I'm about to do something that, two years ago, I would never have expected. I'm leaving Friday afternoon to go to a blogging conference.
Yeah, I know -- it sounds crazy to me, too.
But it's a lovely, fall weekend in Asheville hanging out with smart, interesting, clever blogging mamas (and some daddies, too) -- which honestly sounds like a lot of fun.
Except that now that I'm about to go, I've decided it's a supremely bad idea. Now that I really think about it, going to a blogging conference goes against all the reasons I actually like blogging. Here's why:
Clothing: When I'm blogging, I can be in my jammies, my sweaty tshirt or whatever I happen to have on. No one sees me and no one cares. At a conference, all that goes out the window. Suddenly I have to think about what to pack and what I could possibly wear that didn't come from Target or Old Navy.
Location: When I'm blogging, I'm at home. Doesn't take any planning or traveling or coordinating. I just sit down at my computer and start. With this conference, there's the four-hour drive there, the four-hour drive back, plus the cost of the hotel in between.
Timing: When I'm blogging, I squeeze in time during Pippi's nap or after the kids go to bed. My husband probably gets slighted the most, but I try to write when it's not taking time away from anyone else. This conference means I'll be gone for three days -- Daddy will be parenting solo. He's more than capable, but he's going to be one tired man by Sunday night.
Editing: When I'm blogging, I don't have to be clever on the first try. I can edit, tweak, delete, add, link and change to my heart's content. In person, at a conference? It's all live, with no time to rehearse.
Popularity: When I'm blogging, I know that at least five of my relatives and two or three friends are going to read every post. It doesn't matter if I don't have hundreds of subscribers as long as someone I know leaves a comment now and then. At this conference, there will be actual blog celebrities in the house. Meanwhile, I'll be loitering in the lobby with a pocket full of Triangle Mamas business cards hoping someone recognizes me from my avatar @convertiblelife.
Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'm going to get over myself. Truth is, if I get to hang out with the Triangle Mamas and some of the other talented local bloggers I've already met, it will be a great weekend -- no matter what I wear or say or do.
And at the end of it all, I'll get to come home to my sweet family and appreciate them that much more for having been away.
When Junius was born, it rocked my world -- and not always in a good way. I vividly remember sitting in the rocking chair of my room, sobbing while I held my newborn son because I thought my life might never be okay again. I don't know that I officially had postpartum depression, but I know that I couldn't have made it through that time without a lot of help and support.
That's why I'm happy to welcome Suzanne from pretty*swell with today's guest post. Suzanne is sharing her story on behalf of Postpartum Education and Support, the umbrella organization of Moms Supporting Moms. PES is hosting its first-ever StrollerThon fundraiser on Oct. 2 at Bond Park in Cary. In addition to the three-mile walk, there will be Tot Trot races, inflatable games, face-painting and fun for the whole family. All are welcome – strollers not required!
Now, in her own words, here's Suzanne...
When I opened the door to my first Moms Supporting Moms meeting, I wanted to turn on my heel and walk right back out.
I was terrified. And embarrassed. Even though every single woman in that room had been in my shoes.
So I sucked in a deep breath, let go of the handle and sat down. As each person in the circle took a turn introducing herself and sharing her story, relief began to wash over me. I remember thinking: These women are describing exactly how I feel. I’m not alone.
I’m not crazy.
I can’t tell you how validating (and supremely comforting) it was to recognize that I was not the only person on the planet struggling with postpartum depression. That I had nothing to be ashamed of. And, most importantly, that it did not make me a bad mother.
Hopelessness and chronic anxiety, sleeplessness and crying had dominated my frame of mind since my daughter was a few days old. I was terrified to be alone with her, and I dreaded nighttime because I knew it meant that I would not sleep.
Walking to the mailbox was a feat. I did not want to leave my living room.
But when my haven began to feel like a cave swallowing me whole and my fears grew more irrational and the crying did not stop, I decided it was time for help.
I reached out to my family, talked with my next-door neighbor (whose kindness and grace will forever be cemented in my heart), called my doctor and went to Moms Supporting Moms meetings every week.
Quickly, I began to heal.
The women in that group – the new moms like me and the “survivor moms” who facilitated our conversations – helped save me.
If you’re a new mom struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, please know that you are NOT alone. Ask for the help that you deserve. Check out a Moms Supporting Moms meeting.
And please know that you WILL feel better.
I’m living proof.
