{(young kids) + (sleep deprivation) + (long working hours) = (when exactly did we sign for this?!!)}

There was a time I used to love Math…

Nowadays, I’m not so sure…

I’m still trying to figure out the Mathematics of “life with children”!

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who loved children, had a great time playing with other people’s kids, and believed she’d make a great mom, when the time came…

Well, this young girl got older, found her prince charming, and once again, they (so naïve!) thought:

“We’re gonna be parents! We’re gonna be the best ones! We love and cherish children! Our kids will be the best behaved ones, always clean, always loving and respectful”

And then, the family started growing: first we were, as some friends (already with 3 children) used to call us: “a couple with a child”. We had it easy! Once kid #1 was sound asleep, mommy and daddy could enjoy some quality time (and even some wine!) at the end of a long day of work.

myself, a realistic impression, according to one of my kids!

I guess I’m bringing these memories back because my baby is now almost 2 years old… and the sleep deprivation days are becoming fewer and fewer… [at least, that’s the hope!]

There was a time I used to love Math

Nowadays, I’m not so sure…

I’m still trying to figure out the Mathematics of life with children!

[Backstory] Once upon a time,  there was a young girl who loved children, had a great time playing with other people’s kids, and believed she’d make a great mom, when the time came…

Well, this young girl got older, found her prince charming, and once again, they (so naïve!) thought:

“We’re gonna be parents! We’re gonna be the best ones! We’ll love and cherish children! Our kids will be the best behaved ones, always clean, always loving and respectful”

And then, the family started growing: first we were, as some friends (already with 3 children) used to call us: “a couple with a child”. We had it easy! Once kid #1 was sound asleep, mommy and daddy could enjoy some quality time (and even some wine!) at the end of a long day of work. So, here was the formula:

f = [(a loving husband) + (a loving wife) + (a brand new baby) = (a happy family!)]

Life and Math seemed so easy and manageagle: we were living overseas, had support and household help. We then decided to increase our legacy. Here came kid #2, and with it, a way more challenging routine, accompained by several sleepless nights…

We had no idea that with two kids, the chances of having one of them sick, at some point in time, are extremely high!

We, the “once before-pretty smart” parents, learnt that our “Math skills” weren’t gonna cut…

Take a look at the “new & improved” formula:

f = [(still loving, but very tired parents) + (demanding toddler) + (a brand new baby)

= (a still happy, but somewhat confused family!)]

We managed life. We found our niche, learnt from other couples new strategies and ground rules to apply to our own routine, began training the kids on life skills (sleeping, eating, drinking, bathroom needs).

Regarding our Math knowledge, we sort of came back from a lousy D to a pretty solid B

We were back, baby!! We knew how to survive with kids, lead an enjoyable life, took short trips with the whole family, went grocery shopping… We had it down! And the excess of confidence and maybe some extra  excitement about our new FS assignment, responded for kid #3…

 

And then, the third one came into our lives. 

We’re a family full of life and joy. Today, we don’t sleep as many hours as we used to, let’s see, six years ago, when we were sure to be the best “parents-to-be”.

Today we may not have the face-time with our spouse, the way we wanted, but if the kids are healthy, fed, dry, and the most important of all – sleeping – we, as parents, are pretty satisfied.

Our definition of happiness may have changed a bit, and we’re taking a day at a time. A sleepless night might be followed by a great day, who knows?

At least now we’ve got an idea on what’s in-store for us. We know kids give us a hard time when it comes to sleeping, eating, getting dressed, getting ready for school, and pretty much anything else.

But at least now, we know we need to be prepared. And we’re learning. Also, we decided to give up on our Math skills – raising kids has no formula.

Life with kids is just a massive equation, with tons of variables… We’d be silly trying to map it out. And the worst and maybe the funniest of all is that, at the moment, we’re graded by a team, whose combined age doesn’t even reach 13 years! 😮

In sum, I’m thankful to all the readers and parents out there, for the support during my parenting experience, and I guess, gotta thank my own children, for the ENDLESS INSPIRATION they provide to my blogging days! ♥

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Pumping for the future – thoughts on life and work balance in the Foreign Service

This past weekend I finally got my way around the Foreign Service Journal. As most of us already know, the Journal, including the AFSA News section, is published monthly, with each issue covering foreign affairs from an insider’s perspective. Well, this last edition was entirely focused on Foreign Service Work-Life Balance.

One article in particular, from Elizabeth Power, really caught my attention and triggered me to write down some personal thoughts and comments regarding the issues related to get back to work after having a baby, having to balance the need to keeping a healthy baby home, away from his nursing mother, breast pumping techniques and challenges, work flexibility and the social perception of a breastfeeding mother in the expatriate/foreign service scenario.

Regarding the scope of this particular post, I believe it’s unnecessary to list out the countless benefits of breastfeeding, for both mom and baby, as well as for employees’ improved evaluations of their work-life balance. Many women have made sacrifices to continue breastfeeding after they return to work. We do this despite the inconvenience of hooking ourselves up to a milking machine three times a day, because the health benefits for our babies and ourselves abound.  For the past six years, I’ve been a nursing, breast pumping, bottle-feeding mom. Any technique that would seem possible, realistic, and why not say, loving, I’d adopt!

