Each Mommy Matters: Jenn L

Today’s interview is with my friend Jenn L. I met Jenn through our mom’s group online, and I instantly felt like a big sister to her. At the time, Jenn was in college, juggling classes, her partner, having a baby, working, stress in general. We traded messages brainstorming the ways she could furnish her apartment on the cheap and it took me back to my own college apartment days. Sometimes life throws you a curveball, or as John Lennon famously said “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” Not only does Jenn have two children and a third on the way, you might be surprised to learn that she has played the violin since age 5, and can play be ear. Two of my cousins play the violin and I know it is not an easy instrument to master, yet Jenn played in the Alabama Youth Symphony. So a musician, mother, wife and friend, future doctor too? That’s a well rounded life. I hope you will enjoy some of her insights.

As I said, I met Jenn while she was still in school.

I got pregnant with my daughter in college. My path was to have been medical school, but I thank the Lord everyday that He interrupted my plan. I am so glad to have been able to have my family young like I wanted (although a little earlier than I thought it would be) and be able to spend time with them. I love working in healthcare and it is what I currently do. I still am not quite sure what I want to do as I really enjoy healthcare and taking care of people, but I also have a passion for counseling. I still have plenty of time to figure it out I guess. 

So, Jenn works at a hospital which intrigued me. As a mother, I can imagine the stress of seeing children in pain would be unbearable, yet at the same time healthcare has always fascinated me from the helping aspect of it. I think I would like to be on the sidelines, not right in the trauma bay, you know, but doing something to help people when they aren’t at their best. Being in the healthcare field, what kind of “inside information” makes you a smarter mom?  What chills you?  What makes you go back every day?

I think mostly knowing what should be a doctors visit vs what to treat at home is awesome. Saves us a lot of unnecessary visits. Also having knowledge about what procedures/tests are necessary or could be dangerous is great instead of just blindly following doctors orders (although I respect doctors and they are very important, sometimes as a mom we need to educate ourselves).

What chills me is seeing people not take care of themselves. So many patients come in complaining of headaches, and sore knees. They have diabetes, high blood pressure, etc and they want doctors to ‘fix’ it. But then they won’t try to eat healthier or exercise, won’t take their meds. And then are mystified when their problems get worse. It’s really scary.

What makes me go back: my patients. We have some absolutely amazing patients. Especially my elderly ones. They are like grandparents to me, and we genuinely care about each other. I love taking care of them and making them happy! They always let us know how much they appreciate us. I genuinely love them!

Jenn touches on something here that I think we all need to remember, and that is taking care of ourselves. We cannot rely on others to make our lives better, and as parents we need to consider what our children will do if we are not there to help them grow into the amazing individuals they will one day be. Jenn’s husband – her high school sweetheart – is a swim coach and their oldest daughter Lacey (5) is on a swim team now. It is great they are teaching their children young that activities are fun and part of every day. We have enrolled Melody in dance and there are many students I see at the studio who are pudgy. I’m so thankful their parents have them in dance as an activity that is enjoyable too!

Being healthy is not just a physical thing, though; it is also mental. We can’t always be the level headed, calm parents we imagined we would be. What do you use every day to be positive for your kids?

Prayer. Lots of it. If I am not praying continually for patience and love to flow from my actions, then I have a major mean mommy day. My kids are awesome, but like all kids they are great at pushing my buttons. I pray for gentleness and calmness when they act up and I try to make every moment a teachable one. I also pray for God to remind me every day how blessed I am!! It helps me appreciate the small things. 

And yet, there can be difficult lessons and moments with our kids. What about that?

Teaching kids (especially my stubborn ones) is never easy. The hardest part for me is follow through and being consistent. It’s easy to let your children misbehave, or not be polite, etc. Its hard to stay on them and hold them accountable. It’s downright exhausting and sometimes I want to fall into the trap of ‘i’ll fix it later.’ But it only gets worse, so I have to nip it in the bud even if its tiring or frustrating. What I’ve learned is patience and perseverance pays off. The hard work I put in teaching and molding them shows when their teachers compliment their behavior, or when friends notice their manners, etc. Then I can relish the moment (for a minute) until the next teachable moment comes along!

Ahhh, follow through and consistency. That is a tough one in this house too! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who says “no” to something one day and “yes” on another. Plus, each child is so different (I think I’m lucky I only have one!) and Jenn has her third due in just a few short months. What kind of challenges have you faced with your kids?

I guess one would be having so called ‘high needs’ children. You can google Dr Sears if you’d like for more info on the matter. But basically my children are very high needs. They need lots of stimulation but get overstimulated easily. They have a hard time regulating emotions and calming down. They are very empathetic and feel very deeply, and are very smart. They are super stubborn and take a long time to self soothe. Basically what that meant was: they weren’t like any of my friends kids, and they weren’t easy babies. They didn’t sleep through the night until around 2.5, even when I approached the second baby with a completely different mindset than the first. It was hard, especially as a young mom, to have a needy child when everyone else had easy babies. What was I doing wrong? Was I a bad mom? Did I spoil her? As it turns out, she is an AMAZING 5 year old. Caring, loving, empathetic, stubborn, and too smart for her own good. She feels intensely and cares deeply. She is such an old soul. So when the second one came along and was exactly the same, I stopped stressing as much as to what other people considered ‘normal’ and kept reminding myself that Lacey turned out awesomely, so I know that I need to parent Davis the way my instincts tell me (and not how society instructs) and he will turn out just fine. It’s proving true as he is an awesome, caring, loving, smart little boy. 

