Unpatterned Mama

Stitching Life Together One Piece at a TIme

motherhood

Galacta-gold! Beans, Greens and Grains Bowl

motherhood, recipesLindsyComment

 

Are you seeking the perfect, easy lunch? Something warm and comforting, but healthy too? Maybe even something that helps you make more milk for that baby of yours? I've got a meal for you.

 

Somewhere in my return to work from my first maternity leave, I created this dish. I don’t remember how it came to be - just that I concocted it out a strong desire to MAKE MORE MILK.

Barley, beans, dark leafies, and sesame seeds (via tahini) are all galactagogues, aka milk makers. This is super easy and feels oh-so-nourishing to eat, so it’s no wonder that it increases your milk production. Ideally, I cook up a batch on Sunday afternoons and portion it out for my upcoming week’s lunches, but this doesn’t always happen. There have been many mornings when I cooked this while eating breakfast and getting ready for work. It’s a snap.

To make it even more of breeze, use these quick-cooking bags of barley and farro. You can get them at Trader Joe’s, and recently I have seen a nearly identical version at TJ’s sister store, ALDI. They cost the same (at least in my area). It will shave about twenty minutes off of your cook time, and it’s already measured for you.

 

Disclaimer: I’m an ad lib cook. I write recipes the old-fashioned way, in a somewhat vague manner that assumes the reader has some knowledge of cookery and is not afraid to improvise. Cooking times and measurements may vary. Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts and tweak something if its not working for you. This is how I make this recipe. It does not have to be the way you make it.

 

 

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  1. First, grains. Make life easy-peasy and use the quick-cook bags from Trader Joe’s or ALDI. I alternate between barley and farro. Alternatively, you can use 1 cup of pearled barley. Make sure to rinse it first.

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2. In a 3-5 quart pot, combine grains with 3 cups of water. Let come to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes

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3. Toss in enough torn kale to fill up the pot. (I’m using a 3 quart saucepan here. You could definitely go bigger and probably should, as I usually end up adding more kale later on.) Cover the pot and let kale steam until wilted, about 10-15 minutes. Add a little more water if needed.

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4. Add 2-3 cups of beans. Again, you can hit the easy button and use rinsed canned beans. If you have the planning skills to use dried beans, I applaud you.

5. After this, I portion out the in gredients into glass containers for my work lunches. I drizzle about 1 tablespoon of tahini on top of each serving.

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So what do you think? Any additions, subtractions, or other tweaks? It has been a lifesaver for me, so let me know how it works for you!

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What would you do with one year of paid parental leave?

motherhood, parenthood, life changesLindsyComment

What would you do with one year of paid parental leave?

Netflix made the news recently for its progressive decision to allow employees to have one year of flexible time off for the first year after having or adopting a child. And it would be paid time off.

In other countries, this is standard practice. Chile grants eighteen weeks paid, or thirty-five weeks if you live in Norway. But here in the United States, where we’re supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and do everything ourselves, we have no form of paid maternity leave, even. Forget paternity leave. Out of 184 developed nations, only we and Papua New Guinea have no paid maternity leave. Check out this chart from Bloomberg to see how other nations stack up against the U.S. in providing paid time off. Read the whole article here.

So what would I have done with one year of time off after having my son? First of all, I probably would not have returned to work after twelve weeks. I’m not sure who came up with the twelve-week benchmark, but that person had obviously never given birth, nor cared for a crying infant in the middle of the night for weeks on end. At twelve weeks postpartum, I had just barely figured out how to make myself presentable and get my son ready to go out the door. Granted, my maternity leave was during the coldest winter in recorded Chicago history, so we hadn’t gotten out much.

It’s hard to say what exactly would have happened, but observing the situation from the viewpoint, this is what I would consider a great plan:

 

  1. Stay at home until at least 16 weeks postpartum - maybe 20.

  2. Return to work on a part-time schedule - as in, four-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts.

  3. When baby is about nine months old, return to full-time shifts. (Nine months is when I remember things becoming noticeably easier and I started to think, “I can do this!”

