Monday, September 30, 2013

A Dream Realized.

You guys. It's real! The state recommended us for a charter! 

It's kind of hard to write a post when a) you're still pretty speechless with excitement and b) your fingers are busy pinching yourself to make sure you're not dreaming. But here it goes.

This dream. This dream has been at least five years in the making. It wasn't always easy to share openly and honestly about all the times I felt insecure about pursuing this dream. In such a public space, it's easy to inadvertently compromise my professionalism. For example, this blog (with posts about miscarriage and everything else) has been read by potential funders during the due diligence process when they're deciding whether or not to give us money. 

I tried my best to talk about how--in those moments of intense uncertainty--I just had to put my head down and focus on the very next step in front of me. I've learned that I can't stop myself from feeling insecure about my abilities or from thinking that I'm unworthy of pursuing such a big dream. In those moments, I embrace the space between my feelings and my actions. I can't control my feelings, but I can absolutely control my response to those feelings. I always pushed myself (or listened to Matt when he was pushing me) to take the next step forward, no matter how impossible that step felt at times. 

And getting here was the easy part! I have no doubt that actually opening and running a school (and then opening a second one in San Antonio and more throughout the nation after that) will be really, really hard. Insanely hard! But I'm building up my courage--experience by experience. 

It takes an immense amount of courage to pursue our dreams. I almost said "follow our dreams" in the previous sentence, but "follow" doesn't capture the persistence and courage that it takes to make things happen for ourselves. 

I'm learning that courage is like a muscle that has to be exercised. There were so many things--big and small--that helped me strengthen my courage muscle. And I continue to try to exercise it daily. I started small by planning unconventional birthday parties, like a Random Acts of Kindness Scavenger Hunt. It's embarrassing to admit that it took courage for me to plan a birthday party, but it did. I worried that people wouldn't come to something so out-of-the-ordinary or that they wouldn't enjoy themselves if they did come. 

That process strengthened my courage muscle enough to plan a year-long sabbatical. I was so worried that people would judge me for not working or that I would compromise my career by stepping out for a year. 

The sabbatical led to planning a $2,000 wedding, despite many naysayers who said it couldn't be done or said our wedding wouldn't be fun. 

Step by step, year by year. That's what it takes to exercise our courage and pursue our dreams. Life is too precious to do anything less. 

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The pumpkins are upon us! As a side note, Henry is still obsessed with pumpkins. He has been since he was eight months-old. Every trip to the grocery store turns into a discussion about how we're going to wait until October to buy pumpkins. 

I'm so excited that Henry is finally at the age where we can pick his own Halloween costume. The first year of his life we dressed him up like his favorite thing in the world: Hoss. The second year of his life we dressed him up like his second favorite fruit: Strawberries (we opted not to dress him up like his first favorite fruit--grapes--because we didn't think he would be too comfortable). 

So this year, I've been asking him what he wants to be. My friend lets her children keep an ongoing list of what they want to be in the months leading up to Halloween. They change their minds frequently, so she writes down everything. Then, on the predetermined date, they read over the list and decide what they are going to be. 

My plan was to follow the same strategy with Henry, except he keeps saying the same thing over and over. He wants to be an elephant (except for the time he was joking--how cute is a 2.5 year-old telling jokes?--and said he wanted to be a toenail). 

So, elephant it is. 

With Tate, I was going to dress him up like is favorite thing, but his favorite thing is Henry. Henry doesn't have enough distinctive features to make that costume obvious enough. So, in my mind, the next best thing is to dress him up in the elephant theme, which led me to the idea of a peanut. 

The elephant and peanut costumes gave me the idea that we could do a circus theme as a family. Matt has dressed up like a "strong man" before, and it was hilarious. We could do clown, ringmaster, etc. Honestly, I don't know if I have the bandwidth to pull of a family-themed Halloween this year, but I'm excited about at least working with Henry to get his costume sewn. We'll see how much we get done! 

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Second Baby Scrapbook

Despite all the craziness that has been our life lately, I'm still committed to creating a scrapbook of Tate's first year, as well as an ongoing family scrapbook. However, because of the aforementioned craziness, I'm even more committed to simplifying the process (did you even think it was possible, given the fact that the current version is simply photos taped to card stock, stuffed in sheet protectors, and clipped into a binder?). 

Well, yes. This post is about how the process got even simpler: enter Instagram. 

