Enjoying the Simple Gifts this Holiday Season

Simple Gifts: A Time to Enjoy

It is the season of Thanksgiving and I am listening to the old Shaker song “Simple Gifts” on one of my families favorite CDs Dance on a Moonbeam by Bill Crofut. Although I had every intention of writing about something non-holiday related, I realized I couldn’t focus my attention elsewhere.

This is the time of year when people typically start to feel an impending elevated level of stress creep in; increased obligations for holiday: parties, gatherings, gifts, performances, travel, music.  Even families such as my own, which tries to simplify the holiday, get caught up in the cycle. Each year we insist this will be the year when we are cutting down all the “extras” for the sake of sanity and finding peace. But today I realized perhaps we are simplifying the wrong area of our holidays.

Many writers have articulated it better than I ever could: are the holidays really about the gifts and abundance of food and decorations? I think many of us could easily speak of the importance of spending time with those we care about, but how many of us REALLY take time to do just that?

I think perhaps sometimes we are so busy with life that we forget these are the few days a year we are allowed to have some down time, just to be a family. As I face the holiday season I have decided to employ several efforts to keep what is most important, on my mind: my family, being a mom, being a wife, being me.

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Top Priorities of a Working Mom

Finding the Time: When It Is Time to Set Priorities

It’s time to take back what is mine and begin to enjoy not only the special moments of being a family, but the subtler moments that can surprisingly take your breath away. Like apple picking and just sitting down in the orchard to tell a story or have a snack; or hearing my daughter play the keyboard while singing her favorite song of the week. (Photo credit: Alisa Blanchard

This past month I did something most of us do sooner or later, I made the choice to eliminate an activity. It was hard at first to even consider the option as it was a group I had assembled together and unofficially, I was the “leader.” I worried about turning to these people and saying “I can’t do this any more, I’m sorry.”

But I knew quickly it was the right thing to do. On these nights I would go to leave the house and my daughter would turn with wet eyes and say “please don’t go, I want you here with me;” it was absolutely heart wrenching. Quickly it became evident that I was losing much more than my patience from being overextended; I was losing precious moments with my daughter.

So the day came when I told the group, “I just can’t do this anymore, I am sorry.” At first I thought perhaps my decision was a tad rash; what if I found more time and my concerns were mostly internal, or would they be angry and stop speaking with me? My fears were put to ease when they approached me and said “I had no idea you had so much going on! WOW.” Or “Could you tell me more about that project?” PHEW!

So now instead of rushing off these nights for another meeting (on top of other regular meeting I have the same night), I am able to schedule in a special family date night. It works out perfectly, as making dinner on these nights is near impossible and we have the chance to work on restaurant etiquette with my daughter. She gets so excited and talks about the fancy restaurant nights (trust me our venue of choice is far from fancy, but it makes it feel special to her.)

That part was easy, but I am starting to realize perhaps I need to schedule some real solid time home, in the house, doing nothing more than being a family. And as great as it is having family date night, sometimes I just want to stay in and snuggle up to watch a movie after my daughter has gone to bed. I’d even settle for a movie of my husband’s choosing.

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Sleeping Through the Night Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

The Cost of Sleep: Is It Really Worth It?

This past month I went away for the weekend with out my family. This was the first time I had left my daughter for more than one night.  There have been many bedtime and morning routines which I missed due to meetings, work, or an occasional show. But this time was different; I would be in the woods away from the phone and unable to even call to say good night. And though we are use to being away from each other for hours, sometimes days only broken up by a quick dinner or late night nursing, I was scared to go.

The times I am able to, I admit I love tucking my little girl in at night. Her sleepy eyes fighting to stay awake as she savors the evening nursing session; it is as though she is saying, “I don’t want the day to end.” For me it is a mixed feeling – do I want to crawl under the blankets and fall back asleep, tickle her feet and try to keep her up a little more so we can have more time together – or let her fall asleep and then sneak off to my office for work.

