Why Am I Homeschooling?

Hello again!   It’s been many moons since I checked in on HSM.  I’ve been busy gardening, propagating succulents, reading all I can about investing (such a 30-something thing to do, right?), and homeschooling my Kindergartner.  We are “unschooling”, so that basically means just continuing to be curious and do life together.  I’ll share more about unschooling in the future.


So why am I homeschooling?  I think my reasons aren’t the typical ones.  I am a devoted Christian, but I’m not homeschooling for moral or religious reasons.  I’m not homeschooling to shelter my children from bad cultural influences, either.  I’m not homeschooling because the public schools around me suck (they don’t- they are very highly rated.)

For me the decision was easy. My education priorities can best be accomplished outside of the traditional school setting.

  1. Sunshine, fresh air, immersion in nature on a daily basis.
  2. Preservation of sleep cycles and slow daily rhythms.  I want my kids to sleep in, nap, enjoy a healthy, leisurely lunch without rushing. The go-go-go lifestyle just doesn’t suit HSP parents or children very well.
  3. No busy work.  My kids have more important things to do, like play.
  4. Cultivating a natural love of learning!  This means let learning be the reward, instead of sticker charts, grades, pizza parties, etc.
  5. More hands-on learning. Internships, field trips, classes in the community with people of all ages, starting their own small businesses from a young age.
  6. Travel-schooling/world-schooling. Our dream is to spend large chunks of time in other places, and a regular school schedule would only hold us back.
  7. Permaculture education. In 3 years, we will be designing and building our own straw bale home and permaculture garden!!! What could be more educational that building your own home?
  8. Risk-taking, free-thinking, even failure, will be encouraged.  I’ve read a lot of inspirational autobiographies and they all say the same thing:  take risks, learn from your failures, don’t play it safe.  The typical school tells you what to do, how to do it, and expects you to do it well, if not perfectly.  This is too much pressure for conscientious HSPs who already veer toward perfectionism.
  9. Steering clear of the rat race.  I will not be teaching my kids that the key to a happy life is to study hard, get good grades, go to a good (expensive) college, get a good job, buy lots of nice things, and work forever to keep buying nice things.  I believe that’s the path most schools train you for.  The rat race begins in Kindergarten.  I hope my kids aspire to more than that.
  10. I just want to.

I’m not gonna lie- there are some things about homeschooling that make me nervous.  I wish I could say I’m 100% confident in my choice, but I’m not yet.  We’re just starting out, and figuring things out as we go. Sometimes I wonder…

  1. Could homeschooling cultivate laziness and lack of discipline?
  2. What about socialization? Social capital?
  3.  If my kids decide to go to college, will they be ready and qualified for it?
  4. Will my kids be isolated from other races, religions, and socio-economic classes?
  5. Will I get worn out and wish I could have a break?
  6. Will outsiders judge me if my kids are not learning the same things on the same timetable as everyone else?
  7. Will my own interests and passions bias my children toward my passions instead of their own?

I believe there are solutions to each of these worries.  I hope that as I find my groove, they will no longer be an issue.  But right now I have to process them.  I welcome any thoughts!


I Don’t Enjoy Roughhousing With My Kids

don't like roughhousing

Is this an HSP thing?  A woman thing?  A me thing?

When my daughter wrestles, jumps and crawls on me it can really stress me out.  I have such a low tolerance for when she accidentally kicks me, grabs my neck, or pulls my hair.  The bigger she gets, the harder this time is for me.  I feel like such a wuss.

As I learn more about my HSP tendencies, I can totally see why I don’t like (and have never liked) rough play.  HSPs can be more sensitive to pain.  We might worry more about injuries.  We might be more ticklish, and need a little more personal space. I definitely prefer quiet, calm play- puzzles, origami, art projects, reading.  I always joked that I’m a nerd, but I think I just like to be calm within my own body. That’s how I liked to spend my time as a kid, and that’s how I’d like to play with my kids.

I wish it weren’t so because she just loves to play that way.  She’s always asking for “wild time on the bed” which is a routine we’ve done since she was an infant.  It’s our time to bounce, roll around, have pillow fights- to burn off excess energy before bed.  It was easy when she was a baby, but now she’s bigger and is a firecracker of flailing limbs.  There are lots of articles about the benefits of roughhousing, and I see firsthand how much joy it brings her.  She is in the BEST mood after some wild play with me, dad or friends. I know it’s necessary and good.

