Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Solo Challenge: How I manage 9 kids solo with a spouse that travels weekly for work


I have 9 kids aged 14 years and younger and my husband travels weekly for work. My husband has been traveling for work since our second was born. He has taken jobs that involve travel because they have paid more and allowed me to be a SAHM. With each job change his work travel has increased and the more children we have added has made it challenging. When he first started traveling I was a wreck, I had a toddler and a newborn and I was out of my element. I quickly realized that in order to manage being solo with lots of kids I needed to plan. Three years ago, my husband started a company and it has been a lot of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice from both of us. His travel has picked up tremendously, but we are a team and support each other 100 percent. Instead of complaining about being solo, I plan for it.

My husband and I have a couple of rules when he is traveling. If he is gone more than 3 days it is going to be messy when he gets home. We also have a text only rule when he is away. I don't really want to hear about his nice hotel room or client dinners while I am changing my 10th stinky diaper of the day and negotiating with a tyrannical three year old. He knows if I call him there is an emergency.

Here are some of the tips/tricks I have learned over the years.

1. Have an easy meal plan
I do the meal planning and grocery shopping, but my husband is the cook. He will often meal prep some meals on the weekend before he leaves. A tray of baked ziti and a breakfast casserole can be a life saver. I also plan easy meals that I know the kids will eat and not complain about it. I make sure I have plenty of food in the house before he leaves. No dinner plan and hangry kids is a recipe for disaster.




2. Have 2 days worth of laundry done
With 9 kids I do a load or two of laundry everyday, but I make sure I have two days worth of clean clothes for the kids as the week starts. There is nothing worse then trying to get everyone to the bus stop solo and the kids don't have pants, the blue shirt for field day etc...clean.

3. Do school/lunch/activities prep the night before
This is a hard one, especially when I am beat at night, but the extra 10 minutes is worth it to not have an ugly morning. I make sure everything is signed that needs to be signed, homework is completed and lunches are prepped. My big kids help to do their own lunches.

4. Set up carpools, ask for help and delegate
When I know my husband is traveling, I make sure to look at the week's schedule and set up as many carpools for the kids activities as we can. I have a large whiteboard calendar in our kitchen that has all of the kids activities for the current month. We are very lucky to have families that will help us getting kids to and from events. We live in an area where many of our friends have spouses that travel or are military and we support each other. I also have my older kids help out by unloading the dishwasher, dinner prep/clean up and reading bedtime stories to younger siblings.


This whiteboard is our family's master calendar, my kids joke that if it is not on "the calendar" it is not happening. My littles make sure I put their birthdays on there right away. We have had this calendar system from Pottery Barn for over 10 years.

5. Hire a babysitter during the dinner and activities rush
We have a couple of nights a week where we have 4-5 kids practices on the same night all within a 2 hour window and some later evening practices for older kids. When I am solo on those nights I have our good family friend and long time babysitter come and help me. In our house 5-8pm is the "witching time" I call it. Trying to get dinner on the table, kids out the door for events, and managing meltdowns is challenging. If I can have a second set of hands during that time it makes the evening go better for everyone. We have a local university near us and have found fantastic babysitters in the past advertising there.

6. If you can swing it, belong to a gym
My gym membership has saved me many times. Being on one income our budget is extremely tight, we do not have money for any extras. Our gym membership has been 100% worth the money. We belong to Lifetime Fitness. The child care center staff is awesome and are so good to my kids. Some weeks when my husband has been away it is the only hour I get to myself and the only chance I have to shower. When we have had power outages or snow days and I have been solo we head to the gym.

7. Be kind to yourself
When I am by myself for the week, there are certain things that aren't going to get done around the house. The kids aren't going to get showers every night, if everyone is melting down one of the younger kids may not make it to soccer practice that night. I will use paper plates for easier clean up and the kids may have chicken nuggets or cereal for dinner twice that week. The clean laundry isn't going to make it off the back of the couch. It is all okay.

