C is for Cuddling

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

2014-10-25 07.25.58Did you know that cuddling releases oxytocin? If you don’t know about oxytocin, you should look it up. Our bodies are amazing! Among other things, oxytocin evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security. Research has shown that oxytocin can decrease anxiety and protect against stress! And cuddling releases oxytocin! It seems to me that means cuddling can reduce stress! Sweet!

It seems so easy.

But it hasn’t been for me.

I’ve been trying to cuddle my kids and my husband more leading up to writing this post. I wanted to offer some anecdotal evidence that cuddling can actually reduce stress.

If you asked me, I’d say I really like to cuddle, so I thought this would be super easy.

The problems isn’t so much with cuddling itself, but sitting there feeling like I’m doing nothing. Moments after I sit down and snuggle in, my mind starts racing with all the things I “should” be doing instead. Then, I cut the snuggle session short and get back to my never ending to do list.

So, I can’t tell you yet if cuddling produces a noticeable difference in stress levels. What I can tell you is that I need to create time to cuddle. Then, once I’ve created that time, I need to be content in my cuddling – just enjoy the moment. Clear my mind. Allow myself freedom from my to-do list long enough to just cuddle and enjoy myself.

So that’s my new goal. Every day, I want to create some time to cuddle. I want to clear my mind and be content in the moment. And, hopefully, my body will use all these wonderful “C” words as an opportunity to release some oxytocin and drown out my stress.

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SST: He Traveled & I Survived

Since I have my computer back at my disposal, I thought I’d join back up with the ladies at Small Success Thursday. Admittedly, I’m not their most faithful participant, but it’s a linkup I really enjoy nonetheless.

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View from Hubby’s plane.

This will probably seem like extra small potatoes to many women out there, but my husband had a business trip this week, so I was at home with the kiddos. This is a rarity for our family, one that I dread. I know many women whose husbands travel regularly, and, of course, there are military wives whose husbands are gone for very long stretches. (THANK YOU SO, SO MUCH for YOUR sacrifice! I recognize that the military families sacrifice just as much as the soldiers who are sent off to serve.) I suppose it’s because my husband’s absence is such an anomaly that I struggle with successfully making it through his trip. I rely heavily on Josh both logistically and emotionally, so it’s a big change for me when he’s gone. Regardless of the reasons why I struggle, the fact remains that I do. So my small success is that I survived his trip, and it was actually the best I’ve ever done in his absence.

1. We ate at home the whole time he was gone. I don’t know why, but I have ZERO motivation to cook when my husband is away. It doesn’t make sense because there are 5 little mouths around the table in addition to mine and his, but, somehow, cooking seems pointless when he is away. Because of this, I usually get fast food or order pizza when he is away. But this time I didn’t. I made dinner all three meals plus snacks for his whole trip! (FULL DISCLOSURE: One night I made a take and bake pizza, but, hey, I still put it in the oven.

Halfway point of hubby's trip. Getting ready to take the kiddos on a field trip. "I think I can. I think I can..."

Halfway point of hubby’s trip. Getting ready to take the kiddos on a field trip. “I think I can. I think I can…”

2. I had the sense to meal plan before he left to ensure we would eat at home the whole time he was gone. Hence, the take and bake pizza. I bought it at Aldi before he flew out because I knew I would likely need a super easy meal one night. I’m not a meal planner, so having this foresight was a big accomplishment for me.

My pre-trip meal planning and shopping also meant that I didn’t have to go to the store while he was gone. Double success!

3. I drove on the crazy DFW roads in the crazy DFW traffic to and from the airport AND to and from Flower Mound, a town about 35 minutes away from us, with all of the kiddos in the car. Ever since I was in a car accident back in 2011, I’ve had some major anxiety issues behind the wheel. I’ve been working on them, and this is the biggest success I’ve had on the roads. I got a bit nervous driving at the airport, but, overall, I was cool, calm, and collected. I was so proud of myself!