Is it ok that I don’t like playing in this way? Can I honor my own needs/preferences, or am I depriving my kids of something essential? Can I leave the wild play to dad, who genuinely enjoys it and doesn’t worry as much about injuries?  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Party Anxiety

party anxiety tipsWhy can’t I be good at parties?

I ask myself this all the time.  I sometimes leave parties thinking I failed somehow.  Like I didn’t make a good enough impression, connect well with others or make good small talk.  Maybe I felt overstimulated and worried that others could totally tell.  As I’m driving home, I might replay an awkward scene in my head and wish for a do-over.

The weird part is that I’m usually at parties with people that I actually like, and it’s fun.  I laugh, I chat, I give hugs.  But I still leave with a heavy feeling in my heart, a sense of failure. A sense of missed connections.  And I feel drained and ready to sleep for 10 hours straight.

It makes me wonder:

  • Where does this performance anxiety come from?  Parties have always been a bit intimidating.  Even as a young child I had mixed emotions about parties- equal parts excitement and dread.  I think I tried to suppress these complicated feelings by being super outgoing and excited.  To this day, I can feel myself overcompensating at parties by being very social, trying to talk to almost everyone in the room, and being one of the last to leave- almost to prove to myself and others that I’m “good at parties”.  I totally suppress my HSP introverted side.
  • Are people really judging and evaluating me, or is it in my head?  Possibly, but not likely.  Most people are probably enjoying themselves too much to care, or are equally self-conscious and inward-focused.  Anyway, what does it matter?  You’d think in my 30’s I’d learn to stop caring what others think of me.  But since HSPs are especially empathetic, we’re good at picking up on others’ reactions.  It’s hard not to wonder how others’ are perceiving you, and if they are picking up on your anxiety.
  • Why do I get so overstimulated at parties?  I remember in social psychology learning about the cocktail party effect- the ability to tune out irrelevant background noise and focus on the conversation at hand.  I suck at this.  My brain has a hard time separating the relevant from irrelevant stimuli. I take everything in- the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and social cues- and that can be draining.    It takes so much energy to focus on the person I’m talking with, and even if I’m having a nice conversation my body might feel on edge.  This overstimulation produces a fight or flight reaction in me, which makes me think I’m stressed and anxious even though I may not be.
  • Am I missing the whole point of parties?   While my ideal social scene is a coffee shop with 2 or 3 girlfriends sharing deep conversation, parties are a totally different vibe.  Just because it’s not my favorite scene, are parties worthwhile?  I think so.  Each party has a purpose- to celebrate a person or event, to catch up with pals, to just enjoy some treats and keep each other company.  While I can occasionally connect in a deep way with people at parties, this is not guaranteed.  And that’s ok.  Togetherness for togetherness’ sake can be a good thing!

My solution:  This holiday party circuit, I decided to honor myself in these ways.

  • Plan ahead: This is such an introvert thing, but if you’re not a fan of small talk, maybe make a list of 3 or 4 possible answers to the question, “So, what’s new?”  My recent go-to’s: baby just turned 1, just got back from Costa Rica, signed up for Stitch Fix, planted my winter vegetables.  Much better to give a specific answer than a blank stare or “Oh, nothing much!”
  • Pep talks on the way to the party (and during).  I mean literally talking to myself on the drive.  I say things like, “You feel a little nervous about the party.  That’s totally ok.   It might be noisy and crowded, but you can handle it.  Take a break if you need to.  It’s ok to just grab a drink and sit on the couch.  It’s ok to just observe.  No one will be judging you; they have other things on their minds.  It’s not a popularity contest.  You were invited because someone wants you there.”  This helps so much!
  • It’s ok to just sit and watch for a while.  To get your bearings.  It’s actually kind of bada$$ to be zen and quiet in the midst of a chaotic party.  Get a drink, sit down on the couch. Let others entertain you. Chances are, when you’re ready, you’ll find yourself in a conversation and it’ll be swell.  No need to force it.
  • Take a breather!  Go to the bathroom.  Step outside for some fresh air.  Leave early if you really need to.  You came to the party and made an appearance even though it took some courage, leaving early is not a sin.
  • Pat yourself on the back when it’s over.  Don’t do what I used to do- replay all the awkward moments and chastise myself.  Instead, think of some good moments- funny things that happened, cool people you met, a delicious appetizer you enjoyed.  You are a work in progress, and you’ll have many parties ahead to keep sharpening your party skills.