  4. Enjoy the fact that all of the times I needed to miss work - for his viruses, sick calls, many ear infections, and all the times I caught something from him - will not be taken out of my sick or vacation time. They will be part of the flexible “year off.” This is a big one. I calculated that  i took about ten sick days after returning to work, but before my son turned one year old. This is just what happens when your child goes to day care. After missing only three days due to illness in my six years on the job, I ended up spending an entire week out with an upper respiratory infection, and I also somehow got two ear infections. The last time I’d had one, I’m sure I was only a baby myself. (Of course, having to take sick days would not irk me so much if they didn't mean my pot of days for a future maternity leave was dwindling.)

Again, this is all speculation. Maybe if I had eased back into work, rather than diving right into the deep end, it would have been even more difficult to go back to a full-time schedule. I doubt it, though. It is an exhausting time, full of worries and learning and making mistakes. Many would agree that having a child is the biggest life adjustment you will ever make. So is taking time to readjust the rest of your life fair and reasonable? I think so.

So, what would you do with a flexible year off after having a child? I’d love to hear what you think!

Little Golden Books, and How My Mother Shaped My Life

motherhood, booksLindsyComment

 

Earlier this week Laura Vanderkam posted about a contest Story Worth was hosting. The theme a story from you mother’s life that inspires you. While I wasn’t interested in entering the contest, it did get me thinking of what I would write about. 

                                               Some of my favorite Little Golden Books as a child.

                                              Some of my favorite Little Golden Books as a child.

Beginning when my brother and I were very, very small, my mom made sure that reading was a part of our life. Every time we went to the grocery store, we selected one Little Golden Book to add to our collection. While Golden Books were meant to be affordable (they cost about 99 cents in 1986), it would have been easy to say that these books were unnecessary. My family was strictly low-income at this time, and frugality was always in play. Even all of our Christmas presents were secondhand, although my brother and I were none the wiser and the gifts were perfectly wonderful.

My mom knew, though, that it was important that we have our own books. We lived in a very rural area and didn’t have a public library of our own. A few years later my mother would start to pay for an out-of-district library card and take us weekly, another testament to her wisdom. At this time, though, that was less of an option. Besides, she knew that being surrounded by books in the home was something that children needed.

For years, I would revisit our bookshelves and page through the many books we had collected. I would pause at the nameplate in the front, reading “This Book Belongs To __________”, where my brother and I had penciled our names in childish writing (we inscribed all of them in one night, reveling in the process). Just last month, my mom asked me if I would like to take some for Hunter’s own library.

So where does this leave me today? I’m a children’s librarian. An avid bookworm my entire life, i could have ended up in any number of professions. Somehow I landed here, preaching the gospel of children’s literature and “read to your baby.” Would I be here if my mom hadn’t filled our shelves with books, reading to us every day? If she hadn’t surrounded me with literature so I could pick up a book at will and familiarize myself with the written word?

Wondering does nothing. None of us has the power to know which forks in the road led to where. All I know is that I am happy I have a mother who knew this was important, and did what she could to make it a part of our life.

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.*



The Great Second Child Debate

motherhood, parenthood, familyLindsyComment
The Great Second Child Debate

I have heard a lot of parents voice this thought, and you probably have, too.

Should we even have a second child?

After all, we’ve started sleeping all night again! We can leave the house without an hour of prep time for feeding, blowouts, and three outfit changes. I’m done with pumping/bottles/baby food/diapers. I have my body back.

We said these things, even though we’ve always planned on two.  It also somehow seemed significant that we had such a good baby. How could we have another baby and come away unscathed? Surely the next child will not be nearly so easy, and then it will be Game Over.

Plus, it won't be like doing it all over again. It will be like doing all over again, with a toddler underfoot. My father-in-law likes to say that two kids aren’t twice the work, they’re triple. Furthermore, how could we take this special time of babyhood away from Hunter, starving him of attention? He’s still so little, how could we do this?

Of course, if you told us to wait until he was older, we would say we don't want the children to be spaced far apart. This was our conundrum. So. Onward we go, to the research.

