When Parenting Meets Travelling

When we told friends and family that we would be travelling through Costa Rica for the last two months of my maternity leave, we got a lot of interesting reactions. Some were in disbelief, thinking us either crazy or stupid for taking a two-month newborn and a two-year toddler anywhere. Others were jealous of the idea and seemed almost annoyed that they didn’t organize something similar with their own children. Still others couldn’t wrap their minds around the complexity of it all (logistical and otherwise) and surmised that we must be superhuman (fact: my wife is).

Now, two weeks into the trip, we get a lot of curious questions from people on the home front who want to know how it’s going. The tone is often tentative, almost as if people are wishing us well but expecting a train wreck. “So…how is it?”

When I began to answer that question, I measured my answer against two things: our ideal of travelling and our ideal of parenting.

The Travel Ideal  When my wife and I travel, we optimize for having authentic experiences and challenging adventures. We eschew tourist infrastructure and instead seek out interesting experiences off the beaten path. We put ourselves in new situations that require us to rise to the challenge – whether rappelling waterfalls in Vietnam, navigating the public bus system across Croatia and Bosnia, or hitchhiking in Norway. We make every meal count by finding restaurants frequented by locals or touted by reviewers; it’s like we can smell a menu printed in multiple languages.

The Parenting Ideal  When with our kids, we optimize for parenting in a way that balances respect for them and their independence with providing safe and loving boundaries. We adjust the space to be as focused on “yes” as possible, taking away dangers and distractions that require a constant barrage of “no”. We optimize the schedule for their rhythms. We focus on child-led activities rather than dictating what we do. When possible, we let their choices lead the way.

When looking at our previous ideals, what emerges is this: it is impossible to travel the way we’d like to travel while parenting. And, it’s impossible to parent the way we’d like to parent while travelling.

So, back to the question at hand: how is it on the road with two little ones?

I find that I am grateful for the beautiful travel moments which I can steal while taking care of these two. That brief moment sitting under the pounding of the hot springs waterfall. The tropical fruits and sips of Costa Rican coffee before a long mealtime implodes. The massage in an open-air bungalow and speedy zipline tour while my wife takes care of the little ones.

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A moment away: zip-lining through the forests of Arenal

At the same time, I am grateful for the beautiful parenting moments which I can steal while travelling. Playing ‘telemarketer’ on the unplugged hotel room phone with my toddler. Making finger puppet shapes on the ceiling to entertain my newborn. Long talks around where things goes when you flush the toilet and unexpected potty training wins.

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A momemt together: hats on while on a “ride to school”

Yet, what I have been completely caught off-guard and delighted by are the new moments of integration in which travelling and parenting transform each other.  The best parts of this trip – and undoubtedly the most memorable – are the rare moments when it all happens together in a new and different way. The conversations with my toddler about how mud is made as I carry her through ankle-deep gunk in the jungle. The quiet moments breastfeeding my newborn son while looking out into the tropical rain. The kids’ reaction to a handful of white-nosed coatis wandering up to our hotel room window.

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A moment when it all comes together: white-nosed coati encounter

By combining the two, the nature of both parenting and traveling changes completely.  On the road, I become a different parent. I let go of optimizing their world for respectful, independent learning; I am more flexible and fluid. And with kids in tow, I become a different traveler. I don’t need everything to be perfectly authentic and perpetually challenging; I slow down, judge less, and see this place through their eyes.

So, am I eating more hotel hamburgers than I would like? Absolutely. And am I also delaying nap time to fit in one more store, one more museum, or one more dip in the pool? Yep. But, increasingly, instead of feeling like I am compromising on both sides, I feel like I am finding the beautiful integration of both.

Meredith

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To the next adventure

Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

Welcome Hawk! (A Birth Story)

One month ago, Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan came into the world.

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Our little man was originally due on September 6th, smack in between our wedding anniversary and my birthday.  Considering the advice that second children often come sooner than first and knowing my history of a late first arrival, Liz and I prepared ourselves to have a due date baby.  Yes, he could be early or late, but the smart money (i.e., our midwife, our doula, our OB/GYN friends) put their bets on the ‘on-time’ category. And so, we were ready. Not that there was much to prepare this time around; we knew how little he would need in the first few weeks, and we already had all the baby gear anyway.

His due date came and went. And, day after day we waited. Evenings brought increased fetal movement and thrills of excitement. Was tonight the night that I’d wake everyone up at 2AM with labor pains? No. Morning after morning I got up to report that I slept shockingly well; there was no baby. To encourage the little man along, I tried evening primrose oil, pineapple, bumpy car rides, pumping, eggplant Parmesan, acupressure, and red raspberry leaf tea – all to no avail.

And so, at forty-one weeks and three days, I headed to the hospital for an induction. It was strange to arrive to the hospital in such a state of preparedness. Here we were, hospital bag in hand, no contractions yet, bellies full of breakfast, childcare in place, everyone calm. Based on Elliott’s birth, I had come to see childbirth as a crazy ride of “expecting the unexpected.” Curiously, the planful approach of an induction was so very expected that it felt even more unexpected to me.

