parenthood

5 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Entertained This Summer

5 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Entertained This Summer | Writing Between Pauses

I am incredibly lucky that Forrest is a highly independent, easy-going child. Most of the time. He thrives on routine, which is why when school finished up, we needed to sign him up for something; thankfully, his preschool offered a summer program & we jumped at the opportunity for him to have more school.

But I know once August rolls around, he’s going to be tired of staying at home.

To save money, I often try to find fun things to do at home. I’d love to be able to take him to the beach (a 70 mile drive) or to the zoo (a 3 hour drive), but all those things cost money. Outside of his summer school, swim lessons, sports team, and everything else costs money—and with moving into a new house, we are trying to save wherever we can.

My husband is a teacher, which means I’ll be trying to work as much as possible during the summer and he will have a nice break. However, he’s not quite as used to how quick Forrest’s behavior can turn from his normal easy-going self to his “I need to go somewhere” attitude. Forrest is, after all, a total social butterfly and extrovert; he is not like us at all and he is not a homebody. He likes projects and visiting people and always having a plan for something to do.

I’ve already started looking for things to keep Forrest from becoming a total handful this summer—and I thought I’d share a few things we’ve had success with.

1. Workbooks

Some kids are not interested in workbooks whatsoever. They don’t want to do them, they just aren’t interested. I’m a bit fan of physical workbooks as opposed to online programs or TV programs. I just think the less kids have access to the internet, computer & tablet screens, and all that blue light, the better. (That’s not a judgement; you do you, but I love workbooks!) Workbooks will help them learn how to write, hold a pencil or crayon, and to do homework assignments.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • The Scholastic Preschooler Workbook Bundle: we have several of these workbooks and they are wonderful. Colorful, fun, and interesting, perfect for a few 10-minute sessions throughout the day. We especially love the early reading skills one, as Forrest is very interested in learning what letters are in every word. You can also find these individually at Target.

  • Bear Fairy Education Workbooks: you can find these on Amazon and they are lovely! Simple, affordable, and designed by teachers. Forrest specifically likes the letter & number tracing one, because he can color the pictures on each page, then work on writing his letters and numbers. This has really helped him even out the size of his letters and numbers! He has also started writing his name and tries to write out the words on each letter page (including elephant!)

One note about workbooks: I usually select a few for Forrest to have complete access to at his art table, just like coloring books. These are ones that don’t have a lot of instructions; the Bear Fairy workbooks are perfect for this, as they are just tracing. The Scholastic workbooks, or more complicated ones, often have instructions and we will sit at the table for a few minutes and do those.

2. Kinetic Sand

I am normally not a fan of messy things like this: Playdough, slime, sandboxes, etc., just make messes and I think kids get bored of them quite quickly. But about a year ago, I bought a small container of kinetic sand and a few cookie cutters and Fo loves it. I keep it in a Pyrex container with a lid and store it with the outdoor toys; he knows to keep it in the container and just spends a lot of time cutting out shapes. This is such an easy activity and especially for younger toddlers, provides a lot of sensory information! You can talk about how it feels, teach them to cut out shapes (manual dexterity!), and use words to describe the sand itself. I like these packs here.

3. Sidewalk Chalk Paint

Forrest loves sidewalk chalk and he also loves painting. Combining the two is an instant win. I bought two small containers of sidewalk chalk paint from the Target Dollar Spot section and he loved them—while Googling to see if I could buy more for cheaper, I found that you can make it easily at home! Even better! I whipped up a batch and it was as good as (or perhaps better) than the store bought. This is a more messy activity and would be perfect for those warm summer days where the sprinklers are on, you’re all outside with the wading pool, and you’re all getting baths anyway! You can find that tutorial here.

4. Rotate Your Toys

This is one of those tips I’m embarrassed that I didn’t think of earlier, but has been recommended by nearly every mom I know. As I’ve been packing up Forrest’s toys for our move, it became a lot easier to do: pack up toys into 3 or 4 different bins, then store all but one of the bins away (in a spare room, in your closet, wherever). Switch out the bins every 5-6 days to keep your preschooler on their toys when it comes to their toys. They’ll rediscover things they used to love (Forrest with his tool belt from Christmas this week) and stay interested. Plus, it helps decrease the clutter in your living room, playroom, or child’s bedroom. Perfect!

5. Have a Party

Most young kids love routine—but they also love when parents disrupt the routine for something fun. I already have plans to throw an “at home luau” for Forrest (complete with pineapple string lights I found at the dollar store and making paper leis), but there are a million ways to do this and have fun together.

  • Tea parties: whether you have a boy or girl, kids love tea parties. They can help set the table, make the sandwiches & cookies, pour the “tea” (water, or you could make herbal tea), invite the guests (Teddy Bear Tea Party, anyone?), and more. Plus, this is a subtle way to teach manners.

