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.

Kids Clutter Drives me Nuts

tackle kids clutter editedThe older I get, the more averse I am to clutter. Clutter can be extremely distracting and stress-inducing for lots of people, but I believe HSPs are less able to just ignore it.  We are constantly scanning our environment to determine what is relevant or not.  When I see a counter top with tons of papers, pens, knicknacks, and mail, I have fantasies of sweeping it ALL into a hefty bag with my arm.  That would be so satisfying.

I tackled my clutter problem two years ago after reading The Joy of Less.   (I know everyone is obsessed with the Konmari method, but The Joy of Less literally changed my  life.)  I basically went room by room, one room per day.  I purged about 50% of my posessions, and continue to have a charity pick up a few boxes every month.  It feels wonderful to have empty surfaces, tidy rooms, and to know exactly what I own and where it is.  It’s truly helped my home feel more like a sanctuary from the crazy world, instead of crazy town.  Since decluttering, I’m also more likely to invite people over for meals or to just hang out since I know I won’t have to do a crazy cleaning spree beforehand.

Many assume kids’ clutter- toys, baby supplies and gear-  is inevitable.  But if you walked into my home, besides the booster seat at the table, some baby pictures on the wall, and two small baskets of toys in the corner of the living room, you might not even guess we have two kids.  I was inspired by the book Bringing Up Bebe which said French homes are not overwhelmed with kids’ clutter.  Rather, the children keep it all in their rooms.  That’s their little world.  Then when they get tucked into bed at the end of the day, the evening and the home belongs to the parents.  It’s time to sip wine, talk and romance.  Don’t you just love that picture?

Parenting can be so messy, unpredictable, and chaotic, but my house doesn’t need to be.  That’s not an option for me and my well-being.  Clutter is just too burdensome for me and my HSC (Highly Sensitive Child). We need blank space and room to breathe and to think.affiliate badge

Here’s how I keep kids’ clutter under control.

(I highly recommend reading The Joy of Less if you need a swift kick in the booty to get all your clutter under control. You will be changed forever… )

  • Purge 1/2 of their toys.  Then purge some more.  Your kids should probably not be a part of this process. They aren’t good judges of what they really need and use.  You are.  Toss anything broken, neglected, super annoying to clean up.  I know, this seems tough.  But I guarantee your kids will play longer and more creatively with less. It’s ironic.
  • Choose a few baskets or toy boxes to keep toys contained.  The picture above shows Sisi’s toy boxes and bookshelves. We also have a cute little art cart (Ikea’s raskog cart) for art supplies.  When toys start to spill over, we know to purge some more.
  • Same with books.  Purge down to the nitty gritty favorites.  Below you’ll see a picture of our wall bookshelves (which are actually spice racks painted white.)  They fit just a handful of books each, which forces us to keep our collection succinct. We assume we need a huge library for our kids, but we don’t.  Don’t your kids like to read the same books over and over anyway?  We hit up the public library every few weeks if we’re craving novelty. Or we tell stories verbally, the good old fashioned way. (I’m a sucky storyteller but Sisi eats it up!)
  • Baby Stuff:  Only save what is in great condition and actually useful for future children. Ditch anything soiled, worn, not really useful. If by chance you give away something that you end up needing later, it’s really not that hard to find it again for cheap/free. Matteo is 8 months now, and I’ve already given away, sold or donated much of his baby stuff.  I am pretty vigilant about only keeping what is useful right now.  We don’t plan to have any more kids, so I’m happy to say goodbye to this stuff.
  • You probably don’t need that much “baby gear” either. We follow R.I.E. parenting principes, so we try not to rely on swings, jumpers, and fancy electronic toys to keep our kids entertained.  Instead, we put our babies on the floor or the crib to explore with a few simple toys.  We do have one simple and attractive bouncer, the baby bjorn babysitter, which is more like a baby lounge chair for moments when I need to keep baby contained.  Basically, keep the gear you actually use regularly, but know that most of it isn’t essential (even if the catalogs tell you they are!)
  • Kids’ Creations:  We keep 1 or 2 pieces of artwork on the fridge to admire at a time before we recycle them, but we don’t usually keep it forever.  Maybe I will regret this someday, but in my mind, it’s more about the process of creating (I often snap pics of her as she’s working) than the tangible product.  If you’re more sentimental than I, you can always photograph of the creations and condense them into a photo album to treasure always.  Keeping stacks and stacks of artwork is just not conducive to a tidy home.

Does kid clutter drive you nuts, too?  Please share your kid clutter solutions!

tidy kids book shelves