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Time to Play

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Diego hiking 1Diego hiking 2

Diego is now fifteen months old, and life is changing quickly.  He plays now.  I mean, he REALLY plays!  He demands time outside when we get home each afternoon, and he and I spend about 30 minutes to an hour finding things to do in the backyard.  I have always felt dismayed about our backyard.  Grass refuses to grow for longer than one season, and the overgrown trees drop a layer of leaves that quickly becomes unmanageable if I miss a day of raking.  But now, suddenly, I am finding myself keeping up with the raking, because my little boy drags me out to “play”  (do yard work) every day.  As I pull weeds, he pulls grass and leaves; as I rake, he pushes an old broken rake around; as I examine the growing grass and plants, he climbs up on anything and everything.  He is learning to throw rocks.  I am learning to soak in the fresh air and bits of sunshine.  He has discovered the joy of chasing after lizards.  I have discovered the joy of exploring the world through my son’s young eyes.  Does anyone, as an adult, truly understand how miraculous airplanes, birds, spiders, and the moon are?  Diego understands that these are miracles.

 

Diego exploring

Diego’s love for the outdoors has taught me two things:

1.  He doesn’t need more toys.  In nice weather, he hardly touches his toys, because he spends all his time outside.  The living room is a minefield of noisy, high-tech “educational” toys, but he is too busy exploring the real world to bother with fake computer sounds and colors.

2. The time I spend exploring with him is the best thing I do.  It forces me to slow down, ignore the TV and my phone, and just enjoy his company.

I was reading a blog post recently about life being too busy (http://onbeing.com/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/7023), and I completely agree.  We over-schedule our lives, and we have a difficult time relaxing with our loved ones, or alone.  As a child, I was lucky enough to have only a few activities, and the rest of my time was spent playing with my sister and neighbors, and with my parents.  We were forced to be creative and to make up games, put on plays (which we wrote), ride our bikes, ride horses, have lemonade stands, try different sports (in an unofficial setting), and find ways to get along with one another.  We climbed trees and fences, braved open fields, and dug tunnels.  We had clubhouses and secret hideouts.  The weeping willow in our backyard was an exotic jungle that we cut through with our machetes (sticks).  We camped in the backyard and got freaked out by the nighttime bugs that were attracted to the tent.  We were explorers and directors and entrepreneurs.  If we got bored, we had to find something to do.

I hope Marco and I can arrange our lives so that Diego has the opportunity to learn how to overcome boredom; to learn to entertain himself, and to get along with others.  Free play is the best activity for kids.  There are many articles and studies that argue as much.  Here’s one that stresses the importance of free play in a child’s development: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/for-better-school-results-clear-the-schedule-and-let-kids-play/373144/.

As a psychology grad, I have often read and thought about the two hemispheres of the brain.  There is an emphasis in our society on the left hemisphere’s logic, planning, and focused attention.  We must attempt to also stimulate the right hemisphere’s creativity, joy, intuition, and “big picture” awareness.  There is a stimulating TED talk on this subject by Iain McGilchrist: http://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain. He ends with a wonderful quote from Albert Einstein that has inspired me to continue to find ways to access the right hemisphere:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

–Albert Einstein

Our family at the pumpkin patch

I hope I can instill a love for the “sacred gift” in Diego, and inspire him to always see the miracles that exist in everyday life.

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Baby Budget: ten tips for working moms-to-be

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Marco and I did NOT budget for the baby.  We ended up spending all extra funds on fertility treatments.  When Diego was born, I went on maternity leave, and the state disability plan gave me 55% of my salary.  I had paid into a supplemental disability insurance plan, which gave me another 35% of my salary, but it was not enough.  The limited funds put us behind, and we are only now beginning to feel that we are caught up.

We also found that as soon as Diego was born, all of our regular responsibilities were put on the back burner.  Not the immediate back burner, but one far enough in the back to be almost unreachable.  Yes, I was home all day.  No, I did not keep up with my Excel spreadsheet of bills.