  • Dance parties: I got this idea from Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, but fill a jar with your favorite musical artists and have your child pick one slip at a time. Play one song on Spotify and dance it out. Pick a new artist and repeat until your child is exhausted.

  • Invite some friends: Invite a few friends over who have kids and just hang out at home. Seriously! I know this is basic, but I often don’t think to reach out to my friends; we’re all busy and I just assume, “you know what? They’re probably busy today!” But they might not be! Fill the wading pool, make some sun tea, and start the grill for some hot dogs for the kids. Boom, everyone is entertained for a few hours!


What are your tips for keeping kids (preschool age or not) entertained during the summer?

Real Mom Talk: Does My Child Need a Set Schedule?

Real Mom Talk: Does My Child Need a Set Schedule? | Writing Between Pauses

When Forrest was first born, I had this (slightly) bad habit of obsessively reading blog posts about baby schedules.

I would read first-person blog posts that detailed 3- to 4-month-old schedules. Articles about how to set a schedule for a baby. And everything in between. I would read about the pros and cons of feeding on demand, the different ways to setting schedules, certain schools of thought regarding baby scheduling.

As he got older, I started to get less obsessed with the idea that I was doing him a disservice of not having a very set schedule—but I still thought about it a lot. And I still tried to keep things regular. Thursdays were Grocery Store Days, followed by a walk in the park. Fridays were “Fun Days” where we might go to the mall, a book store, the coffee shop, anywhere.

Now that he’s in school, we do have a much more set schedule, some of which revolves around making sure we always do the same few things every single day (like washing our hands, going potty, picking up our clothes—you know, basic stuff).

I’ve always been told that kids thrive on structure: having a schedule is vitally important. But there is so much information out there about scheduling our kids: when is it too much? When is it too little? What if your kiddo gets bored? What if your toddler gets overwhelmed? How do you know what to do?

As I wrote in my blog post about TV time, I’m not an expert. I’m just one mom who thinks about these things… a lot. I’m always trying to make the “right” decision—and often, we don’t know what that decision is.

I do want to share what I’ve learned along the way when it comes to schedules, and then I’ll conclude with… are they really necessary? Or can we be a little more loosey-goosey with our kids?

1. The Infant Months

For me, having an infant was about one thing and one thing only: both of us surviving. That’s especially true of the newborn months.

When Forrest was a newborn, I was in the unique position of not really getting to experience those first 3-4 calm, sleepy weeks. The thing about newborns (as in, brand spanking new newborns) is they sleep a lot. Like… nearly all the time. If you’re at home and comfy, cozy during those times, it’s a really simple, beautiful part of your life. For us, we were still in the hospital for the first week; then, the second week we were running up to the hospital every single day for blood tests. Then, the third week we had mutiple doctor’s appointments still. (For my preeclampsia, I had three check up appointments to ensure my blood pressure had returned to normal and I was no longer leaking protein.)

We were all over the place those first few weeks, which meant it was so hard to know when the hell we were supposed to do anything. I was barely able to be home during the day and then I was essentially awake all night (following an incredibly strict feeding and pumping schedule 6 times through the night).

Looking back, if I had been able to have a more “normal” newborn phase, I definitely would have been able to keep a better schedule. As it was, I was frequently pumping in the car on the way to and from doctor’s visits, carrying a breast pump, multiple bottles, and a cooler every single place I went. God, it was exhausting!

This is all to say: for us, a schedule just simply wasn’t possible for the first month or so. And then, by the time he was 2 and 3 months old, I still felt absolutely frenzied. I was exhausted all the time, sleeping 4 hours or so every night, and still pumping. (I don’t think I will ever be able to convey simply how much I was pumping in those first months. And it didn’t even establish a good supply! Thanks, body!)

As odd as our experience was, I think most people struggle with schedules for infants. When Forrest was a bit older, we implemented the Play-Sleep-Eat routine, which is less a schedule and more just an order of doing things (to avoid associating eating with sleeping). We kept that routine from about 4 months to about 7 months, when we switched entirely to formula feeding (which gave me significantly more time to do things while he slept or played, instead of just frantically pumping).

2. Young Toddlers

As he got closer to a year, that’s when we started getting more of a schedule going. We would wake in the mornings, have a bottle (or once he was about 13-14 months, a sippy cup), eat breakfast, then play until naptime. Then after nap, we would go to the grocery store, go on a walk, and head home for lunch, then nap. That was pretty much our routine until he was about two or so.

Young toddlers (I would say this age group is whatever age your baby starts to walk until about 2 1/2) are really easy to schedule. In fact, I would say they need a schedule. They like the feeling of security it gives them. And I know for Forrest, whenever we deviated from our schedule, he was much fussier and struggled more to do just about everything. (And it should be said: some days we just had to deviate the schedule for whatever reason.) Here’s a little bit more information about why toddlers crave schedules and routines:

Creating a regular routine is an essential way to give toddlers the security of knowing “what happens next” in their day. It also develops the prefrontal cortex, the planning and executive function part of the brain.