Research is my thing. I’m an infoholic, and gathering all the research makes me feel calm, informed, and productive. When we were just considering trying to have a baby, I read books of essays about having kids, not having kids, not sure if one would have kids, etc. It didn’t really matter; I knew I wanted to have kids. Somehow, though, it made me feel less chicken about the whole thing.

The research began with Babycenter, because they are usually the first search result for anything baby-related. The “expert” advice to have another baby before your first is two or after they are four was useless to me. My casual observations of families (and as a children’s librarian, these are many) have shown me that almost no one does this. Most people seem to go somewhere between 2 and 3 years apart, and that was kind of what I was feeling myself.

On I went, to The Alpha Parent. This was more helpful, sharing the pros and cons (yes!) of spacing your children 1, 2, 3, or 4+ years apart. What I learned from this was that it doesn’t really matter how the children are spaced. There will be positives and negatives with any spacing; you just have to choose which ones matter to you most.

Finally, I found a book called Twice Blessed by Joan Leonard. This one was interesting. In the first chapter it lists common reasons for wanting a second, explores the issues of timing and birth order, and then delves into age spacing. This is where I got the two best pieces of information about when:

This obvious yet insightful bit of advice gleaned from many parents of adult children: “Think about when you and your husband are emotionally and financially best ready to have another child. It will be better for you, your marriage and your children.” (p. 10)
This beautiful nugget of data: “Parents with closely spaced children wished that they had spaced them farther apart, and parents of spaced children wished they’d spaced them closer.” (p.10, cited from the book The Second Child: Family Transitions and Adjustment by Robert B. Stewart. I am planning to find this study because no parameters or percentages were cited. Context is key! I’ll update you with what i learn.)

In conclusion: it doesn’t matter how they are spaced, as long as you, the parent, are comfortable with the spacing. And you will later wish you had tried for the opposite, anyway.

Tried is the imperative word here, because let’s face it, we really don’t have that much influence on when (or if) the second child will be born.

                                             Age spacing: the closer, the better? Shown here with my brother, circa 1987.

                                            Age spacing: the closer, the better? Shown here with my brother, circa 1987.

Despite the lack of control, it is something I obsess over. Since Hunter was about six weeks old, I’ve been thinking about when we would try for baby number two. Not because I was ready; I just wanted to be prepared. About once a month, I would ask Stephen, when do you think? Every time, he would say, I don’t want to talk about it. Hmmm, okay. I would remove all barriers: If we had plenty of resources - time, money, help - what would the ideal child spacing be? He would say, Doesn’t matter, because we don’t have all those things.

So I began to think it would be later. Perhaps Fall 2015. This was my opinion.

December 2014: Having a conversation about...something. The context of this conversation is now forgotten. All I know is that out of the blue, Stephen said, “We should start trying right now.” Um, whaaaaat??? He went on to say that he didn’t want Hunter to spaced as far apart as he and his brothers (three years) because it always felt like they were never in similar stages of life. Well, thankyousir, for answering the question I’ve been asking for a year.

So I took some time to think about this, and to be honest, I felt the same as he did. My brother and I are eighteen months apart. This was great for us, although I suspect it was not so great for my mom. However, life was beginning to get easier, I was feeling more capable, and we felt that letting nature take its course was the easiest way to make a non-decisive decision.

Since then, it’s been a lot easier to wrap my brain around the idea of having two. It also seems that the longer I’ve been a parent, the more I realize that it’s not worth all the analytics. For instance, you get used to the roller coaster of child development. Every month or two, life takes another turn and you learn to adjust your routine, your technique, your opinion. This kind of hard-core adaptability training makes planning and research and what-ifs seem pretty inconsequential.

I’ve also begun to let go of the other (unfounded) fears: that Hunter will be robbed of his babyhood, his alone time with us, and that since he is so easy/good/wonderful that there is no chance we will be so lucky a second time. Remember what I said above, about the roller coaster? It turns out that Hunter is not always so easy/good/amazing, especially not right now as he is embracing toddlerhood. Screeching, stubborn, into everything. So maybe it will all balance out.