*Join us for StrollerThon fundraiser on Oct. 2 at Bond Park in Cary -- good exercise, great fun and an important cause. All are welcome – strollers not required!
You should not be surprised to know that the woman hanging upside down on the pole in this photo is not me.
But you might surprised to know that yesterday, after going to church, the farmer's market and Biscuitville with my family, I went to a pole dancing class. Yes, I went to church first.
Technically, it was a "teaser class" -- basically an introduction to pole dancing as exercise at Aradia Fitness. I was there with two friends, courtesy of a Groupon -- seemed like a good way to get some exercise, have a laugh with the ladies and maybe pick up a couple of pointers for impressing my husband.
Turns out that pole dancing is serious fitness -- a lot like pilates, with the focus on core strength, plus some serious upper body work from holding your own weight as you slide down and around the pole. Oh, except that in pilates, there's no rubbing your hand through your hair or spanking yourself lightly on the ass. At least, not in the pilates class that I've been taking.
The good news is that no one in the class is looking at each other. It requires way too much attention to your own self -- hold your abs in, your chest out, point your toes, don't get dizzy, hips this way, booty that way -- to look at anyone other than the instructor. Meanwhile, the instructor did a great job of keeping us all focused on the steps without making anyone self-conscious.
Yes, we giggled a lot during the class. But we got one hell of a workout in a very empowering kind of way. And I did manage to recreate a move or two to show off at home -- even without a pole installed in my living room.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, you have to work your way through from Pole 1.0 to Pole 9.0 before they start letting you hang upside down on the pole.
Sometimes weekends are just as hard as weekdays when you have kids -- maybe even harder if you're used to being in an office all week. It's not that being home with your children is bad, it's just a different kind of exhausting. The trick when the kids are little is to manage your time together so that no one gets bored and crabby.
So a big weekend win around our house involves finding an activity that is: a) fun for the whole family, and b) tiring enough for the kids to take a long afternoon nap.
Our trip to the Caniac Carnival on Saturday met both qualifications, plus (unlike our recent baseball outing) it was also: c) light on the wallet (free admission, free parking and $1 hot dogs -- does it get any better?), d) easy to navigate (no traffic problems, plenty of parking spaces and lots of volunteers), and e) quality time outside on a beautiful day (complete with bouncy slides, obstacle courses and a really good band).
And if all of the above weren't enough, we got a super double bonus: Junius and Pippi were selected (by one of the lovely Storm Squad) to participate in a group photo with the team at center ice after practice. I'm not sure who was more excited, my son or my husband, as the kids walked through the home team tunnel and out onto the ice.
As a lifelong Southerner, I never expected to be a hockey fan. It's a cold, rough sport for a Carolina girl who usually keeps her sports time focused on basketball season. But now that I've experienced the Hurricanes' hospitality, I'm thinking I just might be a hockey fan after all.
Note: As I mentioned above, the event was free of charge. Neither the Hurricanes nor any of their representatives (including Stormy) offered me any sort of compensation for writing this post.
I realize it's not Friday anymore, but I got a note from a friend (who, by the way, manages to keep up with twoblogs and three children) on Friday evening asking what happened to the Friday's 5. "Those are always my favorite posts," she said. Well, flattery will get you everywhere, my dear. It's a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short.
The temps for most of this week have been in the upper 80s and low 90s -- and the forecast for next week looks just as toasty. For some of you, this weather might be making it hard to tell that summer is over.
So just in case you're confused, here are five signs from my house that fall has arrived:
I've washed all the beach/pool towels, folded them and tucked them away for next year. Sure, we might make it to the indoor pool now and then, but there's no need to have six towels stacked by the front door now that our neighborhood pool is closed for the season.
We've run out of limes. That means we're about to finish off the gin and tonics for the season -- it's our spring/summer drink of choice, but we're inclined toward a nice 7&7 in the fall/winter.
Our produce box is on hiatus. They take a two-week break to shift gears from summer veggies to the fall menu, so we're on our own until October. Thinking this will be a good time to use up all those skillet meals I've stashed in the freezer from sales at Harris Teeter.
Even thought it's been warm during the day, it cools off enough at night that we can sleep with the A/C off and the windows open. Best. Sleep. Ever.
Today we went to the Caniac Carnival, a sure sign that hockey (and fall) is on the way. To be honest, I really don't care so much about hockey -- but being in Raleigh more or less automatically makes us Canes fans, and Junius really loves it. As it turned out, the carnival was super fun and a great way to spend a (hot) fall Saturday -- not to mention that Juni and Pip got invited to be in a group photo with the team (see photo above).