(Source)

In short: getting a routine in place by 14-18 months will help your child be better at time management later, as well as helping them emotionally mature.

3. Preschoolers

Preschool age is usually considered about 2 1/2 to 4, so Forrest is right smack dab in the middle of it. Everything about schedules for young toddlers still holds true, but it’s important to deviate the schedule as they mature and grow older. Here is a sample of our usual day right now:

  • 6am, wake up and have milk

  • Breakfast

  • Play time

  • 8:30am, Forrest gets to watch Daniel Tiger

  • 9:30-10am, naptime

  • 11:30am, lunch

  • Forrest goes to preschool in the afternoon

  • After preschool, he’s allowed to pick a movie from our selection and watch it while I make dinner

  • 4pm, dinner

  • 5pm, play time

  • 6pm, wind down, read books, no TV or screens

  • 7pm, bedtime

That’s it. It’s very simple and easy to remember. And it should be said: no schedule for any one child is prescriptive. As I said, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of looking up other toddler schedules and thinking, Am I doing everything wrong? The answer is, probably not. Fo thrives with this schedule and does really well. On days where he isn’t at school, we might spend the afternoon at the park or go to the library, it just depends. By age 3, some kids have given up naps entirely, depending on how well they sleep at night—however, Forrest just isn’t quite there yet.

Again, having a schedule helps kids stick to a routine and learn time management. However, Forrest is definitely at the age where he’s more likely to get bored—so I spend more time trying to think of creative things to do during playtime (like painting suncatchers, doing small lessons, and more). That’s a bit more active than during his younger toddler days, when he was content to wandering around with a spatula!

4. So Are Schedules Necessary?

Short answer: kind of.

The longer answer is that it very much depends on your child. It’s one thing to look up information and see that schedules help children mature emotionally and mentally—and it’s another thing to actually implement that! Some people, and of course, some children, feel too claustrophobic with a strict schedule! This is the problem with all parenting advice: it really is so intensely personal to your child. Just as we can’t prescribe a specific eating method to every child, it’s impossible to prescribe a way to keep your child occupied during the day—even if perhaps you desperately want to do so for a bit of routine yourself!

I think one thing to consider is to not think of it as a schedule—but as a routine. Having a set routine is different from having a set schedule, but both are very good for children. Doing the same few things every single day in the same order helps ground your child. Healthy sleep routines (such as bath-book-bed) can help encourage your child to sleep more soundly, because they know what to expect. The same goes for each day of the week! Forrest knows we go grocery shopping on Thursdays, he knows he gets to go to school on Fridays, and he knows he gets to go to the park on Saturdays. That’s just our routine!

Just as with all parenting blog posts I write, I feel like I ended this one rather wishy-washy as well. But it’s the truth: I can’t tell you whether your child needs a schedule or not. You know your child best. There is no harm in working on getting a set pattern to your day (especially if it helps you get things done as well!) and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out! No harm, no foul.

I’ll turn it over to you now. Does your child have a set schedule or routine? What does it look like? And what do you think, are schedules a necessity or too much?

My Monthly Wrap Up: December 2018

My Monthly Wrap Up: December 2018 | Writing Between Pauses

December was quite the month, wasn’t it? It always is (what with Christmas and everything), but this year felt particularly… full.

Let’s see: Danny and I went to Idaho for Thanksgiving, so we got back home just in time to get ready for Christmas. I had a load of sponsored content in December, all with deadlines. Plus, I had work. Forrest got sick. Then I got sick for what felt like 2 entire weeks. My brother got married (and as his accidental wedding planner, I felt like I was the bride a bit with how much work I ended up doing at the wedding). Then we had my mom’s birthday. Then Christmas. Then the New Year.

Now, Forrest is sick again, I’ve got a sore throat, and I feel like I’m rushing 24/7 to get caught up on how frenzied everything was in December. I didn’t have much time to write blog content, or social content, or actually do any kind of work whatsoever, between sickness, family events, and more.

It’s nice to think of January as a time to just relax, but I feel like I’ve jumped right back into being super, super busy.

And it should be said: I loved every minute of December. I love being busy! I love having lots of things to do and not being able to sit still. When I get bored, I get anxious. So December was a lovely month, but I would like to have time to actually blog this month!

Let’s get into this wrap up, shall we?