I found that I was in a joyful fog, with little thought of the future, other than, “I’m sure it will all work out somehow.”  My attitude was terrible, by all rational logic.  I decided that I didn’t care if we went into more debt, or if I lost my job.  All I wanted to do was gaze at my adorable sleeping baby, or care for him while he was awake, or play with him.  This greatly alarmed Marco. Especially when I said, “I’m sure it will all work out.”  He would have preferred that I go back to taking care of my responsibilities more quickly, and with the same gusto as before.  Of course, he was right, but wasn’t I a little bit right?  I mean, things DO always work out…somehow…don’t they?  I guess I was a little like an addict, and my new baby was my drug.

The fog lifted slightly when I returned to work in November.  I am a high school teacher, and that requires a great amount of attention.  However, I was still in a fog at home.  Perhaps the worst thing this fog caused was my complete inability to remember to pay the water bill.  I pay it online, and totally ignore the paper bills.  Twice I forgot completely, and the water was turned off at home.  Poor Marco…he trusts me to take care of those things, because I say I will, but he was trusting a woman who had (temporarily) lost her mind.

I feel that now, in May, the fog is almost gone.  I still feel the joy, but I realize I must attend to other things, as well.  Things like cooking dinner and cleaning the house and paying bills.  I also have a clearer vision of how we did things (or didn’t do them) and what I will change in the future, if we are lucky enough to have another baby.

Here are my tips for working women soon to become mothers:

1. Pay into some type of supplemental disability insurance plan for maternity leave.  You may have to start this before you get pregnant, though.  Talk to the HR rep at your company.

2. Save money!  Even if it’s only $100 a month, it will really help during the time off.  Leave it in your checking account; you don’t want to have to remember to transfer it later.

3. Review your insurance benefits.  We switched to Marco’s plan because it was cheaper, with the same doctors and hospitals.

4. Set up as many automatic payments as you can before you have the baby.  This way, you will have fewer things to worry about when the “joyful fog” surrounds you.

5. Hand over some (or all) bills to your husband or a family member to pay.  You will be unreliable in that regard.

6. Prepare everything you can for your co-workers or substitutes.  Preparation is key.  You don’t want people from work contacting you when you are home with your baby.

7. Clean the house.  This will not happen after the baby is born.

8. Freeze some meals.  You probably won’t be cooking or shopping much after the baby is born.

9. Have a talk with your husband about responsibilities, chores, and expectations.

10. Remember that above all, the baby is the most important thing.  Let the fog wrap you in joy as you forget the rest of the world and focus on this beautiful, wonder-filled new life.

Here’s a cleaning schedule from Pinterest that I like.  Maybe it will come in handy someday:

Cleaning Schedule

 

And always remember:

Best is yet to come

We thought it couldn’t be done…

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After nine months of a spoiled, easy pregnancy, and three lovely baby showers, our due date approached.  And we were ready!  We had taken Lamaze classes, a baby care class, a breastfeeding class, the hospital tour, and Marco did a “daddy boot camp” class.  My due date was July 25, 2013.  Kim Kardashian had her baby 5 weeks early, which gave me hope for an early birth.  Then my son would be a Cancer like me.  Selfish, I know, but don’t we always hope we will share things in common with our children?  Then Princess Kate had little Prince George in the middle of July, and I had no signs of labor.  Then my co-worker, whose due date was a week after mine, gave birth to her little girl.  Still no signs.

But I wasn’t worried.  I had the moon on my side.  I am pretty convinced a full moon helped when we got pregnant (along with the doctor, acupuncture, and fertility meds), and I was almost positive I would go into labor under a full moon.  The full moon was July 22nd; exactly 40 weeks from the day I got pregnant (October 29, 2012).  I kept walking and timing contractions with an app on my phone (which was basically a wasted effort; the app was never helpful) and hoping something would happen. Sure enough, on Monday, July 22nd, something felt different.  I was convinced it was time.  Marco and I were very excited as we called the hospital and were told to come in.  I was definitely having some type of small contractions!  We headed over to Kaiser’s Anaheim Kraemer Hospital and we got admitted.

