Friday, April 22, 2011

Leonie: The Source of Myself - It's Not What You Do

As a mama who has spent the past 7 months struggling to stay clear of a second bout of post partum depression, and as a normally very upbeat “go get ‘em” kind of person, it is amazingly challenging for me to be as honest here as I know I need to be.  Before having kids, I was sure I’d always be insanely busy; super social; well recognized and liked for what I do; a mama who didn’t let kids “get in the way” of who she really was.  Well, after battling post partum depression throughout the first year of my now three year old’s life and unfortunately revisiting that gloomy place  following the arrival of my second son, I realize that pre-kids, I knew nothing about how profoundly having children would affect and change me. 
As so many of us are, I was committed to holding onto my “old self”.  But as uncomfortable as it has been, I am realizing that in many ways that “old self” no longer exists.  As hokey as it may sound I feel somewhat reborn. I am not the woman I was before kids.  Yes, the concept of yoga, dance and backpacking do still thrill me… I still love people and truly thrive in social and community related arenas, but at the same time, just about everything about me has changed.  It is wildly uncomfortable but what I am working on today as a “newish” mama, is seeking peace with the new me.  Listening to my gut.  Leaving behind the world of doing it right and achieving.  Accepting the unknown.  Redefining myself and yeah, kind of starting over. 
In retrospect and through the pain of depression, I realize how , prior to becoming a mother, I survived on shining accolades from the outside world.  Were the dance events I held full to capacity?  Did I exceed the wildest expectations of my clients?  Was I best friends with a pretty ridiculous number of people?  Were my weekends booked to overflowing with exciting volunteer and social activities?  Did I have inspiring and interesting stories to share at every turn?  Was I liked and accepted?  Was I doing enough and doing it perfectly? 
Letting go of what in many ways made me “me” pre-kids, has allowed me to step beyond an almost paralyzing need for approval and recognition.  Being the best at things.  Having the best stories to tell on Monday at work.  Making sure I was liked by everyone… It was exhausting on a core level.  Wiping clean the slate, has in many ways freed me.  I will achieve.  In fact, I am achieving now but it’s on a more intimate level than ever before.  I am walking a private path.  This is new and uncomfortable for an innately social person.  Can I stay true to my need for love, community and adventure while simultaneously honoring my new self?  Being quiet has helped.  Simplifying my social circles.  Letting go of “shoulds” and comparison.  Doing less, not more.  Contemplation.  Walks in the woods.  I know I could successfully coordinate mama-oriented events.  I could launch back into work with smiles and success.  I could recommit to an awe-inspiring yoga or dance schedule. I could definitely do more, more of what the “old” me would have done. But where is the line that honors this new path?
Recently I was asked to answer the question “Who am I?” without saying anything about things that I did….  I was stuck and found myself near tears.   The depression and questions I have struggled with since having the boys has evolved around becoming okay without constant outside reassurance that I am the best/succeeding/loved/doing more & better than most..etc.  Can I be me, truly accept me and not define myself by a job, a project, a form of exercise, a hobby?  Without wild tales of success to tell when I run into acquaintances, can I accept myself not as Leonie; the friend, the realtor, the event coordinator, the world traveler, the dancer; but rather as just Leonie… a strong, loving, committed, hungry, passionate, positive, friendly, willing to be quiet, tired, scared at times, antsy, curious, mama to two and introspective woman nearing 40?  Can I smile and share a piece of the real me, rather than depend on a crazy tale from my latest accomplishment in order to be accepted and feel connected?
 It is this question and my willingness to surrender into it which is helping me to find a way out of pretty ugly periods.  I am blessed that this second bout with the blues has been quite mild compared to the first.  I feel blessed that I have had the chance to strip away everything and ask these questions.  If I had kept working as much as I once did, had stayed as busy and as externally focused as I once was, this raw and real side of me, this more authentic, grounded and straightforward me, this new me would have remained unknown.  And this new me is capable of anything.  I might not be climbing mountains, but I birthed two incredible boys and that alone was insanely beautiful and life changing.  I might not be hosting sold-out dance events, but I made it through long months of “colic” with both kiddos and some damn ugly post partum depression. Life is simple now and there’s a whole lot more space in my heart and head when I’m not worrying about the rest of the world and what I “should” be doing. Honestly, not knowing this side of me, no wild tales or grand list of accomplishments, would not only have been a disappointment to me, but I know that in some awesome ways that being this vulnerable, willing and real of a woman, will only benefit my boys, as well as the rest of my wild and wonderful journey as Leonie.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carrie: Family Camping

