Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Putting Ourselves on the Calendar

I’ve been thinking a lot about appointments lately.  Appointments, as in, "arrangement[s] to meet someone at a particular time and place.”

I used to dread appointments, but these days I don’t mind them so much.  To be honest, I enjoy them.  They give me a seemingly “legitimate” reason to drop everything and everyone (kidding) and get out of the house, regardless of what’s going on and who’s crying.  So, to that end, I attend every school fieldtrip and parent-teacher conference.  I try to take the kids to most swim practices, dance classes, and t-ball practices.  I take the kids to their pediatric well visits and dentist appointments.   

But I’ve started noticing something about these appointments. 

None of them are for me.  It is almost as if I’ve forgotten that I’m important too.  Because here’s the thing—when you have small kids, you sometimes forget to take the time to see your own needs.  It’s not a conscious decision; the days are just so full and unpredictable.  There’s no time to think about yourself.  Instead, you’re consumed with providing triage childcare, asking yourself—who needs the most right this minute?  Can the other child’s needs wait?  Will there be a break today where all the kids nap at the same time? How much more coffee can I drink today? 

So I have a revolutionary idea, friends.  Let’s put ourselves on the calendar, just like we do when we schedule our kids’ activities.  Because we clearly have no problem committing to times and dates for our kids—doctors' visits, dance practice, scouting trips, etc.  So why can’t we have a standing weekly appointment for ourselves? 

I’m not talking about that once-every-two-months haircut or your quarterly girls’ night out with friends.   I’m talking about regularly scheduled time to do something for yourself each week—a standing appointment for yourself, to be yourself.  So let’s get a sitter or ask our significant others to commit to an hour or two (or whatever you can manage) to have a standing appointment for ourselves.  To do whatever makes us happy.  To finally go to the gym alone.  To wander the mall.  To meet a friend for lunch.

And here’s the kicker—the real hard part—we need to walk out that door even if everything is going to hell in a handbasket.  For me, I know that will be the hard part, because I normally only leave when things are settled and calm.  But this time, you and I will be different.  We will commit to leaving regardless of whether things are falling apart or not, because we need to have time alone as regularly as we take our kids to their extracurricular activities.  It is important.  We, and our needs, are important too.  That is really hard to say, so let’s say it again—we, and our needs, are important too.  It’s so easy to forget about yourself when you’re so busy tending to the needs of everyone else.  I know that.  So I’m telling you, fellow parent, we need this.  We need time alone as much as our kids need to go to swimming or dance practice.  In fact, I think we need it more. 

So go ahead, break out your planner and pick a date.  And when it comes you need to walk out that door because you have an appointment.  With yourself.  To be yourself.

P.S. did you know I'm on Facebook?  Roussel Six Pack. Also, feel free to share this. Just click on the Facebook icon below!  

Monday, April 25, 2016

On Sleep Deprivation: Hit Up That Drive Through, Get Outside, and Fake It Til You Make It

Note: this post was originally published a few weeks ago on The Today Show Parenting Team's website.  I've reposted it here. Enjoy!

“You’ll never sleep again,” the seasoned dad jokingly remarked to me, while pregnant with my first child. I laughed nervously. He laughed knowingly. And now, eight years and six kids later (including my surprise triplets), I understand he was being completely honest. Yes, the babies do eventually learn how to sleep, but there’s always interruptions—teething, illnesses, bad dreams, sleepwalking, just wanting to be close to you, having a “clunky throat” as my four year old says, having a sibling snore too loud—the list is endless. If you’re like me, the days and nights blur together, and there is no separate sleepwear versus daywear. There’s just clothes you wear during the day and then keep wearing when you fall asleep on the couch and drag yourself to bed. And let’s not even talk about dental care and skin care at night—I’m lucky if I do one or the other. If I do both, it’s really a banner day worthy of a call to my dermatologist and dentist.

I have no magical tools to get more sleep. I've read every book and tried every method, but I believe every baby is different, and different things work for different babies. You know your baby better than anyone else, so don't discount your own instincts in figuring out what works for you.

Even though I have no words of wisdom for getting that baby to sleep, I do have a few tried-and-true methods to feel better when I’m running on fumes and caffeine:

More caffeine. Hit up that drive-through coffee shop and splurge on your favorite coffee drink. Oh, you just splurged on it yesterday too? No judgment here, if you’re sleep deprived, every day is a new day for a coffee splurge, so go ahead and make it a Venti vanilla latte.

