Easing the Pain of Outsourcing Childcare

I remember being told once that it would get easier to drop the kids off at daycare. It wouldn't be long before it would just become routine, this person said. Unfortunately, it never did become routine. Sure, the tears eventually stopped (mostly), but the need to leave for work still feels like the proverbial cane pulling an old-timey actor off the stage. I am never quite ready to say good-bye to my sweet children. Sometimes they don't want to let me go, either, which usually ends in us all in tears.

I realize that I am wired differently than some mothers. I know several moms who love to go to work, and feel no sadness or guilt about leaving their kids in daycare all day, 5 days a week. This doesn't make them cold or heartless; it simply means they are able to compartmentalize. I'm not one of those moms.I also realize that the teachers at daycare (some of whom may be reading this) are more than competent, and they love my children *almost* as much as I do. My kids adore their teachers and their friends.

I can't discount the benefits of early-childhood education, either. Many studies have shown that kids that attended pre-K programs are better prepared for kindergarten than their counterparts who stayed home.

Despite all of this, I've never quite come to terms with the fact that the care of my kids is outsourced 45-50 hours a week. I am one of those people who ask, "why have kids if you can't take care of them?" I have yet to come up with a good response to myself when I ask that question. I'd rather lean out than in.

Over the past few years, I've come up with some ways to mitigate the stress and maximize the pleasure of having kids "part time":

  1. Relish every single moment with them ...: Turn off the TV, cell phone, and computer and give them your full, undivided attention for 5 minutes or 2 hours--whatever you can make time for.
  2. ... But don't beat yourself up when you don't: You can't see rainbows and unicorns in their eyes at all times. Kids are kids, so don't feel bad when you get angry or need a break. Remember: you just worked a full day; you need a break, too.
  3. Plan ahead: Make meal plans on the weekend that will allow you to spend more time with the kids and less in the kitchen. My husband and I cook slow-cooker meals 1-2 times a week, and each meal lasts two dinners. We often do prep the evening before, after the kids go to bed, and then turn the pot on in the morning.
  4. Make weekends count: Plan a zoo trip, hike, a day trip, or dinner with friends every weekend. We relish weekend mornings in our PJs, so we often make afternoon plans to get us out of the house.
  5. Work smarter, not harder: If you have to be at work all day, be efficient. Get your work done and leave early when you can.
  6. Give yourself a break: I'm a big fan of working out at lunchtime (though I often eat at my desk--see No. 4 above). I also enjoy an occasional drink with friends or coworkers after work. Healthy and happy moms are better moms.

I'm not going to lie--I don't always practice what I preach, and our system often breaks down. If I had it all figured out, I wouldn't be writing this blog. It's a constant work in progress.

Does anyone have any tried and true tips for balancing it all?


Going Green

My mom would give me that "mom" look if I told her this, but ... I'm burping lemons. It's Day 3 of owning my brand-spanking-refurbished Vitamix 5200 and I failed to make the Best Smoothie Ever. That's OK; I'm sure there's a learning curve.

Several months ago, I decided I REALLY wanted a Vitamix for the following reasons:

  1. I am trying to eat more greens.
  2. I am a vegetarian who loves hummus and almond butter and smoothies and all other things blended.vitamix
  3. My kids love smoothies, and don't seem to care that I put "salad" in them.

But the thing about Vitamixes is, they are not cheap. In fact, they are probably the most expensive "blenders" out there. Conversely, we are not wealthy ... in cash, anyway. So I started saving my money, a practice that I am not used to. Our general M.O. in the household is to buy first, ask questions later. Saving money is not our strong suit. Fortunately, I knew I was not going to perish if I didn't have the Vitamix right away, so I started squirreling away extra pennies (of which there were few) from paychecks and freelance gigs.

In the meantime, Bill and I pored over reviews, articles, and YouTube videos trying to find a comparable product that would be both powerful and durable. We found no match. We also discovered that Vitamixes are made in the good old U.S.A., which made me feel a bit better about spending the money. Bill also found out that Vitamix sells reconditioned blenders at a discount.