Finding a success out of adversity is one way that Jenn is a super mom. It isn’t always easy to rise above the moments of frustration to see the big picture. Lots of us turn to our own mothers to learn about this mom gig. What is something you learned from your mom?

Mainly, rock and hold your babies as much as you can. I have triplet sisters. Two of them were ‘easy’ babies and one was not. The one who wasn’t is very sensitive, smart, and touchy now. My mom regrets not holding her and rocking her more, she so desperately needed it. She needs a lot of touch and didn’t get it because my mom isn’t that touchy and she had two other babies. My mom realizes that now and is sad that she didn’t listen to her instincts. Her words of wisdom, “When your children get older, you will never look back and regret holding them too much.”

So true! I still rock Melody in our glider even though she is nearly half as tall as me! There is just something wonderful and special about holding your little one, singing them a song or reading a story together. I know one day she won’t want to do that any longer, so I will cherish every moment of it. Any final words of wisdom?

Trust your instincts. There is no ‘normal’ when it comes to children. Not all babies sleep through the night at 6 weeks. Not all babies eat on a 3-4 hour schedule. Some babies just fuss and its not colic. Some babies want to be held all the time. It’s personalities. You can’t spoil a baby. Don’t listen to what other people tell you unless you asked for advice. What works for one child may not work for yours! If doing something makes you feel uneasy, don’t do it!! Lastly, hold and rock your babies. When they are wild two year olds or big 5 year olds, you will never regret not holding them enough.

Jenn, thank you again! I have really enjoyed learning more about you and gaining a few more pearls of wisdom from another mom who I deeply admire. I can’t wait to meet baby #3 in January!

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Each Mommy Matters

I am always trying to come up with new and interesting topics for this blog, and recently I had a dream that I was interviewing my friend Pam and that I wrote this amazing article about her, everyone read it and the world cheered! Well, not exactly, but I did dream that I was interviewing Pam about being a mom. As with all great dreams, my insightful questions and her inspirational answers were lost when I awoke, but the idea remained. I have polled many of the moms I know and put out invitations to be interviewed for a new feature I am calling Each Mommy Matters.

The point of Each Mommy Matters is to show how we each have our own unique challenges, strategies and beliefs, but every mother I have ever met ultimately wants to raise her children to be great people to the best of her abilities. I have as yet to meet someone who wants to raise little a-holes. I have been interviewing my friends via email because so many of my mom friends are spread far and wide across the country and across the globe. As the feature continues on a “whenever” basis, hopefully we will begin to have a broad range of fabulous and interesting articles.

Of course, my first choice, go-to mom, is my mom, but she’s on vacation, heh. I have asked my best friend, Tara to answer a few questions for us. You might just be surprised at how quickly she can move you to laughter or tears, which is one of the many reasons I love her. Tara is the mother of two amazing children, Burke (6) and Cassidy (5) – who I would take home in a heartbeat if they fit into my suitcase – and the wife of Don, who she says is the male version of me (as if that’s not confusing…). She and her family moved to Knoxville, TN just about 4 years ago. 

Is this where you grew up? If no, do you prefer where you are now to your hometown? What brought you to your current location?

No, we moved here from Southern California in January of 2008. We (me, my husband and our 2 children) moved for many reasons. We were concerned about the school system in Orange County and weighed the risk and expense of moving against paying for a private school for two kids. During this, my husband was laid off. Before having him begin the hunt for new employment, we toyed with the idea of me going back to advertising and him being a stay-at-home-dad. He just didn’t want to do that. So, he was out of a job and while I enjoyed my job, lay-offs were constantly rumored and the pay was just okay. Finally, we were missing a lot of the support two working parents with little ones could really use. Knoxville came up as our best option because there was a ton of family in the area, the school systems are stellar (seriously, check them out), there was huge economic growth and we both loved what we saw during our visits here.

This move, although one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do, was the best decision we ever made. Don and I both agree that we would never move back to where we grew up (the OC). In Knoxville, we’ve found a community that supports young families, a school system that blows away anything we were facing in Orange County and we completely fell in love with the people. I have made more friends in the past 4+ years than I did in the past 20 years in California. People care about each other here…they reach out…they embrace the values many of us have forgotten as we get older and more successful.  Heck, they hold doors open and courtesy wave!  (It really is the little things, isn’t it?)

Quite simply…we’re home.

Tara brings up something very important to a family, and that is a good support system.  I myself have been blessed with family who is close by and who want to be a part of Melody’s life. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have maintained my sanity these past 5 1/2 years. Sometimes the best thing really is to drop your kids off at Grandma’s house and go shopping, just because. I also asked Tara about being a working mother.

What did you do before you had kids? Have you continued doing that as a mom? If not, would you want to return to that at some point?