December 2018 Empties

My Empties

I feel like I used up a lot of products this month, despite really falling off the bandwagon with my skincare. (That’s probably why addressing my routine is one of my New Year’s Resolutions.) Here’s everything I used up:

  • Lump of Coal Charcoal Face Mask from Bath & Body Works

  • Egg Essence Mask Sheet

  • Sephora Instant Nail Polish Remover Pad

  • Sephora Express Eye Make Up Removed Pad

  • Tarte Shape Tape Deluxe Sample

  • Clean & Clear Deep Action Cream Cleanser

  • Sephora Charcoal Nose Strip

  • Sephora Bath Fizzes

  • Sephora Overnight Mask in Pearl

A lot of these were things from my Sephora Advent Calendar that I was trying to use up! I also received the Bath & Body Works mask from my mother-in-law in my Christmas present. Everything else was just a matter of using up: the Sephora Overnight Mask was leftover from a while ago and I was tired of seeing it on my bathroom counter; the Clean & Clear Cleanser was a sample I needed to get rid of (and I love how it feels even though I know it is garbage); and the Shape Tape was from my October Ipsy bag.

I feel like it was a good month for using things up, clearing out my drawers, and making room for, of course, more stuff.

My December Highlights

Posting More Photos of Myself

It goes without saying that i’m never 100% happy with my appearance. (And if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know this is a journey that I have been on for a while.) Being a mom is hard, but the hardest part about it is feeling this pressure to not fall into a specific stereotype of a mom. Even though I know it is garbage and I know I shouldn’t do things to suit what others think of me (we can never control anyone’s perception of ourselves, right?), and I know that I am kinder to others than I am to myself, it is still a huge challenge for me. So, my goal has been in the last few months to post more photos of myself and to taking the stupid photo for the content that I’m working on. I tend to want to stick to product shots—do I matter? I ask—but I know it hurts my blog to not have very much of my own face on here.

So, if you noticed more photos of my on my Instagram this past month, it’s true. There are more! And I have even more that I plan to post! So fancy.

Getting Professional Photos of Forrest

I’m a little embarrassed that, despite my status as a mom who is pretty obsessed with my own child, I’ve never gotten professional photos taken of him. I wanted to when he was a newborn, but he was so small, so fragile, I felt like it was a bit of a “playing with fire” thing. By the time he was big enough and sturdy enough, we were paying hospital bills and having enough disposal income for a photo shoot wasn’t a luxury.

So, in November, I paid for actual, real professional photos of him and, gosh, they turned out amazing. I’ve gifted them, made Christmas cards with them, and basically just stare at them constantly. We had our photos done by Angelique (AH Newborns) and she did such an amazing job. I cannot recommend her enough!

Working with Formulate

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being able to work with Formulate this month. I wouldn’t normally include this in a wrap up, but I’ve had so much fun taking photos, writing content, and testing out my personalized shampoo. Most importantly, I’m so excited to be able to host a giveaway with them. I love being able to provide something to my readers; without you guys, this blog wouldn’t really be anything! And you’re the ones who enable me to be able to work with cool companies like Formulate. If you would like to enter my giveaway, just click here. I’ll have a blog post about my experience in the next few weeks.

Sweet, Spooky & Super Busy: My October Wrap Up

Sweet, Spooky & Super Busy: My October Wrap Up | Writing Between Pauses

How was your October?

More importantly, how was your Blogtober?

This year’s Blogtober felt like a little more of a challenge than last year. I had a lot going on this month—visitors, a lot of client work, Forrest in school, and a lot more. I’m also trying to get my house cleaned up and looking better for my own mental health and Christmas, of course.

I’m going to have a best of post going up tomorrow of my favorite Blogtober posts, plus my favorite posts from other bloggers. However, today, I wanted to go through some of my highlights from October. Let’s go!

1. Making These Cupcakes

Chai Spice Cupcakes
Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

So I just made these today, but oh my gosh, they turned out way better than I planned! I wanted to get some kind of skull or spider decoration for the top, but couldn’t find anything at the grocery store. They’d already cleaned out the Halloween stuff except the candy!! So I settled for a bag of candy corn and I’m glad I did; they turned out so, so cute! They are my usual spice cake recipe with chai steeped milk for regular milk, plus two tablespoons of molasses. They are for a potluck tomorrow at work and I’m so excited to take them!

2. Going to the Pumpkin Patch

It goes without saying that one of my highlight every single year is visiting the pumpkin patch. We love visiting our local farms every year. We went apple picking in September and to the pumpkin patch in October. It’s always a good year when we get both in! I wrote about visiting the pumpkin patch here.

3. Going to Sunriver

We took a short family trip to Sunriver right at the beginning of October that was somewhat anxiety-inducing for me (nothing like a 3-4 hour drive with a toddler alone to make you feel like a parent), but ended up being a really great time. It gave Danny and I a little bit of a break, plus we had lots and lots of fun.

Inspiration Sunday: October 28

Inspiration Sunday: October 28 | Writing Between Pauses

Happy Sunday!

