Why Does Empathy Scare Us?

I grew up in a family where our “bad” emotions (jealousy, anger, rage) were not validated.  My parents weren’t unkind people, but true empathy was not their forte.  We were a highly emotional bunch of kids, and we were told, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, to brush it off, stop crying, don’t be so dramatic, smile and be nice.  I think they truly believed that was the best way to handle negative emotions. As a highly sensitive child who struggled with a lot of fears, bouts of melancholy, and anxious feelings, I never felt fully understood or free to express myself.

I became a parent and stumbled upon Janet Lansbury’s writings about respecting babies and children.  She suggests staying unruffled during the craziest of tantrums, and acknowledging and validating the ugliest of emotions.  This seemed radical to me, but I tried it. Instead of my go-to strategies of distraction or just shooing away the feelings (“You’re ok! No more tears!”), I really leaned into them.  I said the feelings aloud and made them even more real. “You are sad that I had another baby.  It makes you angry and makes you want to head butt your brother.  I understand you are sad and mad, but I will not let you hurt him.”

Empathy and validation absolutely works with my kids.  They simmer down quickly and seem to have good emotional intelligence for being so young. There are few grudges, little anger bubbling underneath the surface.  Best of all, we’re on the same team.  But it took a lot of getting used to for me.  In fact, such radical empathy felt scary.  To not contradict, correct or ignore negative emotions seems indulgent, too loose.  Shouldn’t we stand our ground as parents?  Shouldn’t we re-train a child’s emotions?  Isn’t that our job?  As a Christian, old testament verses are sometimes thrown around as proof that we need to spank, punish, and control.  Yikes.

When Sisi needed surgery for her broken elbow, she and I were both frustrated by the way the doctors are nurses distracted and redirected Sisi instead of listening to her fears and questions and answering them straight, even if she didn’t like the answers. It was then that I realized my radical empathy and straight talk was truly counter-cultural.

 

Here’s the thing. I think about how I like to be comforted.  Does it really help for someone to tell you your feelings are wrong, immature, and you just need to get over it?  To give you lectures or advice that you’re just not ready to hear? Do you like being ignored or banished when you are having your adult tantrums (and we all have them, right?) No.  We just need someone to say, “You sound really upset.  I’m so sorry you are having such a hard time.  I’m here for you.”  How healing are those words?  The older I get, the more tragedies I’ve experienced (suicide of my dad, miscarriage, family discord, etc.) the more I realize that’s ALL you can say most of the time.  There are just no other words. Please don’t try to rationalize or punish me in my sadness and grief because you will get nowhere.

I have a loved one who suffers from a severe mental illness.  During flare-ups, this person’s thoughts and emotions are in another galaxy.  In the past, I have tried to convince, contradict, correct, distract.  All the things we try with tantruming kids.  But like tantruming kids, my loved on is not in a frame of mind to hear my great reasons and arguments.  Rather than convince this person to get help and get back on meds, I pushed the person away even more.  I became someone not to be trusted.  How very sad.

The book I am not sick, I don’t need help! by Xavier Amador reminded me so much of Janet Lansbury’s strategy, but applied toward those struggling with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  The book argues that poor insight into their own symptoms is a symptom of the mental illness itself.  This means that a schizophrenic or bipolar person is not just being irrational or stubborn when they say they are not sick, don’t need meds, or suggest something crazy like aliens are speaking to them through a blink 182 song on the radio (I’ve heard it.)  They truly believe this, and there’s no way to convince them otherwise.  It’s wasted breath, not to counter-productive.

Next time I get to talk to my loved one, and I hope to cross his/her path soon, I will stop saying “You need help.  You have to get back on your meds.  You are just paranoid. Your plan is not going to work.”  Instead I will say, “Tell me if I’m hearing you right.  You don’t want to take meds because they make you feel terrible and you don’t think  you need them.  You don’t want to stay in your apartment because you think someone is after you.  It must be scary to be in your position right now.  Nobody likes to feel followed.  I’m here for you.  I love you.”  And then I’ll wait- weeks, months maybe, until my loved one is ready to hear me and my wise suggestions for his/her life.   (Of course, if someone is a harm to himself or others, it’s important to step in and force help. But this should be the last resort.)

So radical empathy isn’t just for tantruming kids.  Or grieving adults.  Or schizophrenic loved ones.  It’s for every single person.  Let’s not be afraid of radical empathy.  It will make the world a kinder and more emotionally intelligent place.

5 Frugal Moves in the last Year

We didn’t even budget until last summer when we started saving up for our land.  We were so mindless about our spending because we didn’t really have a goal.  Now we have a HUGE goal- to build our own home and to give Joe a few years sabbatical to do so.  After analyzing our spending that first month, our eyeballs popped out and I may have cursed.  We needed to shave off thousands annually in order to invest for the future.  While we’ve cut down on the little things (no more coffee shops, acai bowls, eating out all the time, expensive musicals and concerts, etc.)  it’s the big changes that make the most difference.