That’s it for me. What are your small successes this week? Join in the fun over at Catholicmom.com!

J is for Juggling

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

busy momAdding a new baby to the mix shakes things up. Changes your routine. Makes everything different. This is exactly as it should be as you learn how to be a family with your newest little member.  I recently found this awesome analogy written by a woman who just had her third child.

“Adding a new baby to your family is a bit like adding a ball of fire to your juggling routine. The norm is thrown off balance, management of the unknown ball of fire becomes a big priority, and you find yourself living in chaos as you try to not drop all the balls at once into a fiery heap. Eventually the fire fades, the balls equal out, and a new normal takes over.

Having done this adding game three times in the past four years, I find that even though the initial addition is always difficult to juggle no matter how many times I’ve done it before, the new normal resumes more quickly each time. For that I am thankful.” [Read the rest here.]

I can’t think of a more perfect description.

I definitely feel like I’m juggling these days. But, this time around, my ball of fire isn’t my newborn, it’s my school work.

As I desperately try to wrap up these last two month of graduate school, it really feels like it might all come crashing down and engulf everything in flames at any given moment.

My sweet husband keeps patiently reminding me that the end is just around the corner. Intellectually, I know he’s right, but it still seems so far away.

I’ve ordered my cap and gown, my graduation invitations have arrived, and we’re starting to work on party details. But, somehow, graduation seems farther away then ever. How is that possible?

G is for Grateful

All April long, I’m blogging alphabetically about Adjusting to Life to Life with Baby Number 5. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

My family of 7 can be a lot of work. Some days I find myself so completely drained and exhausted that I can’t quite remember what it feels like to just be me. (That usually means my priorities are some how out of whack and that I’m not taking care of myself, but sometimes it takes me a few days or weeks to figure that out.)

Other days, my heart is so full and overflowing that I don’t have the words to adequately express the joy that my family brings me.

Today was a lot more like the former.

Caring for a newborn is exhausting. Because I nurse my baby and I co-sleep, I literally (Yes, literally.) have someone on my person about 23.5 hours a day. I’m not complaining about this; I’m just stating the facts. The truth is I wouldn’t trade either of those for a little more time to myself. This very needy newborn period is short-lived and well worth it in the long run. But that doesn’t change the fact that it takes a huge toll on me. If I’m not careful to take care of myself, it can easily become overwhelming.

Christmas Morning fun 2013. We're our own party.

Christmas Morning fun 2013. We’re our own party.

One of the things I like to do when my attitude is getting out of whack is list out the reasons I’m grateful for my big family. The list of reasons varies from time to time and isn’t in any particular order, other than the order things pop in my head.

Today I’m going to share one such list with you.

I am grateful for my big family because…

  1. My kids always have someone to play with.
  2. And they have someone else to play with when the first playmate makes them mad.
  3. There’s always someone to curl up and snuggle with.
  4. Life is never dull.
  5. There’s a chorus of people who are excited to see you if you’ve been away briefly.
  6. We all learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is priceless. Every child has their own perspective and observations. I get to see the world through all of their eyes.
  8. When I’ve got my hands full, there is always someone nearby who is willing to help.
  9. There’s always enough people to play games. Board games. Card games. Duck, duck, goose. We’ve got the players!
  10. Dinner time conversations are amazing! Sometimes they’re hysterical. Sometimes they’re surprisingly insightful. You never know what might pop out of the kids’ mouths to the captive audience at the dinner table.
  11. And you never know how the next kid might run with or twist whatever was just said.
  12. We have tons of inside jokes.
  13. We have many natural opportunities to learn basic skills like sharing, taking turns, expressing frustration appropriately, etc.
  14. And we all provide each other with plenty of opportunities to serve someone besides yourself.
  15. All of our little athletes have an automatic cheering section at their games.
  16. Kids come up with really creative solutions to problems. We get creative solutions from all of them, so we usually get a solution we can work with.
  17. We get a lot of tax deductions.
  18. Christmas Morning fun 2013. We're our own party.