The nurse called us in and had me change into a hospital gown.  She strapped monitors on me and checked a number of things.  Our excitement and anticipation grew.  This was really going to happen!

No luck.  False labor.  We were sent back home, but they told us to call and come in if there were any more signs.

Nothing changed for the rest of that week.  I saw my doctor on Thursday, July 25th (my due date), and she said she would let me go another week or so, but then we would have to start talking about induction.  That was the last thing I wanted.  I knew from my Lamaze classes that it was best to be as natural as possible.  Any intervention can lead to the need for more interventions, which can lead to a C-section if the baby is in distress.

A funny thing happened that week with our mindset.  Marco and I both felt like the day had arrived and the event had not occurred, so we stopped really thinking about it.  It was as if we had somehow missed it, and this large beach ball under my shirt was not a baby, but just a strange condition that would somehow resolve itself.

And that is how we were caught completely off-guard on Sunday night.

I talked on the phone with a dear friend that night (July 28th).  She lives in New Zealand and has two children, and we were talking about how her water broke with both kids.  Around 11:30 pm, Marco was snoring, and I was arranging numerous pillows to settle into bed (on my left side, to coax the baby into a good birth position), and as I finally rested my head on my pillow, I felt two small but distinct pops in my stomach.  They felt like gas bubbles, so I ignored them at first and closed my eyes.  Then I shifted positions.

Oh my goodness!  I was not prepared!  I thought I knew everything about birth, after all my research, but I didn’t know this!  The water poured out.  I ran to the bathroom shouting, “Marco!  It’s happening!!”  There was so much water!  I was giddy, and I couldn’t stop laughing with excitement.  I called my friend back and told her she was magical, and that the baby would be born on her birthday (July 29th).  Then we headed to the hospital.

Everything was exactly like reality TV.  The midwives were awesome, and all the nurses were wonderful to us.  We were quickly admitted, and we started calling family members.  My mom and mother-in-law were there quickly.  My dad and sister followed.  I wanted a natural birth, and the hospital staff respected that choice.  Marco, my mom, and my mother-in-law took turns using a home-made massage tool to get me through the contractions.  It’s a sock with three tennis balls inside, and the contractions were bearable if they rolled it on my lower back REALLY hard and REALLY fast.  They were all exhausted, because none of us had slept, and their arms were giving out as I shouted “faster!” and “push harder!”  Marco was awesome.  He coached me, just like we’d practiced in Lamaze, and helped me through the rough times.

Labor was a slow progression.  The contractions never got closer together than about four minutes, but I was progressing.  Suddenly, and too early (7cm), my body started involuntarily pushing the baby out.  The midwives told me to stop, but I couldn’t.  At that point, about 17 hours into labor, I decided to have an epidural.  I felt that I had experienced enough of true labor anyway, and I was far enough along that they would not numb me completely.

What a feeling!  Everything became calm.  No more massage tennis balls.  No more Lamaze breathing.  And then it was time to push.

The baby wasn’t quite in the right position, but I felt it was time.  After an hour of pushing, I started giving up.  I told Marco and the midwife that it wasn’t going to work.  The midwife said, “You can do it! Keep pushing!”  and Marco echoed her.  He said all the right things.  He said I was doing a great job and I could do it.  I asked him later about that, and he said although he was saying it, he secretly agreed with me.  We both thought this couldn’t happen, and we would end up with a C-section.  How CAN it work, really?  It seems impossible.

And then it DID work.  Much to my surprise, I gave the final push (after one and a half hours of pushing), and baby Diego Knight Montenegro was born at 8:19 pm on July 29, 2013.  He was 8 pounds, 7 ounces, and 21 inches long.  The midwife held him up for me to see, and he looked like all those squirming babies on “A Baby Story” or “16 and Pregnant.”