Fake it til you make it. This is a biggie. When I’m super exhausted and want to crawl back into bed, I put on real, presentable clothes instead of yoga pants and a t-shirt. Because let's face it, napping when they nap isn't really going to happen. So instead, I put together my best self to tackle the longest of days. I put on mascara AND eyeliner, in addition to the standard undereye concealer. And perfume. And probably lots of deodorant too. I make a conscious effort to look more presentable, because it helps me feel more awake. When I do those things, I feel like I’m more ready to take on the day, even if I’m exhausted and just want to take a nap in my car.

Get outside. The bright sky, the wind—it all helps you feel more awake and alive. Go for a walk with the kids, go for a bike ride, or just sit on a park bench together and drink that Venti latte. And if it’s raining and dreary, well, at least you got some fresh air, right?

Meet up with friends. The clock ticks extra slow on those days when you’re really exhausted. Meeting up with friends helps the time go by faster, and it’s always fun to connect with other parents. Commiserate together and share your sleep-deprived stories.

Remembering it won’t always be like this. Last night, that long night when the baby woke up four times and then the toddler woke up and you sat on the couch while she ate goldfish? Tomorrow is another day. Hopefully a better one. And yes, there will be more interruptions to your sleep, but one day, it will happen and they’ll all sleep all night. Right?.... Right? Let’s just say yes.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The View from the Top of Ferris Wheel, and Why I Love Concerts

Life has been nonstop for the last week or two.  Kind of like when you’re on a ferris wheel and you are a little relieved the ride is almost over as you approach the loading ramp, but instead of stopping, you swoop right by the ramp and keep on turning around and around.  That’s me, sitting in the cart at the top of the wheel, waving, trying not to rock the swing, and trying to enjoy the view.    

So here’s what’s happening in Chez Roussel.

Last week we settled back into the school routine after Spring Break.  I was happy to have some semblance of a routine.  The babies, however, were not happy.  They didn’t nap well all week and were pretty grumpy as a result. 

The weekend came, and with it, a stomach bug for me.  I started feeling queasy.  Then I felt like I was dying.  I rooted around the cupboards until I found some leftover Phenergan from my pregnancy with the triplets.  I felt pretty awful.  By Saturday afternoon, I was determined to rally for the Mumford and Sons concert on Saturday night, but we still had to get through a busy Saturday afternoon.

The weather was beautiful, so we decided to all venture downtown for the Baton Rouge blues festival.  Getting out the door with all six is a labor of love; there’s the shoes, the diapers, the wipes, the sippy cups, the wagon, etc.  But, the group was restless so we needed to bust of out the house.  We made it downtown without any hassle, and I parallel parked our new van close by.  (Still feeling proud about that, by the way.  Maybe I can have a second career as a bus driver.  Or a driving instructor.) 

We walked around the festival enjoying the music and the great weather, though I had forgotten how much attention we attract when out with the triplets and the big girls.  I watched as people stared and whispered or happily yelled out, TRIPLETS?!  The big kids are used to the attention at this point and are unfazed by it.  I usually just smile and keep walking, because it takes a lot of time and energy to stop and talk each time someone wants to talk.  The big kids enjoyed the music and the babies enjoyed the different sights and sounds. 

Saturday night came, and it was time to get ready for the Mumford concert.  I was tired.  I had been thrown up on (by Ruby).  I still felt a little queasy myself.  And I was dreading a long solo day of parenting on Sunday because Seth had to work.  But we already had our tickets and a sitter, so we decided we should drag our tired selves out.    

I’m so glad we did.

The last time I saw Mumford was three kids ago, in 2013—before the triplets, before life got crazier, and way before we knew what our days would look like in 2016.  Yet here we were, three years and three kids later, once again driving down to New Orleans to see them play.  Seth and I talked and laughed on the way down.  We wondered when things would slow down for us (never, we decided).  We got to the stadium and met up with some friends and my sister and her husband.  We had some really overpriced, flavorless beer.  And then the lights went dark for the concert.   