My husband and I both grew up in small towns in the mountains.  Camping, hiking, swimming in rivers and lakes, was a way of life.  Before we had kids we would spend time tent camping, kayaking, and skiing.  We also took trips to Europe, the East coast and crazy weekends getaways to Las Vegas and New Orleans.   Then our first daughter was born...(queue the screeching tire noises).  In other words, our time of kick-our-heels up travel was over! 

But when one door closes, another one opens.  Three months after Sadie was born we found a 1970’s Airstream travel trailer, and decided to give it a try.  It hadn’t been on the road in quite a while, and we spent some time getting it up-to-date.  Soon, we were camping all over the mountains again.  I found our daughter loved being outside all the time and playing in nature, and I loved getting away from the pressures of everyday life.

After moving to the Bay Area, we discovered a whole new type of camping.  Now, instead of spending time in the rugged beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we find ourselves camping by the beach, or in the nearby redwoods.  This past summer, now with two young daughters, we went on a whole new adventure and drove all the way to Vancouver Island, camping along the way.

Sometimes I lament the days of carefree travel, and I can’t say I don’t yearn for another trip to Europe.  For me, the stress and cost of towing two small children around the globe is something to avoid at the moment.  But, I have found so much joy in rediscovering our own part of the world.  There really is so much to see right here.  Not only that, I love to camp because it takes me away from my everyday chores, and routines, and I find myself reconnecting with my family on a deeper level. 

I know that this has become our family “thing”.  We are campers, and this is something the kids will identify with as they grow up.  For my family, camping is what we do to get us back in the groove.  It is where I reset my goals, and dream about my future.  When you sit out in the woods without any distraction, things settle down, and life becomes simple again. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Anna: The Shift of Motherhood

I recently read the following quote in a parenting book: "You should study not only that you become a mother when your child is born, but also that you become a child."  Karen Maezen Miller, the author of the book, "Mama Zen," credits these words to Dogan, a Buddhist philosopher and monk who lived almost 800 years ago.  Such a message is like the light from a distant star, a beam which shoots across inconceivable spans of time and distances of space to reach our modern eyes.  Words like these may have originated long ago in an era I cannot imagine, in a language I cannot speak and from a source long since deceased.  Still, the message is not only enduring but universal to any parent, in fact, enduring because it is universal.  Anybody who knows the radical reordering of oneself that happens as one falls into the role of parent recognizes the deep wisdom in Dogan's message.  It is a role I, myself, assumed over three years ago now when our son, Luke, was born and it is a role that profoundly shook and rearranged my drive and purpose in living.

"Mother" is something a woman does every day after the birth of her child and so each day becomes.  As easy as it is to satisfy the definition of mother, to leave the definition here would be like wading only ever in the warmth and calmness of bay waters and saying you know the ocean.  "Mother" is a word like a prism.  The definition is the shell of cold crystal and the breath of meaning is the light of experience that bursts through this glass in a colorful show.  "Mother," then, is much more than what a woman becomes with the shift from "am not" to "am" at a child's birth.  In my experience, it has not been a static state but, instead, a title which continues to deepen and ripen over time as both my son and I grow together to fill the space of our respective roles in each other’s lives.        

Motherhood is a state of living in extremes.  In my experiences with Luke I have known the most profound and intense joy, pride, happiness and gratitude as I’ve watched and relished in his transformation from a floppy baby bird of a being swaddled in my arms to a now fully articulate and imaginative boy so bursting with personality he almost seems to radiate at times.  Simultaneously, I’ve experienced with Luke overwhelming senses of anxiety, frustration, exhaustion and helplessness.  Never in my life have I felt, for example, so defeated and emotionally depleted as in times of Luke’s tantrums, common occurrences in our home during his 2’s.  The drain from my core during his raging fits proved challenging in seemingly insurmountable ways.  Now almost 3 and a half, Luke has mostly mellowed and has certainly become more reasonable and rational.  His tantrums have somewhat subsided and, when they do occur, I’m seasoned enough now in dealing with them that I can abandon my urge to tame them and, instead, ride the wave of them until their extinction.  Luke always eventually regains composure just like smoldering embers always eventually extinguish. 