Instead of lugging out our camera, snapping photos, putting the SD card in the computer, importing photos, editing photos, and sending photos to be printed, I simply use my phone to snap photos of Tate, use the Printicular app to send them to Walgreens, and pick up the printed photographs. 

Now that I think about it, I'll probably get them mailed to our house next time. 

In some ways I wish I could slow down--that I wouldn't turn to short-cuts and conveniences. But this is where I am right now. I want to work full-time and be home with my infant son and pick up my toddler at 3pm every day and keep this blog going and partner with Matt to make sure we get a healthy meal on the table as much as possible and keep our physical environment clean/organized/tranquil and have time to do fun stuff and hang out with friends and have time to just crash on the bed and watch Orange Is the New Black with Matt. And(!) I want to resume exercising (my renewed habits died hard as soon as we moved) and(!) start gardening. 

So I am very thankful for Instagram at the moment. Plus, it's just fun to get visual glimpses into everyone's lives while I'm breastfeeding! If you're interested, you can find me as "saracotner."

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Finding Balance

Last week I was invited to speak to one of the Teach For America national teams. I said that I would gladly come, but I let them know that I was still on maternity leave and would need to bring my baby with me. I asked if I could come at 11:15, which I knew would be the start of Tate's morning nap.
I woke Tate up from his first nap at 10am and breastfed him. Then I gathered our stuff and drove downtown. Once we got there, I put Tate in the Moby, gave him a pacifier, and gently swayed him to sleep while I spoke to the group and fielded questions about the work we are doing. Whenever he started to stir, I would gently pat him on the back for a few seconds and he would fall right back asleep.
Later that week, one of our volunteers came over to my house so we could collaborate on a grant application. Again, I wore Tate in the Moby through his naps, breastfed him while my colleague and I continued to work, and put him on the floor under his wooden arch during his awake times.
Both of these episodes left me feeling incredibly--over-the-moon--grateful that I get to have everything I want. I get to be there for my son during these formative months and I get to pursue my personal passion for educational reform. I get to work and be with my son.
I'm not talking about this set-up in order to brag. I'm talking about it because I was only able to make this happen for myself by a) being really honest with myself about what I want/need in my life b) having conviction that I could make it happen for myself and c) having the courage to make it happen. (Of course there's a whole other conversation about the privilege in my life that is the foundation upon which all the rest of this was built. This article pretty much sums it up; I, too, had "challenges" while young--my single mom was on welfare when I was a baby--but at the end of the day my family's perspective on education, my race, culture, background, sexual orientation, etc. bestow incredible privilege upon me.)
After staying at home with Henry for 14 months and pushing myself to the edge of my sanity, I realized that I needed to work. I'm not the best version of myself if I'm not engaged in activities that are directly and urgently impacting social justice out in the world. And if I'm not the best version of myself, then I can't possible be the best mother possible for my sons.
But on the other hand, I realize that we aren't making the world any better if we compromise the health and wellness of our own families. And so I spend an immense amount of time trying to figure out how to do both: How to be there for my sons and to work in the wider world.
That was the be-honest-with-myself-part. The second and third parts were about having conviction and courage, despite not having too many mentors/role models in this arena. I had to get over the fact that I look like an unprofessional hippy when I'm wearing Tate in the Moby. He's cozy. He sleeps. End of discussion.
It's been a constant creative pursuit. At first making this all work looked like five days a week of part-time daycare for Henry while I worked. Then I consolidated those part-time hours into three slighly longer days. Henry napped at school and then we spent the afternoons together. I tried to have our second baby in between turning in the charter application and opening the school, but then I had a miscarriage, which meant that the ideal window for having a baby closed and we had to revise the plan based on our new set of circumstances.
I officially start part-time work on the school in October (if the charter goes through--we find out on the 27th). I'll continue to piece together creative solutions that meet all of our needs. It's definitely not easy, but it's the only thing that feels right.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