October always feels like a very long month, which is good because it’s my favorite month. But as we get closer to Halloween, it starts to click in just how long this month is. Forrest has been asking nonstop to go trick-or-treating; the concept of days is still a bit strange to him, but I made him a little calendar and we cross off each day to Halloween now. He’s so excited to experience Halloween, which makes me so excited because I’ve always wanted him to love Halloween as much as I did and do! He gets to have a Halloween party at school this week, so I may have gone a little wild and made goodie bags for the other kids in his class.

This all leads me to the point of this post: what do we do when we get to a big event we have been beyond excited for?

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For me, I always feel a bit ho-hum and let down after big events. A prime example is my wedding; I planned, I excitedly looked forward to, I had fun on the day and then, the next day… there were no big to do lists, no things to check, no plans. I’m somehow to works best by always having something to look forward to, a deadline to hit, and when I don’t, I find it hard to focus my energy. That’s why I liked being pregnant so much; I knew my body was working towards something very specific. That’s a little bit why I struggle with eating regularly and working out the way I know would help my body; I don’t have anything that I’m specifically working towards.

I always stress a bit how to not pass on this trait to Forrest, because, in general, it’s kind of a difficult one. Having to always set deadlines for myself to tasks so I don’t just languish on something is really challenging. So we often take to Forrest about how exciting things can be every single day, instead of just on days of big events. I try to make him excited for our regular days, by doing crafts and activities and lessons, having him help make dinner, playing games, or learning about chores—but still, I can tell he is just plain more excited for Halloween and he wants the days to hurry up so we can get to Halloween already!

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The most challenging part of being a parent, for me, is looking at the big picture. It can be a pretty dismal way of looking at things, to be always focused on what positive traits I’m passing on: I want him to be tidy, like I am, and not prone to being messy, like Danny is, but I don’t want him to be obsessive about it, like I can be. When I reduce my parenting to purely “passing on positive traits,” it can get really overwhelming. And ultimately, Forrest is going to pick up what Forrest picks up!

It is more important for me, as a parent, to work on the things I can change; this shows Forrest, more than anything, that nothing is set. It’s ok to change and it’s ok to adjust your behavior and work on the things you need to improve. A lot of people are so set in their ways because they think their negative personality traits are set in stone; but that’s just not true! My indecisiveness isn’t set in stone; I can choose to work on it, to not get decision fatigue, and to have the confidence to take charge.

So whether Forrest feels let down after Halloween or not, I know I need to let him have that feeling. It's ok to feel that way. But I know it is more important for me to allow him to feel that way, but then also show him ways to keep moving forward, even after a big, exciting day.

This is a bit different of an Inspiration Sunday post. It’s been something I’ve been mulling over for the past few months. And moving forward in my 30th year (!!!) on this planet, I know it’s time to start really working through all these things. What’s inspiring you this week?

Motherhood & Friendship: It's Harder Than it Looks

Motherhood & Friendship: It's Harder Than It Looks | Writing Between Pauses

When I was a freshman in college, my best friend from high school got pregnant. We were very, very close the summer between senior year in high school and freshman year in college--and throughout our first year at college, we wrote each other letters, sent each other silly emails, text messages, and Facebook wall posts. (Remember Facebook wall posts!?) We were each others rock when we didn't really have a lot of other people who understood our background: we were perfectionist girls from small towns outside of a major metro, who went to a Catholic school where everyone was just a little wealthier than we were. We worked hard, took AP classes, played sports, and got good scholarships. 

I wish I could tell you that our friendship survived her pregnancy, that her becoming a mother and having to quit school, because you can't keep a soccer scholarship that covers most of your tuition when you're pregnant. I wish I could tell you that I had been there for her. And truly, I did try: I was 19 years old, however, and while that's no excuse, I didn't really have all the tools necessary to deal with her circumstances.

We fell apart for several years. My best friend disappeared into the background of my life; I remembered her fondly, but I wasn't sure exactly how to reconnect with her. But a year before my wedding, as I was trying on wedding dresses, I spotted her: she was trying on wedding dresses too. We hugged each other, we swore to get together... and we never did. I've chatted with her a few times since: we've met up for dinner once, she gave me the last of her breastmilk when Forrest was in the hospital just after his birth (a favor that is truly one of the greatest kindnesses anyone has ever done for me), and we talk occasionally on Facebook. But the spark of our friendship--that exciting feeling to have someone who just knew me, who understood all my quirks, who laughed at the same jokes as me, who sent me goofy cards she found in the grocery store just because--it's gone and it doesn't really come back. 

Recently, I was reading Jimsy Jampots, a newsletter by Amy that I really love, and she talked about friendship, about how some people seem to have a friend group that survives just about everything and others, well, just don't. I'll be the first to tell you I've never been great at making friends; I'm introverted and shy, with a heaping dose of social anxiety. I'm eternally self-conscious, always convinced I'll say exactly the wrong thing. It's like I never learned how to have a conversation, sometimes. But when people get to know me, I really do think I'm quite funny. But friends? Lasting friendships? That's something I really struggle with. 