In the end, I’ve learned more from Luke and from myself in my new role for Luke that motherhood is not an instinctual switch which flips in our brains with the birth of a child, after which time our lives as nurturers proceed on auto pilot.  Motherhood is, instead, a process which highlights the ultimate process of growth and change we’ve all known and experienced since our own lives began at birth.  Motherhood is something I work every day to be and do and strive to be and do to the best of my ability.  Sometimes I feel a joy in my days with Luke so palpable it’s as though, with his arrival, a new and separate heart has grown inside my chest.  Other days, I find myself in tears, at a loss, guilt-ridden and defeated in light of my lack of patience with him, my frustration or even so much as my abrupt tone of voice with him in light of both. 

Ultimately, motherhood, in even these three short years, has opened doors in me, sparked friendships and taught me the importance of allowing a space for imperfections for it is only in such spaces that true growth can happen.  Luke is my greatest, deepest joy and hope.  He is also my greatest challenge, my most profound lesson in living.  Motherhood has sprouted new life in the life I once thought complete and, in a sense, I found the groove I’ve been seeking when I became a mother.  In other ways, I realize that motherhood is a cocoon for alchemy within me so that, as I usher the transformation of Luke and prepare him for individuality and independence in the world, I also witness an equally profound shift within myself and, amidst these rapid changes, remember to preserve my own individuality and independence despite this all encompassing role of mother. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mama responses

The juices are flowing.  This has been such a cool process and has had such wonderful response so far.  I've gotten to reconnect with mama friends, "meet" new mamas and hear more about the experiences of friends I know well but who's experiences were still to be uncovered.  Even if this blog ended today, the outcome of feeling more connected, positive and rejuvinated has been achieved.

A number of amazing mamas will be writing in the upcoming months but here are two exerpts from email responses I have gotten which make me really excited for the full deal!  This has all gotten me so excited about all the ways that I can shake up our routine at home...

What are my passions? I have no shortage of professional passion. Where I have less of a clear vision of passion is beyond family and work…then what? So that’s my growing edge for now.

And the goals lady website reminded me of a good lesson: Not sure if I’ve ever told you but every Feb, Carlos and I celebrate our anniversary (not wedding but start of relationship – 12 years and counting). And we have a journal and we write in it. First, it was just goals for next year. Then it was goals divided into category: him, me, us (then house/garden, now Maya, Camila, Family, etc.) Over the years, we’ve also added in highlights of the previous year and then lowlights too. We document all the births/deaths/marriages/(now) divorces there too. It’s super great and an amazing chronicle of our lives together. But the lady’s blog reminded me (just as we do with businesses/organizations) that goals shouldn’t be one year only but couched as part of a larger vision of what we want our lives to be like many years down the road. So now I’m inspired to revision our practice and see if our one year goals can actually get us somewhere over time. Thank you for the reminder and I’m certain to start thinking of my passions outside of work and family so that I can be a person that is an inspiring role model for these little girls.

the timing couldn't be more perfect. i am still in the thick of it. feel as though i'd just come out of some pretty intense depression for the year plus after quinn's birth and here i am dabbling right back in it after dexter. i want to write. i will write. oh my i used to write so much pre kids. i miss it like a limb. today i'm afraid i'd have little to offer... i'm not sure how to find oneself after kids... but as i write this i do realize that even being vulnerable and open in ones stuckness can provide something for someone somewhere, even if it's just me. so thanks. and it might take a little time, it might now. man it's the biggest adventure i've ever been on.