Long story short, I finally bit the bullet, and I received my Vitamix last Tuesday; it hasn't seen much downtime since. The kids have always been huge fans of smoothies, even when I made chunky, grainy ones in my old blender, so tt wasn't hard to get them to try the new, smooth version. The fact that I can get green food into the kids every day of the week more than pays for the Vitamix.

All was going swimmingly until this morning, when I attempted a kale smoothie with lemon in it. Regardless of the fact that I added pear, banana , and strawberry to the concoction, it ended up tasting like lemony kale. My son, the sweetie that he is, slowly sipped it. My daughter wouldn't touch it. You win some, you lose some. However, if I don't get my act together, I'm likely to lose them completely.

That said, do any of you have a good smoothie recipe you'd like to share?

The Weekly Round-Up

What we've been reading this week (when we find the time):

  • This cooking tip just saved me, like, an hour a week.  Mind blown.
  • Health advice for both athletes and weekend warriors on Kath Eats Real Food.
  • Can we say good-bye to artificial trans fats?
  • Heidi at 101 Cookbooks, whose food photography causes us to salivate unabashedly, shares some beautiful squash recipes for the winter ahead.
  • One-dish meals are kind of Caitlin's thing (so easy!), so we're very excited about this collection of bowls from The New York Times Well Blog.
  • Mental health break: Weekday mornings are pure chaos, so maybe the answer is not rushing to get out the door.


Now get out there!




My Pants

For the record, it was really hard for me to write this post. The more I read it, the more ungrateful I felt. My life is pretty good, albeit chaotic. As grateful as I am for what I have, I am also human. I've been criticized for even mentioning I need to watch my weight simply because I am not obese. I've swallowed my words when wanting to chime in about diet or exercise, because I'm often quickly shut down by those with "bigger problems". I'll save the issue of body image and related criticisms for another post, but the short of it is, we all have self-image issues, regardless of what the scale says.  Well, I promised an earlier post would not be about my pants, and yet here I am, about to write a post about my pants. Bear with me.

About two months ago, I ventured out to the mall to find some jeans. My favorite jeans had developed a hole, deeming them unsuitable for work. Naturally, I ended up at The Gap--mom's best friend. The Gap has been a reliable source of everything from khaki skirts in my high school years to conservative work wear in my 30s. And they stocked tall sizes, which is not easy to find. I knew I could find a pair of sensible jeans there.

Not only did I find some tall jeans in my size--they were NOT the low-rise, midriff-aka-muffin-top jeans that I can't seem to escape. (Seriously, am I the only one who is "apple shaped" out there?) These jeans were mid-rise beauties with a "tummy-taming" front panel. Little did I know that that panel would soon dictate my life. Let me explain:

One of the reasons I love The Gap is its consistency. I know when all else fails, if I just drop $100 on the sale rack at the Gap, I will be good for a few months. Another truism about The Gap is that its jeans stretch with wear. You can get a few days of booty-hugging style out of them before they start to droop, only to be brought back to life after a wash cycle. In light of this fact, I made sure to buy jeans that were on the snug side of comfortable, knowing they would soon stretch and I would be back to my flat-bottom self--why not beat the jeans at their own game?

Well, the joke was on me, friends. That #*@$ tummy panel kept the pants from stretching. The first time I wore them, I thought to myself, "give it a few hours--you'll be able to sit down soon enough." Alas, that panel would not budge. And while it tamed the lower half of my tummy, well, let's just say the dreaded muffin top was back. I was able to button only one of the two buttons, and was forced to cover that extra, protruding button with a loose shirt. I kicked myself for being so hasty in my purchase. The jeans went to the back of my closet.

A few weeks ago, I decided maybe it was time to find some new jeans. After an unsuccessful trip to the mall, I decided to break out those Gap jeans and give myself a laugh. Light from the heavens filled the room as I comfortably buttoned both buttons--no muffin top. I'd been running a lot more, maybe eating a bit better. Whatever I was doing, I needed to keep doing. I was not going to let the jeans win again.