I started on an IV drip of Pitocin and waited. At the time, it felt a bit annoying; after days of anticipation, the hours remaining grew even more difficult. But, in retrospect, Sunday morning was a beautiful time to build relationships with the people who would attend my son’s birth later that day. Looking back, I can see how, person by person, my crew slowly assembled. I started this whole adventure with Liz at my side. Aunt Kate and Grandma both showed up in advance to take care of Elliott; they gave me the opportunity to yield last obligations and focus entirely on this birth. Then, upon arrival to the hospital, we added the Labor and Delivery nurse who started my IV and would finish the day coaching me through pushing. Soon my doula joined; she intuitively knew what I needed and was on my spiritual wavelength. Finally, the midwife with decades of experience and lots of pragmatic love arrived.

By the early afternoon contractions began, gently at first and then increasingly. Liz and I walked the halls haltingly, stopping every minute or so for a contraction. Each time a contraction came, I grasped my IV stand, picked a point on the wall for visual focus, and breathed through it. Reflecting upon Elliott’s birth, I remember the contractions only as pain to be endured; this time, I felt them more as energy moving through me. It was almost as if spirit was pouring energy right into the top of my head, through my body, and out my vagina for the purpose of bringing this baby out with it. If I hesitated or resisted, that flowing energy would get stuck. If I let it simply course through me, it felt painful but also useful.

As I rode contraction after contraction and came to see that pain differently, I knew: This is what I had hoped for in childbirth. I had hoped to learn things about myself, about pain, about presence, about motherhood, and about life through labor. This was a fundamental human experience, consistent over the ages. I wanted to experience every aspect of it. I wanted to receive the wisdom of generations of women participating in this process. I wanted to see what I would learn from it and how I might evolve.  My underlying assumption was that I would learn the most by having a natural birth; drugs would disrupt and obscure what I was meant to experience.

Yet as the birth progressed, my fears crept in. My biggest fear was not the pain of the current contraction; I had found my way to be present to that. Instead, my biggest fear was the expectation of where those contractions might go. How much longer would this take? How much more intense would it be? Would I be able to be stand the sensations? How much did I believe in myself? Aspirationally, I wanted to do all of it without drugs; I wanted to trust in nature and to believe in myself that much.

But I didn’t. Eventually, my question turned from whether I would be able to be with the pain to why I was choosing to experience it in the first place. While laboring on all fours on the bed, I uttered out loud “Why am I doing this?!” for all to hear. I asked: Why am I bearing such pain when there are options for relief? Is it better for me? Better for the baby? Was there really some great spiritual insight to uncover?

And so, around six or seven centimeters, I got an epidural. Part of me is still tempted to judge myself for doing so; I feel that only I had been stronger, braver, more spiritually centered – then I would have had the capacity to be with the experience. And yet, I have to let that go. As in all life experiences, my learnings came not from running some externalized gauntlet – in this case, giving birth naturally.  Instead, learnings came from more deeply being with the experience that was right in front of me and the struggle that it prompted inside of me. My real insights came from seeing how an expected plan can still feel unexpected, from challenging my views of necessary and unnecessary suffering, from reconciling the coexistence of spiritual fullness and modern medicine in my mind, and from examining my assumptions of where and how spiritual growth occurs. Ultimately, it was not about some womanly secret revealed only if I endured; it was about me in the here and now.

Labor progressed swiftly from that point; and by early evening, I was ready to push. At that point, a fair amount of assistance was required to ultimately deliver the little man into the world, but this was less of concern to me. By that time, I wasn’t focused on my learning anymore. I was focused on having a healthy baby – and it was time for the little man to come out.

And so, my son joined us at 7:05pm as healthy as could be. He had none of the complications that Elliott experienced (meconium in the amniotic fluid, jaundice shortly after birth). And in the month since his birth, he’s proven even stronger. He’s made breastfeeding easy, he’s gained at a remarkable rate, and he’s even giving us some reasonable opportunities to sleep.


So welcome to the world, my little Hawk (a nickname derived from his initials – HAWC). In giving birth to you, I learned new lessons beyond those I learned giving birth to Elliott. The experiences may be similar, but the edges of learning are all new and unique. I know that I’ll continue to learn new and different things from parenting you as you grow; I’m excited for this journey together with our whole family.

With love,
Your Mommy, Meredith

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Whoa, Baby!

Two months ago, on August 2nd, Elliott Claire was born. To quote the midwife, I looked “a bit surprised” that labor ended in a baby. It’s true; between all the childbirth classes, doula meetings, and birth plans, I was far more focused on the labor than I was cognizant that a small person would soon join our lives. So, when Elliott came into the world at 7:51AM that morning, I found myself logistically prepared (the nursery organized, the freezer full) but emotionally caught off guard (you mean we’re parents from today until forever?).

