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Written by Mama Monday

Blog posts written by mamas on cloth diapering, green living, natural parenting.

Unwashed dishes in a sink; an authentic situation.

Unwashed dishes in a sink; an authentic situation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Between my new nonprofit, Big Hearts Big Soles, and the four to five short blogs I write for Thirsties each month, I wouldn’t even say I qualify as working very part-time, but I am a stay-at-home mom full-time. Given that I barely have five minutes in a row to sit down and write during the day without Cooper wanting to show me something, requesting food, stubbing his toe or a whole myriad of other possible events that require Mommy’s attention, I really can’t comprehend how some parents work real jobs, from home, with their infants and toddlers at home too.

Today for instance, I had a list of things I needed to get done–including to get a blog written and uploaded for Thirsties, to go to the bank to deal with a fraud issue on my account, tracking down new shoes for three teenage foster boys for Christmas (and trying to get some Denver Nuggets or Broncos gear donated to them as well) when I got a call at eleven this morning from Kate’s school saying that she had a bad earache and needed to be picked up. Now I find myself with two children at home (so now Cooper has someone to fight with–I mean, play with) and instead of doing anything else I need to do, I am waiting for the doctor’s office to call me back so that I can drop everything and bring Kate in whenever they can see her. I am only able to sit and write this because I have the trusty “TV aka Nanny” keeping the children occupied momentarily. This hasn’t however, stopped Cooper from calling out “Mommy!” every few minutes, even if it’s just to tell me something funny he’s just seen on Scooby Doo.

Children aside, there are so many other things that distract me while I am trying to work at home–namely housework. It’s very hard for me to sit and focus on anything else when I have dishes sitting in the sink, crumbs on the counter or a pile of laundry that needs to be folded and put away. I find myself hopping up to help Cooper with (insert anything here) and then thinking “I just heard the washing machine stop–I really should just go throw those clothes in the dryer and get another load going.” While I am in the laundry room, I notice the cat litter has to be scooped, the trash needs to be taken out and before I know it, I’ve left “my work” and have done random, non-urgent tasks for 30 minutes. I have a very hard with time management because it seems that nothing, and yet everything, needs to be done first.

I found myself thinking the other day, how lucky parents are who get to leave housework behind and go give 100% of their attention to their paying jobs without trying to do everything all at once. And then of course, I thought about it from a work-out-of-the-home parent’s point of view and realized those parents might be thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could throw in a load of laundry right now since I am sitting here waiting for X and then I would have less to do when I got home.” Sigh. I guess, the answer is, there is no such thing as “easier” when it comes to being a working parent. The old adage, “The grass is always greener” seems to apply. Working parents wish they could spend more time at home and stay-at-home parents wonder why they never realized how hard staying at home can be. I’ve come to the conclusion, yet again, that being a parent, whether working at home, out of the home, or just doing housework and parenting at the same time, is really, really challenging and a lot of us feel like we’ve always got to neglect one thing to give our attention to another. We’re doing the best we can. Now you’ll have to excuse me…Cooper is heading up to “poop” which means I’ll hear “Mom, I need you to wipe my butt!” in three minutes, Kate needs some more Tylenol for her earache and I think I hear my phone ringing. It’s probably the doctor’s office. Proofreading this blog will have to wait.

My plan seems to be improvise, wing it, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But it always feels like chaos and I end up feeling like I am doing everything at once and yet doing nothing well. How do you balance your time between working, parenting and doing dishes? Do you clean the house first or ignore the dishes and do your paying job first?  How do you stay organized and how do you manage the kids and everything else–all at once?

 

 

Cover of "Elf on the Shelf"

Cover of Elf on the Shelf

 

The first day of the Advent,
The first day of December.
Our Elf should be arriving
But I can’t seem to remember

Where in this house I stuffed him
Over eleven long months ago.
But the kids did not forget,
Looking high and low.

I hid him somewhere very safe
I knew the kids would never look
I put him somewhere in a bag
Or behind a boring book.

I’ve ripped apart the whole garage
My storage bins and shelves
And I’m wondering where other parents
Stash their blasted Elves?

I stuffed him in a closet
Or with the camping gear,
Yet still I cannot find him
And school pick up time is near.

