My Unexpected Challenge in Motherhood

This post is a counterpart to Lindsey Kubly's post, shared last week. I was so inspired by her writing, I asked for permission to outline similar strategies from my high-energy, 100% extroverted approach to life.

When I first became a mom, I continued to work full time in my office job, juggling presentations, daycare pick up and dinner time, among countless other things moms juggle. I alternated my lunch breaks between power meetings with coworkers and play dates in Behr's class room. I grabbed coffee once or twice a day with friends to catch up. I spent most of my days surrounded by people and I thrived. I am an extrovert in every sense of the word.

Transitioning to life with two kids and working from home has had challenges I didn't expect. After reading Lindsey's post, I took a hard look at how things have changed for me in the past year. We welcomed a second son into our family and I transitioned out of the fast-paced, ladder climbing executive world into a work at home job requiring 20-30 hours a week. Below are a few strategies I am continuing to learn as I navigate this transition to working at home. (Read: being alone at home without natural adult interaction) Ironically, the more I thought about Lindsey's post, the more I realized that many of the tools I utilize as an extrovert are strikingly similar to her approach as an introvert. I encourage you to read both posts and let me know what you think.

1. Assess your available outlets.
In the beginning, I struggled with relying on my husband and my mom to fill all the hours of socialization I craved. I spent hours talking to, or worse at them, sometimes disrupting their work day with a phone call just to hear myself speak. At the mom's group I attended, I needed to hold back from speaking between every other person. It became obvious that I needed more interaction, I needed other outlets. I began to take the boys with me to Costco, the trip is long and slow, but we talk to nearly every employee along the way. We are pouring into their day and they are helping to fill ours. Now that Behr is in pre-school, I utilize drop off and pick up time more strategically. We arrive early and chat with folks until the end of drop off. This allows me to get conversations in and be energized before heading home to work alone for the next few hours while Hudson naps. Readjusting a few of our regular routines in a way that serves as an outlet means I no longer weigh down my family with the responsibility of being my sole source of interactions. Time spent with acquaintances help me as an extrovert so that time spent with those closest to me can move to deeper relationships.

I have also found an incredible community of online friends both via instagram and The Influence Network. These outlet are rewarding and leading to deeper relationships.

2. Focus on meaningful conversations.
This appears to be counter-intuitive to the first point. However, it is a continual lesson for me. Living in a big city, I am surrounded by people and there is always someone to talk to at the park or at a street corner. Pushing a stroller makes you an immediate target for conversation. But just because I might be lonely, doesn't mean I need to talk to everyone. Similarly, just because I talk to numerous people in a day, doesn't mean I am refilling my need for energy. Exasperated one week I realized that I had tens of conversations that didn't move beyond, the ages of my boys, their blue eyes, and yes, my hair was lighter as a kid too. Repeating the same chatter doesn't serve anyone. Now at the park, I do a quick survey to see if I recognize anyone where I can follow up from a previous conversations. At the street corners, instead of going on auto-pilot, I use these basic conversations to teach Behr social cues. Drawing a distinction between small talk and true conversation has left me more strategic, and better fulfilled.

I have signed up for newsletters from Thrive Moms and The MOB Society. These emails, provide direct encouragement, but also serve as a excellent conversation probes, key in developing meaningful conversations.

3. Save energy for motherhood. 
This is the same third strategy as Lindsey's. I echo her sentiments about the role of mom being priority number one right now. Behr is an active three year old and Hudson is on the verge of walking. If I am not giving them my attention first, our day goes downhill fast. If I ignore them, it usually leads to someone getting stuck in a precarious position. My children require my energy and attention. Even as an extrovert, I need to make sure I have energy for them in reserve. I need to be able to pour into my boys without needing them to the source of my social interaction. Expecting my kids to meet and fill my needs is unrealistic and inconsiderate. However, when I have the energy saved for being a mom, we are more likely to engage in activities that serve us all well, like reading out loud, playing thinking games such as "I notice_____, I wonder why?" and cooking together.

4. Set boundaries.
My first few weeks home I packed our schedule so full, no one was happy. I was getting stuck meeting a deadline for work before our first play group and trying to rush lunch before we are off to our second event of the day. I have set a few hard boundaries to make sure I am able to better implement the first three strategies.