Diego is born

Marco cut the umbilical cord, they measured him, and then he was ours.  He was always ours, I guess, but it wasn’t real until he was there in my arms.

One thing that will always stick with me was Marco’s ability to calm me down.  He talked me through everything, helped me breathe, helped me relax, helped me push, and celebrated with me.  Afterward, I was shaking from the adrenaline rush, and I couldn’t calm myself.  He hugged me, and the shaking stopped immediately.  It started again later, and he hugged me again, and it stopped.  His hugs were instantly calming, and I am grateful to him.

We spent two more blissful days in the hospital, with a wonderful staff of nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants, and then it was time to go home.  We were sleep deprived and nervous, but we had more joy in those three days than ever before.

Diego and Daddy Diego and Mommy

Marco and I always said the baby wouldn’t be cute for the first couple of months, since all babies look like aliens at first, but we both agreed that he was cute from day one.

Cutie First doctor's visit3 people, one nose

Be brave, travel, and love.

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Today, November 1st, is my mother’s birthday.  She is 30 years older than me (plus some months and days), and I am grateful that she waited to have children.  My sister and I have always benefitted from her hard work, her life experience, and her wisdom.

My mom spoiled my sister and I.  We were allowed to climb in the big parents’ bed to sleep, we were encouraged to find a way to play, no matter what, and she had a sympathetic ear when we didn’t want to clean our rooms.  We also learned that one of the best treats is ice cream, after popcorn.  She may have had a hard time saying no, but she definitely taught us fun.  We have had hard times and good times, but she is able to find the joy in any situation.

When my mother was 18, she left home and got a job as a secretary for the state department.  She spent those daring years living in Germany and Russia, at the heart of the Cold War, typing letters for diplomats.  When she came home, she moved in with her best friend, and they took off on a road trip across the country.  Eventually, she got back together with her high school sweetheart (my dad), and they settled down together.  This has served as a pattern for me: be brave, travel, love.

To meet her, you might say she’s good-natured and funny, and incredibly supportive of those around her.  But she is stronger than you’d guess.  She and my dad decided to uproot us and move to a small town when we were 11 and 9.  We fought and cried to stay in our school, but we were dragged two hours away to horse country.  My father had long dreamed of having his own ranch, and my mother worked in their small business to make his dream a reality.  In a quiet moment, I heard her whisper, “I just never thought I’d have horses and cows.”  This only underscores her love and devotion to her husband.

Now my sister has two children.  I see the grandkids getting spoiled like we were when they go to grandma and grandpa’s house, and I love when I get to be a part of it.

My mom’s life experience has given her patience and understanding.  I am told that I am like her, and I hope that is true.  I look a bit like her, but I don’t know that I have her patience.  I DO know, however, that I will live my life following what she taught us:

-Love completely and unconditionally.

-Even at the worst times, ice cream and a funny movie can make everything better.

-Be adventurous.  If you want to see the world, go do it.

-Work hard.  You are in charge of your own destiny, and you can find a way to get to your dreams.

-Support your husband.  He is your partner, and together you can make your life what you want it to be.

-Cleaning is less important than playing.  This includes encouraging small children to play in the mud.

-Nothing is impossible.  You just have to believe it will happen.

-Make the people you love the most important things in your life.  That means every phone call should be greeted with an excited “Hello, there!” even if we’ve already talked today.

Here’s my mom and dad with me sometime around the beginning of 1978:

Don’t you love these old pictures?  Isn’t she pretty?

Here’s another one of my mom and her sister with me (in the red gingham…!) and two of my cousins:

 

Weird gene pool, I know…blond aunt, dark-haired cousin, blond me, dark-haired mom.

Gotta love the 70s styles.

Thanks for everything, Mom.  Happy Birthday!  We love you.

 

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