These intentions have worked!  I’m not totally cured of my party anxiety, but at least I know where it comes from and how to help curb it.  I really did enjoy myself at all the parties I went to this holiday season, and did minimal Kristin-bashing afterward.

Did you experience party anxiety as a child?  Do you experience it now?  How do you cope?  


A Week in Costa Rica

All Photos courtesy of Surf Simply.  surfing 6I’m back! Not only did I survive the dreaded separation from my family, I am tanner, fitter, and more refreshed than I’ve ever been. I’m definitely a better surfer.  My turtle roll and paddle are much improved. I’m not so afraid of bigger waves or wipeouts.  I have enough Vitamin D stored from one week to last me the rest of Winter.  I’m so glad I went!  How can I make a trip like this happen again?  Already plotting the next getaway.
surf truck

surfing 3   theory


The first few days were rough, not gonna lie.  I was filled with dread and anxiety, like I had left a piece of myself at home and longed to go back to grab it.  I kept thinking, “Why didn’t I spend the money on a family trip?”  International travel, especially alone, can be super stimulating for HSPs in the first place.  And then leaving my family and all my familiar routines and rituals added to the stress.  Then being thrown into a “camp” situation with 10 strangers from all over the world took it up another notch. Also, my surfing was so rusty that I could barely catch any waves the first day. After too many wipeouts (see end of post) I felt out of my league and wanted to give up.  I thought to myself, “Surfing is great and all, but I’d much rather be cuddling my baby right now. Nothing is better than being with my family.”

nosara surf collage 2

However, after a few days, the “newness” of my situation wore off, my homesickness waned (Joe sent me reassuring messages that the kids were doing just fine!), and I started to really enjoy myself. If an HSP is going to travel to an exotic destination, an all inclusive surf trip like this is a good way to go.  I didn’t have to worry about finding a taxi or navigating the streets by myself.  All my meals were taken care of, and they were insanely tasty (and mostly paleo, to my surprise!) I forgot how lovely it is to focus on your own meal instead of sneaking in hurried bites while feeding two other kids.  Our days were full of yoga sessions, surf classes, and surf theory classes, but we still had a ton of free time.  Many used that free time to hang at the pool and socialize.  But readers, you know me by now. I told myself I didn’t have to socialize if I didn’t want to, so I mostly didn’t. Instead, I used that free time to nap, pump milk, and sit on my balcony listening to the rain and reading my Kindle (3 novels in 1 week!)  I also zoned out a lot, looking for wildlife (I spotted howler monkeys, toucans, a snake, and insanely colored butterflies from my hotel balcony.)  I spent quality time with one of my best friends, Helen.

me and helen 4

By the end of the week, I was excited to fly home and cuddle my kids, but so sad to leave paradise. Not quite ready to resume the busy hustle bustle of mommyhood, with all the bottom wiping and lunch packing and dish washing.  All moms, all parents, need a break from the rigors of parenthood.  Not saying you need to go on a deluxe Costa Rican surf adventure (although maybe you should), but if a chance to travel or get away for even a few days comes up, TAKE IT.  Make it happen, even if it’s inconvenient or gut wrenching. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

nosara wave collage

I came home just in the nick of time.  There were zero ounces of milk left for Matteo.  He had actually forgotten who I was after a week.  He looked at me like a ghost, like an apparition, then clung to Joe and hid his face from me.  I took him unwillingly to his room to nurse, and he forgot how.  Tried to bite down and suck like a bottle.  Then after a minute, I saw it click for him, and he remembered what a breast is for and who mommy is.  We’ve been like peas and carrots ever since.

Siena made up for Matteo’s cold greeting.  She sprinted across the house and barreled me in a huge hug. Near tears, she told me, “Mommy, I missed you SO much!”  She’s not touchy feely, so this was a big deal.

wipe out

wipe out 2

P.S. The surf camp I went to is called Surf Simply.  Folks, I’ve been to a handful of surf camps/teachers/coaches, and I learned way more in 1 week at Surf Simply than all the others put together.  The coaches are great surfers, but more importantly, great teachers.  They break down all the fundamentals of surfing (stance, pop up, paddling, angling, trimming, carving, wave reading)  in a way that is clear and logical and easy to remember.  Best of all, they (gently) critique footage of you surfing.  That’s seriously the best way to correct bad habits.  From now on, any time I catch a wave, I will always hear my teacher Fran’s voice in my head saying, “Arm outside! Compress! Square the front foot! Weight forward! Look down the line!”