Here are 5 frugal steps we took this past year, in order of impact on our bottom line.

  1. Fired my housecleaners.  This saved us almost 1800.00 this year.  Having maids come every three weeks was a lovely post-partum gift to myself, but it had to end.  I worked up the courage to fire them last summer by a) relaxing my standards of cleanliness, and b) finding better cleaning products that make cleaning an easier habit.  Now the house isn’t ever sparkling clean, but it doesn’t get filthy the way it did 2 or 3 weeks post-maid.  As an HSP, I am my own filth-o-meter and tackle messes when they bug me. But I only clean about 15-20 minutes a day, which is totally doable.  I’ve embraced the idea of “clean enough”.  As for products, I’m loving Norwex envirocloths and glass polishing clothes. They deep clean using just water. Water is free!!!  I also purchased the e-cloth microfiber mop.  Mopping my kitchen, bathrooms, and main traffic areas takes less than 10 minutes now, so I have no excuse but to do it once in a while.   Piggybacking on this one, we also fired the gardeners to save 600.00 this year.
  2. Played the miles card game.  We’re finally in a place financially to play the miles game without racking up debt at insane interest rates.  This means paying our balances in full each month via automatic payments.  After just 3 months, we’ve scored 700.00 in travel credit, and will add 1000.00 more credit in a month or two.  That’s enough to cover our 4 flights to Oregon this summer, plus rental car.  I wish I’d started racking up miles long ago.  We used the advice in this post to get started.

    Our Oregon trip last year should have been free!
  3. Joined a homeschool charter school.  In exchange for work samples, activity logs, and meetings with a teacher each month, we are given funds to pay for books, school supplies, lessons, classes, memberships to museums, zoos,  our local mission, and more.  I pretty much don’t buy Sisi anything out of pocket anymore.  It all comes from the charter school.

    Our charter school purchased our family membership to Mission San Juan Capistrano. We bring picnics and chill in the gardens regularly.
  4. Shop used clothes.  I started this for ethical reasons, but we save a bundle on clothing shopping used (almost exclusively, barring undergarments and my husband’s clothes.)  Here’s my shopping strategy: My favorite is thredup.com for myself and the kids.  I put anything that catches my eye into my cart.  Narrow it down to my favorite 10-15 items.  Have it all sent to me (free shipping!).  Try it on, mull over it for a few days and see if it fits in with my (fairly minimal) wardrobe.  Send back what I don’t want (usually 80% of the items!) for a refund.  I’m left with a few items in great condition that have already proven they stand up to washing and normal wear.   I haven’t set foot in a mall in a long time, which is crazy because that used to be one of my favorite places to take the kids!
  5. Took up hobbies like embroidery and map-making.  These hobbies provide me with cheap entertainment, are very therapeutic, and make cute handmade gifts for friends.  I’ve also vowed never to buy cards again.  Instead I’ve stocked up on blank white cards and envelopes so I can quickly watercolor a pretty design.

    My second project ever! A very colorful H for my friend Helen on her birthday. There are lots of little symbols tucked into the design (can you spy a surfboard, sun, lavender sprigs, boat, anchor, and horseshoe?) I love embroidering for friends because I can’t help but think about them and pray for them while I stitch. So it’s truly a labor of love, although a little wonky and imperfect for sure.

I have more frugal moves in the works- switching our cell plan to twigby, getting rid of the tv and netflix (!!!) and meal planning to cut the grocery bill down even further.  Food is by far our biggest expense.

Strawbale House Workshop in Arizona

Deciding to build your own strawbale home is a calling.  The first strawbale building I walked into really did call out to me.  Those absurdly thick walls covered in mud plaster, the delightfully lumpy edges and curvy planes said to me stay awhile, touch my surfaces; this space is for living, breathing, daydreaming.  I walked into that gift shop and knew I could never settle for dry wall, plywood and 2x4s again. I took Joe to see it and he also fell in love instantly. When he realized that plaster coated walls are termite resistant, fire resistant, do great in earthquakes, and do a darn good job of blocking out EMFs and wifi, he was completely sold and we began making a plan.

This Canelo Project workshop was our first step toward making our 5 year plan come true.  Bill and Athena Steen are experts in natural building.  Over many years of trial and error, they have developed a system that is so simple, elegant and doable. No fancy machines or expensive materials to build our “mock house” (a house we built and then tore down for learning purposes.)  Just straw, mud, sand, bamboo, wood, and cement blocks for the foundation. Many of the materials can come straight from your own land and last a surprisingly long time.

