The Ikea Story that Kept Me Up All Night

The Ikea “Sex Trafficking” story made me so upset. At first, I felt upset at myself for not being more careful with my kids when I shop (especially at that very same Ikea!) How could I be so careless? But by the time I got to the end of the story, I was upset for a different reason.

As a mom prone to worry and anxiety… As a highly sensitive person who is already very cautious and who is good at imagining worst case scenarios, I believe articles like these are an affront to my sanity and sense of well-being.

You guys, I’m not a helicopter mom on the OUTSIDE. I give my kids as much space and freedom as I can possibly muster. But I’m a helicopter parent on the INSIDE. My rational side knows that my kids are safe here in the U.S. Of A (not 100% safe, but safe enough.) My rational side has read the statistics which say the chances of my kids being abducted in a public place are infinitessimal. But that rational side is at constant war with my primal, mama-bear within. This primal, protective side has it’s place, for sure. But it’s also easily stoked by articles such as these. Some might say, GOOD! A little more worry, a little more caution; it’s all good. I strongly disagree.

Any ounce of worry and energy put toward completely unlikely dangers has trade-offs.

  • A parent’s sanity.
  • Takes our attention from true threats (car accidents, drowning, depression and suicide to name a few in the top 5 causes of child mortality.)
  • Causes us to deprive our children of space and independence (and the street smarts that develop as a result) that will serve them very well in the future.
  • Passes on a fear of strangers that could negatively affect them in the future.

I’m not directing my anger toward this mother. A friend of mine who actually knows this mom pointed out that this mom can’t help her gut feeling. I agree. We all get weirded out in public from time to time. There is this bagger at Sprouts who really creeps me out. The way he looks at my kids makes me choose a different line and leave in a hurry. But the fact that the mom’s hunch or 6th sense was turned into a dire warning to all parents complete with totally misleading titles such as “Mom of 3 Posts Warning to Other Parents: We Were Targets” makes me upset.  Perhaps not the mom’s fault that her story became so viral, but the fact that it did really peeves me.

I also don’t mean to be flippant about child trafficking. It’s horrific and every parent’s worst nightmare. But I think it’s important to note that the odds of it happening to a) young children b) in a public place c) by a stranger are extremely low. 97% of child abductions are by caregivers/family/friends, not strangers.  I’m not sure what percentage of that 3% is sex trafficking, but I’ll get it’s pretty small.

I grieve the “good old days” when I was growing up. I was allowed to walk a mile to the local grocery store at age 8 to buy jolly ranchers. I didn’t fear every stranger I passed along the way. I miss those days of safety. BUT WAIT, those days are still here. The crimes rates are actually lower now. So why are we all so worried? In part, social media and articles like these. That’s why I’m upset.

I found these statistics to be eye-opening (and definitely counter-intuitive!)

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?

 

 

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!

 

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.