In Amy's newsletter, she included a link to an article on the Pool about friendship and motherhood, and about how friendships shift and alter throughout our lives, but especially when we have kids... or don't have kids. You can read that article here. It got me thinking about my friend and how our friendship really dissolved once she was pregnant and especially after she had a baby. I was still in college, living a completely different life from her. 

Similarly, almost 3 years ago, I was having a baby when almost none of my friends were. I've written before that I found pregnancy a really fun experience (despite learning later on that I actually had a quite difficult pregnancy), but that I found the first three months of motherhood absolutely brutal. Postpartum life is isolating, exhausting, and, truly, just not very fun. Some people adjust really well and some people just don't. 

One line stuck out from that article by Robyn Wilder in particular: 

Recently, the Daily Mail zeroed in on a “controversial” blog post by Australian writer Nadia Bokody, in which she claimed that “I can’t be your friend anymore now you’re a mother”. And in reply I’d like to say this: “Well, of course you fucking can’t.”

I’m not the same as I was before kids. I’m a mother now. I have a pram the size of an SUV that I don’t know how to collapse. I have to watch a YouTube tutorial every time I want to get it on a bus. So, no, I cannot meet you for cocktails in a trendy Brixton bar that you can only access via a broken fridge door in a back alley.

It's very difficult to explain to people that it's not that I don't want to go to a trendy bar, or, god, even sit on a park bench and eat a sandwich and chat for hours. It's that I literally, physically cannot. I might be able to beg my child off on a babysitter for an hour, but that's just an hour. Or I can bring him along, spend all the time not really listening to someone talk, try to entertain him, annoy everyone else in the coffee shop, bar, or park, and then have to leave early because he didn't get a good nap, or he needs to eat lunch, or some other reason. (And truly, the stroller situation is out of control. Why don't they fold up easily!?) 

Motherhood changes everything in your life. In one monumental way (you have a human life that is dependent on you for basically everything) and in many small, insignificant ways that sometimes feel glaringly painful. They are little paper cuts, reminders that your life is somehow much better, but also much harder, than it was a year ago, or two years ago, or whatever. It's like someone has come into the apartment of your life and just changed the furniture a little bit. Your body doesn't work quite the same anymore and neither does your brain, really; you don't have as much time as you once did to lounge on the couch, or binge watch TV shows, or chat with your friends. Your car has gotten bigger, bulkier, and harder to maneuver and the backseat is basically a non-space, taken up entirely by a plastic potty that you have to carry everywhere, a bag full of extra clothes just in case, snacks, and the carseat that cost about the same as a house payment. You find yourself doing things your parents used to do: folding money into parchment paper and saving in the freezer with peppercorns inside, carefully wiping tennis shoes with wet paper towels to clean the mud off, creating travel books out of old binders and hole punched activity sheets you photocopied from your sister's old books, counting coins out for allowance, creating a chore chart. 

And there are people in my life who don't understand any of these things. They might even have kids themselves, who are older, or who are younger, or maybe they just adjusted to motherhood better than me and don't have to check the stove 3 times before they can get in the car. It makes friendship difficult. It makes it easy to go a week without talking, then two weeks, then somehow it's been two years and you're not even sure how to start the conversation anymore. 

Parenting is hard. It's not the hardest thing in the world and ultimately, it's a choice--but it's still really challenging. And it's hard to juggle parenting and socializing, especially if you, like me, aren't great at socializing to begin with. I've been on both sides of the coin: I've been the one moving on while a friend becomes a parent and I've been the one left in the dust, looking around and wondering when the last time I spoke to so-and-so was. And it's ok. At the end of the day, it's ok for friendships to fade. 

Because, in the meantime, you can find new friendships. Mom groups have bred some of the best friendships I've ever had--people who totally get me, who understand me and my difficulty with parenting, who laugh when I joke about starting a revolution, who understand when I say I don't really know if I want a second baby because I really, really like my first baby. People drift apart and it's hard to make time in the quagmire of our lives, but if you meet someone who is also fighting a two-year-old 13 hours a day, you'll be surprised as how well you can talk over screaming,. 

Why All the Advice on Potty Training is Actually the Worst

Why All the Advice on Potty Training is Actually the Worst | Writing Between Pauses

We started potty training in May 2017. Yes, you read that right: May 2017. Forrest was just over 18 months old and I had started to get panicked because other babies in my due date group were either already working on potty training, or were completely out of diapers. "Oh god," I thought, "he's behind." So we bought a potty seat, a small plastic potty, and the Elmo potty training DVD, as well as about 400 books on the subject. 

We watched the Elmo DVD repeatedly. Forrest sat on the potty. We had staring contests over the potty training books. And all the while, he never actually peed in the potty once. We kept trying. I had read advice that told me not to take it too seriously, to let him learn, but also I had to be in control, but also not to give him anxiety about it, but also he needed to be potty trained and it has to happen eventually, right, and how does it happen, guys?! 