That's what the forecast shows over at our house -- what signs of fall do you see where you live?
When my husband and I went to the county courthouse to get our marriage license before our wedding, we asked the woman there if we would be able to use the license to change our names at the social security office.
"Sure, honey," she looked at me. "You just take this with you and they'll change your name for you."
"Right," I replied. "And for him, too?"
She looked at me like I'd just sprouted a second head. After going around that same exchange again, she finally sighed and said, "If he's going to change his name, too, he'll need a lawyer."
Weeks later, we took our forms and our marriage license into the social security office, bracing for more crazy looks when we explained that we were taking each other's name and making a double surname for our family.
"These forms are correct?" the social security clerk asked, barely looking up from his desk.
"Yes," we replied.
"Do you want a hyphen in there?"
"No." (My husband felt like we had enough punctuation already with the apostrophe from his last name, and who was I to argue with a man who volunteered to take my name along with his own?)
"Okay. You'll get your new cards in the mail." And that was that.
Now, nine years and two kids later, we all have four names -- and I love it and hate it at the same time. It means the world to me that my husband was willing to change his name, too, without being asked. And it was important to me to keep all of my names while also taking his. We weren't following anyone's tradition, but we did what felt right and symbolic to us.
The downsides are that monograms are really tricky and no one understands what our last name is. Sometimes I don't mind when people skip over my contribution to the double name, but I never know where we'll be alphabetized at will-call or the pharmacy. It's also a lot to put on a kindergartner just learning how to write his first name, only to discover that he has three more to figure out.
I thought of all this on Sunday while reading the wedding announcements (oh, come on, like you never read them). There were only two weddings listed, but both involved grooms with double surnames. For both marriages, it looked like the husband planned to keep his double surname as is, but each bride had a different solution to her married name.
In one case, the bride simply took the groom's hyphenated surname. In the other, the bride created a new hyphenated surname with her maiden name followed by the groom's second surname. That made me wonder what they've discussed doing for kids' names. And did the groom's mother feel slighted that her daughter-in-law didn't take her part of the surname?
Regardless, it's nice to see people finding their own ways through and around the married name conundrum. And if either one of my four-named children ends up marrying another four-named person, I'm promising now to stay out of the way and let them figure it out for themselves -- as long as it's something they decide together.
I remember vaguely fondly the pre-kids beach vacation days. You know, back when I would sleep until 10, have a bowl of cereal, then wander down to the beach to stretch out on a towel and read for hours in the sun. Rinse, nap and repeat. Glorious.
Life at the beach with two small children sets a very different agenda. Given that both Junius and Pippi like to be up to thank the sun for rising each day, there's not much I can do about wanting to sleep in. And as much as I love running around with them in the sand and surf and watching them fall in love with the beach, I still miss the days spending lounging with a book.
Then last week we discovered a way to improve the ratio of time spent sitting and reading to time spent splashing and chasing. I have give my friend Ashley full credit for this idea -- it's pure genius.
Step 1: Dig a big hole in the sand. Preferably, put your husband and older child to work on this step.
Step 2: Line the hole with a plastic shower curtain.
Step 3: Fill the lined hole with water. This is a great opportunity to put your kids (and all their beach buddies) to work using the score of buckets you brought with you to the beach.
Step 4: Load toys, mermaids, shells and buckets in and around the pool.
Step 5: Place your children in the pool.
Step 6: Pull your chair into the general vicinity of the pool. Sit your self down, lean back and bask in the brilliance while the kids entertain themselves.
For more Saturday Strategy, like what do to when your toddler poops in the tub or covers your carpet with parmesan cheese, check out these posts.
Before I became a parent, I almost never said things like "Do you need help wiping your bottom?" or "I'm going to count to three" or "Has anyone seen the pink sippy cup?" or "Use your words, please." But after I became a parent, these phrases -- and hundreds of others like them -- have taken up residence in my daily lexicon.
Even still, there are some phrases that I could not have predicted. Those groups of words that, once they've left my mouth, cause me to pause and realize how strange life can get with there are two small children in it.
Here are five zingers that I've said to my children in the past year -- I'd explain the context for you, but that would take all the fun out of it:
Put that down -- Jesus is not a drumstick.
Do not brush your teeth with the geraniums.