Why I Love Forest Kindergarten

why i love forest kindergartenImagine a classroom without walls where it’s ok to get muddy or run barefoot.  Where you can play with sticks and no one will yell the dreaded, “You’ll poke an eye out!”  No whiteboards, just drawing the ABCs with sticks in the dirt.  No books, just old fashioned story telling. No flourescent lights, just dappled sunlight beaming through the trees.  This classroom exists, and it’s called Forest Kindergarten.  The concept started in Germany- Waldkindergartens.  I’m blessed to have one just miles from my house. It’s like preschool, summer camp, and girl/boy scouts rolled into one.  And it makes my highly sensitive hippie heart sing!

Sisi is enrolled in this magical program, and Matteo and I get to come along for the ride.  For 5 hours on Tuesday, rain or shine, we sing, hike, study animal tracks and play.  The kids play and play while the parents sit on blankets under a canopy of trees and chat about the book assigned to us: Simplicity Parenting, which just so happens to be on my list of life changing books.  Our teachers are gentle and cheerful, always greeting us with a warm, genuine hello.  They have clear boundaries (this is no Lord of the Flies anarchy situation) but allow much freedom within those boundaries.  For example, “You may get muddy but please do not splash the mud on others.”  “You may play with sticks, but not during circle time.”thanks for your support!

I found this program googling “homeschool supplement programs”. I intend on homeschooling next year, but don’t want to do it all myself. I want to provide my kids with some sort of classroom experience.  I was looking into half and half charter school/homeschool programs, but they clashed with my unschooling approach.  I came upon a local Forest Kindergarten program and got the chills, it was exactly what I didn’t even know I needed.  It meshes with my parenting and educational style, and it gets my child out into nature doing what kids do best- play!

I love almost everything about Forest Kindergarten, but here are the main virtues:

  • Slow and calm pace.  Just a few structured activities, but mostly time to explore and play and be free.
  • Group snack.  Everyone brings a diced piece of organic fruit to mix together into a giant fruit salad we all get to share.  Every week Sisi gets to try new and interesting fruits (and it’s a snack that work with our paleo diet, hooray!)
  • Respectful speech.  There is no talking down, or baby talk, or sarcasm, or yelling.  The teachers speak to the children in the same respectful tone they speak to the parents.  This is so refreshing. And rare for preschools.
  • Rituals.  There are lots of little routines that give the day a nice predictable rhythm.  There is circle time, the hand-washing ritual, before meal blessing,  story time, quiet sit time, mystery bag, and the day ends with the goodbye song where the children walk under a silk rainbow bridge.
  • Positive Discipline.  No time outs, punishments, shame.  If a child is not able to participate in the activities in a calm and respectful way, the teachers may suggest that the child take a rest on their blanket until he or she is ready.  Since most kids have a parent with them, it’s up to the parents to guide the children and be positive role models.
  • NOT academic.  I know, maybe I’m weird for thinking this is a virtue, but I am happy that they are not forcing the ABCs or reading or numbers.  Each week, we “journal” (draw the moon phase and attempt to write the date and season),  learn one letter in sign language and try to make that letter with sticks, but this academic portion is not forced or stressful.  Trust me, Sisi is learning a TON at Forest Kindergarten, but it’s happening so naturally and organically that she doesn’t even realize it. That is the essence of unschooling!
  • Respect for nature.  They are exploring nature while being careful not to destroy it.  They compost their leftovers, use reusable containers, and try not to waste anything.
  • Trust.  Even the littlest students are trusted with breakable ceramic bowls and teacups, and trusted to help wash them.  We trust the kids to navigate the freedom that is given to them without abusing it. We trust they can handle a little heat, some scrapes, some rain.  Handle new tastes (pine needle tea, acorn pancakes, fruits and vegetables they have never tasted before.) I’m even learning to trust Matteo, that he can handle 5 hours out in the wilderness and be just fine most of the time.  We also trust that if our kids are showing signs of wear and overtiredness, it’s ok to leave early.  No one will judge.
  • Did I mention quiet sit time?  It’s 10-15 minutes where we just choose a little nook and sit there.  Quietly.  It’s an introvert HSP dream come true 😉
  • Cell phone free zone.  We are all present.  We give each other eye contact.  We are hands free parents for at least 5 hours of our week.  I hate my cell phone so this isn’t a challenge for me, but it may be the only time some parents are disconnected from their phones.