I was stressed out by September when he turned 2 and was no closer to using a potty than I was to achieving time travel. I gave up. Over the holidays, I just let bygones be bygones; I didn't have the time or mental capacity to do it. 

Then, in February, we started over again. As I've said several times, March through May were very difficult months for us. And in February, we started having some potty training success (thank goodness), only to have Forrest develop pretty severe anxiety about the potty. The sound of the water would often make him panic and stop peeing, so we were still changing a lot of diapers. I was exhausted. I felt like it would never happen. In fact, I started to wonder if he would ever be potty trained at all. 

If you've ever potty trained a toddler, you know that it can feel like it's just never going to happen. 

Diapers are safe. Even for parents, they are safe: you know when you're out and about with your kid that they have a diaper and nothing bad will happen. Blowouts happen, sure, but that often (at least in our case and, truly, condolences to those parents out there who deal with blowouts multiple times a day). I started to get as stressed as Forrest, which surely wasn't helping things. 

I read all the advice. Anxiety for toddlers trying to potty train? Pour water into the potty to help them get used to the noise. Did it. Didn't help. A toddler who refuses to try? Either give them space,., or just refuse to give them a diaper. If they pee on the floor, they pee on the floor. (Listen, it's a no from me in that regard.) 

I read every solution about potty training out there. I read all the books, all the blog posts, all the parenting articles. Some suggested just waiting, deadlines for preschool be damned. Some suggested forcing the issue and spending three days in one room with a potty and a lot of juice, which truly sounds like some version of torture cooked up by parent blogs, honestly. 

In the end, do you know what happened? 

One day, he just did it. He was at my mom's house, he asked to use the potty, and he did. Then he did it every single time after that. Then, three days later, he was wearing underpants. It felt like it happened at warp speed: one day I was lamenting on Instagram that he would never be potty trained and the next day, he just was

It's been a few weeks now and I'm honestly still in shock a little bit. All that time, all that struggling, and you know what? All the advice I read was absolute garbage.

It's incredibly easy to write about parenting. In hindsight, it can sometimes feel like you put all the pieces together right. I have no idea if I did the right thing with Forrest. Is he permanently scarred from those two months he spent anxiously sitting on a potty? Could he have been potty trained at 2 if I'd just tried harder? Who knows!? I sure don't. And for everyone out there who claims they have the answers--of what is easiest, of what works immediately--I can't help but think that either 1) the days of actually being in the trenches of potty training, or breastfeeding, or whatever are so far behind them that they've literally forgotten or 2) they're so caught up in appearing perfect that they need to make it seem like they have the answers to everything. And that's not a judgemental thing: it's just the truth and I know I've probably done it myself. 

What else have I learned from this potty training journey? Well, for the sake of all the other moms in the trenches right now, sitting with their kids on potties in living rooms or cooped up in the bathroom for 20 minutes or watching that Elmo potty training DVD for the 500th time, here's a list of everything I learned from potty training: 

1. It doesn't happen overnight. 

First on my list of "things that are absolute lies" are those articles, books, and methods devoted to potty training your child in three days. Not only do those methods make all parents feel like absolute crap for thinking being closed up in a room with your naked toddler and a pile of juice boxes sounds like absolute hell and the last thing we want to do, they're also completely misguided. Those methods don't teach kids to actually learn to follow the rules of their body; they're just being shoved onto the potty by their parents for 3 days until eventually, they get used to sitting on the potty in intervals set by, guess who, the parents

The thing about parenting is that almost nothing happens on the schedule you think it will. Their development, growth, interests, and more happen sporadically, randomly, almost impulsively. And in a time of instant gratification, taking on something like potty training, which is about teaching a skill, can feel incredibly daunting. We want it to happen overnight because we are ready, we are tired of buying diapers... but we don't think about what our little person is learning. And really, it's not about making them do something: it's about teaching them a skill that lasts their entire lives. You can't rush it. 

2. Introducing concepts is important. 

As I said, we've been talking about potty training for over a year. So, even if you don't plan to potty train until after two, or closer to three, or you just want to let them lead... introduce those ideas. Start watching the Elmo potty training DVD (as much as I complain about it, it really was the best) or the Daniel Tiger potty training episode early--like at 18 months to 2 years. Introducing those concepts, even if you don't plan to act on them, helps them develop skills around language. 

3. It's not always about what is easiest for you. 

I'll be honest: sometimes, I feel really selfish because I struggle to set aside my needs for Forrest's. I've definitely gotten better at it. But with potty training, I think it goes without saying that sometimes what seems like it will be easiest won't be what works. Prime example: I did not want Forrest to use a little plastic potty that I had to empty. So messy! But you know what? He just did better with the thing I hated. That's fine. It's fine. There is no point in pressing the issue though. 