Housebuilding always seemed impossible to me- this big intimidating project just for men.  But this workshop stripped away the mystique and showed me that it’s possible for any man, women or child with determination to build a strawbale home.

So yay! Anyone can do this! The materials are quite forgiving and any mistake can usually be undone.  But you have to to be a special kind of human to commit yourself to such a project.  You’ve got to be a little crazy.  Putting up the bale walls was the easy  part- took a few hours tops. The hard part? Mixing up the trays and trays of mud plaster to the perfect tuna salad consistency. Applying the many coats with trowels in just the right way. Sculpting the walls, niches, windows and shelves.  These steps cannot be rushed.  They can take months and months.

Beautiful cob shelves.  The artsy finishing touches like these are what I’m looking forward to.
We destroyed a wall and used the bales and plaster to build a new wall. Next year’s class will tear this one down and create something new.

I mostly took this workshop as a trial run, having never built anything before. I had so many questions, mostly about myself.  Can I handle manual labor?  Do I enjoy the process of building something?  Can I live in a construction zone for a year or two?  Will this be worth it?

This workshop encouraged me and freaked me out at the same time.  I doubt I’ll enjoy living in the midst of half-done projects and construction mess for years. It might be a hard and frustrating season in our family’s life. Truth be told, I’m not really excited about the actual building process.  I prefer small handicrafts (like embroidery) that fit in my hands and can be completed in a few sittings.  Building something big scares me.  And I can only guess how many annoying mistakes we will probably make. This is scary for a perfectionistic HSP who likes stability and calm.

But I also know how much I will celebrate this home that our hands have sculpted, made from the clay of our very own land.  The prize will be well worth the struggle.  We will look back and laugh at our struggles and mistakes. Our kids will always remember building their own home.  They will know that they can do something so big.  Who knows what dreams it will inspire in them.

Joe and I posing in front of my favorite structure on the property- the strawbale playhouse! A kids’ dream and a doable project for anyone.

I want to thank Bill and Athena Steen for opening up their brains, home and hearts to us.  They have built a welcoming oasis out in the middle of the desert. I was expecting a strawbale bootcamp of sorts, and ended up having the most relaxing and fulfilling vacation.  Bill and Athena have added new layers of inspiration to this dream of ours. One day we hope to open up our brains, home and hearts to otheres in much the same way.

 

 

 

My Amish Nights

One of the best lifestyle hacks I’ve implemented over the past two years is to slow things wayyy down after sunset.  Friends joke that I’m an old granny, or even Amish, because we abstain from anything super stimulating at night- no netflix, no music, no bright lights or phones. We even avoid “date nights” or staying out late with friends, choosing instead to socialize during daylight hours. My husband is the one who encouraged these changes.  I fought him on it at first because I didn’t believe him.  My 80 year old mother in law has more of a night life than I do, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me a loser?  But my “boring” evenings have become soothing to my soul.  I’m able to give my body and mind a break from noise, light, technology, and social interactions.  As someone who struggles with burnout and anxiety, these quiet nights are my medicine.

Picture this: On a typical evening after the kids have been lullabied and tucked in, you’ll find us:

  • In our living room with the lights off (Joe actually turns off most of the electricity after dark.).
  • Our phones are on airplane mode or tucked into their radiation blocking wire mesh cages.
  • We have several salt lamps on, because they give off a soothing amber glow, as opposed to standard lights which give off blue light.  Blue light is highly stimulating and can mess with circadian rhythms, hormones, sleep and health in general (If, unlike me, you crave details and want to know the physics behind this idea of blue light, check out this blog post).
  • We’re wearing red head lamps because red light does not interrupt melatonin production.  Joe is probably wearing orange glasses to block any traces of blue lights from his eyes, which makes him look like a Bono wannabe. I haven’t embraced the glasses yet because I’m way too vain.
  • I’m sipping herbal tea.  The fireplace is crackling. Joe is giving our dog Basil a much-needed massage.  She’s a highly sensitive dog.
  • We’re reading, or maybe I’m doing some light yoga, or embroidering a little gift for a friend.

  • While I’m embroidering, we might turn on a podcast to listen to together, and then chat about it afterward.  Our favorite podcasts to listen to together are Radical Personal Finance and a theology podcast called the Glory Cloud Podcast.   I’m planning on listening to Missing Richard Simmons next.   Even podcasts can be a little too stimulating for me at night, so we often choose to read instead.
  • I’m a non-fiction lover, but I read fiction at night to calm my brain down. My typical bedtime books are chick lit (Jojo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, Barbara Kingsolver, and Mona Simpson are some of my go-tos).

I usually tuck myself in before 10pm, and sleep for a good 9 hours.  I’ve mentioned before that HSPs need more sleep!  I wake up refreshed and ready to run my little household. Ready to face the noise, the lights, and the demands of modern life because I know I’ll get a respite from it all when the sun goes down.