Coming home from the hospital was not what I expected. Misled by all the postpartum photos on Facebook, I thought life with baby would be a bit sleep-deprived, but not terribly different. I would go for strolls with her in a BabyBjorn, run errands while she slept in her car seat, and take her along to lunches with friends. What I didn’t realize was that so many of those photos of babies on the move are taken at three, six, or even eighteen months. They are rarely newborns — and their mothers are not immediately postpartum.

So, instead of running around baby in tow, I mostly sat on the couch nursing (or valiantly trying to nurse). In addition to being physically tied to Elliott, I was physically fragile; though I had no particular complications, I was surprised by how difficult even a normal childbirth can be on a woman’s body. I was dependent on others to not only take care of the house and cook, but to even hand me my water/magazine/iPhone/snack that was just out of reach (the ‘last mile’ problem of new mother logistics). Looking back on that time, I am grateful that Liz was home and completely devoted. I am grateful that Elliott was such a good and patient baby. I am grateful for all the friends and family that cooked and cleaned and babysat and loved. And I am grateful that the Olympics were on continuously.

The early days in my position on the couch. Perhaps the only day I blow-dried my hair for a month.

Two months later, we’re emerging from the haze. We’re all healed up. Elliott has started to grow out of her earliest newborn clothes and sleep for longer periods at night. We’ve figured out how the stroller works. And Elliott and I get out nearly every day (and, of course, share those moments on Facebook).

Life more recently: baby’s first drive-in!

I’ve always felt an overwhelming, unconditional love for this little one; now, in addition to loving her, I’m starting to like life with her in it.

Meredith

That First Trimester Feeling

Let’s start with the headline: I’m pregnant. 15 weeks. Due July 25th. Don’t know the sex yet but will find out. Going to stay in our current house. Don’t have a name yet. And yes, our dog, Reese, is very pleased.

That’s the explanation for my blogging hiatus. It’s been 10 weeks and 6 days since I’ve blogged. That is 10 weeks and 6 days of feeling crappy.

Since the positive pregnancy test, my entire lifestyle flipped on its head. I went from keeping a primarily dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, minimally-processed diet to developing the appetite of a toddler. Most of my meals involved chicken tenders. I started eating hard candy. I could not get enough cheese and bread. Being a rational adult, I did try to sneak some cooked kale into my Whole Foods macaroni and cheese, but I couldn’t dupe myself and picked it out. Similarly, my sleeping habits shifted. I typically get eight hours of sleep and then turn into a whirlwind of productivity during the day. Now, I found myself ready to clock up to ten hours a night and cherishing a mid-day nap. Moving my body in any way sounded miserable. Leaving the house was not on my list of things to do. My wife wondered if it was invasion of the body snatchers; I had been replaced by a lethargic look-alike.

My doctor, one of the few people who knew of my pregnancy, described it best: it’s like having a constant low-grade hang over (except there’s no fun night out and no miraculous revival when you finally get out of the woods).

All of this caught me off guard. While I have many close friends with babies, I never fully realized how tough first trimester could be. Instead, my images of pregnancy were vibrant, lively, and (as it turns out) disproportionately second trimester. My Facebook feed abounded with pictures of smiling pregnant women; they ran half-marathons, twisted into impressive yoga poses, and modeled for bump-focused photo shoots. They all had elated grins, silky hair, and more stylish clothes than I have ever worn. Even the pregnant ladies I met in person fit the mold: they ran seven miles a day, designed adorable bump-focused Halloween costumes, and munched on cucumbers when everyone else housed holiday sweets. In short, all the pregnant women I observed embodied the pregnancy glow.

I, on the other hand, was eating a mega-sized bag of gas station Doritos on my drive back from a doctor’s appointment, pants unbuttoned.

All this brought up two major emotions in me: self-blame and competition. First of all, why wasn’t I doing a better job at being pregnant? What was wrong with me? Why was my body acting so strangely – and why was I giving into it? Second, I was resolved not to underperform at this pregnancy thing. What did they all have that I didn’t have? What did I need to do to succeed at this?

In my life, I’ve become accustomed to the idea that thoughtful, diligent action drives results. Do the right work in high school and get into college. Do the right work in college and get a job. Do the right work in my job and craft the life I want.

But that’s the thing I’m learning about pregnancy: there is nothing to do. My body’s got it. Beyond taking some prenatals, cutting the booze, and moving a bit, I can’t do much to influence the development of this baby. S/he is going to grow however s/he grows, whether I eat kale or cookies, whether I run a full marathon or watch a Transparent marathon. To be clear, I’m not giving up my responsibility; I’m just letting go of my control patterns a bit more.

Second trimester has provided more relief and normalcy. I eat vegetables again. I have fewer waves of nausea. I even started doing prenatal yoga (like those ladies in the pictures). But I’m glad to have gone through the unexpected unpleasantness of first trimester. With this little one coming into the world, there will be only more and more things I can’t control, from my child’s feeding schedule to the job s/he chooses after school. In that sense, this lesson in letting go is probably the healthiest thing I could do first trimester (aside from buying the organic version of chicken tenders).

 

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Still in the uncertain place:  Is that a baby, or did I eat a burrito?

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