  • Boundary: One play date per day. If I schedule any more, I am forcing us through the motions instead of enjoying our company. 
  • Boundary: No more than one new friend (family) per week. We don't always meet new friends, but when we do, I have found that we all do better in smaller doses. If we have friends visiting from out of town over the weekend, I try not to meet up with other new friends on either side. Meeting and engaging with new faces is hard at any age and can be overwhelming. Even as an extrovert, limited the number of new encounters is helpful. 
  • Boundary: One coffee/lunch date per week. Again, this boundary is about the schedule. If we are so jam packed, our time with friends is less fruitful. (The college econ major in me wants to tell you about diminishing margins of return...) But I also know that having this adult conversation is incredible helpful for me. While the boys are usually in tow, we pick places with room to roam or outdoor seating and the boys get play while I dig deep with friends. More than one date per week leaves me frantic. This is the hardest boundary for me to keep, but likely the most crucial for our family.
  • Boundary: Ask before speaking. This is a whole life story boundary. But as an extrovert, I often need to process aloud. My husband and I try to simply approach one another with a question first, "Can I talk about my work problem with you?" "Do you have time to listen to me for a few minutes?" Ir prepares the other person, and leads to a better conversation. 

A huge theme of these strategies is developing better conversations. I've been mulling over this topic, how it impacts my activities on social media, how it helps and hinders community, and whether or not you can speed up the space between small talk and deep meaningful conversation. You can certainly expect to hear more from me on this topic in the coming months. I would love to hear you thoughts, both on conversation and community as well as the challenges of motherhood, and how personality types/tendencies impact all of the above.

Finally, wether you are an extrovert or not, I found Lindey's post very helpful. Go ahead and take a read and while you are there, girl has some killer mom style. Check it out.

Boston Back Bay

Last week, we took a family road trip to Boston. Straight out of the car we hit the ground running. We met one of my oldest dearest friends for an all day jaunt in the Back Bay. First stop lunch at flour, where even Behr and Hudson enjoyed every last crumb then across the street for running around the playground. Traveling and days out in the city have a new look with kids in tow. I can tell you the best parks and play grounds in every city since Behr was born. Letting the boys play is the best way to squeeze in some additional activities. After the park we strolled to the Boston Public Library. Similar to our walks in DC, we found every "balance beam" along the way. Behr and I toured the library solo and we could have spent the entire day there. I've got a budding reader on my hands, and libraries are high on his list of places to see. The highlight of the library for Behr was the reading room, while I was taken aback by the incredible Marathon exhibit. We rounded out the day with cupcakes of course.
Boston Public Library
Georgetown Cupcake
If you get a day in Boston, what would you put on your must-see list?

Disclaimer: compensated affiliate links may be used in this post.

Ham and Lentil Soup

There is something wonderful about holiday left overs. Turkey sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving, pie for breakfast after Christmas dinner, and Ham after Easter. My husband loves a good spiral ham. We pick one up a few times a year, including this past New Years Eve. However, a spiral ham goes a lot further than I remembered. I started wondering how we were going to ever finish it. After breakfast casserole, quiche, and plenty of ham on salads, we turned to our trusty crockpot. Here is the recipe we came up with, adapted from our favorite chicken and lentil soup recipe.

2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 small onion or a handful of shallots diced
2 cloves garlic, whole (for flavor, not for biting into)
1 cup dried lentils
1 1/2 cups diced cooked ham
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon ground or dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups bone or chicken broth
1 cup water (for a total of 5 cups of liquid, if you have less broth on hand, add more water)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Note: you do not have to salt this dish before cooking. There is plenty of salt from the ham. You can add salt to taste upon serving.

Layer the ingredients in the crockpot following the order they are listed. Cook on low for 10 hours, or high for 6 if you need to speed things up. Each crockpot is different, so check about half way through cooking time. Once the vegetables and lentils are soft, you can serve. The longer this cooks, the thicker the soup becomes. Discard garlic and bay leaf before serving. Enjoy!

Alternative serving option:
Once this is finished cooking, refrigerate over night and serve on sandwich rolls like sloppy joes the next day. The lentils will continue to absorb the cooking liquid, making this the perfect consistency.

If you have favorite recipes for leftover ham, leave the link in the comments. 
I am always looking to try new recipes.

Before Turning 30

Several years ago, or perhaps more recently than that, bucket lists were the thing to do. Bucket lists for the year, for the seasons, (I even had at least one) for the holidays, and for getting older, most notably 30 before 30.

Well, I never got around to making that 30 before 30 list. However, since my birthday in March, I have done a great deal of thinking about the things I am glad to have accomplished before 30.

I ran the race. 
Whether it is a marathon, a half, or a 5k, or something altogether different, like bikram yoga or barre method or swimming, I believe it is incredibly important to find a rhythm of getting active. For a few years, this was me running an annual 10 miler here in DC. Two kids later, I am still finding and readjusting my workout rhythm and routine -- most often it is a long, fast paced walk. Whatever yours rhythm is, grab onto it and find ways for it lead to whole health -- cardio pumping, stress reducing, fresh air breathing, calorie burning.

I took career risk.
Somewhere between living in Boston and DC I took a few risks. I accepted a job with a presidential administration with very little background knowledge of what would be required of me. I returned to work for a former boss in IT after we both acknowledged I knew only about 10% of what was needed, but that he thought I was still the right fit. Then I left the traditional workforce completely to stay at home and be a building manager. Whatever your career risk looks like, your 20s is the time to take it. Worry less, risk more.