Come out from under the bed and bring the eggplant with you.
Look, there's a mermaid in your toes.
No lawn mowers in the house, please.
How about you -- what are your winning parenting phrases?
This past Sunday, we planned a family outing to see a minor league baseball game -- sounds like the perfect summer evening, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong at a Mudcats game?
Well, where do I start?
Maybe with the rain, that ruined the first game we tried to see three weeks ago. After driving through a few light showers on our way out to Five County Stadium (Groupon in hand, of course), we discovered that the afternoon game was cancelled.
But as annoying as that trip was, it was only the beginning of our Mudcats mishaps. Here's a snapshot of all the things that went wrong when we tried again this past Sunday night:
There was the parking attendant who tried to keep our change for the parking pass.
Then we got the second parking attendant who told us we'd parked badly (even though we'd done just fine).
And in case that wasn't enough, we met the third parking attendant (sent to track us down by the second parking attendant) who took my husband back to the car and made him move it back 18 inches.
Once inside, the people sitting in our reserved seats furnished tickets with the exact same seat numbers on them, although he cleverly held his finger over the date on the tickets. Then my sweet husband went down to the box office, asked for four new tickets and declined to have the other people thrown out -- sadly the seats weren't as good and it took us a walk around the entire park to find them.
They only sell hot dogs at certain concession areas, not all. Which seems ridiculous, since I go to baseball games specifically for hot dogs (not pizza or chicken sandwiches). After waiting in a very long line (made even longer because they didn't seem prepared to actually serve any hot dogs at the end of the 2nd inning) and handing over every single dollar in our pockets (because they only took cash and over-charged for every item), the hot dogs tasted more microwave than grill. Average at best and very disappointing.
Did I mention that the rather active smoking area was parked beside the food line we were standing in?
After walking around the entire park, arms filled with food, drinks and children, we finally arrived at our new seats. Which were filled. Again. Thankfully there was an usher there this time to shoo the offenders back into their own seats. Which they were quite annoyed about.
As we filed into our row near 3rd base, exhausted by the effort, we looked down to see the floor littered with peanuts and peanut shells crunching under the feet of our peanut-allergic son.
At this point, I looked at my husband with a desperate attempt at a smile and said, "I'm telling you now. If I get hit with a foul ball, it's over. We will be on national television, and I better get paid well for my 15 minutes of fame."
Thankfully, we left without further incident at the 7th inning stretch and made it safely home in time to tuck the kids in bed and fall out on the couch.
In defense of the Mudcats operation, everyone on staff inside the park was very courteous and helpful. But sadly it wasn't enough to make me want to go back any time soon. Guess it's just as well that the season is over -- gives me time to recover before spring training.
Richard, an Australian who has been Mwenya’s partner for seven years, has been supportive of her decision to come to Cardiff. “He feels I’ve got a lot of potential in consulting,” she says smiling. “It’s a really big sacrifice for him, but he says he did it out of love so it’s worth it.”
Mwenya says Richard misses her the most at night when he’s alone in their large home, although she says he copes by staying busy. “You know how men are,” she laughs, filling the house with the sound, “macho about everything. But we talk every day, and he consults me about everything. We haven’t broken that relationship.”
Her parents have also encouraged her to pursue higher degrees. “They’re from a very enlightened family, so they value education a lot. Every time my mom calls, she says, ‘As soon as you finish that MBA, you have to go do your Ph.D.’”
Like Carol, Mwenya believes coming to Cardiff was a good decision, but friends – here and at home – have found that choice difficult to accept. “People ask, ‘How can you do that to your kids?’ I tell them I’m not doing anything to my kids,” she says firmly, shaking her tiny braids. “It’s a pity that there will be a one-year separation, but sometimes in life you have to take decisions. They might sound selfish to other people, but sometimes you have to take decisions and get on with your life.”
She hopes that her children will learn from her and never become complacent. “I try to impress upon them the importance of education. They must never think, ‘We’ve come from a good home. Mom and Richard are doing things for us, so we can sit back.’ I’m trying to set an example for them.”
Being a role model is especially important in Zambia, according to Mwenya. “As African women, we’ve got all the odds against us. It’s really some kind of achievement for an African woman – especially a married African woman – to leave her family and come study,” she says. “People think once you’ve finished school and you’re working and married with kids, that’s it. I’ve tried to tell people there are so many opportunities out there. If you’ve got talent or opportunities, you should use them.”