    Christmas Morning fun 2013. We’re our own party.

    We’re the life of the party. Every extended family function gets kicked up a notch when we arrive with our family.

  19.  There’s always something to celebrate. (Baptismal anniversaries and birthdays) x 7 = lots of parties
  20.  When we work together, we can get the whole house cleaned in an hour.
  21.  Seeing my older kids with my babies is such a phenomenal gift. I can’t explain what it’s like to see the big ones care for and find joy in the littles. They truly delight in one another. It’s beautiful.
  22.  Some women never get flowers. I get weed bouquets nearly every day.
  23. There’s always a reason to laugh.
  24.  Imaginary games get really amazing with multiple imaginations at work.
  25.  Little voices singing little songs always make me smile.

25 is a nice number, so I’ll stop there. But just remember…

There’s nothing that can change your attitude quite like a little gratitude!

E is for Everybody

 I’m blogging about Adjusting to Life with Baby Number 5Click here to see all the posts in this series.


 

E is for everybody. My whole family. In one picture. Looking at the camera.

This never happens.

P1070761 - Version 2Unfortunately, Ben, my silly 3 year old, looks like he needs to run to the potty.

And the red-eye-fixer-thingy messed up all the kids’ eyes.

And the baby is upset.

But hey – beggars can’t be choosers, right?

I have a picture with everybody in it!

SST # 5: Thank You, Grazie, Merci BEAUCOUP!!

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330On March 1 we welcomed our precious daughter into the world. It goes without saying that it was an incredibly joyous day and the days since have been full of moments of perfect beauty. There’s something about looking into the face of a newborn, especially one sleeping on your chest, happily drunk from having consumed her fill of milk…I don’t know the words for it. It’s almost as if you catch a glimpse of eternity. She embodies peace and happiness. Total dependency, yet complete autonomy. Immortality encapsulated in a fragile human body. All of time and the meaning of existence shines forth from that innocent little person. It’s incredible!

Because of the gift of new life in our house, I feel like every moment is a great big success. Granted, some moments are sleep deprived and some moments are a juggling act as I adjust to being a mommy of 5, but, overall, holding that precious gift that we named Sophie eclipses any of the struggles that come with being a new parent. Since I’m floating on cloud nine, I thought I’d dedicate this entry to all the people for whom I’m incredibly grateful. I won’t be detailing any of my own small successes, rather I want to thank and acknowledge all the people who have been such a gift as we have transitioned into life as a family of 7. (Brace yourself, this entry is a little long.)

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Sophie. 1 day old.

1. My husband, my fabulous labor & delivery nurse, Wendi & Kevin O’Brien, the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, and St. Colette. Sophie’s birth day was simply beautiful thanks to this incredible team of people. After 5 deliveries, 2 of which were all natural, I feel like I have some good notes for comparison about what to expect on “D-Day.” This was, without a doubt, my best delivery ever, despite it being my second longest. Wendi and Kevin are great instructors and prepared me, and, most importantly, my husband well for the big day. Despite this being baby number 5, there is a lot to learn if you want to have a successful peaceful natural birth, especially in a hospital setting. I keep meaning to write a whole post about all the reasons why I am in love with Dr. Bradley and so very grateful for his books and our fabulous instructors, but today is not that day. Suffice it to say, I am so very grateful for them! My L&D nurse, who was also incredible in so many ways and so very supportive of our desire to birth naturally, said that she had never witnessed a natural birth go as smoothly as mine  in her 19 years of delivering babies. That is completely thanks to the Bradley Method and my husband’s fidelity to assuming his role as coach. He did a phenomenal job, and I truly could not have gotten through without him! My husband is THE reason that I was calm, cool, and collected throughout my entire labor, but especially during the hours we spent laboring at the hospital.