I encourage you to check and see if there is a Forest Kindergarten near you!

nature is the antidote



I Don’t Belong Here

siena tripSometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong time.  Or maybe the wrong place.  This modern life is not the ideal environment for an introverted HSP like myself.  All the information overload.  The packed schedules.  The social media.  Advertising. Piles of possessions.  Constant noise and light.

As the book Quiet emphasized, we live in a society where loud, outgoing, fearless extroverts are the ideal.

Introversion- along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.
Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

It makes sense- who can best survive and thrive in this kind of world?  Who can handle all the noise and information? Who can compete with the chaos and clutter?  The loud, outgoing, fearless.

It sucks when who I am at my core- sensitive, observant, cautious, slow to speak- is not what our society values most.  I’ve learned to embrace my HSP qualities even though they are often misunderstood or devalued.  The trait of sensory processing sensitivity exists because it was once very useful to our ancestors.  Imagine a time when being an HSP was seen as awesome, the ideal.  

mrs. ingallsI think of Ma from the Little House on the Prairie TV series.  I haven’t seen the show in decades (I’m dating myself here), but from what I remember, Mrs. Ingalls was soft-spoken, gentle yet resilient, industrious, and tuned in to the needs of her family and townspeople.  She was respected and admired by all, unlike that chatty, fire-tongued busybody Mrs. Oleson.

I think I’d do quite well in back then (aside from the spiders and cholera and whatnot). I think I’d like the quiet and the stillness.  The forced relaxation at night (not much of a night life on the prairie). I’d like reading by candlelight or having quiet conversations by the fire.  I’d like socializing with the neighbors at church or at the occasional town fair, but would probably be immersed in my family duties and my tiny house most of the time.  Some things I’d be good at as an HSP:

  • Foraging mushrooms.
  • Remembering which mushrooms are poisonous.
  • Distinguishing bird calls.
  • Spotting poison oak.
  • Tending to a garden.
  • Preparing for the winter.
  • Mending stockings or embroidering by the fire and not getting bored.
  • Singing lullabies to my children.
  • Perfecting my apple pie for the fair.

Not all of these are terribly pertinent for my Orange County suburban life, right?  Ha.thanks for your support!

So what’s an HSP to do?  I have two options.  

A. I can move somewhere off the grid and buy some land and actually live this slower paced, old fashioned lifestyle. Believe me, I’ve thought of it.  It’s not totally out of the question for us to buy some acreage in the wilderness someday.

B.  I can try to carve out calmer, slower, more peaceful life right here where I am.

The more practical option for me is B. Forming a little cocoon around me.  That’s the tagline of this blog: Longing for a calm heart and home. It’s the only way I’ll have the energy and drive to go out into this crazy world and accomplish things and be part of the community.  This book has helped me craft that more peaceful lifestyle for myself and my HSC.  I highly recommend it if you’re feeling like you don’t belong here, either.


P.S. There are cultures where HSPs are still the ideal.  Japan is one of those places.  I’m not moving to Japan though.



Too Much Empathy?

too much empathy hspIs there such a thing as too much empathy?  Sometimes I think I’m pathologically empathetic.

I refuse to have pet fish in the house because it’s like pressing a little sadness button every time I walk by the tank.  I feel awful if they are looking bored or sick or if they just don’t have a sparkle in their eyes.  But I thought I could handle having pet fish for Sisi outside in a little container pond.  Ponds are peaceful, right? Zen?

I must have checked on them 20 times a day expecting them to be dead.  They looked scared and were hiding under the plants.  Did they hate our pond?  Did I set it up wrong?  Was this a big mistake?

As I vented my concerns to Joe he said, ” They were supposed to bring you joy.  They only cost 79 cents, please don’t spend too much time and energy worrying about them.”

He’s right!  Being super emotional about goldfish is like being super emotional about worms or crickets. But I felt a connection to these fish and a deep sense of responsibility.

How much time and energy have I spent (or wasted?) empathizing with pet fish, roadkill, fictional characters and strangers?  This level of empathy is a heavy burden to bear. I really wish I could turn it off sometimes because it’s draining. Here’s a quote from a study about HSPs’ increased brain activity in response to emotional stimuli.

This survival strategy is effective as long as the benefits of increased sensitivity outweigh the costs (such as increased cognitive and metabolic demand). In addition to potential costs, those with the sensitive survival strategy will always be in a minority as it would cease to yield special payoffs if it were found in a majority (Wolf et al. 2008). (source of quote).