Full Disclosure:
My husband's work trips are usually 2-3 days long, with the longest ones being 5 days. Right now he is traveling several times a month. Managing kids solo during the week is much easier then the weekend. Weekends are tough and so is the summer. No matter how much I plan things happen; sick kids, bad weather, homework projects kids forgot about. Recently, my husband was away and half of us including me came down with the stomach bug. In that case you go into survival mode, the kids eat pizza and cereal and watch extra show time.

I get a taste of solo parenting several times a month and it is hard, single parents and military/government/shift work spouses are my heroes.

What are some of your tips for parenting solo?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Lunchbox Love: School lunch ideas, tips and tricks




Between my school age and preschool kids I will make approx 1350 lunches this school year. 

I have many parenting weaknesses but one of my strengths is making school lunches. I have been making them for 12 years and have another 12 plus to go. It drives my hubby batty but I do make individual lunches for each kid. Usually the fruit/vegetable and treat are similar but the main part is different. It is a long school day, I want my kids to eat their lunch, so I pack things I know they will eat. If they are having a tough day I want them to know that at lunch their favorite sandwich and treat is waiting for them. It is like a hug from me. Disclaimer: By May everyone gets the same lunch and it doesn't look nearly as pretty as the first week of school!

The picture above shows some of my kids favorite lunches.
Top Left: Cheese quesadillas (I make them in the morning then wrap them in tinfoil), carrots, and gummy bears 
Bottom Left: Sandwich, apples, and Oreos 
Top Right: Cheese, Crackers and Pepperoni (I use silicone reusable cupcake liners to keep them separated), grapes and carrots
Bottom Right: Pita Quarters, single serving of hummus from Wegmans, blueberries and carrots
Some other favorites are: chicken nuggets (I cook them in the morning and wrap them in tin foil), lunch meat and cheese roll ups, salads and burritos.


Most mornings I feel like Fred the Baker from the old Dunkin Donut Commercials..."Time to make the lunches"

I want to share one of my favorite lunch tools - easylunchboxes bento boxes. A friend introduced them to me over 3 years ago and they are awesome! The ones that I use have 3 compartments and a lid. They are sturdy, dishwasher safe (seriously, they hold up really well in the dishwasher) and only 2 pieces!! I love that the lid stays on but the kids can still get it off at lunch time without struggling. I also love that it cuts down on our use of plastic sandwich bags. My favorite part is that a set of 4 is only $13.95!! This is not an ad or sponsored post, I use them everyday for my kids school lunches. 

My tips and tricks for no lunch drama for mama in the morning are:
  • Do as much prep work the night before as you can. A week's worth of PB&J sandwiches can go in the freezer and be taken out the night before and put in the fridge to thaw.
  • Get the kids involved. My older girls make their own lunches the night before and my younger kids let me know what they want and pick out their snacks and treats.
  • Have some options left for the end of the week when the groceries are running low, i.e. bagels and cream cheese can work as a sandwich, oranges when the strawberries run out.
What do you pack for your kids lunches? 

Do you have any favorite school lunch tools and tips?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Last Picture


C:\Users\Brosseau Home Office\Documents\C\Users\brosseab\Documents\Jane\My Pictures\Dad and the girls.jpg
My Dad with my three oldest girls - December 2009

