The Power of Mom Friends

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Jumping sunset poses not necessary, but highly encouraged.

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Being a mom is a heavy task, and when you step back and really think about the daunting responsibility you have of not messing someone up entirely, it’s enough to send you straight to your wine shelf. Really, you–yeah, yeah, and your partner and community–are responsible for the outcome of a human being. Think about it: the power to turn your child into a total dick is right at your fingertips.

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but all that considered, it’s no wonder even the calmest of moms is occasionally riddled with anxiety and guilt. For the number of Super Bowl champs who say they first and foremost need to thank their mothers, there are even more sociopaths who blame theirs for their problems. I’m not saying my son will turn out like Norman Bates or anything–my God, I would not look good stuffed–but the possibilities of his future personality are endless.

It’s times like this, when I find myself going down an irrational rabbit hole, that I am particularly thankful for my mom friends. You know the ones I’m talking about: the friends who justify your neuroses, pull your head out of your ass, and bring some friggin’ levity back into your life.

I hate to categorize friends in this way, sticking them in the oft-dreaded ‘mom’ bucket, but I’ve found that there’s really no better term for the kind of person I mean. Simply put, a real mom friend is not just a fellow mom you call to schedule play dates; a real mom friend is someone with whom you can commiserate and share your greatest parenting fears and victories. Non-mom friends can certainly lend a sympathetic ear, but I’ve yet to meet a non-mom friend who can comfortably discuss baby poop, much less casually over lunch.

What does it mean to be a mom friend? Let me count the ways.

A mom friend will…

  1. Convince you that your baby won’t develop body dysmorphia because you think it’s fun to use Snapchat filters on him.
  2. Never ask you to do jumping jacks because she knows that no amount of kegels will prevent you from peeing yourself a little (or a lot).
  3. Drink a glass of wine in solidarity after you text her the word “poo-pocalypse.”
  4. Encourage you to keep watching HBO in front of your baby because it’s highly unlikely he understands the concepts of sex or violence yet. And that Jane the Virgin is actually educational what with the exposure to Spanish and all.
  5. Concur that it’s totally normal to shower every two days and wear yoga pants exclusively.
  6. Hear you utter the words “I’ve got a sausage in my pocket” and appreciate that you brought a snack instead of judging you for your sexual euphemisms.
  7. Agree that it’s prudent and not at all absurd to have a zombie apocalypse plan.
  8. Talk with you for 45 minutes about your nipples without batting an eyelash.
  9. Be so well-acquainted with your labor and delivery story that she probably knows your vagina more intimately than most of your sexual partners combined.
  10. Assure you that the dirt your baby just fisted into his mouth is an efficient and all-natural alternative to a probiotic and a multi-vitamin.
  11. Offer to watch your baby when you feel the need to be literally anywhere but with said baby.
  12. Remind you that there’s really no such thing as an “overachieving” baby and that they all develop at different paces.
  13. Help you weigh the pros and cons of going back to work and support your decision no matter the path you choose.
  14. Have a meaningful conversation with you about politics, religion, and the scary world we live in because she respects you and reserves judgment even when she has different opinions.
  15. Open up to you as much as you open up to her.

Most importantly, a mom friend will lament with you, listen to you, or give you a hug when you’re feeling sad, guilty, happy, or all three (read: postpartum hormones). A lot like a spouse, I suppose, a mom friend will love and support you in the good times and the bad.

So let’s all rejoice in our mom friendships! Being there for your fellow mom during what can sometimes be a serious and isolating experience is something to be celebrated and cherished. And, really, who can better understand how hilarious it is to watch your baby get stuck in a hamper?

 

Volumes Bookcafe: A Chicago Spotlight

There are several things to love about Wicker Park’s five-month-old Volumes Bookcafe, but chief among them is its goal to bring the community together around a shared passion for books. Also high on the list? This place combines coffee, pastries, wine, and books. In other words, there’s really no reason to ever leave.

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Upon entering, visitors note the sleek, modern decor with just the right number of quirky embellishments to draw them in: a reading nook covered in colorful hardbacks, a high-contrast Don Quixote poster, quote-ridden chalkboard walls, and a decent-sized shelf of board games (squee!).

While it’s not the biggest bookstore in the city, it is apparent that a lot of thought has gone into what’s on the shelves. In fact, Volumes prides itself on having a well-curated collection, and from what I could see, it’s one that would satisfy any reader’s palette.