Do you have a story you want to share?  Tell me about it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Leah: The Song Inside

Parenthood rocks!  Screaming kids, little sleep, no personal time, hardly any sex.  After having my first (and only) child two and a half years ago, my life went to shit.  Slowly but surely I am regaining a sense of happiness and individuality through carving out little chunks of time for myself. 

The first thing I can remember doing for myself after my daughter was born was starting a twice-a-month ritual of going to Kabuki Spa in San Francisco for the $20 soak-all-you-want hot tubs and steam baths.  It was cheap and easy.  Although it was never enough, it‘s amazing how just two hours, twice a month gave me a sense of rejuvenation amid the chaos.  Ahhhh, how I loved those hot tubs!  I would close my eyes and float away on a cloud, drifting to the shamanic flute music…

The key was that it was a recurring event, in the calendar without fail.  Scheduling anything is a chore, but when it happens on a recurring schedule it becomes easy.  If I was going to go through the pain to schedule something, I may as well do it regularly.

Since the birth of our child, we’ve always been on a tight budget.  Babysitters have been almost non-existent.  Therefore I’ve had to get creative to carve out personal time.  In the early months of parenthood, after my daughter went to bed, I would often find myself on the internet losing countless hours browsing Facebook, email, news, whatever.  I started to get vigilant about curbing my internet use and actually using those precious hours on what I really loved – making art.  Pre-mamahood, I was a musician, painter and craft making fool.  I started to devote just one hour a night to these passions and slowly but surely my creative juices have come back.  My projects are moving slower than they used to, but THEY’RE MOVING – and that feels amazing. 
A few months ago, after a particularly hard week, I was venting to one of my other Mama friends about how I just couldn’t “get it together.”  We both agreed we wanted someone to lean on, someone to be accountable to, someone other than our husbands.  So we started a weekly 60 minute check-in call with each other where we would briefly tell the other what we were struggling with and what we were committed to doing during the next week to make our life better.  Those calls became my rock.  They started to really boost my confidence and helped me really take my life back into my own hands.  For 30 minutes we’d talk about her life, then 30 minutes about mine.  Within two weeks, I started to finally do yoga again and also get more serious about making jewelry to sell.  Now, only eight weeks after starting our calls, I’ve established a yoga practice 3 times a week and I’m making jewelry on a level I had only dreamed of just a year ago.  The support of my mama friend helped to push me through those roadblocks I had set up for myself.   The best part is I’ve also been able to help her and we’ve established a deeper friendship through this process.

Honestly, I still wish I had more time to myself, more peace and more sex in my life.  But I’ve found that if I don’t do the little things to carve out time, they will never happen.  My pinnacle achievement thus far in mama hood – I just took a two day process painting Mandala workshop.  I had over 16 hours to paint and enjoy connecting with my soul in a way I had not done – ever!  My painting is called, “The Song Inside”.   What I took away from the workshop is that I MUST CREATE.  And I must allow myself to be seen, and to be heard.  And to do this, I must TAKE the time, because nobody is standing there waiting to give it to me. (

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tauni: Letting go to let happen

Perhaps I have an undiagnosed case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, perhaps I was just living under my own special, heavy dark raincloud over the winter,or perhaps it was the fog of a new baby and a toddler.  Whatever "it" was, it's been established now that I felt the least happy and the least myself I had felt in a long time over this past winter.  So, it's interesting to try to understand why I all of a sudden feel MUCH more like myself than ever and finally feel like I am parenting in a way that doesn't make me cringe at the end of the day.  I've actually been very "me" the last few weeks and can attribute that to a few areas where I have experienced "ahhhh", release and letting go to let things happen. 
There have been a few things I could point to that make me feel better.  One, and one BIG one, is that we've all been sleeping a lot better.  I finally acquiesced to the need to stay home for large stretches of the day to make sure my infant sleeps properly.  This decision had distinct ramifications for me and my toddler however.  Now, instead of heading out first thing in the morning to meet up with friends and go puddle jumping, we were spending hours on end just waiting for a window of time when both boys were awake to be able to do anything beyond our property limit.  This lent to two very stir crazy individuals.