But then life got in the way. The work started picking up, and I was in crisis-prevention mode at work. I skipped lunchtime runs and opted for frozen, processed meals. I gave into that emotional stress eating and added a cookie to every lunch. I went on a business trip, during which I went on two short runs, which were, sadly, over-shadowed by those 400-calorie cookies sent from heaven (or purveyors of Hyatt's baked goods). Add to that my second full-time job--parenting--and here I am, four unhealthy weeks later, defeated.

That second button is simply too much.

It's true what they say--that weight isn't everything. My weight has stayed in the same 5-7-pound range since I had kids. I always say, as long as I am healthy and strong, I don't care about my weight. I've never worried about weight, never been on a diet. But the truth is, I weighed a few pounds more than I do now when I was training for triathlons, when I was at my fitness peak. You can bet those jeans would have fit then. Sure, I've had two kids since then, and I am not too naive to know that my body will never go back to what it once was. But I also know how I eat and live, and if I did both of those better, I wouldn't be cursing any buttons.

Exit, bathroom scale; enter, Gap jeans.

I'm determined not to buy new jeans, but to fit into the ones I have. Comfortably. Not because I want to be a certain size, but because I want to be healthy, and I know what good health means for me. It doesn't mean living in a nearly constant state of stress (cortisol has a huge effect on weight), and it certainly doesn't mean relying on sugary snacks for emotional contentment. It means prioritizing eating well and exercising above all else (except in extreme circumstances), and learning to integrate these healthy practices into my family and work lives so I don't have to choose between being healthy and being a mom/employee. If I can master that, the jeans will follow.

Question for Our Readers:

How do you integrate good health into your crazy schedule?


Cait and I went to Herbivore Clothing (leather boots and all ... oops) in Portland last week to see Matt Frazier speak about being a vegan athlete. Matt is the author of The No Meat Athlete blog and book, and Portland was one of his many book tour stops. Vineman 70.3

Matt opened his talk with an invitation to choose a goal--preferably a big one. Right. Lately, my goals have simply been to get out of the house for a walk and to not eat my weight in cookies. My list of priorities is so incredibly long, and athletic pursuits always seem to fall in the "too selfish to spend time on" category. When faced with the choice to work out or spend precious time with my kids, the kids usually win out. So, choosing a big goal felt a bit uncomfortable. I thought to myself, "I'll play along, but just for today." After all, I'm a mom; Matt's a dad. He's wired differently.

To be a good sport, I chose Ironman as my goal. Insane, right? Those who know me know that I have repeatedly said I would never do an Ironman race. After all, I barely survived my 70.3 race, which is a mere half the distance of an Ironman. I trained 9-10 hours a week for more than 6 months in 2009 to bake for 6 hours and 45 minutes under the hot sun in Sonoma. It was not pretty. I was sick to my stomach for days.

So what was I thinking choosing Ironman?

Matt's instructions were to go big or go home. I chose a goal that was attainable (albeit with some effort), but outside the realm of anything I'd considered in the past. Now I will be honest here--I am not too naive to know that Ironman is a huge effort. I'd have to give up weekends and vacations and lunches. I'd be (more) exhausted all the time, and I'd have to spend a fortune on food and gels. Ironman would involve buy-in from everyone in my life. My family, my employer, and others would have to make sacrifices for me to pursue this selfish goal. But it wasn't impossible.

By then end of Matt's talk, I began to realize that setting athletic goals was, in fact, somewhat selfless ... or rather, not entirely selfish. Let me explain:

  • Exercise makes me happy. Happy Meg means happy family. Done and done.
  • Seeing mom run, swim, and bike shows the kiddos that fun can be had and happiness attained without a glowing screen.
  • Setting goals and achieving them is an invaluable life lesson.

I know you'd all like me to say "all of this is why I am registered for an Ironman in 2014!" Well, sorry to disappoint, but that ain't gonna happen. At least not in 2014. My goal next year is another Half Ironman (I can't believe I just typed that). If I can come out of that alive and still married, I will consider the 14-plus-hour torturefest called Ironman for 2015.

Who's with me?