Like any bookstore worth its salt, personal recommendations are peppered throughout each section, many of which I wholeheartedly second (lookin’ at you, Geek Love). But what’s different is that in most cases, there are only one to three available copies of any book. This place isn’t aiming to pump out the latest best-sellers; they’re looking to spark conversation and engage their customers on a quest to find their next favorite novel.

And, importantly, the staff with whom I’ve spoken are readily available, knowledgeable, and able to provide thoughtful next-read suggestions.  They are also more than willing to special order anything not found in the store.

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The Paper Bag Princess is by far one of my favorite children’s books, too.

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If I didn’t feel like I’d be defiling books, I’d create something like this at my apartment. There’s probably a second-hand market for book covers, right?

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A reading bench in the children’s section helps even the youngest readers relax a while.

Then there’s the cafe, which, on a weekday around noon, was pleasantly populated but not overcrowded. Serving Metropolis coffee, (local) Dollop pastries, wine, and beer, it seems there’s something for everyone to enjoy while they walk the store, read, chat, or work away on their computer.

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Just in case you want to flaunt your nerd status via bracelet.

Overall, the ambiance of the store and cafe is inviting, relaxed, and enjoyable. It’s very fitting that Volumes is owned by two sisters with backgrounds in education because it feels welcoming to children and adults alike. Even though I had a baby and a stroller with me, I didn’t feel receive any side-eyes or feel the pressure to GFTO as I do in so many other places that are traditionally quieter and/or less kid-friendly.

With a ton of events, book clubs, and even an incredibly attractive sounding NaNoWriMo project, it truly is a place that encourages community interaction, which just makes me appreciate it all the more.

Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

Volumes is located at 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Those are pretty generous hours, if you ask me.

Parking and transportation

In my experience, parking in Wicker Park is kind of a nightmare because space is so limited and several areas require permits. However, metered parking is available.

I personally recommend public transportation, though, especially because the store is only a four-minute walk from the Damen Blue ‘L’ stop.

Stroller or carrier

With only my jogging stroller at my dispense on the day of my first visit, I can attest that there is plenty of room for a stroller–especially a normal-sized one–at Volumes Bookcafe. Plus, a stroller makes it substantially easier to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe.

Final Word

If you’re looking for a bookstore with spunk and substance, check out Volumes Bookcafe. If it were possible to be friends with a bookstore, I’d sign right up with this one.

And, after all, you know here at Baby Brown Bear, I am a fan of keeping it local.

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Mindfulness & the Great No Phone Zone Experiment

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According to a 2010 Harvard study, we humans spend almost half our time letting our minds wander (46.9% to be exact). Whether we’re thinking about the past, the future, or an entirely fabricated alternate reality, we are not thinking about what we are currently doing. Researchers also found that “mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness” in that a “wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

I personally find this to be true. Hell, even in the ten minutes that I’ve had my computer open to write this post, I’ve felt distracted for at least eight of those and subsequently feel both anxious and frustrated.

Mindfulness has been a buzzword for the past few years, so it’s likely you’ve heard of it. Though I’m sure there are varying definitions of the term, to me, mindfulness means being present–in the now, not focused on past or future. Or basically the exact opposite of the mind-wandering described above.

In my extremely unqualified opinion, it makes sense that we’re hardwired to have wandering minds. In some ways, it’s likely helped us survive. We need to think about past mistakes so we don’t make them again just as much as we need to identify future potential pitfalls so we don’t fall into them. With so much to think about, it’s no wonder some of those anxieties and preoccupations seep into our present consciousness. And while mind-wandering occurs regardless of activity, it also seems like a great coping mechanism for life’s more difficult times; if you’re not focused on what you currently face, it probably seems less real, enabling you to endure more easily.

I also fully believe that today’s technology contributes to our mind-wandering. It certainly contributes to our shortening attention spans. Having the entire world at our fingertips at all times is simultaneously a wonder and a burden. It allows us to capture some of life’s most precious moments, call for help in an emergency, and connect with friends around the globe. At the same time, however, it can feel suffocating, like we must be available and responsive at all times of day and night.

I’m reluctant to admit that my phone spends more time with me than anything, including any person. It’s hard to argue against having it on hand entirely, but as time goes on and I find myself turning to check my phone in less than five-minute intervals, I’m forced to concede that my behavior has become obsessive and unhealthy. I never used to be quite so connected. At work, my phone would sit on my desk all day, but I’d only check it randomly (having the computer at my disposal instead, which is arguably not any better). However, once Baby Bear was born and I was breastfeeding an uncommunicative and sleeping infant for hours on end, my phone became my lifeline to the outside world. I turned to it to help me connect to other mothers, catch up with friends and family, browse social media, read, or choose my next Netflix binge (Jane the Virgin, for the win). Well, with enough time and practice, my brain rewired itself to form a new neural pathway and I was left with a bad habit.