4. Stop freaking Googling. 

At a certain point, I just had to stop reading about what to do. It was driving me crazy not having the answer that worked for us. And all the advice, as I've said a few times now, felt conflicting, overly simplistic, or just plain wrong. And it didn't work! So if you're struggling, if you're not sure what to do, here's my advice: stop Googling, let your kid wear a diaper, and give yourself a week to just have fun and not worry about it. 

My April 2018 Wrap Up

April 2018 Wrap Up | Writing Between Pauses

April is... over!? 

You know how I said that March was a doozy of a month? Well, April arrived bigger and badder. I had a lot of ups this month and a lot of downs. I'm going to write this post a bit differently than I usually do for these wrap ups, because I have a lot to talk about!

A few years ago (after I had Fo really), I decided that I shared too much online about everything that happened in my life. It wasn't fair to Forrest to put so much of his life out there. And really, it wasn't fair to myself either. But as I've blogger more the past 6 months, I realized it is hard to draw the line between "hobby blogger professionally" and "being cold"! Does that make sense? 

I'm hoping to use these wrap ups as a chance to share a bit more about me and my life as a mother and professional. 

1. Big Blogging News

I've been blogging for ages, really, but it's only been in the past 2-3 months that I started getting fun "blog emails." I don't want to talk about this too much as it starts to feel a bit like an echo chamber (and to a non-blogger reading this, it is so boring to hear bloggers write about this so I apologize in advance). It's nice to feel like I'm finally achieving something because I do work on this blog a lot. 

There was also a Twitter thread recently that I added my thoughts onto (you can read it all here) and it really underscored for me the importance of blogging for a purpose. I love my blog, but my purpose here is to educate and inspire. I don't just want free stuff. I want to write content that others want to read and for me, that means taking myself (and my personal life) out of it. I'm here to review products, to provide advice, and to help people figure out what works as a mother or young professional, lover of makeup, or whatever! I'm not changing the world.

One sponsorship I'm really proud of this month is my collab with Smile Brilliant. I'm still hosting a giveaway from them, so if you haven't entered yet, click here

2. Motherhood Never Stops Being a Challenge

Without going into too much detail, the Friday before last, we had our first big medical scare with Forrest. He has had croup before, where we rushed him to the ER at about midnight. And he's been quite sick before. But on that Friday, he'd gotten pushed at the park (still not happy about it) and fallen forward with his arms outstretched. He seemed fine initially; we went home, he napped, and I tried to get work done. When he woke up though, he was inconsolable. Finally, I got out of him that he was hurt and he needed a doctor. I called our pediatrician and just as Danny got home from work, my pediatrician called me back personally and said, "Put him in the car and get him to me now please." (In case you're wondering, I love our pediatrician; she's absolutely wonderful and made time to check his arm.) She immediately saw he wasn't using his arm properly and wanted us to get x-rays. 

Cut to us running around the entire city of Eugene to find an x-ray tech that was open. We kept getting to places immediately after they had closed or being told that they don't do outpatient x-rays. We ended up driving across town and getting into an office after a nurse from the hospital called and begged a fellow x-ray tech to stay late. (Bless that nurse!) Forrest got his x-rays. He had to wear a tiny sling for a few days (which was a horrible challenge). On Monday, our pediatrician called to tell us his elbow wasn't broken (thank goodness), but severely sprained. Rest and time helped and his little "broken wing" is better now. But it was scary!

I always think I can handle, or anticipate, the challenges that happen. But that Friday, I was not expecting to spend several hours with a sweaty, sobbing toddler trying to get someone to x-ray his arm! 

3. Learning to Live Slow

I impulse bought this book at Target three weeks ago. Let me say: I feel like I've learned so much from it already. I've stopped to use one of the mini-journals it comes with, but I'm so excited to read more. This book is all about taking the time to really wind down and think, to live a little slower, and to stop stuffing our lives with activities and jobs in order to feel like we are always "busy." It's about really letting yourself feel your emotions. Even writing about it, I feel myself calming down!

I get chronic migraines and tension headaches; I've gotten tension headaches since I was 20, but the migraines are new, within the last two years, really. They aren't fun and at this point, I know they are caused by my stress and anxiety. I'm hoping this book can help me start alleviating some of the anxiety that I feel (that often leaves me either unable to stop working or paralyzed at the thought of starting a task). 

4. Other Bits

A lot of highs. A lot of lows. I feel like that's been the past few months. However, my hope for May is that I can go a month without a serious medical or home expense (I bought new tires and a new dishwasher in March; I had to also buy another new piece of car equipment in April; my savings account is crying). 

However, this past weekend, Danny and I went on a solo trip to Portland. It was really nice to be able to just spend time with him and not worry about anything else for a change! 

I have a lot of exciting blog posts coming up this month, as well as some really fun personal stuff. 

How was your April? Did you have a good month?