At first, with some guilt, especially when you’re having your first baby, not so sure about how you’re supposed to manage a new baby, riding the Metro to work, surviving the extended hours away from the baby… With my first child, I knew very little about alternative feeding techniques. Traditional breastfeeding seemed to be my only route, and my obligation as a new mom, especially considering I come from a Latino family, where women are brought up to become loving caretakers… Visits to the lactation consultant helped immensely, but did not diminish my (uncalled for) guilt. My husband and I asked for help. Friends, family. We had both sets of baby’s grandparents living with us for the initial 9 months. I needed to get back to work and perform accordingly, while husband kept his regular working hours. In the best of circumstances, expressing milk at work can bring lactating women a new kind of camaraderie with their colleagues, not to mention management support as they carve out break times, find private accommodations and use sinks to clean equipment. But pumping can also be inconvenient, awkward and downright impossible at worst, depending on the job and the workplace.

Life was challenging, but we managed. The experience made me learn how to use and benefit from an electric breast pump, how to store and transport breast milk. Unfortunately, I’d started to learn a little too late in the process, and by the end of the third month, my firstborn was fully dependent on baby formula. But we learnt, with our actions, our attempts, our mistakes. We learnt.

The lessons learnt proved to be extremely helpful when baby #2 came along. As soon as I found out about the pregnancy, began visiting the La Leche League websites, acquiring information, reviews, opinions from other parents… Before we welcomed our baby girl, I’d already gotten a modern electric breast pump, with replacement parts, storage bags, and a “back up/safety” shipment (thanks to the Pouch!) of the pediatricians’ most-recommended baby formula (one never knows, right?). We, as second-time parents, seemed to be good to go.

And things were way easier that time. Breastfeeding was a breeze, and kept both mom and baby as happy as they could be. The practice made the perfection. When it was time to bring our 28-day old baby girl from South Africa back to Mozambique, her mom comfortably used the electric pump in the car, during the 2-plus car drive, stopping to rest, feed and cross the border. Batteries were key, and they make for an extraordinary accessory for breast-pumping moms! Always have them handy – no electricity? no problem!

Once I had to return full-time to work – an USAID contractor – my boss, who by coincidence happened to be a mother, and somebody who understands the challenges a new mom has, was very sympathetic to the cause, and allowed me to use one of her offices, as well as the office’s kitchenette fridge for storage. Probably, the most difficult part was dealing with the skeptic looks I got from my local co-workers, not used to that practice. That flexibility allowed me to attend meetings with PEPFAR partners, and to travel to the provinces, always carrying my pumping gear, bottles and cooler! The balance between work and life had been achieved!

Now we’re on baby #3. Still nursing and still pumping. I’m not a full-time worker anymore, but expressing milk enables me to get back into the “workforce“, as a part-timer. I spend more time with my baby, and I know we both benefit from that. I also have support: the patience and help from my dear husband, who watches the kids while I “disappear“; I’ve got help from a wonderful nanny, who learnt first-hand how to manipulate the milk and prepare the bottles; and I’ve got help from my 2 toddlers, who have seen their mom pumping-and-feeding in recent years. They understand the importance and are respectful to the process: “Shhhh, be quiet. Mommy needs to feed to the baby…

Once more, we seem to be achieving the balance between work and family life…

Bonus: Tip

Have you ever melted pump or bottle parts when boiling them? (be honest!)

Try this: When boiling items such as pump or bottle parts, put a couple of glass marbles into the pot and stay within earshot. If the water level gets low and the pot is about to boil dry, the marbles will start bouncing and clattering in the pan and alert you in time.

Golfing for Japan: expats in Recife (Brazil), united for Japan

Living overseas brings you countless opportunities. Today, my family enjoyed a wonderful morning with other diplomatic and expat families. Helping is fun and rewarding.

My husband was one of the 36 guest players. The tournament included representatives from the US Consulate, French Consulate and from the host Japanese mission… All players were asked to provide an “entry fee” for the tournament, which would be transferred to the Japanese Red Cross.

I’m proud of my husband, as an amateur player and as an example to other parents, and brought our kids to support the effort in helping the Japanese Consulate in Recife to raise money to help the victims of the recent tsunami…

The participants were greeted with a great luncheon provided by the Japanese Consulate and we all enjoyed a great performance offered by the musical group Ren Taiko, which means “Lotus Opium“.

Event: Fundraising Golf Tournament, coördinated by the expat community in Recife, PE. Including representatives from the Consulates in town, expatriate families, businessmen.

Venue: The Caxanga Country and Golf Club in Recife

Date: April 3, 2011.

 

Pictures to come soon! In the meantime, I’d like to show my gratitude to the Consulate of Japan in Recife, for allowing us to enjoy a very nice Sunday, surrounded by friends.

 

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