2018 marks 9 years since my dad passed away. I can’t believe it has been that long ago, some days it feels like yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. Losing my dad has had a huge impact on who I am as a mother.
This picture was taken on Dec. 27th 2009. My dad passed away on January 8th, 2010. Right before Christmas we had received the devastating news that my dad’s lung cancer had spread everywhere and that he had little time left. When this picture was taken we didn’t know how little time that would be. 
A quick back story, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer the end of September 2009. He had no symptoms except for a cough, we were completely blind sided. He battled bravely undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. That December we found out that the cancer was everywhere and my dad said no more treatments. December was a blur, we quickly baptized our 3 daughters, it was something that my dad felt really strongly about and the only thing he and I ever argued about. My parents had come to stay with us for Christmas. Our good friend Amy is a fabulous photographer and I had asked her if she could take family pictures for us after Christmas. My dad had been really sick and I thought several times about canceling the photo shoot. We went through with it and I am so grateful that we did. Cancer treatments robbed my dad of his signature dark thick hair and mustache, but his smile and the twinkle in his blue eyes was still there. These pictures have become treasured gifts to us. I don’t think I can ever put into words how thankful I am to my dear friend for leaving her family right after Christmas and taking these pictures for us.
I miss my dad every day. He was only able to meet 3 of my 9 babies. Shortly after he passed away we found out that I was pregnant. We did not find out the gender of the baby and when the baby was a boy, I sobbed. Our first boy! I think everyone in the delivery room cried with us.  I knew it was my dad sending me a sign, that he was still with us in a different way. We named his middle name after my dad and Roo is so much like him. He has his smile and the same twinkle in his blue eyes, thankfully not my dad’s ears, just kidding dad. Several of my kids have my dad's mannerisms and it makes my heart happy. Since my dad's passing he has become a cross between a saint and a super hero to my kids. My dad was not perfect, but he was a good kind person. I love that my kids ask questions about him and that I can share stories about him. My dad was an only child as well and I am not sure what he would have thought of our big loud crazy family, but I would give anything to have one more day with him and have him meet all my kiddos.
When you lose a parent you become part of a club that you would never ask to be a member of. The grief I feel from losing my dad is always with me. It has changed over the years and changed me. The loss of a loved one is not something that you get through or over, it is always with you in some form. Right after my dad passed was the loneliest I have ever felt. My husband and friends were wonderfully supportive, but being an only child I did not have any siblings to share the grief or burden of helping to pick up the pieces. In hind sight that experience may have set me on the course for having a large family. I know having siblings doesn't guarantee that you will have their support or a wonderful relationship with them, but I am so happy that my kids have each other.

This past October, for my 40th birthday, my mom and Bill sent me and my oldest daughter to England and Wales for a week to see my dad's side of the family. It was an amazing trip to see all our relatives and visit the places that I went with him as a kid. I felt his presence often on that trip.


My dad always loved birds. The house I grew up in had big sliding doors that looked out onto a deck. My dad would sit on the couch doing a crossword puzzle and watch the birds at the bird feeder. His favorites were the cardinals and blue jays. Over the past nine years I have often seen cardinals and think that they are a sign from my dad. A friend who also lost her dad posted this, "A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them..."
Hug your loved ones extra tight and take all those family pictures. Life is precious and time is short.




Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Truthful look at Postpartum - 9 Months In/9 Months Out with baby #9

9 months ago we welcomed our ninth baby, a beautiful baby girl

My body has carried and delivered 9 babies and 1 angel baby in 13 years. I am proud of every stretch mark and excess fold of skin. I had hypermesis gravidarium in 6 out of my 9 pregnancies. I have had countless bags of IV fluids, Zofran pumps, iron infusions and 2 blood transfusions during my pregnancies.

Just like every pregnancy can be different so is the recovery. This postpartum recovery has been my hardest. I had physical postpartum issues that I haven’t had before. Thankfully my midwife suggested pelvic physical therapy which healed all those issues for me (see previous blog post). My youngest 3 kiddos were 2 and under which I think also added to a difficult recovery.

Emotionally it has been hard. Our sweet 9th is our last baby and I hadn’t anticipated how hard all those “lasts” would be. I suffered from postpartum depression for the FIRST time after baby number 9. It took me awhile to figure out what it was. Not having it before, it was not on my radar that I would have it this time. I am on a low dose of medication and feeling much better. Postpartum is beautiful and transformative but is also challenging and messy. The hardest part about postpartum issues (physical and mental health related) is that as moms we have to diagnosis ourselves, acknowledge it and seek help, all while taking care of our kids. One of my challenges was once I figured out I had postpartum depression, I didn't have a primary care doctor to go and see. My OB office had been my "primary care" doctors for the past several years. Thankfully I found a wonderful nurse practitioner who helped me. I wish there were more postpartum resources and care for moms in the U.S.