I hope that when I find you,
You little handsome little knave,
That you will work your magic
And help my children to behave

Because while you sit and grin,
You silly little Elf,
My sanity is sitting
Right beside you on that shelf.

 

 

 

 

 

I am feeling particularly grateful this holiday season. My children are healthy, they’re happy and well-adjusted (most of the time) and we’ve made some huge progress figuring out how Kate’s diet affects, not only her moods and her behavior, but also her ability to learn. Life is good. But the thing that has me most excited right now is my new nonprofit, called Big Hearts Big Soles Inc.

Let me tell you the little story that got the whole thing started. I was dropping off some items I was donating at the Salvation Army—did I mention I’m a Thrift Store regular? They are my favorite place to buy clothes for myself and the kids, books and furniture. I love a project, like an old shelf, to repaint and fuss with until it looks like new again. Or if not new, funky will work. Anyway, I digress. I happened to overhear an employee of the Salvation Army, half talking to himself, half to me, mention he was looking for some size 17 shoes. “Who needs size 17 shoes?” I immediately asked, knowing both shoes and feet that big are rare. He told me a local homeless man needed them…and it was at that point that it occurred to me, how hard it would be for low-income or homeless men, to find shoes that size. Most people who need larger than a men’s 13 have to custom order their shoes…and they aren’t cheap either. What were the chances the right size would end up at the right place for someone with little to no resources? Slim to none, apparently.

I ended up telling the man that I might be able to help. Crocs is based in Boulder and I know someone who knows someone there. I also have some connections with the Detroit Pistons. I said, “I can’t promise, but let me see what I can do.” This encounter changed my life. Crocs immediately sent two pairs of size 17s to me (and they had to be sent to Colorado from out of state, the home-base of Crocs, which shows how hard it is to track down shoes this big) and pretty soon, three pairs of brand new athletic shoes, all size 17, that had been sitting in the Pistons’ equipment room were headed to Boulder. Being able to give this man the first new shoes he had in over three years was amazing. I realized that I don’t have to be independently wealthy or even anyone special to jump in, get involved and make a difference.

To make a long story short, the woman who works at the shelter, who had initially put out the word out that this man needed shoes, became my co-founder and since October, we’ve been able to provide 19 pairs of shoes to people in our area, including three size 17s, three size 15s and 10 pairs to a high school students in Denver who play basketball but can’t afford decent athletic shoes to play in.

Me Serviving Soup to the Homeless

Me Serving Soup to the Homeless

Since starting Big Hearts Big Soles Inc., (and yes we are now an official 501C3) I’ve made an extra effort to get involved with the homeless population in Boulder. Just because you don’t need big shoes, doesn’t mean Big Hearts Big Soles won’t try to help. In fact, I’ve realized I might be a horrible business woman because I can’t say no to anyone. If someone approaches me, I will try, no matter what, to get them what they need. The homeless folks I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting, are the farthest thing from “lazy moochers who are looking for handouts.”  Many of them are among the least selfish I’ve met. A visibly shivering man kept refusing my offer of warmer clothes when the temps hovered around 5 degrees last week saying “I’m sure there’s someone here colder than I am.” But there didn’t seem to be so I put on my Bossy Hat (which I am quite comfortable with as a mother of three) and told him he had to go put on those extra layers. I was laughing…but I meant it. And he did. I also took a homeless man and woman I met out to coffee one morning as I had been trying to find boots for Donna Jean. She had been wearing sneakers with soles that flapped open like an old puppet when she walked. I encouraged her and her friend Bear to order whatever they wanted but even though they hadn’t eaten breakfast, they would only let me buy them coffee and a muffin.

Other than the immediate benefit of knowing that I am helping others, starting Big Hearts Big Soles Inc. has also helped my children to understand that sometimes we “need” things and sometimes we “want” things. It’s helped them put their own lives in perspective (a little) to know that even though some of their friends have bigger houses or more toys or go on tropical vacations while we stay home, we’re still pretty darn lucky. So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for all of the things that are easy to take for granted: health, employment, shelter, warm food and clean sheets.

What are you thankful for this year?