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Josh and Soph, 2 hours old

Above all, I have to credit St. Colette, my sweet daughter’s patroness (Colette is her middle name) and the patroness of expectant mommies. After our last less-than-stellar birth experience, I was quite nervous about this one. I spent a lot of time begging her to help me out on D-DAY. And she did. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I fully credit her with our awesome nurse (Who was called in on her day off because L&D was swamped. And who sacrificed her daughter’s volleyball game to answer that call and come in to work. And who was weirdly connected to us in a strange 6 degrees of separation type way.) and with the fact that we got THE LAST L&D room (had we arrived any later, we would have been laboring and delivering in a busy triage room) and with the fact that a new mommy room just happened to open up for us, despite the fact that we weren’t supposed to get one because they were all full. Thank you, St. Colette, for interceding on my behalf!           

2. My husband. (yes, I already thanked him, but this is for a different reason.) Josh works for an incredible company. One of their many benefits is that fathers get a two week paternity leave after the birth or adoption of a new baby. This leave is granted ON TOP of any existing vacation. While I think our growing family may make them question this lovely policy, we are so grateful it exists. Josh was home with me for the last two weeks and he did a stellar job keeping the house running. I was blown away! He even kept up with the kids’ school work, so we weren’t behind at all when he went back to work. He cooked and cleaned and cared for all 4 of the other kiddos. All I had to do those first two weeks was sleep, eat, and snuggle my sweet Sophie. It was amazing!

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One of the beautiful meals we received.

3. Kate and all the people who signed up on the Care Calendar. My sweet friend Kate made a Care Calendar  for people to sign up to bring us meals. It started on Tuesday when Josh went back to work and is still filling up with our incredibly generous friends and acquaintances from Church and our homeschooling coop. I can’t begin to say how grateful I am not to have to worry about dinner. These first few days alone with the kiddos have been challenging, so it is such a gift to just have to open the door and say thank you before having a beautiful, home-cooked meal on the table. And let me tell you, these women can cook. Everything has been so delicious! On top of being generous enough to make us dinner, these women have even been kind enough to adhere to our new dietary standards. These women have their own large families and struggles and pregnancies and whatever else to deal with, yet they took the time from their hectic lives to make us dinner. I am so grateful to them all for their incredible generosity!

Kate also took my older boys to coop last week which was a gift for them, Josh, and me. They were bummed about the prospect of missing coop, but, thanks to her, they didn’t have to. Josh had been wrangling the four older kiddos by himself for several days at that point, so I’m sure he was grateful to have his duties cut in half. And I was super grateful for how quite the house was while they were gone. Thanks again to my dear friend! You are such an amazing gift!

So that’s it for me. I’d apologize for this post being so long, except for even this doesn’t fully express my gratitude to these individuals. What about you? What are your successes this week? Link up over at Catholicmom.com

The Gift of Dinner at Joe’s

Having lunch at a pizza place in Chattanooga, TN.

Having lunch at a pizza place in Chattanooga, TN. 10/23/13

Usually, when I write about life with a “big” family,* I’m complaining. Not because I don’t like my “big” family, but because of the way my “big” family and I get treated when we’re out in public. This weekend, however, we had an absolutely wonderful experience, so I thought I’d switch things up a bit and tell you about that.

Friday night, we decided to take the kids out to dinner. We went to Joe’s Crab Shack, which, if you’ve never been, is very family friendly. It’s a bright, loud place with trash buckets and paper towels on the tables (intended for the crab eaters, but super useful for spills and other kid messes) and a playground outside. The kids were pretty tired from coop and a full day of other activities, so I figured Joe’s was a safe bet. If they decided to misbehave, I figured it would be less noticeable in a place like that.

As we approached the hostess stand, the manager walked over from nearby and asked, “Oh wow. Are they all yours?”

Josh: “Sure are!”

Him: “I just don’t know how you do it…”

Me: “With lots of craziness and fun.”