As it stands, we are letting things happen naturally. We don’t want to put it off, and yet there are times when I wouldn’t be disappointed if it took a little longer. For example, if it happened after our vacation, so I could enjoy the wineries and breweries and the hot tub. Or if it happened after my cousin’s wedding, which happens to be at a winery. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Of course, there is never a perfect time, and we know that - that’s why we’re just giving it a go.

However it shakes out, it was meant to be.



The Zen of Breastfeeding

motherhoodLindsyComment

Ah, breastfeeding. Such an intense and controversial topic. Let’s just start by saying that I breastfeed; it is my choice and I feel that everyone should make the choice that is right for them. Alternate circumstances may have taken me down a different path, but this is how my story goes.

 

Breastfeeding has not always been easy for me. In the beginning I found it to be exhausting, worrisome, and far too demanding. I may not have felt this way (or felt it so strongly) if things had taken a different course. Babies are unpredictable, though, and mine came an entire month early. This meant that in addition to giving birth earlier than I expected, I also had to contend with things like pumping at home for a few days and visiting my son in the Special Care Nursery when I could. We tried breastfeeding at those times, but let’s just say it was a learning process. He didn’t have a strong “suck” and he also fell asleep...like, a lot. So there I was, massaging milk out for him and trying to wake him up every couple of minutes.

It was hard going for the first few months at least. Besides the crazy amount of energy breastfeeding takes, the hunger I felt was out of control. It was worse than when I'd been pregnant, and I was too tired and busy to feed myself properly. Hunter continued to need the assistance I described above until he was almost four months old. Once I got the hang of it, though, it was easier to feed myself (like grabbing some hummus and pita before sitting down for one of our forty - yes, forty - minute bf sessions). I also started to download  books to my iPhone and read. When it was time to turn a page, I just had to swipe my thumb. That came in really handy at night when I needed to stay awake (or thought I did).

Then my baby got older - and more distracted. Watching television or reading while I held him was not working out, and he constantly looked around our living room to see what was going on. I had long loathed the act of going into his room to breastfeed. Having to go back there and sit in the glider, quietly breastfeeding, felt like being exiled. That was what I did when we had company, and it always felt so dull to me. After a while though, it seemed like the best choice. I was no longer interested in trying to keep Hunter focused on the main event.

Soon, though, those moments in the glider became somewhat magical. It helped that Hunter was much quicker now and that he didn't need my help. I was free to hook on the Brest Friend and let him be, while I leaned back and enjoyed the solitude. It took me awhile to realize what I was doing during these quiet times, but I realized I was restoring my mind, sorting out thoughts, daydreaming, praying. The truth of this hit me one day while perusing a copy of Parents magazine. There was an article about working meditation into your parenting life, and one of the moments to take advantage of was while feeding your baby.  The section states:

"Consider your rocking chair or glider to be your meditation cushion, where you focus exclusively on your baby and your breath. 'Instead of thinking about all that you should or could be doing at that moment, allow yourself to rest and be soothed by the rocking and quiet time with your baby:'"

Now that I'm more mindful of that time, I've been careful to keep to-do lists and other "working" thoughts out during that time.

Hunter is seventeen months old now, and he still seeks out that time together. At times it can seem inconvenient, but mostly I want it too. I wouldn’t say that I’m meditating, and I’ve never really tried to at that time. I do, however, relax my body, close my eyes, and enjoy the freedom from busyness. I am doing what I need to do, and there is nothing else that I need to do at that moment. It’s especially wonderful at the end of the work day, when we’ve just gotten home. My natural instinct would be to jump right in to chores and other “always-there” tasks, but this forces me to take a break and spend time with my darling dear son. Of course, I also like it when he starts playing games with me and launches into a giggle fit. So worth it - for me.

If someone had told me a year ago that breastfeeding would become one of the most peaceful and pleasant moments of my day, I would've given them the side eye. But now it's true. It’s just one of the many, many aspects of parenthood that has surprised me.

Has anything about parenthood turned around for you?