Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Have Beaten the Insomnia Demon

I have suffered from poor sleep for years. Long gone are the days of a blissful 8-9 hours of sleep. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Ever. Prolonged insomnia can lead to so many health issues down the road, and it absolutely wrecks you mentally in the short-term. If you’ve ever gone even a few days of not having good sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s horrible.

My sleep problems started just before I moved to the UK for grad school. Yep, stress. Stress of getting my visa approved, stress of moving internationally, stress of being surrounded by some of the best flute students anywhere. Then, of course, there was the pressure once school started. So. Much. Stress. I think I averaged 1-3 hours of sleep total each night my first term, and I was able to up it to about 5-6 hours by my third term. I was so grateful! By the time I graduated and moved back to the States, I was sleeping better until I started having children. The cycle began again. Now, with changing hormones, it’s only getting worse! Enter another bad cycle of poor sleep. Over time, and working with my doctor, I learned some tricks to help. It’s still not perfect every single night, but I am sleeping so much better than I have in years. I’ve even managed to sleep through storms. That’s new! Now, even when I go to bed with my mind racing, I can still get to sleep. I want to share these with you, because, like I said, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this, ever. (Sorry, fellow mommas, but these methods work best when you’ve not had that glass of wine.)

1. Melatonin. First of all, ask your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplements, but I use 5mg of melatonin to help me reset my circadian rhythm. We think between grad school and waking babies, it just got out of whack. I only used it once I was finished with my pregnancies and breastfeeding. Start small, like a 3mg dose if you’ve never used it before. Again, see your health care provider first!

2. Use a weighted blanket, a heavy, large DIY rice pack that you can heat up, or anything with weight. The extra weight that you put on your body helps you to feel more secure. I absolutely cannot sleep without something extra across my chest. When it is the summer, and it’s hot out, maybe I’ll just use a pillow to hug, but having the extra weight has worked very well for me. My sister-in-law let me borrow her heated rice pack when we were staying the night at her house, and it worked brilliantly!

3. Write down your worries. If you are laying down for the night and you find yourself starting to worry about anything and everything, get right back up and write them out immediately. Usually you’ll find that either the problems don’t seem so huge when you look at them on paper, or you’ll realize that you can’t actually deal with them that second, but you can easily get to them the next day. I have found that this helps me to relax because I know I have a list of tasks to tackle, and I won’t forget about them.

4. White noise. I know that they say to have a completely silent room, but that actually doesn’t work well for me. It unnerves me to have complete silence, allowing you to hear every creak and pop your house or apartment makes. Maybe I’m odd? I think what happened was learning to fall asleep with my baby’s sleep sheep over the years, and now I have to have some noise. In any case, we have a small fan that we turn on every evening. It helps to keep the air moving, which is so nice, and it gives me the white noise I feel like I need. The other advantage to white noise is that it can give you something else to focus on as you fall asleep, instead of your racing thoughts.

5. Mindfulness and imagery. I use a few techniques here. One is to breathe in slowly while thinking of the word “in” and breathe out slowly while thinking of the word “out”. This worked for me for a long time. When I begin meditating, I’ll often use this to help me get fully relaxed. Another technique that I learned from a friend is to start at your toes and imagine that you are slowly filling up your body with sand. This has been working extremely well lately. I don’t even get past my ankles before I’m out! I imagine that my feet are hollow, and the sparkling sand is very slowly falling from my toes to my heels, filling up my feet. Once your feet are full, move up your leg, allowing your leg to feel quite heavy. I love this trick!

If you are suffering from poor sleep or full-blown insomnia, please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot! So many of us have been there, and we all wish you the best sleep. There are loads of ideas that might work for you. I also highly recommend seeing your health care provider, too. Sleep is crucial to a healthy life and for being at your best when you are caring for your children or at your job. Do try the above methods and see which work best for you. I use all of them every night, because I absolutely have to. Sweet dreams!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Positive Parenting

A few months ago I felt like I really needed a radical change in my parenting style — things simply stopped working well for me. My days were getting filled with a lot of negativity, frustration, and by the end of each day, resignation and tears. What worked for my children as toddlers and preschoolers simply didn’t work for a strong-willed, athletic, and super-confident boy of 8 (for example), not to mention the different personalities of my other kiddos! After all, as our children grow and develop, so do their attitudes, interests, and behaviors (as a result of more self-awareness, maturity, and confidence). Our parenting styles, in turn, need to adapt and evolve, as well.

It just so happened that an ad for Positive Parenting Solutions — https://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/ — popped up on my Facebook feed a few months ago. I had just had a particularly hard day of my son shouting at me most of the afternoon, which he was doing really often, so I thought, “what could it hurt?” I used my practice time the next morning to watch the webinar, and I have never looked back! It opened my eyes to understanding childhood behavior and needs so much better. I immediately bought Amy McCready’s book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time, and another book, Positive Parenting, by Rebecca Eanes. I will tell you that I have read and re-read Amy’s book several times, and I have since added sticky notes to direct me straight to what I usually need guidance with the most. Rebecca’s book has been an excellent supplement for alternate approaches.