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My husband’s company encourages it’s employees to take care of themselves. Our health savings account is credited when we get annual physicals, take online health assessments and even exercise. To motivate us to exercise and remain active, they’ve given us Fitbits which we wear on our wrists. The Fitbit sends information to an app that we installed on our smartphones so we can see how many steps we’ve taken, how many calories we’ve burned etc. I like to call mine my microchip because it seems to know exactly what I am doing at all times. It counts each step I take, it senses and counts “active minutes” which I assume means when I am doing something other than walking—like jogging. I’ve logged plenty of active minutes when I wouldn’t consider myself being active but maybe it’s counting running up and down the stairs to help Cooper on the potty and then running back down to make sure dinner isn’t burning.

The thing that I love most about my Fitbit is that it confirms what I already knew: I don’t stop moving. Being a full-time stay at home parent is a physical job. Yesterday, I walked 16, 643 steps (7.16 miles), I logged 15 active minutes and burned 2,499 calories. What did I do? I took the dog for a walk…less than a mile since it was freezing cold, I went to Costco and other than that, I did mom stuff around our 1,300 square foot house. I fixed breakfast while intermittently breaking up fights or helping someone trapped inside a turtleneck to become unstuck. Then I unloaded the dishwasher while helping someone get on their mittens and hat and coat, then ten minutes later, I helped someone take off their mittens and hat and coat. I vacuumed while yelling at someone to mop up the dirty snow someone had tracked in and then gave up and did it myself. And so on and so on. But the point is, I rarely sit down and if I do, it’s for minutes at a time or else I am in the car.

My husband, on the other hand, works in an office. He loves nothing more than to go on a five mile run in the mountains or go for a three hour bike ride. His Fitbit confirms that he needs to make time to do these things because he averages 7 thousand steps a day if he’s not able to exercise.  I average 14 thousand steps a day. If I am able to go for an actual run or get to the gym, I usually log over 20,000 steps that day. I jokingly told my husband that he can’t ask me what I’ve done all day if he comes home and the house is a mess because my Fitbit doesn’t lie—but the state of the house often does: I’ve been working my buns off and I still can’t keep up with housework, cooking, laundry, kids and pets. I mean, you don’t log over 14,000 steps watching the soaps and eating bon-bons, right?

Another cool thing about the Fitbit is that it also logs how well I sleep. When I turn off my light and lay down for the night, I click the button on the app that says “Begin sleep.” When I wake up the next morning, I click, “I’m awake.” Then I can see how many times I was restless or awake, in the form of a little graph. It’s very cool. I can look at the little red lines and remember “Oh, yes, there is Kate’s nightmare when I got up and checked on her,” or “This is when Cooper crawled into bed and started thrashing around next to me.” That’s usually when the most “green lines” show up…once a child comes into the bed. But no matter what the Fitbit says about the quality of my sleep, I still have to get out of bed and get ready to walk  6 or 7 miles in circles around my house picking up Monster Trucks and sweeping up crumbs!

Fitbit Sleep

Kate, age 6

 

In late August I blogged about my daughter’s extreme reactions to artificial food coloring and the post was shared more times than any of my other posts have been. I’m glad. This really is something every parent should know about before they feed their babies solid foods. If I had known what I know now, I wouldn’t have eaten anything artificially colored when I was pregnant or breastfeeding.

A week after my blog was published, we started our family on the Feingold Diet for Kate’s behavioral and attention problems. We’re now eating almost completely organic (it’s not cheap, either), however the first stage of this elimination diet actually cuts out most of our favorite fruits and veggies. We’re left with pears, bananas, avocado and a few others, along with grains, meat and dairy. By day three, we had seen major improvement in Kate’s moods and behavior.  And after several months we can now see a direct correlation between certain foods and angry outbursts. Kate seems to react to fruits and veggies that are high in salicylates which is something that the Feingold diet suggests you eliminate/lessen in the first stage. Had we not eliminated food coloring, preservatives and high sal foods at the same time, we never would have figured out which foods affect Kate. When we first took out dyes, we no longer had epic tantrums that lasted for hours…but we still had plenty of irritability, angry outbursts and hyperactivity. It wasn’t until we pulled everything from her diet for several days, except for the blandest, least allergenic, least processed foods that we could add back in one food at a time to see how she did.