Number two is that I acknowledged that, based on the above and despite my lack of readiness, my toddler needs more inspiration than me and we're lucky to be able to provide it.  A block away hours of playtime awaited my son in the form of preschool.  I was NOT ready...but apparently he was.  He's been coming home and saying how much fun he's having and practically skips down the street.  I can now be guilt free two mornings a week as he burns his energy playing with friends and learning new things as I let the baby sleep.

This is really what I wanted to write about and this is my overwhelming need to clear out space in our house.  We live in an old house with minimal storage and no garage.  When we moved in, I told my husband that any furniture or decor that did not make it into our living spaces was being donated.  I was not going to store anything that didn't belong in this house.  But living as we do, we end up accumulating as the years go by.  Add kids and the stuff piles high.  And I felt weighed down by my stuff.  A couple weeks ago I began a whole-house campaign to rid ourselves of anything that was not being used, didn't make us feel great, or otherwise just took up space.  In order to set an example, I went through ALL my clothes...every single piece.  Being that I am done having kids and am close to my pre-birth weight, I wanted to get rid of all clothes that don't fit well, are stretched out beyond recognition, don't look good or belong to another era (like all my suits from living abroad.  Really?  Even if I had to wear suits again, I doubt I'd go out into the world in the random, outdated suits I wore 10 years ago!!!)  I'll admit to holding on to two pair of ripped jeans because, not quite being at pre-birth weight yet, I just can't stomach buying new jeans, or really any new clothes.  So don't expect to see fashion walking down the street when you see me. It's just not as bad as it was!

Once my closet was down to about 20 hangers, I inspired my husband to tackle his.  Between the two of us we donated over 10 grocery bags full of perfectly usable clothes.  Ahhh, space.  And I did the same with the boys' clothes.  At the rate we do laundry, we didn't need 20 shirts and 15 pair of pants for each boy. So, again, I chose my favorites and passed on the rest...and we STILL have an overabundance. But now it doesn't feel so oppressive.

Finally, I was bound and determined to create ONE space in our house where I could go and close the door; a place that was NOT the bathroom.  Living in a house with a loft is fun and funky but not private.  I yearned for a little slice of privacy.  We rearranged one whole room, got rid of a bed, acquired a futon, stole a rug from another room in the house and now have a dreamly little playroom and mommy sanctuary.  I have felt so excited every time I've gone in there and closed the door. 


Dry salt curing olives
Likely because I've been feeling better, but also because it is spring and spring inspires new growth and inspiration, I've been wanting to get my hands into things.  My son and I have planted a number of seeds to plant for spring.  We've pulled out the old veggies and gotten the soil prepared for the new.  We built a structure out of bamboo and twine.  We planted beans and peas at the base of the structure and hope that this summer the boys can play inside a bean fort.  At the urging of a friend, I've finally picked all the olives off our tree and for the first time ever am experimenting with curing our own olives. 

My mom bought me a great sewing maching for $20 at a garage sale.  It's been staring me in the face since summer.  I finally got the motivation to try something new and made my first "batch" of reusable snack bags.  They are definitely homemade (ie: have raggedy seams), but function!  I'm obsessed...for now.  Just can't figure out when I'll have time to actually make more.

Not sure I can keep all this up, but the dabbling into many different things has been helping me figure out what really gets me excited, makes me light up and otherwise gives me something to look forward to.   I truly attribute all this new energy to having cleaned house...literally and figuratively.  I can't recommend it enough.  Go through your stuff...what is weighing you down?  What don't you need anymore?  Give it new life somewhere else and free up your space.  See what happens!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Colette: Inspiration through creation

I have always known that motherhood would be my future.  Not that I wasn’t ambitious or didn’t have career goals, but what I saw myself doing in my thirties was volunteering in kindergarten classrooms and driving to ballet/swim/karate classes - not sitting in board rooms and driving to an office building.  I ached to be a mom who was present and attentive for her kids.  A mom who made homemade baby food and read to them for an hour each day to expand their vocabularies.  I promised myself that my children wouldn’t watch TV before age 3, would only eat whole grain, organic cereals, and would never throw a tantrum in the grocery store.  Then I had my first daughter…

