Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Tenth Month

Benjamin was 10 months old at the end of June. I love this picture of him because I feel like it captures his emerging personality. He is turning into quite the little clown and loves to interact and make you laugh. He is also super affectionate and gives the best little hugs, using his whole body to hug your shoulder when you pick him up. He must get that from his daddy because I've never been a very huggy, touchy-feely person!

During his tenth month, Benjamin cut his 3rd tooth, so we now have 3 teeth on the bottom, and none on the top! I finally gave up on nursing since it was just becoming so frustrating for both of us. I think the stress and strain of this past year really affected my milk supply. I am glad I was able to nurse him as long as I was, but I am also thankful for formula... and I will also be thankful when I can switch him over to cow's milk because formula is stinkin' expensive here! Ben is already taking a lot of milk products like cheese and yogurt with no problems so far, but I am going to wait until he's a year old before giving him milk to drink.

Ben made his first trip to the beach in his tenth month. (Technically, I guess he went to the beach in Spain when he was one month old, but since he spent the entire time snoozing in his car seat, I don't really think that counts!) He loved the sand, but he wasn't too sure about the waves! That surprised me because he normally loves playing in the water. So maybe it was too cold, or maybe it was the sound of the waves -- I don't know.

Ben has also started sleeping much better at night. He started sleeping until about 5:00 a.m. and then having a bottle and going back to sleep for several hours. It's been a long road, but I think things are finally improving in the sleep department! He is still in our room for now. I plan to move him to his own room soon, but I have been hesitant to do it until he was sleeping all the way through the night because we don't have a baby monitor right now (it's coming in the container).

One final note. I find it interesting the way certain nicknames emerge as babies grow. With a name like Benjamin, there are so many to choose from -- Ben, Benny, Benji (which Rusty hates, but I think is kind of cute). The boys, especially Stephen, called him Benjermin at first, adding an "r" where there really shouldn't be one, and that has turned into the nickname "Benjers," which I find just adorable. I find myself calling him "Ben" or "Ben Bear," more often than not! Rusty sticks with the full "Benjamin." This poor kid is going to be so confused!

Happy 10 months, my little Ben Bear!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Beach Bums

At the end of June, we enjoyed a few days of r&r on the coast of Ecuador. It was exactly what we needed after Rusty had been gone for 2 weeks out of the previous 4 on short-term campaigns to Kumanii (see pictures of those campaigns here on Facebook). We recently connected with another homeschooling missionary family here in Quito who has a condo at a beach resort that they rent out. We stayed at the condo for 4 nights, enjoying the sand and the waves, the great swimming pools, delicious seafood, and some down-time together as a family. On Sunday, before heading home, we worshipped with the church in Esmereldas. It was a perfect little mini-vacation -- I just love the beach!

View from our balcony
The sunsets were fabulous!
Benjamin loved splashing in the hot tub
And he loved the sand
Alex learned to boogie board
This picture cracks me up (pun intended)!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chime In: "Occasional" Single Parenting

Read my "Reflections" post here.