After having a good cry with Carol, talking to Mwenya, a taller woman with high cheekbones and dark brown skin, is easy. There are no tears – only laughter, strength and a determined confidence to be a role model for other Zambian women.
Mwenya has worked as a supervisor for the Central Bank of Zambia for the past 12 years. Her job is very demanding, but provides a comfortable salary of £2,500 per month in addition to allowances for travel, education and utilities. She chose to pursue an MBA to increase her marketability in the private sector. “I don’t want to be a Central Banker for the rest of my life. I need to branch out and do something for myself,” she says, suggesting that she might join her partner Richard in his consulting business or possibly open a small orphanage.
She had considered getting an MBA previously, but something always stopped her. “There’d be a major change at the office, or my children were changing schools,” she says. “But I told myself, come year 2000 I just had to do it.” Although she was offered a place at the University of Zambia, she chose to come to Cardiff’s one-year programme for a more globally diverse education.
“I started telling the kids I wanted to do this about five years ago, and it became a joke,” she says. “It was like, ‘Oh Mom, that’s what you said last year.’” When they realised she was actually going, the joking ended. “They couldn’t understand why I had to go away because I still had another degree and a good job. Initially it was very difficult for everybody.”
To make things easier for Richard, whose work keeps him very busy, they chose to send the three children to boarding schools at a total cost of over £5,000 for the year. Gamphani, 13, was already planning to attend a residential school, so the separation was less disruptive for him. Mwansa, 10, and Lukonde, 8, who attend a different school that sends them home on the weekends, weren’t happy at first. “They rebelled against it, but they’re really pampered at school. Now they don’t want to come home.”
Although Mwenya knows her kids miss her, she does not worry much about them. “They’d have probably missed me more if they’d been at home,” she says. “I’m happy because I know that they like their schools, and Richard gives them a lot of support. He doesn’t give them a reason to start missing me.”
In September 1998 Carol began her studies in Cardiff’s Diploma in Business Administration (DBA), a nine-month degree and prerequisite for the MBA. “The first month in Cardiff I can’t remember. I was like a walking zombie because my heart and my soul were at home. Only my body was here.”
She says she survived that first year because of her flatmates. “They were lively, happy people,” she says smiling. “We were a family. We had our differences, but they could see that I was suffering and they helped me.”
Returning in September 1999 to complete the MBA after three months at home was not any easier than her first departure. “Leaving gets worse. The distance makes you become even too close. When I have to go, it is like trying to part something that is stuck as one,” she says, weaving her small fingers together.
Carol has found her second year at Cardiff to be even more difficult, missing both her family and her former flatmates. “This year has been the worst for me. I’ve been depressed, plus some of the company I have in this house doesn’t make me feel better,” she says, gesturing that she doesn’t mean me. Envisioning her family relaxing at the weekends in the comfortable lounge of their three-bedroom house doesn’t help matters.
The MBA, a difficult, intensive programme, has also provided academic challenges that caused Carol to fear that she might not pass the course. “I cannot suffer so much and then get nothing at the end. The grief, the pain, the torture, and then you don’t get what you came here for?” she says, fidgeting with her rings and fighting back tears. “But I believe in God and I kept on privately praying.”
She now feels encouraged by assistance from two other students and has adopted a new attitude towards the course. “From now onwards I’m not giving up on myself. I nearly buried myself, so I have to fight to be alive,” she says with determination. Carol often spends 60 hours per week working on the MBA.
In addition to her concerns here, Carol also worries about her family at home. “Every day I receive emails saying, ‘We miss you Mom.’ I see things deeper, like their results going down,” she says, frowning. “I know I’m hurting them. I feel guilty because I know deep down they are not happy.”
Carol says Patrick is counting the weeks until her return, but she sees benefits for him. “It’s good for him because he’s getting closer to his daughters. He has to fix them breakfast, buy them clothes, do shopping with them – everything,” she says. “It’s a learning process for him.” She also believes the distance has made her marriage stronger, bringing them emotionally closer.
Ultimately Carol knows she made the right choice in coming to Cardiff and sees herself as a role model for her daughters. “I hope they’ve learned to live without me, to be patient, to know that in order to get something good sometimes you have to suffer first,” she says, setting her strong jaw. “Staying home wouldn’t be fruitful for me. In the long run, it will bring pain to me because I could lose my position. So that’s a lesson for them – they should weigh situations, even if there’s some heartache.”