Being a mom of 9 doesn’t mean I am super human, I make mistakes and learn new parenting things everyday. 

After I healed from my physical postpartum issues I hit the gym. Working out is definitely my sanity. With a husband that travels often, going to the gym may be the only hour I have that week by myself and to shower. The gym I go to has a fantastic child care center. The other change I made was in my eating. I was struggling with low energy and extreme fatigue. I was desperate to try anything that would help. I did Whole30 in March and I could feel a change in my energy level almost immediately. 

Being an only child I am still in awe of this beautiful family we have created. Thank you to my amazing hubby and friends that have helped me through these past 9 months. 

Moms are AMAZING. We need to lift each other up, cheer each other on and support one another. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Postpartum Pelvic Physical Therapy stopped my insides from falling out after my last baby



My postpartum recovery from diastasis recti, weakened pelvic floor and prolapsed bladder after my last baby using pelvic rehab therapy

I am not a medical professional, this is my personal postpartum recovery journey, please consult your doctor before beginning any type of treatment plan. This is not a paid or sponsored post, I genuinely had a fantastic experience with Dr. Le and Sport and Spine Rehab and physical therapy worked to resolve my postpartum issues. 

My postpartum recovery from baby number 9 has been my hardest to date; mentally, physically and emotionally.

I have had 9 kids in 13 years, my last 5 in 6 years and my last 2 babies were 11 months apart. I recovered quickly after all of my deliveries. Let’s be honest, I have had a good run. I could tell that something wasn’t right after my 9th baby was born in July. I was feeling vaginal/pelvic pressure, like I was still pregnant and felt like I needed to pee ALL THE TIME. I chalked it up to having a lot of kids and figured that it would get better, it didn't. For my birthday in September, my best friend who is a personal trainer, treated me to a training session. I was about 10 weeks postpartum at the time. I had been much slower to work out after this last baby, things just didn’t feel right. While I was working out with my friend, she had me do some body weight squats and I felt like my insides were falling out from pressure. When I did planks she asked me to tighten my core and I literally was trying so hard and couldn’t tighten anything. My abdomen muscles were jello.

I had my post delivery appointment with my midwife, Amanda, that next week. I told her how I was feeling and then after the exam she told me that I had a severely weakened pelvic floor, a prolapsed bladder and level 3 diastasis recti. It made total sense with how I had been feeling, but now what? I had never had any recovery issues in the past. I had heard of all those terms but had to look them up after my appointment. Postpartum diastasis recti is when the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the muscles and connective tissue in the pelvic area. A prolapsed bladder is when the vaginal wall is too weak to hold up the bladder and it droops down into the vagina. I kept asking Amanda, this is going to get better right, RIGHT? She never said yes, just we’ll see. I had a neighbor that had to have surgery on her prolapsed bladder and it was a rough recovery, she couldn’t lift anything for weeks. I have 3 kids 2 years and under, how would that work. My midwife suggested that I try physical therapy first. I got the referral and called right away. Anyone that knows me, knows I am horrible about self care, with 9 kids, my needs are last. But this time I called right away, I was feeling miserable and really wanted to try the physical therapy route to see if I could avoid surgery.

The physical therapy place, Sport and Spine Rehab - Chiropractic and Physical Therapy Clinic, was close by and I was able to get in quickly. I really had no idea what type of exercises I would be doing, I was definitely nervous. First I met with Dr. Tiffanie Le, she was fabulous and outlined that I would be working on strenthing my core muscles in the hopes that by strengthing my pelvic floor, it would pull everything back up again, in particular my bladder. That first session I was a little self conscious, but quickly shed that. For the diastasis recti they taught me how to roll to my side then use my arms to push up versus doing a sit up, which was ugly for me anyway right now. Then they proceeded to take me through a series of core strenthing and breathing exercises. They would have me start with a warm up, like the Bruegger Postural Relief then work on the core exercises.