These books teach you about parenting your children through positive attention, encouragement (not to be confused with praise), and empowerment, giving them some much-needed control over their own lives. In these books you learn tools and scripts that are designed to help you encourage them and teach them life’s valuable lessons on more-or-less their terms. It teaches you that your home life is, indeed, a democracy, as opposed to the more authoritarian style that most of us grew up with. As a natural result of some of the successes of the tools and lessons I have learned along the way, I actually feel more empowered, too! What a win/win situation!

I will say that the road has been really bumpy. It’s been a challenge, for one, getting my husband on the same page as me — not because he doesn’t want to, just lack of time to learn the techniques — but it is essential that your spouse/partner is in lock-step with you on this. Also, I’ve learned that my own personality has been part of the problem! (Say, what?!) Yeah. So, not only did I need to learn to adjust how I handle all of the difference situations that pop up day-to-day and to change our routine, I needed to adjust my own personality and be more cheery and less frantic overall. Needless to say, I’m still working on that! I am a person that likes a lot of control and order…oh, and did I mention that I am a little short-tempered, too? Haha, yikes! I’ve had to learn to let A LOT of stuff go, speak more gently/ less firmly, walk away from conflicts and power struggles, and hand over a lot of power (positive power) to my children. I’ve also learned that children learn so much more from just sitting down with them and talking calmly and lovingly with them about their choices and about empathy (i.e. using time-IN), rather than just using time-outs as a means to direct behavior in the heat of the moment, which I can attest to, definitely doesn’t work. It does require a TON of extra effort, but it’s so worth it!!

After implementing the techniques from Positive Parenting Solutions, the above-mentioned books, and from various websites devoted to positive parenting, I have rarely had to raise my voice or even ground my children. They simply learn from the choices they make. Encouragement gives them a sense of significance and be more willing to cooperate. Positive power, positive attention, and helping out the family gives them their much-needed sense of belonging. I absolutely love this approach! Again, like anything new, it can have its ups and downs, and I’m definitely still learning myself! But, overall, there has been a very positive difference in our house, and I love the growth and change I’m seeing!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Mindfulness – It’s not just the latest buzzword!

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A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!

My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.

After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.

As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Busy, busy!

The last few months have brought so much work for me that I’ve neglected my site for a bit. Apologies! It’s been exciting, though! I served as the Chair of the 2015 Indianapolis Flute Fest, where we hosted the fabulous Jasmine Choi (www.jasminechoi.com). I even played for her the week before Flute Fest!!! She’s such a wonderful coach! Then, I had the honor of playing in the Hilbert Circle Theatre for a wonderful woman, Susan Kitterman, who is retiring in May as the director of the New World Youth Symphony Orchestra, where I played piccolo in 1995-1996. I also got the opportunity to be a part of the Butler University Arts Fest, playing the music of Rogers and Hammerstein and sharing the stage with the Butler Ballet (second only to Julliard!). Of course, I had my regular orchestral work in-and-amongst the other work. It was hard work and a little overwhelming at times, while juggling three small children, but it was worth every effort!

My toddler decided just before the Flute Fest that he was ready to potty-train. Yikes! I wasn’t ready, but if he was ready, then I had to be. It was a little frustrating at times, but once I took a breath and got comfortable with stopping every 20 minutes or so to put him on the toilet, it got easier. Once he developed awareness of actually urinating, then it got significantly easier. I think that that is a large part of the process: creating awareness. Toddlers are busy and want to go, go, go. They are so busy playing that they likely don’t even realize that they are urinating (pooping is another story — they are quite aware of that!). Once we both could recognize the signs of needing to go, then it’s just a matter of making it to the toilet. Sometimes he would fight it quite a bit. In the early stages of potty training, you really can’t push it too much, or you’ll turn your child off of it. However, once they are quite accustomed to using the toilet, you really do need to insist that they go and use it. As my husband, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics, likes to tell me, “potty-training is not a linear progression,” meaning, it’s often two steps forward and one step back. Keeping that in mind helps significantly, too.

I learned so much about self-discipline, patience, and the importance of exercise and relaxation techniques during this incredible time. Because I had 3-to-4 shows worth of music at any given time, I really did have to pace myself and stagger learning each show. I had to trust myself that I could still play successfully without playing every single note every day, which is completely impossible when children are involved. I learned to be patient with the learning process of my own work and with a potty-training toddler. This is where the exercise and relaxation techniques really come into play and help out. (see previous posts). It has been a learning process for me on so many levels, and that is what makes being a musician and a mommy so rewarding and enriching for me! Now I’m on to preparing for another possible recital. The excitement just never stops!

Posted in Parenting, Working Parent

Just Entering Motherhood (for real)

I have three children ages 6, nearly 5, and 2 1/2, and I feel like I’m only just now entering motherhood, like, for real. I’ve been at this for 6 years, have given and taken all kinds of parenting advice, have read a whole host of books and research on parenting and childhood development, and I’ve managed 3 children born within 3 years and 10 months of each other. I would think I would have felt like a mother by now. Well, yes, but mostly no. I have suddenly been thrown into being a manager as well as being a parent, and it has taken me a bit by surprise. I’m sure I’ve heard other parents talk about this “managerial” aspect of parenting multiple school-aged children, but I must have tuned it out or something. Wow, it’s a real thing!