The following is a list of a few of the strategies I implemented during my week of solo parenting that I felt like made the week easier on myself and the boys. If you find yourself in the boat of "occasional" single parent, maybe you'll find them useful. What has worked for you? Feel free to chime in with your own tips in the comments!
  1. Lower your expectations. I mean that you should lower your expectations of yourself, not your kids. Of course my kids are still expected to obey, to talk respectfully, to be kind and get along with each other. Those expectations don't change just because Rusty is gone for a few days. But I'm the kind of person who normally has unreasonable expectations of herself, especially as it relates to how much I'll be able to get done in a certain time period. It doesn't matter if it's an afternoon, a weekend, a week, or an entire summer -- I typically have much more on my to-do list than I'm able to accomplish. This time, I decided that my major objective was just to survive the week! I tried to arrange my days so that I wasn't doing more than one major chore or errand per day -- whether that was the laundry or the shopping or taking Ben to the clinic for his shots or making cookies with the boys. I also assigned myself one big project that I worked on in the evenings after the kids were in bed. This helped me focus my time, but wasn't too overwhelming.
  2. Take time for you. This goes along with the first point. Of course taking time for yourself is always important, but I think it's especially important when parenting solo. I had my big project to work on, but I also gave myself permission to do some things just for pure enjoyment -- I read, I took naps, I wrote in my journal, and I watched the first two "Twilight" movies, which I had never seen before (I tried to pick something I knew Rusty probably wouldn't want to watch with me!). 
  3. Relax your standards. Again, this kind of goes along with #1. And of course, this would look different depending on the person. For us, it meant that my kids got a lot more "screen time" than they normally do. Alex spent an exorbitant amount of time playing Mario Kart on the Wii -- but hey, he was happy, he wasn't whining or pestering his brothers, and he can't play the Wii at our house right now because we don't have one, so I didn't feel bad about it. Stephen played lots of games on my iPod. And they both watched a short (30-minute) video each night before they went to bed while I was downstairs giving Benjamin his bottle. We also had a movie night one night with a longer movie and popcorn.
  4. Keep a basic routine. We all know routines are important for children. Stephen especially seems to need the structure that a routine provides, but even Alex does better when he knows what to expect from the day. My kids are small, so our daily routine revolves around mealtimes and sleep schedules. We have breakfast and get ready for the day; I do school with Alex while Benjamin is napping; we have lunch; the little boys take naps; we have dinner; we get ready for bed. I tried to keep to this same basic routine during the week that Rusty was away with a few minor modifications. When something is out of whack in a kid's life (i.e. one parent is away from home for an extended time), keeping a basic routine provides stability and security.
  5. Don't fight the mealtime battle. For some people, this might mean taking the kids out for Happy Meals or ordering pizza every night. For me, taking 3 small children out to eat all by myself is more stressful than preparing something at home. But when planning my menu for the week, I chose simple meals that I knew the boys liked -- things like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, and homemade macaroni and cheese. We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a lot of fresh fruit, and we had cereal for breakfast nearly every morning! Although I don't want to only cook their favorites all the time, I wanted mealtime this week to be as peaceful as possible, and for the most part, it was!
  6. Accept help from others. I would be remiss not to mention that one reason the week was so easy on me was because of Elsa. Elsa works for my sister in the mornings while Julie is at work. She watches Enoch and does some cleaning around the house. I told her that I would be happy to pay her for the week if she just wanted to keep her same schedule (remember, we were staying at my sister's house, but they had already left on furlough). So Elsa came about 7:30 each morning and left around 11:30. Just 4 hours, but they made such a difference! Not only did she do most of the cleaning (like bathrooms and floors and such), but she played with the boys, did some mending for me, and provided some needed adult conversation -- and the opportunity to practice my Spanish since she doesn't speak much English! When I had to go to the store or take Ben to the clinic for his shots, she stayed with the kids. I was so thankful to have her around every day. One of the "perks" to living in a 3rd world country is the affordability of household help. If you live in the States, then you probably can't afford a maid (I know I never could), but you might have friends or family members who want to help you out when you're on your own. Don't try to be Super Woman -- take them up on the offer!
  7. Have fun and enjoy your kids. I made a conscious effort to do this all week, and it made such a difference. I really tried to be more of a "yes" mom. "Yes, I will play Mouse Trap with you after dinner, even though that game makes me want to set my hair on fire." "Yes, I will play hopscotch with you." "Yes, I will blow bubbles with you." "Yes, I will play Mario Kart with you." "Yes, we can buy those animal crackers." "Yes, we can have ice-cream sundaes again after supper." "Yes, I will read that book to you again, and you can ask me the same 1,000 questions you asked me the last time we read it." "Yes, you can have a drink of water... and another kiss... and a song... even though I know you're really just stalling." I tried to savor the little moments -- of sitting outside on the swing together, of giving Ben his bottle in the comfy recliner, of their sweet hugs and silly conversations and imaginative play. And although I don't necessarily enjoy the experience of single parenting, I find as I look back, that the week itself actually was very enjoyable!
I'm no expert, and I would love to hear from others who occasionally have to go it alone, especially since I'll be doing this a lot more in the months and years to come. What works for you and what doesn't? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Me and my 3