There are times when the benefits of increased empathy DO outweigh the “cognitive and metabolic costs”.  Motherhood, for one! I am definitely in tune with my kids’ needs and emotions.  My empathy has helped produce secure sleepers.  My empathy has helped dissolve so many conflicts and tantrums.  My empathy has helped me establish good communication with my newborns before they can even speak.  And anticipate their needs before they turn into meltdowns.  And much much more.

But I have to remember, empathy has a cost.  I do not have infinite amounts to dispense.  How can I keep from “wasting” my empathy on things that I just cannot change or aren’t worthwhile or that just aren’t my business?  I’m getting better at this the older I get.

Here are some of my HSP empathy energy savers…

  • No super disturbing, emotional, or scary movies.  Just not worth the stress.
  • Letting go of dysfunctional and drama-prone relationships.  Or at least putting up strong, healthy boundaries to protect myself from the drama.
  • Choosing my causes: I can’t save the whole world, but I can carefully choose causes that speak to my heart and do what is within reach to contribute.   For example, a few causes that speak to me are North Korea, ethical shopping, and sustainable farming.
  • Prayer:  God made me extra sensitive to the needs of other people and creatures, but that doesn’t mean I am able to meet all their needs.  So I can lift up those needs to God who IS able, instead of dwelling on them myself.
  • Mind yo’ business:  I’m such an eavesdropper.  I get wrapped up in peoples’ conversations. I’m in a coffee shop right now, half-typing, half-listening-to-the-saga-at-the-next-table.  Seriously, I don’t need to be empathizing with the college girls next to me.  I need to learn to tune out what doesn’t involve me.
  • Therapy:  My therapist is really good at helping me cope with my overactive empathy and find outlets for it.
  • Pep talks:  Sometimes all I can do is coach myself through the moment, “Yes, you are feeling an overwhelming burden right now.  You were designed this way.  Sometimes your empathy is beneficial, sometimes it’s a hindrance.  Which one is it right now, and what can you do about that?”

Update on the Pet Fish:  The recent heat wave took both of their lives.  I guess Southern California is not the place for a small container pond.  I cried and felt so awful that I didn’t protect them from the elements.  Sisi looked at me with such empathy and said, “It’s ok mommy, we can draw pictures of them to remember them.”  Gotta love my HSC 🙂

container pond

Leaving My Family for a Week

costa rica mamaAlmost every year, my dear friend invites me to join her at a Costa Rican surf and yoga resort.  Each time I answer, “Now is not a good time, but someday I will!”  Except this last time I told her give me a few days to think about it.  I thought about it, and booked my trip.  It was incredibly exhilerating.

Is it crazy to leave my almost 5 year old and nursing 11 month old with my husband for a week-long surf getaway?  Is it brave? Is it selfish?

Since booking my trip months ago, I’ve had wild swings of emotions.  Excitement, regret, pride, guilt…

Excitement because duh! It’s surfing! It’s Costa Rica! Surfing is one of my favorite hobbies. I rode my first tiny wave in college and have been hooked ever since.  It fills me with peace and well-being as I get to be quiet and connect with the sun, ionized air, and ocean. It’s the perfect HSP hobby (if you can handle the intensity of wipeouts and rare but possible shark sightings). But I rarely get a chance to surf.  For the past 5 years, I’ve been pregnant, nursing, pregnant, miscarrying, pregnant, nursing. My body has not belonged solely to me, which means I don’t have the freedom to spend hours frolicking on my board.  And let’s be honest, any beach trip with kids is not quite relaxing.  You can’t take your eyes off them for a minute.  A whole week to surf all day every day without kids is literally a dream come true.

Regret because saying goodbye to my kids for a week will be torturous.  It hurts my heart just thinking about it.  I’ve left Sisi with Joe before and it went great, but will Matteo be ok?  Will he be mad or feel abandoned?  Am I jeopardizing our nursing relationship?

Pride because as an HSP, I totally surprised myself by saying yes.  I normally play it safe. But as I did a quick risk analysis of the situation, I realized that the benefits of a trip like this (to my confidence, physical fitness, well-being, and friendship with my travel-mate) will probably outweigh the risks. The timing will never be perfect time for a trip like this.  YOLO!

I’m also proud that I have a husband who is totally game to take a week off work and watch the kids.  I have no doubt he will do great.  Our kids are on a pretty predictable routine/rhythm, which makes it easy for someone else to take over. They are as comfortable with Joe as they are with me, which is not the case in all families.