Him: “I have a 2 year old and that’s more than I can take.”

(I never know where to go from here. I can totally relate. 1 kid is super hard. 2-years-old is super hard. But how do I briefly articulate that with sincerity and compassion without being incredibly awkward? I find that when I try people do another headcount of my kids and react like I must be patronizing them. I’m not. I really feel for them. Simcha Fisher once wrote a piece that describes what I mean. But it seems like a bit too much to say as I’m walking away from the hostess stand…)

As we walked to the table we got the looks we normally get. Internally, I shook my head. Externally, I smiled, held my head high, and hoped I could get everyone seated and settled without making a scene. (You mothers know what I’m talking about: But, mom, I want to sit over there! He took my crayons! Why didn’t I get a blue one?? Where’s my silverware?? I want to keep my knife!)

The boys after a lunch date at Chick-fil-a in December. (Guess no one was really ready for the camera?)

The boys after a lunch date at Chick-fil-a last December. (Guess no one was really ready for the camera?)

Amazingly, there was no scene. We did play a small round of musical chairs with Ben, but it was mostly calm and quiet. The big boys sat exactly where we put them and didn’t complain. They unfolded their menus and began talking about what to order.

Incredibly, the rest of the meal went off without a hitch. All the boys ordered for themselves, used their manners, spoke clearly and respectfully to the server, etc. We had a lovely time! Even Leila sat in her high chair the entire time, which is somewhat unlike her when we are in public. She’s a bit clingy and likes to be held when she’s in an unfamiliar environment.**

Somewhere about midway through dinner, I realized all the servers kept walking by our table and looking at us. But not with a look that I was used to receiving. I wasn’t sure what was going on. After it happened a few more times, I was starting to feel a bit like we were in a fish bowl. Towards the end of our meal, the bartender came over. He said, “While you’re here, do you want to give a few lessons to some of the other parents sitting around you?” I just laughed awkwardly. Then, he looked at my boys, told them how awesome they were, and went back to work.

On the way out, the manager made an effort to get over to us again before we passed the hostess stand. He thanked us for coming and told us they looked forward to serving us again. I know this is the kind of thing managers say. But there was something about his tone and body language. He really seemed grateful to have met us that night.

I walked out feeling simply overjoyed. Not just because my kids were well behaved. Not just because we were complimented. Not just because no one said or did anything negative to us. I felt like, somehow, we made a difference that night. I felt like, somehow, the staff that encountered us saw the beauty and the joy of family life. Somehow, for that short hour or two that we were there, children and parenting didn’t seem like such a burden to those people. Somehow, we were able to convey that message.

I don’t know how we did it. We didn’t do anything differently than we usually do when we are in public. I guess we were just in the right place at the right time. But I really believe that our little family made the world a better place for that short window of time. And, maybe, just maybe, had a big enough impact that someone who saw us was willing to change their view of children and/or family life. I realize this may all sound like a stretch, but that’s truly how I felt leaving the restaurant that evening. It was almost magical. Unfortunately, I just don’t know how to better explain it. It was simply the most positive, uplifting experience I have ever had with a bunch of random strangers that I will likely never see again. They gave me such a gift in affirming the dignity of my family, and I really believe that we, somehow, gave them a gift too.

                                                                                   

* I still don’t think I have a big family. I’ve admitted before that I am aware that we are larger than average, but we just don’t feel big to me. In fact, when we’re missing even just one of the kids, we feel so incredibly small. Maybe my perception just adjusts with each child? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t feel like I have a big family.

**Behaving in the restaurant in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. The majority of the time, they do. We have high expectations for behavior in public, which we clearly communicate to the children, along with the consequences that will follow misbehavior. Moreover, we make them behave appropriately every night at dinner, which helps tremendously. They are already used to behaving at the table. I was concerned about behavior on this particular night because they had a long day and tired kids doesn’t usually equal well behaved and/or “rational” kids.