I know this seems extreme, but for most of human history before electricity, people used to be forced to relax at night and get tons of sleep.  We’re not weird, we’re just retro.

How do you mellow out after a long day?

 

 

Lifestyle Design for the HSP

I have a mustache.  No, not that kind.  I’m a mustachian, meaning I subscribe to the philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache. Which is this: save a huge portion of your income (50% or more if you’re a badass!) invest that money wisely, and then retire early while living a humble but fulfilling life doing whatever you love to do.

I came upon his blog 6 months ago when I was finally ready to make radical changes. I was already disillusioned by the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that is considered “normal” in southern California (hence this post).  I had already decluttered my house and my schedule pretty drastically.  I had already come to embrace my highly sensitive nature, and the idea that taking care of myself meant saying no to many things-  obligations, social media, mindless consumption, etc.  This led me to the question- what do I want to say YES to?

My answers:  family time, deep (face-to-face) friendships, my Christian faith,  nature and healing, peace and quiet, .

Mr. Money Mustache’s blog has inspired me to make design my life around these YES’s.  If my family can get off the rat wheel, be freed of the bottomless pit of consumerism, allow our money to work hard for us, then we are truly free to design the lifestyle we want (and need).  It’s like hippie meets savvy investor.  This mustache suits me well.

So here is our dream… In 3 years, you will find me on a 5 acre plot of land living in a small guest home (or tiny home or yurt- TBD) while building our dream home.  Joe will take a 2 year sabbatical to build our straw bale house, but we will all help, including the kids, because it will be the world’s coolest homeschool project.  We will grow much of our own food, raise chickens, the whole deal.  After that 2 years of building, Joe will either work a computer IT job remotely from the comfort of our homestead, or start a completely new career doing one of the many things he’s amazing at (too many to list.).  Of course, there are many steps in between.  You can read this Mr. Money Mustache post for the basic steps we’re taking.  

My message to HSPs who feel trapped by a certain lifestyle,  who long for a simpler life that engages all 5 senses without bombarding them, maybe it’s time to dream big and jump off the wheel.

 

 

My Christmas Don’t-Do List

Everyone has limited time, energy, and resources.  We can’t do everything.  Sometimes it’s hard for us conscientious folks to let these things go, especially if they are objectively good things to do, or things that our culture deems important.  Or even things we’ve done every year in the past but don’t have time for this year. That’s why a “Don’t-do” list can be so freeing- by giving ourselves permission to not do some things, we can do other things very well.  This 2016 holiday season has been easy as pie.  My “Don’t-do” list is a mile long.  My “To-do” list is pleasingly short.  And yet everything feels nicely balanced in our household.

My Christmas Don’t-do list *

  1. No Christmas lights on the exterior of the house.
  2. Not a lot of decor inside the house.  We do the basics- a paper banner, a tree, stockings.  I just don’t like the clutter.
  3. No Elf on the Shelf or Santa.  In our home, Santa is a lovely folk tale that none of us take seriously.
  4. No Christmas shopping at malls/stores.  What few presents we buy all come from online stores.
  5. No pretty gift wrapping.  It’s butcher paper with sharpie doodles over here, which I like to think has it’s own special charm 🙂
  6. No Christmas cards.  Never have, never will.  But I do love receiving them.  Very hypocritical of me.
  7. No daily advent calendar activities.  I don’t like the pressure.
  8. No Christmas cookie bake-off.  We eat paleo, so the cookies take twice the effort, twice the cost, and taste half as good.  Not even trying this year.
  9. As evidenced in  the picture below, I don’t clean up pine needles.  I just let em fall and fall.

My Christmas Must-do list…

  1. Nightly Weinachtspyramide lighting ceremony.
  2. Buying a fresh-out-of-the-ground tree the day after Thanksgiving.
  3. Impromptu dance parties in the kitchen at least 3x a week.
  4. Making our own ornaments. This year was salt dough sculptures, and I finally caved and let my kids use glitter for the first time ever.
  5. Low-maintanence magnetic advent calendar.
  6. Almost nightly Christmas devotionals.  If we skip some nights, no biggie.
  7. For our kids’ gifts, we are trying the “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” thing.  It was so easy to shop for them this year, and we actually used our charter school funds for the “educational” toys.

*Don’t do lists are very subjective.  We will all differ in our priorities and values.  Please don’t think I’m telling you not to do any of those very  good things.  And please forgive me if my daughter tells your kids that Santa isn’t real.  I have sworn her to secrecy, but we’ll see how that works out.

 

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 (I have truly entered my 30’s), 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.

why-im-homeschooling

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 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.

lavender-367574_1280

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

 

 

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.