Dread because as November gets closer and closer, I realize how much I need to do before I can relax in paradise.  I need to pump enough milk, make and freeze meals ahead of time (I’m not expecting Joe to cook much during that week), type up the daily schedule and make sure the household is set up to run without me.  One thing about Costa Rica- packing is easy.  Bikinis and sun dresses.  Oh, and a breast pump.

I’m also nervous about leaving the country.  I’m meeting my friend at the surf resort, but I have to fly there on my own and take a 4 hour taxi ride through the jungle.  I’m in my 30s, so this shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I often wonder why traveling alone makes me so nervous.  I love to travel internationally, but I’m very reliant on Joe to plan and navigate and solve all the little mini crises that arise.  Joe is like my lovey, and I’ll be so very far away from him.

My wonderful therapist reminded me that no one is FORCING me to go.  There is always a way out if I need to take it. I shouldn’t completely block out that voice in my head that is telling me this is risky, because it is.  But I don’t want that voice to completely take over, because…

I know it will be awesome.  It will be worth the emotional roller coaster.  I am investing my myself, getting better at a hobby that I hope to pass on to my kids someday.  I am facing fears, letting my husband make memories with the kids, and taking a little break from my everyday mom life.

I know many moms would never even think about leaving their kids for a week. They’ve told me so. I get it.  But something inside me said Yes, and I want to honor that part of me.

Question:  Have you left your kiddos for several days or more?  Did you experience any of the emotional swings I’m going through?  Any tips on making the whole process easier?

Empathy and Baby Sleep

baby sleep tipsHighly Sensitive People often need more sleep. I prefer a full 7.5-9 hours each night to be the best mom I can be. Turns out my kids also need their sleep. They are so much happier when naps and nights are restful, so we’ve made sleep a priority in our household.

We had a rough start when our eldest was a baby, but by trial and error we figured out what works best for our family. I’ve tossed all the old sleep books with a million tricks that didn’t work. I’ve banished the idea of “cry it out” and the opposite idea of “no cry”. We take a holistic approach to good sleep- biological hacks for their circadian rhythms, environmental hacks like setting up the nursery in a certain way, and a super healthy diet to ensure that digestive issues or hunger don’t get in the way of sleep.  But I think the psychological approach is what really allows babies to fall asleep on their own without a fight. Here’s what it comes down to…

  1. Think like a baby. Let’s think first about what will make baby feel secure at sleepytime. What will build trust between baby and the adult putting her to sleep? Let’s put ourselves in baby’s booties for a bit. Imagine falling asleep in your mom’s arms- you are warm and snug and you can feel her heartbeat. You easily drift off to sleep to the sway of her rocking. Then BAM! 20 minutes later, you wake up in a cold crib alone, mommy has magically disappeared. You cry and cry until mommy reappears, picks you up, and rocks you again. But this time, you better not close your eyes. You need to stay awake or mommy might magically disappear again! And like that, a “sleep fighter” is born. I regret all the times I let Sisi fall asleep nursing, put her in the crib, then snuck away. That must have been scary for her. Sneaking out was no way to build trust.thanks for your support!
  2. Less is More*: R.I.E. Founder Magda Gerber says “Do Less, Enjoy More.” She’s talking about parenting in general: sit back and observe while our kids accomplish things in their own way and on their own time. Free the babies! But I’ve applied that principle to sleep and seen amazing results. My goal is to intervene as little as possible when baby is falling asleep and having partial wakings between sleep cycles. Elaborate sleep rituals are often unsustainable, tiresome for parents, and can be overstimulating to a tired baby (which kind of defeats the point.) I know from experience. Check out Sisi’s overly complicated bedtime ritual here. A cozy Moses Basket or crib, a dark room and a sweet but simple sleep routine are all Matteo needs to fall asleep soundly on his own. Even if he wakes up earlier than I’d like, at least we didn’t invest a ton of time and energy into putting him down. There is nothing more frustrating than rocking a baby to sleep for 30 minutes, carefully placing them in the crib and sneaking out like a ninja, then hearing them wail again 20 minutes later. When Matteo wakes up between sleep cycles, I don’t rush in immediately. I pause a few minutes, reassess the situation, then comfort him as needed or continue to give him space to fall back asleep. We have been doing this since he was a brand newborn. Often, our attempts to soothe are stimulating to babies and interrupt with the natural going to sleep (or going back to sleep) process.
  3. Two-Way Communication: The only infant sleep books I recommend are Cherish The First Six Weeks (for newborns under 6 weeks) and Dream Baby Guide (for infants over 5 1/2 months). Both books stress the idea that good consistent communication is the foundation for a happy, secure sleeper. I bought the Dream Baby Guide book hoping for a quick fix to our sleep problems, but instead I got valuable advice about talking to baby respectfully, clearly, and not sending mixed messages. There is so much room for confusion when it comes to sleep.  Is it nap time or night time?  If I wake up, will mommy nurse me?  Or rock me? Or tell me to go back to sleep?  Is it morning yet or still the middle of the night?  Only we know the answers to these questions, so we must tell baby what’s up with words, routines, and other cues.  They are intelligent and they learn quickly!
  • I talk to my baby in simple, clear sentences: “It’s time to go in the crib and sleep now, bub.” “It’s time to nurse.” “It’s not nursing time, it’s sleeping time.”
  • I also talk via routines: If he wakes up in the middle of the night, going right to the nursing chair means it ok to nurse.  If he has already nursed once that night, I take him to the hallway to be soothed so he knows not to expect nursing.
  •  I also talk via cues/props:  We have a song for when I put him in his zipadeezip.  We use cues like the sound machine and closing the blinds to signal sleep time.  We use cues like opening the blinds to signal awake time.