We don’t have many nights when I am afforded the luxury of making this choice, but when I do it is always a tough call. My husband might laugh and say what usually happens is I am so exhausted myself I am barely able to stay awake for the bedtime story, let alone get back up to go work. He often comes to bed on these nights and says “I need to move her now,” as he lifts our daughter and places her in her own bed, which is right next to ours, almost an extension, because inevitably she will find her way into our bed to snuggle.

So imagine me sleeping on a foam pad in a cabin out in the woods, while away on retreat for the weekend. I close my eyes with this slight haze of guilt, as my body is able to finally relax and sleep a full night, for the first time in 3 years. No toddler insisting she can only sleep if she is latched on, draping over my chest while touching daddy’s chin and drooling on the dog. Oh how quickly the guilt washes away as I embrace this long lost luxury of rest.

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Many Hats of a Working Mother

The Weight of Family

Sometimes when I get home I want to do what my daughter wants me to do. The appeal of the couch with a warm blanket, her snuggled in with a book and water boiling on the stove for tea, at times is too much to resist. But most days I have just enough time for snuggles, some bug juice (aka nursing), a song and occasionally a short story, but no fancy blanket and tea.

Like most parents I am faced with making dinner and maintain household chores. I try to include my daughter when I can with these tasks, though with my tiny kitchen, it is often near impossible. It doesn’t help having a famished toddler grabbing your legs begging for “ups” while you try to hurry dinner along. Once upon a time I would entertain the idea of putting her in a sling or carrier on my back, but with her recent interest in everything I find it is just unsafe at this exploring age.

My time with my daughter is often limited to this small period of time between getting home and after dinner. Then it is off to some other venture. And the nights I am able to stay home with my family, I enjoy every minute. To help make the most of each moment, we make a point to sit as a family for each meal I am home. Occasionally, on evenings I will be out late, I try to sneak home between obligations so I can sit at the dinner table for a meal with my daughter and oh so understanding husband.

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Attachment Parenting for Working Parents

Making the Choice to Love

As with many other mothers I discovered a number of my choices as a parent, directly conflicted with my perceived notion of parenting, prior to having child. Not exclusive to this realization is my choice in parenting style.

It seems that as a new parent I found my prior views on the parent-child dynamic to be challenged as I felt the need to co-sleep, babywear, and strived to be proactive and attentive to my daughter’s needs. This new concept was given a title when I became a parent: Attachment Parenting.

The advice others openly give regarding my parenting varies greatly from: support; to those who intentionally made me feel I’m not doing enough to really be there as a parent; those who subscribe to some of the same views I had prior to actually having a child; and those who believe I am spoiling my child by tending to her needs.  Read the rest of this entry »

Miss the Shot, Be in the Moment

Putting the Camera Down

Photo Credit: Alisa J. Blanchard

It’s a beautiful morning as the family rushes to pack the car and get on the road. We attempt to account for the various items we will need for the current family excursion: diapers, wipes, “cow’s milk,” snacks, change of clothes, swim suit, gloves, toys for the ride, music CD’s, and the list goes on.

I grab my point and shoot camera, a nice easy to use model and toss it into the diaper bag with hopes someone else will pick it up and get some great shots. Next to the pile I place my DSLR, it is hard to leave the house without it in tow, over the past months it has unfortunately spent more time with me, than my own daughter.

My husband peeks into the diaper bag to make sure it is all set, grabs it and my daughter and says “ready? I’ll go get her in the car.” I grab my DSLR bag and head for the door.

We arrive at our destination and start the process of unloading the vehicle, and there it sits, the camera bag. My husband reminds me “You brought your ‘little camera,’ it’s in the diaper bag.” I am now faced with the decision to bring the bag with me or leave the DSLR camera in the car.

It won’t matter which camera I take, the issue will come down to do I spend all day attached to the camera or do I “miss the shot” so I can be mom and enjoy the activity.