And Marcus Mumford’s strong, passionate voice started singing.  I can’t remember what songs they sang or in what order, but I was loving it.  About halfway through the concert, my sister and I got up from seats and went down to the field to get closer and dance.  I looked around at the young, hip 20-somethings and could smell pot wafting all around me, and I felt a little old.  But then I shrugged to myself (in my “mom” cardigan, no less) and thought, who the hell cares. So we danced and laughed.  And I belted out all of the lyrics along with Marcus Mumford.  And it felt so good to feel like myselfChrissy Roussel.  Not “Lucy’s mom,” or “Molly’s mom,” or “the lady with the six girls including surprise triplet girls.”  And it was wonderful, all of it—the singing, the dancing, the being present in that moment and feeling the music.  All too soon, though, the concert was over and it was time to head home.   

Seth drove us home and I thought about the lyrics to my favorite Mumford song, Whispers in the Dark, which they didn’t play.  The music slowly builds throughout the song until the end when they say: “And I lost my head, let’s live while we are young / While we are young / While we are young. . . .”  He sings it almost imploringly, pleading with you to live while you are young.  I always think about those lyrics because I feel young, even though I’m really not young any more at 38.  I’m someone’s mom.  I’m six girls’ mom, to be exact.  But, on nights like that one, I feel like my 20-something self again, with nothing to worry about but singing and dancing, living in the moment, and just having fun.    

And that is precisely why I just bought awesome tickets (17th row!) to see Coldplay.  Seth doesn’t understand.  That’s ok.  I know I need to go.  The last time I saw them was five kids ago, and, it’s time.  I need to sing and dance.  And be Chrissy Roussel for an hour or two.   

Til next time, friends, I’ll sit here perched on the ferris wheel while it keeps on turning and turning.  And I’ll try to pause and enjoy the view.  Because when I do look up and take the time to enjoy it, I notice how beautiful it really is.  

Mumford with my sister, Maryellen (I know, we look nothing alike, right?)
Blues festing with the six pack! 

Fun downtown at Blues Fest with these silly girls.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Kids Are Going to Be All Right

This daughter of mine, she's always paying attention to the details. She notices when the shampoo smells different. She notices when the flowers bloom. She notices when I rearrange the pictures on the mantle.

The other night she noticed me. All three babies were super fussy, so I was trying to hold all of them on the floor. They swatted each other angrily, frustrated that they had to share my lap with each other. Lucy had been watching me from the other side of the room, though I didn't see her watching me at the time.

Then I heard her steady voice: "you're a good mom," she said. "You're trying so hard." Her words flooded my heart and made it surge. My noticer was noticing me, her mom, and not in the typical way of--you are my mom and that's a given--but as a person who was really trying her hardest.
Parenting really doesn't come with much validation. You just kind of trek along, hoping that you're raising kind, loving, responsible little people. You never really know what you're doing, so you just kind of wing it, all the while wondering--am I doing ok? Will I regret that parenting decision later on? Or maybe even tomorrow? Did she get enough time with me today?

But every once in a while, you get a little sign that you're headed in the right direction. And when you do, you feel relieved that you can relax for a bit and not worry about the details. So right now, today, I feel like maybe I'm doing something right, maybe we're on the right track.

Today, I think the kids are going to be all right.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Letting Go of Picture Perfect

Dear Chrissy of future holidays,

Hey, it’s me.  Chrissy of Easter 2016.  Let’s discuss for a minute, ok? 

You (ok, we) love holidays.  I mean, really love them.  You spend a lot of time thinking about how to make them fun and special.  You fantasize about happy, orderly celebrations, where no one is crying. And every Easter and Christmas, you get coordinating outfits for all the girls.  You also get dressy shoes, even though you know they’ll only wear the shoes for maybe an hour max.  We’re always hopeful like that, aren’t we?  We always think that this, this will be the year that everyone will behave sweetly, and we’ll all be clean, and everyone will get dressed without a fuss, and we’ll wear the adorable matching outfits and dressy shoes.  And we will take a magical perfect photo where they’re all looking and smiling, and for once you WILL develop it and put it smack in the middle of the mantle. 

I’m here to remind that the chances of that happening are slim to none.  And I’m here to tell you that you need to LET IT GO.  Let that vision of the perfectly composed photo and an orderly celebration go.  Let it all go, and instead, embrace the moments and focus on the time together.  Let’s review how it went for you this Easter, shall we? 