Everyday by 7:45 a.m. I’ve worked out, showered, fed three children, eaten, packed three snacks and two lunches, hurried two of the kids out the door for school, and hopefully have the dishes finished. Whew! By 1:00 p.m., most days, I’ve practiced flute 3 hours, made snacks for two, taken care of odds-and-ends around the house and have lunch made and eaten for two, and dishes finished….again. Before I leave to pick up the kids from school, I use the rest of the 2 hours for laundry or grocery shopping, cleaning, and toddler play/learn time (we’re working on colors and sight words). At 3:00 I pick the kids up from school, and then we’re really “off to the races”: snacks, homework, piano practice for my daughter, continue laundry, cook and eat dinner, run kids to tumbling class, piano lessons, or [soon-to-start] mid-week catechism depending on the day; oh, and I teach flute lessons in there, too. Then it’s time for bedtime routine, prayers, silent reading, then lights out. Every.Single.Day.

While folding clothes after dinner tonight I found myself surprisingly feeling like a manager, even considering making lists of what needs to be done and when, and as a result, like I was just entering motherhood for the first time: completely blown away by the enormity of having children. As the shock wore off and the last pair of socks were folded, I realized that I nearly forgot to help my daughter with her piano practice today! She had had so much homework, that I let her play until dinner, then it was time for a bath, and piano practice nearly fell by the wayside. Yeah, maybe making lists is a good idea….

Never would I have thought that 6 years in to being a mother I would only just realize what an undertaking this is. Yes, I’ve known how massive of a job it is — I have, after all, nursed 3 babies around the clock, changed more diapers than I can count, and have been sleep-deprived more than I care to think about — but it’s this managerial side to parenting that is really making this real for me, and, man am I blown away! Thinking on all this I realize how happy I am that I came to this particular realization, so now I have a new approach to handling my new, much busier, daily routine. I’ve been a little wide-eyed and flustered since the beginning of school, but that was before I understood that I need to be a manager, as well as a mother, wife, daughter, (cook, laundromat, cleaner, etc., etc.) and flutist.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Relying on Balance

Some days are such a struggle. Today is one of those days. I’ve settled on a date for an unaccompanied recital, so I start to feel the crunch (I hate that!), and it seems like my children’s behavior is worse, instantly. I really wrestle with wanting to play and have fun non-stop with my children over their summer break, but I also have the need and desire to work on my flute playing. While orchestra is out over the summer, this feels like my only chance to either focus on technical issues I want to improve or concentrate on flute repertoire and prepare a recital. My children, however, get restless, start going a little crazy, then their behavior spirals downward, and I feel like I’ve lost control of everything. It’s such an inner conflict for me some days: I love them so much and want to give them an incredible childhood, but I can’t let my flute playing go to waste either; I constantly want to improve.  My natural tendency for impatience often gets the better of me, and I want both things at the same time, and I want it done NOW.  I think balance is the solution here. Two more hours of practice, then play time, yes? The house chores can wait.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Working Parent

“We All Need Somebody to Lean On”

I have discovered over the last few years how important it is to have a strong support system in life. As much as I like to think that I am Super Woman, and as much as I like for others to think that I am Super Woman, the truth is that I’m not….well, not entirely. I do manage a house, a husband, three children, a small-but-ongoing performing career, students, and all the cooking, but these things don’t happen on their own. Yes, most of the time I am on my own. My husband often works long days, especially during the academic year, and I do prefer to be the one teaching my children and managing the bulk of our affairs here. However, I’m only human, and like any other person, I have bad days. I have days when, for some random reason, it all feels too hard or too overwhelming. The last few days are an excellent example. I had missed out on 3-4 nights of sleep because I was trying to manage my allergies with Claritin-D (the D part is a ridiculous amount of sudafed), and it was simply keeping me awake at night. By day 5, when our kitchen sink had decided to leak, I was overwhelmed. I called my in-laws to take the children overnight so I could deal with our water emergency. Stuff like this has happened several times, and I couldn’t do it without this strong support. My parents still work outside the home, but they are still another source of strong support. We can go over and hang out at their house and sort of “get away,” our kids can play in their big backyard, and it’s always a good time. I need that.

No matter what you do in life or who you are, it’s so important to have that strong support structure. It’s worth taking the time to develop strong friendships, family relationships, faith-based relationships, and so on. Yes, we are all busy, but we are also humans — imperfect humans with basic needs of love and support. I feel like I am a better mother, wife, and musician because I have these relationships to hang on to when times get a little rough or even when times are great, which is so much more fun to celebrate with others! Maybe I’m not Super Woman, but I am certainly at my best with the love and support of my friends and family (even my friends on the other side of the ocean)! I need you all, and we all need each other.