Soon it became clear my pre-baby ideas were unrealistic and silly.  Dinner at times could not get made unless
Sesame Street
“babysat” my daughter for a half an hour.  Healthy Cheerios were given up for Golden Grahams when that was all she would eat.  And when I saw a mom with a screaming kid at Target I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her I knew how she felt.  My first lessons of motherhood were to “never say never”, and not to judge others for their parenting choices

While I loved my daughter with a deeper sense of love than I ever before felt in my life, I was not prepared for what it really meant to be a mom.  I had anticipated the joy of seeing her first smile, and the pride I would feel in generosity and intelligence, but I did not anticipate the day to day monotony that also accompanies raising children.  Never ending cleaning of bodily fluids, dishes, toys, and clothes.  Reading of the same book over and over because that was all she wanted to hear.  Doing the same puzzle and stacking the same blocks every day till I wanted to poke my eyes out.  And what I was really unprepared for was the inability to accomplish anything that was my own because I simply didn’t have the time, energy, or motivation. 

After my second daughter was born I simply became complacent to who I used to be and who I wanted to be outside of being a wife and a mother.  I was resigned to defining myself as only their mom and getting my sense of self through them and their needs and accomplishments. While I was working two days a week outside of the house I wasn’t feeling fulfilled by it so I then felt guilty being away from my girls doing something that wasn’t helping me to be a better mother or person.  I wasn’t unhappy by any means, but I was feeling creatively lacking and longed for something that was mine and mine alone. 

Before having kids I dabbled in all sorts of arts and craft.  I threw pottery, I knit scarves and hats, I designed birthday and thank you cards, and I made beaded jewelry.  I would get a jolt of excitement when a picture in my mind would become a reality in my hands.  I desperately wanted to feel this again, but I also secretly wanted to create something others may want too.

I was given a necklace for a baby gift that was two sterling silver disks with the names of my girls stamped into each one.  I cried when I received it and I wore it everyday.  I was fascinated by how it was made and I had an unexplained belief that I could make something similar if not better.  One dreary afternoon I suddenly made a proclamation to myself that I was going to start making hand stamped silver jewelry and was going to sell it online.  In hindsight this was subconsciously something I always wanted to do but didn’t believe I could do.  At the time it really felt more like the universe was pushing me forward because it knew this is what I truly needed to do.  I believed that the only way I could fail was if I didn’t try. That night when I told my husband this crazy idea I was blessed with his instant support.  From the get go he said “Great, I know you can do it.”  He never questioned my desire or drive, he just said, “How can I help?”

I embarked on researching extensively how to make the products I wanted to create and I began to gradually buy supplies.  For the first few months I would work for hours after my girls had gone to bed learning, practicing, designing, and creating my jewelry.  It was as if something was awakened inside of me that I didn’t even know had been asleep.  I began to give away necklaces to friends and family.  Soon these same people wanted to buy things for their friends and family.  Word of mouth slowly spread.  I had a website built and began to sell my items on Etsy.  Every month my sales would grow and my confidence would grow.  A year later I woke up and realized I had not only become a jewelry designer, but a photographer (having taken hundreds of product shots for my website), a business woman, and a better mom.  It has been 20 months since the afternoon I made the choice to start my business and I have made and sold over 700 pieces of jewelry.  It is a day to day challenge to stay focused and motivated, but I wake up with the intention that I am going to create something that day that is valuable and meaningful to someone else which makes me want to do it more and do it better.

Addie Rose necklace

I gave myself a reality that had only been a dream.  And this gave me a pride and belief in my abilities and individuality that had been severely compromised before.  I love that my 5 year old tells her kindergarten class that her mommy’s job is making jewelry, and that what she wants to give as gifts to her friends for their birthdays is a necklace that I make.  I want to show both my girls that you can create anything you believe is worth creating, and that the harder you work the luckier you get (thank you Mark Twain.)

I named my business Addie Rose after my girls, Adelaide Katherine and Avery Rose because without them I don’t think I would have done this.  I don’t think I would have found the drive, patience and dedication in me to make it happen.  Motherhood at first suppressed my passions and identity (I was just too tired and overwhelmed to find them), but now motherhood has given me those things ten fold.  I have never felt more like me in my life.