The Aftermath

There's so much swirling around in my head; I'm not exactly sure where to begin. The real problem is that I'm not sure what the main idea of this post is. I have no idea where I'm trying to end up, so I don't know which direction to go.
When I was 16 my first job was working at a science museum, and I rotated to a new station every 30 minutes. One of my stations was the hurricane machine. It was a room with glass walls. People would enter with ear muffs and take their seats. There was a gauge on the wall and it would show how the wind was slowly increasing. It started with a light breeze. Kite weather. And then it would inch its way up to a category hurricane. Chunks of foam would blow around like crazy.
After a minute or two, the wind would start to die down and return to a calm spring day.
Life feels like it's inching its way back to a calm spring day. Before I sat down to type this, I put away the dishes that were done drying in the sink. I picked up several of Henry's toys and returned them to the shelves. I wiped down the entire kitchen island, and put away all the paraphernalia that had gathered from the weekend (Tate's bathing suit and hat, our camera, Henry's school bag). I'm still stressed about finding childcare during an important call I have tomorrow, but that's a lot less crazy than everything that was on my plate last week.
Several of my favorite bloggers dropped off the edge of the Earth when they gave birth to their second children. I didn't want to follow in their footsteps. But giving birth to a house, a baby, and hopefully a school has kind of done me in.
I have so much to say about dwelling in possibility and making it happen. I think I'll wait until we officially hear word about the charter. The interview went better than I ever could have imagined.

After the interview I had to attend a fundraising event. And then the next morning I had a six-hour meeting to work on a grant application. And there are still boxes piled three-feet high in Tate's room.

But everything feels right with the world. I am so happy with the trajectory we are on. I'm so happy that we had a second child and bought this land and built this house. (Of course there's not a week that goes by that I don't think about the millions of things that are out of my control that could go wrong at any minute. I acknowledge those things as part of my gratitude practice, but I try not to let them make me feel overwhelmed or anxious.)

I'm looking forward to everything settling down throughout the rest of September. Hopefully everything will be in a good place by the beginning of October.

Are you still out there? How are you doing?

P.S. The photo was taken down by the creek that runs along the bottom of our property. (Honesty Time: The Instagram filter masks a lot of the trash that's down there and the evidence of homeless camps. But still! It's beautiful.)

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two Months: Happy Birthday, Tate!

Dear Tate,
We're so lucky to have had another amazing month with you. You are pure joy!
The transition between one and two months was so clear. Around six weeks, it's as if you woke up and suddenly became an active, vibrant, joyful little being. You love interacting with people. I have fun imitating your noises, and I love when you show off that wide smile of yours. My heart melts when you giggle. It's the sweetest thing.
You and I spend our days in a calm rhythm: eat, play, sleep. I'm able to get a ton of work done for my school--thank you very much! During your awake time, you spend some time watching your mobiles, but you prefer to interact with me or smile at the mirror. You absolutely hate, hate, hate riding in the car. Your little mad cry breaks my heart! We pick up Henry from school every day, and you cry the whole way there and back.
You're doing a great job at night. You go to sleep around 8pm, and I wake you up for a 10pm feeding before I go to bed. Then you wake up around 3am for a feeding. You'll usually wake up again a couple hours later, so I pull you into bed with me to snuggle back to sleep until 7am.
You fit so easily right into our lives. You love watching Henry, and we all love kissing your cheeks. Seriously, they go on for days and days and are just the sweetest, softest things.
Thank you for being you!

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Settling In

This is the year to "put down roots." I didn't set a bunch of small intentions because I was so focused on three huge ones:
  1. Welcome a healthy, happy baby into our lives
  2. Finish building our house
  3. Receive approval from the state to open Austin's first public Montessori school
I had to take a break from this space last week because I was getting sucked into the vortex of these intentions. All at once!
We officially moved into our house and also received notification that the charter application has made it to the final round (we interview with the state this Thursday). So we had the stress of moving on top of the stress of wrangling a toddler on top of the stress of meeting an infant's needs on top of many professional obligations (and I needed to buy a new suit, which is frankly one of the last things I want to be doing at two months post-partum).
The good news is that I can clearly see the other side. Of course the "other side" looks like working my butt off to make sure everything is in place to open the school in August 2014, but at least if the charter goes through I'll be doing it from the comfort of our calming new home (well, once we get everything unpacked) with frequent fun breaks courtesy of my two sweet boys.
I have one post scheduled for tomorrow, and I'll aim to be up and running around here by next week!
I hope all is well with you...