Salicylates are natural preservatives found in foods and they are related to aspirin allergy. My father has an aspirin allergy and my sister figured out she was sensitive to salicylates about a year ago. She’s dealt with severe breakouts of hives for the past twenty years. I have to admit, she encouraged me again and again to try eliminating salicylates from Kate’s diet but I was hesitant because so many of the healthiest foods have the most salicylates. More organic ice cream with a side of potatoes au gratin and a slice of bread and butter? Sure! But hold the spinach, blueberries, raspberries and cucumbers, please. I had tried a few times to go “Low Sal”, but because I hadn’t eliminated artificial food coloring and preservatives at the same time, I didn’t see any real difference. Starting with a “clean slate” was imperative.

Now I am keeping what I am calling a Food Mood Log in which I keep track of everything Kate eats and her moods and behavior. (And to all you expectant mothers, if I could do it all over again, I’d start with a Food Mood Log from the first bite of solids my babies had—-and I’d be especially wary of giving them anything artificial. (In fact, is it me or is it a funny coincidence that the Terrible Twos often coincide with toddlers getting their first taste of sweet treats?)

ADHD and other behavioral disorders have been on the rise over the past several decades and the quality of our foods has gotten significantly worse. I saw a meme on Facebook that said “Once upon a time, everything was organic.” And it’s true. Foods were eaten in the season in which they were grown, they were from local sources—if not right from the backyard— and natural preservatives like salt, vinegar and sugars were used when meats or fruits and veggies were dried or canned for future use. Now we can eat blueberries, strawberries and dark leafy greens year round (maybe we weren’t meant to) and thanks to GMOs, many fruits and veggies have higher than normal levels of salicylates to prolong their shelf life. The strawberries growing in my yard get crushed from being pulled off the plant they are so delicate. In the grocery store, strawberries are bright red but much “harder” than my own organic, non GMO berries. They can last for a week or more without rotting or bruising. Salicylates are a naturally occurring preservative in plants, remember? Genetically modify the level of sals and the fruits and veggies take longer to go bad–good for those selling the berries, very bad for those of us who eat them.

At the beginning of this school year, Kate’s reading was assessed. The results showed that she was not only below grade level, but possibly severely learning disabled. The teachers never mentioned this early assessment to me (and I’m thankful because I would have panicked) but six weeks later, they assessed her again. We had coincidentally started the Feingold diet approximately one week after her first reading assessment. Six weeks later, she was tested again and her reading had improved by 50%. Her teacher and the special ed teacher told me about the dramatic difference they had seen from the first evaluation and the second and they were obviously baffled. They couldn’t explain how Kate barely seemed to understand what they were asking of her during first test and then appeared to be a competent, intelligent, engaged child during the second–who was pretty good at reading! Another Feingold Mother told me she thinks our kids must feel the way we do when we have a pounding headache….foggy, unable to concentrate and irritable.

Thanks to figuring all of this out, we now have a six year old who displays a much more typical temperament. She doesn’t constantly “freak out” over trivial things, she can move past frustration and disappointment without being stuck in the emotion for too long. She wants to read to us, she can play games and play quietly with her siblings without picking fights constantly. We’re seeing so much more of the loving, creative, funny and empathetic child that we always knew Kate was only now we’re not seeing her alter ego who was an angry, out of control little girl with low self-esteem. There are no words to describe this change except amazing, remarkable and life-changing. Our family is calmer and happier and not constantly in crisis. It’s not easy to maintain this strict eating program. We make mistakes and the kids are not in our sight constantly so they occasionally eat things they shouldn’t, and let’s face it, kids with or without challenges like these are still kids who have good days and bad days. But life is a lot better. A lot better.

I want to keep spreading the word about what we’ve learned. My hope is that families who have infants and toddlers will be more aware of how food and behavior can be related so that they can avoid what we’ve been through. It’s much easier to never give your kids certain candies and processed foods to begin with than try to change their eating habits when they are older.

**And a big thank you to the reader who read my blog post “All Parents Should Read this One” and suggested that if Kate reacted so strongly to red dye she would be a good candidate to try the Feingold Diet. That was the comment that clicked for me and made me determined to try it.