Monday, July 09, 2012

Reflections on "Occasional" Single Parenting

I confess: I am not the most graceful single parent. When we first started discussing the possibility of moving to Ecuador and taking on Operation Ecuador's Kumanii ministry, I first worried about living in such a remote area -- 3 hours upriver by boat from the nearest sizable town -- and the isolation that would result. Then, after Rusty's survey trip last November, when it became evident that Quito would be the best place for us to locate, for the first few years anyway, a whole new set of worries cropped up. Because, even though we live in the capital city of Ecuador, Rusty's work and the place where he will eventually focus the majority of his energy is in the jungle along the Cayapas River, an 8-hour journey away. And this will require him to do a lot of traveling and be away from home a lot, usually for several days at a time. And it means that I'll be left behind to hold down the fort and parent three boys single-handedly while he's away.

I don't like parenting alone. It's not nearly as much fun and a whole lot more work. I honestly don't know how real single parents do it, and I have so much respect for those that do it and do it well. My boys act up more when their dad is gone. Okay, so I act up more when their dad is gone, too! I find it harder to be patient, and I lose my cool a lot more. When you're a single parent, it's all on you. There's no one to spot you when you start to get frustrated, to back you up when you need to discipline, to play with the kids while you're cooking dinner, to supervise bathtime while you clean up the kitchen, to give the baby his bottle while you read bedtime stories to the older ones. You have to figure out a way to do it all yourself -- the kids and the meals and the house and the shopping and the running around to doctor's appointments and playdates and such. And as if all that weren't enough, I have to make my own coffee in the mornings! This may not seem like such a big deal to some, but Rusty has always been the coffee maker in our home. When he's not around, I either have to go without or make it myself -- and if I ever needed coffee, it's when I'm parenting solo!

I also don't like doing life alone, especially in a foreign country, in a new city, where I am still learning the language, still learning my way around. I'm not naturally independent or adventurous (really, I only live the life I do because I married an adventurer). It takes me a long time to feel comfortable enough in a new environment to want to go places and do things by myself. We've been in Ecuador less than 3 months now, and I don't even drive here yet, partially because I don't have an international driver's license -- it was one of those things that I just forgot to take care of before we left the States. But mostly because the very idea of driving our enormous truck with the manual transmission, in this busy city with these crazy drivers, is enough to scare the living daylights out of me and make me want to swear of driving and just take a cab everywhere. It is South America after all -- cabs are plentiful and cheap!

At the end of May and then again in mid-June, Rusty went out to Kumanii with two different groups. He was gone for a week each time. The first time, at the end of May, the boys and I went and stayed with my sister and her kids (Josh went to Kumanii also). Even though having 7 kids under the age of 7 in the same house for a week got a little, shall we say, chaotic at times, we had a great time! Julie and I both appreciated having someone around to help out -- when she needed to pick Michaela up from school, I could stay home with napping children; when I needed something from the store, I could leave the boys with her and walk over and pick it up alone. And we built in some fun girl-time by watching Season 2 of Downton Abbey together in the evenings after the kids were in bed. It was a great way to unwind at the end of each day.

The second time, in mid-June, the Marcums were already in the States on their furlough, so we had to figure out what the boys and I were going to do for an entire week on our own. We decided to stay at the Marcum's house again, due to their house not only being more comfortable (until the container gets here, it's like we're camping out in our own home), but also closer to good medical care in case of an emergency. I worried that it would be a rough week, but it actually went very well and we had no major problems. Of course, we were all glad to see Rusty come home at the end of the week. The boys were glad to have their daddy and wrestling buddy back. And I was glad to have my hubby, parenting partner, and barista back. Life's just better and a lot more fun when he's around!

Coming tomorrow -- I'll share some of the strategies I attempted to implement during my week of solo parenting.