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Infant Sleep Update

As I type this, Tate is fast asleep on my chest (in the Moby Wrap, which frees up my hands for typing). That pretty much describes how I spend many hours a day!
Tate is now two months-old, and now seems like a good time to update you on how our routine is going.
Around 7am, Henry wakes up like clockwork and Matt helps him start getting ready for the day. Tate is also usually ready to eat at this time. If he happens to still be asleep, I wake him up to start our day together.
After about 20-30 minutes of breastfeeding, Tate is ready for awake time. I typically put him on a mat in our bathroom and let him look at the black-and-white cards hanging from his wooden arch while I shower. I try to shower quickly, so that I can pick him up before he gets fussy.
By the time I'm dressed, Tate is usually ready for an activity change. I typically bring him out into the living room and set him up on the couch. He likes to look at the dark beams on our ceiling and to generally be part of our morning family time. I then have a few minutes to eat my breakfast with Matt and Henry.
When Tate gets fussy a second time, it generally means he's tired and ready for a nap (around 8:15). I put the Moby on and settle him into it. We usually sit on the couch together. He typically falls right to sleep with a pacifier and a few pats on the back. I get to work for about an hour and 45 minutes. If Tate starts to rustle during that time, I will help him fall back asleep by putting the pacifier back in his mouth or patting his back a few times. He falls asleep nearly instantly, which is how I know he needs more sleep instead of food.
I could transfer Tate to his bed if I wanted to, but I'm lazy. I would rather have an hour and 45 minutes of uninterrupted work time. If he were sleeping on his bed, he would be much more likely to wake up between sleep cycles or wake himself up from farting.
Since Henry refused to nap anywhere but the Moby for the first three months of his life and then later became an awesome independent sleeper, I'm not worried about the situation. I'm actually relishing it. I love feeling Tate snuggled against me and kissing the top of his head. Once we move to our new house, I will probably start working on my bed and putting Tate to sleep next to me during naps. That way, I can respond quickly when he starts to wake. Around three months, I will transition him to his own room for naps.
Our day pretty much repeats itself. I generally feed Tate every three hours: 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm (obviously each of those times is + or - depending on when Tate is hungry). He generally naps for the last hour and 45 minutes of every 3-hour cycle. His afternoon nap gets interrupted when we have to go pick up Henry. However, once we get home and he goes back in the Moby, he falls back asleep.
After his 10pm feeding, we put him on his bed (which is a crib mattress on the floor next to our bed), and he typically falls asleep. He recently outgrew the Moses basket that he was sleeping in. We're taking a different approach with Tate than we did with Henry. Henry slept in our bed for the first two months of his life. Although I loved feeling his warm little body snuggled in my armpit, I didn't like how poorly I slept. It was a relief to put him in his own room on his Montessori floor bed (i.e., crib mattress) at two months. However, it wasn't that fun to breastfeed him on his bed in the middle of the night.
This time around, Tate only slept in our bed for one night. Then we transitioned him to the Moses basket next to our bed. We all seem to sleep so much better! When Henry slept next to me, he would root around for the breast constantly. Tate tends to wake up twice in the night (around 2am and 5am). I pull him into the bed to feed him and then put him back on his mattress. If he has trouble settling back to sleep, Matt will give him his pacifier and pat his back.
Now that we've hit the 2-month mark, I'm trying to see if Tate can go longer between feedings in the night. The pediatrician said he should be able to go 6-8 hours without milk. Last week, for example, when Tate would wake up at 2am, Matt would try to soothe him back to sleep with the pacifier first. If it didn't work then we knew he was hungry (as opposed to just waking up out of habit).
I haven't talked to Matt about it yet, but I'd like to keep Tate on his floorbed in our room until four months. That's when the pediatrician recommends we start sleep training. For now, it's so much easier to have him right next to us for nighttime breastfeeding. Maybe we'll transition him to his own room around four months and then start sleep training a few weeks after that to give him time to get used to the transition.
The sleep stuff is so much easier this time around. When Henry was an infant, he struggled to fall back asleep after nighttime feedings. We would have to walk him around in the Moby to get him to fall asleep. Then when we tried to transition him to the bed, he would wake up and we would have to start all over again. I have fond memories of Matt raking leaves in the backyard or cleaning the baseboards with a toothbrush with Henry in the Moby in the middle of the night.
It's still hard and I'm still tired, but it's easier knowing that the hard stuff doesn't last too long.
I'm incredibly thankful that we've been able to get Tate into a routine like we did with Henry. He gets his needs for eating, activity, and rest taken care of, and I am comforted by the consistent structure and time to take care of my needs.
Hopefully Tate will follow Henry's lead on the sleep stuff. Henry still sleeps through the night (approximately 11.5-12 hours) and wakes up at 7am. He struggles to fall asleep for naps on the weekend, but everything else is pretty smooth.

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