bat or a wolf or something other than a traditional grinning jack-o-lantern.  And Hubster and I, being the naturally competitive people we are, were like, "Challenge accepted."

And we've been doing it every year since.

This year, our porch will be decked in four pumpkins.

We have a more traditional jack-o-lantern from Monkey, drawn and traced and in part cut out by him.

We have Bug's first solo attempt at a shaded pattern (which means he picked out the pattern he thought was the coolest - Harry Potter - and then transferred the pattern onto the pumpkin, instantly became overwhelmed by the detail, and left Hubster to finish it.)

We have my Wicked Witch of the West.

And we have Hubster's Joker.

Witches, and wizards, and villains, oh my. 

There are times, when we are still cutting and shading and putting the final details on the pumpkins in the middle of the night, that we think we might be taking this whole pumpkin carving a little too far. That maybe we should lighten up, carve a couple of triangle eyes and a toothy grin and call it good. But then we light the candle, turn off the lights, and step back. Every time, the result is amazing and we know that next year, we'll be doing again.

(See previous year's pumpkins here: 2005-2006, 2008 (probably my favorite ones), 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

11 Months

At 11 months old, Duck now...

Finally sleeps in his own crib, in his own room, instead of the Pack-n-Play in my room
Has branched out in food, eating practically everything
Stands very well
Takes the occasional steps.  But only when he wants to
Has two teeth
Gets into cupboards
Smiles at everyone
Is starting to be able to take off his clothes (much to the dismay of the daycare)
Still only says one word (Mama)
Loves books, snuggles, wrestling with his brothers, and shopping with Mom
Dislikes potatoes, baby gates, getting his face washed,and getting dressed

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Keep Marching, My Child

Dear Monkey,

The one thing that has become apparent as you continue on this path to growing up is that you march to the beat of your own drum. You always dance like no one is watching, even though you are perfectly aware that everyone is watching. You are creative and imaginative and not afraid of new things.

The only thing you ask me to buy at the grocery store is a cucumber and you name it Cucumber Justice and then eat the entire thing for a snack.

You spend whole Saturdays dressed as a ninja or a pirate or a cowboy.

You spend months at a time sleeping in a teepee in your bedroom.

You never want to play by the established rules, but rather turn everything from tag to Candy Land to Lego Heroica into your own version with new goals, new rules, new everything.

Sometimes it's hard being different, both for you the child and for me the parent.

I often just want you to do what everyone else is doing.  Why do you insist on wearing socks with your sandals, or goggles to the store, or shirt inside out?  Why won't you wear the clothes I laid out for you instead of making your own outfits?  Why can't we just walk normally down the sidewalk, instead of insisting that I have to go back because I didn't skip three times between each driveway?  When life, as it often does, gets busy and crowded, your different approach to things becomes frustrating, an extra step in an already packed schedule.

But I see how much you need to be appreciated for being different. How much you crave it. And I'm learning to appreciate that we will never play board games how other families play them and you will always be the kid wearing red socks to school and you will always be the one making funny faces in our family pictures.

 And I wouldn't want you to be any other way.

I want you to continue to dance like crazy in the back seat of the van when Owl City comes on.  I want you to continue to try crazy inventions with no preconceived notions of the outcome. I want you to continue to express yourself with no concern for how others view you. I want you to continue to live loud and happy and completely yourself.

As your mother, I will do my best not to let the world or my own adult, world weary views silence that drum beat inside of you. 

And you, my child, keep marching.