There are so many times when Matteo will be practically begging to be put to bed.  He will be crying and cranky but as soon as I put him in the zipadeezip, he literally smiles.  He knows what comes next. I shut the blinds and see him yawn.  Then I turn on the sound machine, sing him his special song, tell him I love him, and put him in the crib.  I see him flop over onto his tummy and immediately conk out.  There is no struggle, no fear.  Just the comfort of a good night’s sleep ahead.

*Matteo was a pretty calm newborn, so putting him to sleep drowsy but awake was doable from the very beginning.  Babies with reflux, eczema and other issues may have a harder time with this and may need more help getting to sleep.  But I still suggest doing less- intervene as little as is possible.  That way baby doesn’t have to unlearn a ton of sleep habits that are no longer sustainable.

*Might I also add that this post is in no way intended to shame/criticize/guilt anyone who puts their baby to sleep differently.  I’ve been asked how my babies sleep so well many times, and thought I’d share the approach that works for us.

HSPs need more sleep.

hammock in sayulita, mexico.

I need my sleep. Really I do.

At least 7.5 hours per night, preferably 9 hours to function at my best. I had a friend in high school who just didn’t need much sleep to function well- she slept 6 hours a night at the most, and woke up perky and ready to go. Her mom frowned upon sleeping in late so she used to wake her up early on Saturdays to clean the whole house as a family. My mom knew that I needed to sleep in til noon on Saturdays to catch up from the school week. She wouldn’t even think of waking me up early, probably because I would be a hypersensitive grouch the rest of the day.

Turns out, most HSPs need more rest. In The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron says, “HSPs do worse than others working night shifts or mixed shifts, and they recover more slowly from jetlag.”thanks for your support!

This is definitely true for me. Why is this? Maybe it’s because daily life as an HSP is so stimulating for me, I need tons of sleep (and rest and downtime) to recuperate. Maybe it’s because I can’t rely on coffee to perk me up (HSPs are generally more sensitive to caffeine). Perhaps it’s because I just can’t deal with the sensation of tiredness- the heavy, achy, almost painful feeling of sleep deprivation (HSPs often feel sensations like tiredness, hunger, and pain more intensely.)

Every new mom expects to sacrifice some sleep, but my first child’s sleep issues caused me so much stress and despair. I do believe our sleep situation (both the feeling of failure I felt when she wouldn’t sleep, and my own sleep deprivation) contributed to my postpartum depression and anxiety. Thankfully, because both of us couldn’t tolerate sleep deprivation (highly sensitive children don’t wear sleep deprivation well), it forced me to come up with solutions to our sleep issues early on. I was determined to find a compassionate yet effective sleep method to help us all get the sleep we need. I’m so grateful that both my kids are great sleepers. Not perfect sleepers, but at least I can expect to get my full 8+ hours of sleep most nights. Just because I typed that, I bet both kids will wake up tonight.  Isn’t that how it works?  Never brag about your kids on the internet!  ha.

my soothing bed.
my soothing bed.