Try as I might, I have not been able to break it. After just mentioning the title of this post to my mom and husband, I received an incredulous stare and a snide “Wow, you’d fail that challenge.”

This is the opposite of the reputation I want! Please don’t let me be that person! We all know the one who checks her phone all the time, ignoring life going on right in front her. I resent that person for not wanting to engage and feel hurt that she values her phone more than she values my company. But, to my absolute horror, I have become this person too.

I cherish my friends and don’t want them to think I don’t care about what they have to say. I love my family and don’t want them to feel like they are unimportant to me. I cannot even describe the depth of my feelings for my baby and fear that he will grow up feeling that I don’t care. It wrings my heart to think that I’ve missed some of his cute and beseeching expressions as I’ve blankly stared at my little rectangular screen.

I justify it by saying that I’m reading (I’m often using my Kindle app), or that I want it nearby in case of an emergency or to take pictures, but in reality I think it just makes me feel anxious to be without it. I’ve grown addicted to my phone. I couldn’t care less about Facebook or Instagram, but I check them both probably 15 times a day. I swipe my phone to look at the time and couldn’t even tell you what it is just seconds later. I worry every day that this addiction makes Baby Bear feel that he is less valuable to me than some inconsequential device.

And all this time I’m spending on my phone? It means I’m not focused on the present. I’m not focused on the moment–what I’m doing, what Baby Bear is doing, or what’s happening around me. For example, I finished a book on my phone this weekend while on a walk through a beautiful park with the babe. It was a gorgeous, end-of-summer day; the birds were chirping, the sun felt warm against my skin, and I took it for granted by focusing on something as unimportant as a subpar romance novel.

I recognize that I won’t get that time back, but I have decided to be proactive about changing the behavior to come back to the present.

Mindfulness Exercises

When I find myself focused on my phone, or just generally overwhelmed with anxiety and thereby not focused on the present (since anxiety really lives in the future), here’s how I plan to reel it back in.

Step 1: Focus on my breathing

Simply put, I will stop what I am doing and take a few deep breaths, treating them like a simple reset button.

Step 2: Ground myself

I will put my feet on the floor and feel the ground beneath my heels and toes. Literally grounding myself will allow me to start focusing on my current surroundings.

Step 3: Take in all five senses

I will become consciously aware of what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. If my anxiety is high enough, I will do the five-to-one countdown; that is, I will list five things I see, four things I hear, etc. Including detailed descriptions of the things around me will help me stay even more focused on the present.

Step 4: Repeat a simple mantra

If needed, I will slowly repeat a simple and relaxing phrase, like “I am calm and relaxed.” An abbreviated version of autogenic training, this technique has been proven to help practitioners start to feel what they repeat. If I’m still feeling anxious after steps one, two, and three, this will continue to help me relax and focus on the present.

No Phone Zone

The above exercises will help me feel re-centered and more in tune to what is going on around me, but I don’t want to stop there. Without beating myself up too much about it if I “fail,” I’d like to start enacting a no phone zone policy during certain times of the day when I am most ashamed of my phone addiction. My hope is that starting small will be the first step to a successful phone addiction recovery.

Meals

Embarrassingly, I have started to read on my phone during meals. I typically read the news over breakfast and a book at lunch. Luckily Papa Bear calls me out if I do this at dinner, but I hate feeling like I have to hide my phone from a child. No more!

Afternoons with Baby Bear

As referenced above, I’m not proud that I look at my phone as much as I do when I’m alone with the baby. It’s not like I’m not watching or interacting with him at all, but I still hate to look down and see him looking for my reaction. From now on, I will leave my phone in the other room when we’re playing at home.

Accountability

Like any journey, I’m sure there will be bumps along the way. Stepping back from my phone will not happen overnight, especially because it is an incredibly useful tool much of the time. However, my hope is that by sharing this here and being more mindful, I will eventually come to depend on it, and other anxiety coping mechanisms, less. In turn, I hope that my wandering mind will be more easily focused and I will feel more positive and engaged overall.

I ask that you help me on this path and (gently) remind me when I stray. Plus, who couldn’t benefit from being more aware of what is in front of us. Take the challenge with me!