Pictured below are the foundation exercises and each week the physical therapist would build on them.

Bruggers Postural Relief
Belly Breathing
Pelvic Tilts
    
Dead Bug
Modified Bird Dog


Glute Bridge

With 9 kids and a husband that travels I was only able to make it to therapy 2 x a week. Most of the exercises I was able to do at home, which I tried to do several times a week. Sport and Spine Rehab had great hours including evening hours and they were also very accommodating and let me bring my new baby with me to appointments. Those first few weeks the exercises were really challenging. I am an active person, but the concentration that it took me to tighten my core and squeeze my pelvic floor muscles was intense. I would leave sweating. 5 weeks into physical therapy I started to feel a change. My frequency/urgency to pee was less, the pelvic pressure I was feeling was less. My core muscles were weak but I could feel them start to tighten.

I continued my sessions 1-2 x a week for the next 4 weeks. I was feeling so much better. I had a follow up appointment with my midwife in December. I was really hoping that how I was feeling would translate into a good internal exam. I was holding my breath literally and figuratively during the exam. The physical therapy had worked! My bladder was no longer prolapsed, my pelvic wall was much stronger and my diastsis recti had gone from a 3 finger separation to a 1! Woohoo! I was estatic! If things had not worked out and I was told I would need surgery we would have figured out a way to make it work, but I was so excited to not have to go down that path.

The next day I had an appointment with Dr. Le and her staff, I had graduated from their program. They walked me through some more advanced core exercises that I could do on my own. I truly liked everyone that I had worked with there. They were all kind, proffessional and encouraging. They all gave me hugs as I walked out.

I am continuing to do the core exercises a couple of times a week and will do that for the forseeable future. My core strength is still not where I would like it to be, but I am working on making it stronger every week. My prolapsed bladder issues have been resolved and I can make it through a hard workout without feeling I needed to use the bathroom 10 times.

Here is my takeaway:
  • All of these pregnancy/postpartum complications I experienced can happen whether it is your first or ninth baby. My guess is that I had all of these issues after my seventh and eighth babies but since I was pregnant again so quickly they were not caught. 
  • I saw plenty of pregnant women at Sport and Spine Rehab strengthing their core. I wish I would have done that. 
  • I think that most moms would benefit from pelvic floor/core strengthening even without an official diagnosis.
  • I am so grateful that my midwife suggested physical therepy first versus surgery first. 
  • I also should have been more timely with my post delivery 6 week check up, by the time I was seen I was 10-11 weeks postpartum. 

Here are some tips that Dr. Le and I talked about for other mommas facing these postpartum issues. 
  1. If your OB recommends physical therapy make sure that you look for a Chiropractic/Physical Therapy place that is comfortable and knowledgeable working with postpartum moms. 
  2. You will want a program that emphasizes building back up the core muscles through core muscle exercises, breathing training, and postural training. All 3 will work to re-engage the pelvic floor. Make sure that you ask questions about the purpose of the program and exercises that you are put on. You want to make sure they are solving for what you need strengthened. 
  3. Do not be discouraged by this diagnosis, it will take time and hard work to heal 
  4. Slowing things down in the postpartum period will help you return to your desired level of activity with less risk of injury. During this time your body relearns to engage proper muscles to help you move better when you do return to your sport/activity. 
  5. Once you are on a program be compliant and consistent so you can get results.
  6. Keep in mind that not every pregnancy and birth is the same and the amount of activity prior to and during the pregnancy affects recovery.
  7. All mommas, prenatal and postpartum, can benefit from core training and exercise, you don't need to wait to be diagnosed with a condition or have pain to start rehab and therapy for your core and pelvic floor.
Dr. Le has her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from New York Chiropractic College. She is also:
- Webster certified (a chiropractic technique commonly used with pregnant patients; website for more info can be found here: https://icpa4kids.com/training/webster-certification/webster-technique/ ) 
- attended the Birthfit Professional Seminar (https://birthfit.com/
- in the process of acquiring her birth doula certification through DONA International (https://www.dona.org/)