I moved.
I left home in Philadelphia. I left a city I loved, Boston. But I kept moving. Mark and I have some longer term goals of getting settled someday. But in the mean time, we are keeping our hearts open to moving. Even when you feel firmly rooted in a place, you may be at you most mobile state. Don't count out moving just yet.

I learned to cook.
Along the way I have burnt everything from elbow macaroni to bacon wrapped dates (and probably countless other things Mark could surely name for you). One of the biggest lessons I needed to discover in cooking was what I preferred. I learned that I like the "throw it in the pot, mix it all together" type of cooking. I also don't like baking chicken, I'm afraid it will dry out. These are pretty minor, but knowing this has guided what I spent my efforts learning. Also, finding a few cooks, or cooking blogs whose taste/style you like is far better way to go than tossing some darts at pinterest. That is just plain overwhelming.

I changed priorities.
I realized that when given the choice between two desires, I had to have my priorities in order. Most significantly, this is a apparent in our housing choice. We have chosen location (in the city, short commute) over size (1 bedroom apartment, less than 900 sq. feet). Your choice might not be so specific, but understanding the weight of your priorities is extremely important and will help you when decisions need to be made quickly. For example, I really want a fireplace, but a yard/play space definitely needs to rank higher on my list -- I am raising two wild and crazy boys! We have also applied these priorities more broadly to our family life. Mark often needs to work long hours, but never on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Those are non-negotiables for us. It is more important to have family time and go to church together for worship than to have our weeknights be less chaotic. The crazy thing about priorities is they ebb and flow. There is a constant motion of life that leads to these priorities shifting and our re-examining time and time again. But approaching this is prayer is the only way we have kept sane. We pray about priorities daily.

I learned my needs.
This is similar to priorities, but looks more basic. For example, I need to process my day before it gets started. Although I never realized this before, waking up last leads to a grouchy or at the very least, somewhat flustered day. I also need to eat small snacks throughout the day. I get lightheaded easily and if I skip snacks, often get bad headaches. Starting with a glass of water, rather than coffee, leads to less caffeine consumption over all. These needs are basic, but also easily overlooked. As I process my needs, and ensure I meet them, my days run smoother. I become a more effective wife, mother, and friend when my needs are met. I also need to talk to an adult during the day. As an extrovert, staying home with the boys left me leaning too heavily on Mark and my siblings for my communication outlets when I first transitioned to home. I will be sharing more specifically about this need later this week.

I read.
If you are going to make any list, make a list of books to read and actually read them. This is a life giving habit. It will carry you through many changes and trials, and serve you well as you age. Make reading a daily part of your life now while you have the time. (I promise, you have significantly more time than you think you do). I was an early adopter of Good Reads, but then it felt like it took up too much time. Recently, I have gone back to this website/app because I find it encourages me to keep reading. It also helps me keep track of what is on my to-read list and what I should request at the library. Are you a reader? What are your tricks to keep reading, and keep track?

I dove into friendships.
Over the course of my 20s, I both consciously and subconsciously began to narrow my friendships. This doesn't look like ignoring or excluding people. In fact, I send more snail mail and Christmas cards than ever before. Over the course of a week, I invest in and lean on far more friends, than ever before. But by narrow I mean, I stopped spending time with things that didn't align to priorities. When I do talk to these friends, it is a much narrower subject area, which leads to significantly deeper conversations and relationships. In talking with friends, I focus on the most important parts of our life, which leads to deeper relationships.

I learned to bake.
This might have been a bit of my mid-life crisis preview. I realized I couldn't make my own kid's birthday cake without fear of it totally flopping. After feeling unfit to be a mother (totally irrational) I went through costco size bags of flour and sugar (definitely impulsive). However, at the end of this crazy spurt of baking, I now have go-to chocolate chips cookies or scones when I need to bring something somewhere. I can make homemade bread or biscuits if we really want them with dinner. And I can make an apple pie. Your baking endeavors might look differently. Or you might decide you have no desire to bake these things. However, learning a few basics gave me the freedom to bring grocery store cupcakes to Behr's class on his birthday. I now have the choice, homemade or store bought and it is freeing.

These are a handful of milestones I crossed before I reached 30. They aren't a perfectly round 10 or a pre-planned bucket list. But they are life lessons that were accomplished over time and more often in community. I hope that some of these can be relatable to you. Even encourage you that after spending your entire life in school, there is still a great deal of learning in your 20s. In fact, there is a great deal more learning that what is simply listed here. I would love to know what you are learning these days.

What have you changed or conquered in the past few years of your life? 
regardless of which side of 30 you are on


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