At a recent cookout at a friends house, I spent a good majority of my time connecting with good friends I hadn’t seen in months, wading in the kiddie pool with my daughter, chasing my dogs away from the picnic table and occasionally trying to get my daughter to eat or drink, something. A few days later the friend posted a request for all photos from the cookout on Facebook.

It hit me; I didn’t really take many pictures that day. I had brought the big camera and only pulled it out once or twice. And though I am happy with the images I got, I realized most people wont want to see the 20 images of my daughter’s silhouette slam dunking a basketball (with my husband holding her up for me).

I replied to my friend “Sorry, I didn’t get many. I know, I know, the photographer didn’t get pictures.” Her kind reply “even you deserve a day off every now and then.”

I am sure she doesn’t understand how important that was to me, but it seemed to be just what I needed to hear in order to allow me that freedom to occasionally “miss the shot” and be in the moment with my daughter.

Since this cookout I can say I have been less incline to always insist on bringing “the big camera” as it is known in my house. My husband reminds me frequently “You took amazing images with this little thing before you got the big camera.”

He seems to understand the compulsion I have to capture the moment in a way I want to frame, which marketing and professional “peer pressure” has so cleverly taught me to believe, was not possible unless I used a DSLR.

I don’t have the same need to take photos of every moment, as I have come to realized sometimes living the moment is often more important than capturing it “just so.” (Though my husband might disagree.)

Now I find when I do take “the big” camera along, just in case, it is easier for me occasionally leave it in the car or in the basket of the stroller (which incidentally is also hardly ever used).


Alisa J. BlanchardAlisa J. Blanchard

A Berkshire transplant, Alisa is a: tattooed mom of an almost 2yr old girl; a photographer; singer (with her local chapter of Sweet Adelines International); writer; trained Doula (labor and postpartum support); and all around life enthusiast. She supports her family with her “day job” as a bookkeeper and fills her need for artistic expression in many diverse ways. When she is not making a mess with paints and her daughter; playing pranks on her husband; gardening; or hiking with the dogs; Alisa can be found working on her passionate dream of becoming a full-time photographer (Common Moments) and doula. cmoments@earthlink.net

The Balancing Act of a Working Mom

Mommy Guilt

It usually happens on Monday mornings, though occasionally it hits Tuesday morning. I am not sure where it starts, if I exude vibes of disappointment, or if my daughter realizes the routine and starts the leg grab; Mommy Guilt.

Inevitably there will soon be a whining toddler pulling the shower curtain back calling “Mama, mommy…..” My efforts to get out the door on time are impeded by the various obstacles of my toddler: crawling between my legs;  grabbing my clothes and dragging them across the tufts of dog and cat fur on the floor; “I brush my teeth with Mama;” and of course her refusal to get ready with my husband “No want Dadda, MAMA!!!”

The mommy guilt kicks in, I am faced with the choice of arriving to work late but giving my daughter the small time she asks of me to get her ready for the day. Sigh, just a few moments, will it make a huge difference?

My husband assures me “It is fine, get ready, I’ve got this.” He turns his attention to our daughter “Mama has to get ready for work honey; what would you like to wear today? Overalls?”

I see my husband has the situation under control, I have stopped trying to control every parenting situation a long time ago; it is ineffective in our journey as co-parents. However this doesn’t seem to resolve my own feelings of guilt.

Does he understand the urgency I have to go and do it all, how I have to restrain myself when she hurts herself and he is the first to the scene? And how watching as he picks clothes out with her, while I get ready for a day at a job I don’t love as much as being a mom, is physically painful?

Being a working, community active mom, is just unfair. I miss the simple enjoyment of helping her: getting dressed in the morning, getting ready for dinner, putting “jammies” on and even changing diapers; I see these everyday rituals becoming more and more foreign to me as I spend more time investing in “our future.”

I wonder what I am gambling with here, every parent I know tells me the same thing “enjoy the time while it lasts, it goes by so quickly” or “no one ever wishes they worked more on their death bed, enjoy those moments.” I hear these voices echoing in my head as my little voice offers a faint and meek whisper “what if you get fired?”

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