I was a Director at an advertising agency before I had kids. It was a pregnancy that convinced me I had to make some adjustments in my professional life. I can still have a career (I wouldn’t be happy any other way), but 16 hour work days and press checks at 3 AM just won’t fly anymore. I took a tremendous pay and status cut to find a position with much less hours and stress.

In retrospect, that first pregnancy saved my life. If I kept going on the path I was, I would probably be a 3-pack a day smoker with an ulcer the size of Oklahoma. 

Although I do miss elements of advertising, I couldn’t go back to that stress level. If consulting work were possible some day in the future, I would be open to exploring that option. As it stands now, I have a position that not only pays very well with great hours, but I enjoy what I do and am respected. You really can’t beat that.

I know that Tara and I feel the same way, that working is what we enjoy in addition to parenting. It’s sometimes difficult when you have people in your ear, trying to convince you that “this way” or “that way” of raising your children is the “right way” whether it’s staying at home or going to work, but the only right way for a family is what is right for that family. The right way for another family would likely be completely different, but neither one is wrong! Most importantly, we are all working toward the goal of bringing up our children in a healthy, happy home. Sure, it can be frustrating at times; that’s parenting.

Probably the biggest frustration I’ve faced is actually other moms. There seems to be a one-upping thing going on with many of them. I admit to falling into that trap. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, a mom of a single child or you’re juggling many children, if you breastfeed or don’t, if you co-sleep or don’t. It simply doesn’t matter because life is NOT a competition. Can’t we just all just enjoy the ride? Let’s support each other more and judge each other less. We ALL work our a$$e$$ off, right? 

That’s a tough one for many of us to learn. It doesn’t matter who has the biggest birthday party or has the most popular kids in school. Especially with competitive, goal oriented people around you, it is easy to get caught up in the game. We all work hard but probably ought to stop and smell the roses more. Taking that step back is something we all should learn. 

What is something you have learned about being a mom from another mom?

Our time here is brief. Keep focused on your priorities and keep your perspective in check. A good friend of mine, Lori, is dying of inflammatory breast cancer. As I type this, she’s at the hospital having her lungs tapped in an effort to drain some fluid and aid her breathing. Her children are the same ages and genders as mine. We shared both our pregnancies together. Seven years ago, I met several women during my pregnancy with my son (Lori being one of them). Now, 73 of us share a private Facebook page. 

One night, I was having a tooth-brushing battle with my youngest. I angrily wrestled her to bed and marched away with my body seething in irritation. Then, I signed on to feel the support of these special friends and stumbled across a post from Lori. She was looking for feedback. You see, Lori is writing notes to her children…for them to read as they age without her. How can you possibility feel overwhelmed or angry at anything your kids do when you realized how blessed you are not to have that knowledge hanging over your head? Can you imagine KNOWING you won’t be at your daughter’s wedding or see your son graduate from high school? The agony of that awareness would be so staggering. I can’t even comprehend it.  I promptly signed off and crawled in bed with my daughter, I held her until she fell asleep that night…and then held her for another 30 minutes.

That’s bittersweet and so important to accept, all at once. Focusing our priorities on family, children, the little things is difficult in this crazy, competitive society we live in. How do you do it?

Despite the career, the housework and the husband…one belief has always worked for me. The kids are my #1 priority. That means if someone is sick and I have a huge meeting…no contest. If I’m trying to make dinner, but my daughter wants me to watch her dance…no contest. Even if I’m running late for work, but my son needs me to simply cuddle him for a bit…NO CONTEST. By single-mindedly following this belief, the stress of decision-making is removed. Life becomes much simpler. Heck, this is why I took that pay cut anyway, to have a boss who understands my kids come first and doesn’t penalize me for it.

Any final words of wisdom for other moms out there?

They’re YOUR kids. Advice is great, sure…but for some reason, advice among moms can turn into preaching. Pave your own way. Only YOU know what’s best for you and your family. Only you are going to have these memories and make these decisions. During my first pregnancy, I wish I had a penny every time someone told me to rest up because “newborns are so hard”. Are you kidding me? I loved, loved, loved having a newborn. I LOVED being the only one up with her/him in the middle of the night…it was just us against the world and they couldn’t escape my snuggles. Hard? Ha! Dropping your child off at Kindergarten, knowing that now the school system “owns” them.  From that day on, they’ll be in the mix with hundreds of other kids all striving to be the best, to become something special…and you can’t take up the fight for them.

Dang. THAT’S hard.

Just because everyone has an opinion and advice to share doesn’t mean you need to take (or listen to) any of it! You’ll make your own decisions about what to do in each situation and what you memories to take with you. And you know what?  Your choice will be right every time.

Thank you Tara, for your willingness to participate in this project and for sharing this peek through the window into your life. Tara was the first person I really knew well to have a baby and I just remember that moment when I held her son Burke for the first time and thinking I could not wait to do it myself! What an amazing thing a woman can do…make a baby! It’s what we do with that baby after s/he is born that really impacts the world. Our tiny little person could grow up to be a big important muckity-muck for the world…or just the most important person in the world to their own children.