You were so excited to have picked out the perfect Easter dresses.  They were frilly, frothy, girly dresses . . . pure pastel perfection, like little Easter eggs.  You carefully packed those adorable dresses, along with the new monogrammed Easter baskets, and every single other item you needed on your solo trip to Grandma’s house.  Your car was full, but you felt ready.  You were so sure the drive would be easy.  You were so wrong.  Someone had to use the potty fifteen minutes into the four hour drive.  You cursed.  You got frustrated.  But you broke out that new car potty and kept on keeping on after a quick pitstop.  When you finally made it to Grandma’s house, the kids all went crazy.  They were thrilled to be hanging with all their cousins, dying Easter eggs, and taking part in the mass chaos. 

The kids didn’t want the party to end at night, because no one slept.  The babies apparently hated sleeping in pack-n-plays, because they took turns crying all night long.  But, you were still sure it could happen; you would get that perfect picture of them in front of the church in their sweet little dresses.  Keeping that hope alive, you had carefully set aside their dresses and Easter baskets.  You purposely put the Easter baskets up high, because you knew the girls would want to tote them everywhere.  As we know now, not high enough. 

On the night before Easter, you gathered up the baskets.  Five of six.  Where was the sixth basket?  Not anywhere, that’s where.  You got mad at the biggies for losing it.  And then someone finally found it—sitting in the backyard with a half dozen dyed Easter eggs and filled with water, due to the nonstop rain.  It was soggy.  You felt soggy.  And angry.  Oh, the biggies said, we remember now.  Emily was using it for an egg hunt with the other four-year-old cousins.  You cursed about not being able to have nice things.  You asked why you should even bother.  You felt defeated and tired.

But, there was bunny work to be done so you carried on.  You and your sisters laughed and had fun putting together baskets.  Then you went outside and saw an actual BUNNY in the front yard.  You thought maybe you were hallucinating from sleep deprivation but you weren’t—there was a bunny in front of your Mom's suburban yard on the night before Easter.  And when you saw that bunny, you realized what a crazy person you’d been to completely lose it over the soggy Easter basket.  Your four-year-old had used the Easter basket for an Easter egg hunt, and she had a blast doing so, even in the rain.  So you did what you need to do in future holidays—you let it go

Still, you had high hopes for that Easter picture.  It would happen, you thought.  So you laid your weary, exhausted head down much too late, and in that moment, the babies started waking up crying.  Which they again took turns doing for the entire night.  It was one of those nights where you wonder who else on earth has been awake with you.  People at overnight shift jobs?  Other moms consoling their babies?  People partying the night before Easter at 1 a.m., 2:30 a.m., and 5 a.m.?  People in bakeries who were up really early baking bread?  Are any bakeries open on Easter?

The morning was a flurry of activity.  There was no way the babies could make it through mass, so you stayed home with them.  And then it came time for a last ditch photo.  You threw on the babies’ cute tutus and tank tops.  You were wearing jeans and a t shirt, and had soaking wet hair thrown up in a pony tail and no make up.  It was still pouring rain, so you took the photo in the foyer of Grandma’s house. 

It was not at all the Easter photo you had pictured in your mind.  And you know what, Chrissy?  It was ok.  There was no picture perfect photo of everyone standing in the dazzling sun, clean and smiling and looking so happy.  Because everyone was happy—the babies were happy because they finally got some rest, and the biggies were happy they had spent so much time with their cousins.  So you let it go.  And I’m here to tell you—you need to read this every holidayLet it go.  Let the idea of a perfect, shareable photo go.   

After all was said and done this Easter, you remembered the fun and funny things about the weekend—the magical encounter with the bunny in the front yard, the soggy Easter basket, the way the babies danced with everyone, the way the big girls were so helpful with the babies, and how much fun everyone had together.  So this Christmas, remember this—sometimes perfect holidays don’t come with perfect photos. So focus on the fun times together, and save your money on the dresses (and shoes).  It’s not going to happen.  But I know you (us, ha), and you’ll buy them again.  Because you’re always hopeful.  Just remember the dresses will be covered in candy canes and someone will be crying when you try to take that “perfect” Christmas photo.  And the resulting photo will be imperfectly perfect in every way because of your beautiful, crazy, and chaotic life.  Chocolate, tears, tantrums, candy canes, and all.  

Easter 2016
Smile for the camera!  Or not.... Only photo of me and the kids at Easter--and only half the six pack.  Big girls were too busy playing with their cousins and eating chocolate bunnies.
That basket on the left?  It's soaking wet.