Real Mama: Mary Ellen M.

Image by Keira Lemonis Photography

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a 31-year-old mama of an adorable toddler who will be two in December and I’m expecting our second child in March. It won’t be long until we find out if it’s a boy or a girl! I have a mom, two wonderful brothers and a big family and I love spending time with them on the weekends, at family dinners and on holidays.

I’ve been married to my wonderful husband Chris for more than three years and we make a great parenting team. I can wait to add to our little family next year.

I think I have two of the greatest jobs in the world — I’m a full-time mama and a full-time kindergarten teacher! I also love to take pictures and do “crafty” things like scrapbook, finish DIY projects and add to my Etsy shop. I also love, love, love to cook and bake!

Where is home?

Home is Delmar, NY, just outside of Albany. I’ve lived in upstate NY my whole life; born in Rotterdam and then moved to Delmar when my husband and I bought our first house. I went to college at SUNY New Paltz (which those NYC folk also consider to be upstate… silly, silly!)

What are you secrets to balancing life as a mama, loving wife and a teacher?

Whew… well it’s not easy, but I think finding a balance starts with prioritizing. My husband and child are obviously my number one priority and my job is a close second. If there is a new lesson plan I’d really like to make for school, but my little man has to go to the doctors and I have to make dinner for my family, then the lesson that I made up last year will just have to do.

Luckily, I’ve been teaching kindergarten for seven years so I’m very familiar with the curriculum and ins and outs of my grade level, so things don’t change much. Long gone are the days where I was at school until seven p.m. a few nights a week.

My husband and I are a great parenting team as I mentioned above. We take turns picking up our little man from daycare so the other can stay an extra hour at school. Neither of us have many nightly responsibilities, so we get a lot of family time in before bed. We “split” the weekends so we each get some alone time and some quality time with our little guy. I think that’s so important! I get Saturday mornings to go the gym and do errands and he gets Sundays to golf with his dad. I think it helps refresh us for what’s to come, because as we all know, taking care of a toddler isn’t always a picnic.

We also have a great balance with household chores, though that took years to figure out! I love to grocery shop and cook, so I do about 90% of that for our family. In turn, my husband does all of the yard work year-round. We share other household chores too as well as parenting “chores” — for example, one of us will load the dishwasher and clean up after dinner while the other gives the little guy a bath.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

There are so many! My mom is my number one inspiration. She became a single mom of three children when my father passed away when I was only eight. So she took the sole responsibility of raising her children and running a house all on her own (with lots of help from her family of course). She didn’t have a college degree, so she went back to school at night, one class at a time, until she earned her bachelor’s and then her master’s degree. I think she did a great job raising three successful and hard-working kids —a doctor, a teacher and a physician’s assistant!

I’ve found so much inspiration in my other family members too. Just recently, my oldest brother and sister-in-law welcomed a baby girl in to their family so now I’m an auntie! Seeing them as first time parents, so calm, loving and adoring with their daughter is an inspiration to me as a mama as well. They take everything in stride and were made to be parents.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a mama? What’s the best advice you can offer to other mamas?

Image by Maggie from Coco B Sweet Photography

The best advice I’ve gotten wasn’t just from one person, but more experiences that I’ve learned through my awesome mama friends here on MSW. It’s that every baby is different, every mama is different and what works for one baby might not work for another. Its okay to formula-feed instead of breast-feed if that’s what works for YOUR family. It’s okay to co-sleep if that’s what works for your family. We need to support other mamas and not judge the decisions they’re making just because it’s not what we do.

I think the best advice I’ve tried to give other mamas is not to be so hard on ourselves. Mama guilt is the WORST and I have no idea why we are our own worst critics as mamas.

Are you the kind of mama you thought you’d be?

NO! Not at all. I love my son to pieces, but I never thought I would miss being at work so much. I stayed at home with him for nine months, which was a wonderful experience. But I really missed the adult interaction at school and the routine of going to work every day. I think it’s very fulfilling to be a working mama and I think some mamas (like me) just are not meant to stay at home full-time. Kudos to the ones who do!

Do you have a mama mantra? Or something you find yourself repeating over and over when times are tough?

Probably “this is just a phase, right?,” so not really a mantra, but a rhetorical question. My son now is refusing dinner almost on a daily basis and looking for things around the room to throw when he gets upset. The hubby and I are telling ourselves, “this is a phase” and hope that it will pass soon!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Wow, in ten years the little man will be in middle school and the new munchkin will be in 4th grade I think! It’s crazy to think that far ahead. I see the hubby and I enjoying our 13th year of marriage in a more modern house with a bigger kitchen!

If you could have lunch with anyone famous (dead or alive) who would it be?

Oh for sure, my father. He passed away almost 25 years ago and there is so much I would love to chat with him about if I could.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

For some reason, I have always thought it would be amazing to fly. I guess we’ll never know though.

When did you discover your talent/gift as a teacher? How did you develop it? Do you see the same potential gift in your child?

I always knew I would want to be involved in education and literacy in some aspect. When I was eight or nine years old, I got in the habit of setting my alarm for five a.m. and sneaking into my closet with a flashlight so I could read the latest Baby Sitters Club book. I would climb back into bed around seven when my mom would “wake me up” for school. She was furious when she found out but also happy that I was such a reader! I knew that I would choose a career involving education and literacy. I love to help others learn to read and that’s one of the best parts of being a kindergarten teacher! I don’t know if that’s a path our son will choose or not, though he has a good chance since his mama and dad are both teachers!

Was your birth experience all that you had hoped it would be? If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?

Nope, my birth experience was nothing like I thought it would be, but that’s also because I didn’t really envision what I thought birth would be like. I thought about, planned and contemplated every other part of pregnancy except the end! I think by the time I was 40 weeks, I was suffering from PUPPPS (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques) and a wicked head cold that had lasted a month that I just wanted the baby OUT. I ended up having a cesarean section for many reasons including meconium in my amniotic fluid, starting to develop preeclampsia, and my little guy’s heartbeat being too steady and him not moving around enough. I was fine with our decision to have a C-section and have zero regrets. It helps that I had an amazingly easy recovery as well.

You can read my son’s full birth story here.

How has your mothering evolved since those early newborn days? Is there anything, thus far, in your approach to mothering that you swore “I’d never do…” and you are?

Actually, pretty much everything I said I would or wouldn’t do, we’ve stuck to. Not that I wouldn’t change my views if necessary, but we haven’t the need.

I have never been interested in co-sleeping and we never have. Our little man has been in his crib since the day we brought him home. I’ve always been comfortable with sleep training if the need occurred, but it has not.

I was open to using formula if necessary, and we did starting around nine months. I wanted to make my own baby food and I did, almost exclusively!

I think the best thing to remember is that motherhood is such a journey and it’s quite a surprise. You don’t know how you’re going to feel from minute to minute or day to do, so roll with the punches and do what’s best for your family. Do what works for you!

 Is there anything else you wish to share with the Mama Say What?! audience?

I try really hard not to sweat the small stuff. There is so much about being a working woman, wife and mother that can stress you out and cause you to lose sleep at night. So I try really hard to keep things in perspective and only worry about the things that really matter.

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