Monday, January 31, 2011

I'm looking for balance. I'm getting a headache.

When I started working again last year, I thought a part-time job was the solution to end all solutions. I'd still get to spend most of the week with the kids, and then I'd work two afternoons and a morning at the weekend. It was simple. I'd get a little balance back in my life, I'd do the job I'd recently trained for, and I'd earn a little money again. It was a perfect plan.

And in a way, it was. Is.

But you know what happens to perfect plans, don't you?

My plan hasn't exactly been the "breeze" I imagined. For one, childcare has cause me more stress than I wish to share. Two, I've discovered building a practice on part-time hours is crazy hard. And lastly, working part-time has occasionally left me feeling disconnected from my job. In the days that form the gap in between my last working day and my next, I can forget about it almost entirely, wrapped up in my other life - my family.

It's an adjustment, of course. But lately I've wondered if, in fact, working full-time wouldn't be less complicated.

At least with a full-time job, you have full-time childcare - a dayhome, or full-time nanny, say, which tend to be more reliable than part-time babysitters - often students who before long move on elsewhere. With full-time work, you have a fixed routine, a fixed salary, you know where you are and what's expected of you. 

(I'm not suggesting that working full-time as a parent is easy, by the way - NO WAY! I don't believe either option is easy and I'm grateful to have the choice.)

The issue for me is this strange, obscure divide of roles I now have. I have two jobs: first (and foremost), being a mum, being at home with the kids. The second, being a therapist. I now have a full-time job and a part-time job. I love both. I feel like I don't have time for both. But I do both.

In the attempt to find balance in my life, it appears I've created more of an imbalance, and it's going to take me a while to figure it out.

How do you - parents who work full-time or part-time - how do you manage it all?
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reasons to pee.

This afternoon I wound up in the emergency room with my three-and-a-half year old for two and something hours. It ended with us walking out, him with a purple popsicle and me appearing to have wet myself.

Why, oh why.

It was all the fault of cursed potty training. My son is still not trained, and we've had quite a time of it, trying to educate him on the miraculous ways of the toilet. And we've tried, I tell you. Oh, we've tried. There are blog posts to prove it: there was the time with the water bottle strapped to the stuffed rabbit, and the time with Elmo and the maddening "potty time" song, and still, nothing. Except a few more gray hairs on my head.

He was supposed to have been trained in time for preschool, but obviously that didn't happen. Thankfully he hasn't had any accidents there and so, with a little luck on our side, it's all been okay so far. And since then, we've tried, on and off, to make progress, with little success.

Until a few days ago, when he suddenly decided he was ready to use the potty. He unexpectedly announced "mummy, I peed in the potty!" as I was on the phone to my brother in England. I hung up, shrieked, hugged him, and brought out some treats to celebrate. We had one whole day without diapers. It was the beginning of the end.

Then this morning, assuming we were still on track, I got everything reading as usual - the potty, underwear, and reward treats.

But it wasn't to be. He sat on the potty, but he wouldn't pee. I implored him. I sat with him, read to him, passed him drinks and treats and books and toys. I put on a movie and pushed his potty in front of it.

Still, nothing.

By two in the afternoon, he still hadn't peed, and the diaper was back on. Suddenly he was curled up on his bed, telling me his tummy hurt. I started to panic. I told him, he really needed to pee, right now, that this was serious. I told him that if he didn't pee, we might have to take a trip to the hospital. But he wouldn't, or couldn't, I'm not sure. He clutched his stomach and writhed around on his bed yelling and crying. He told me it hurt to try.

I called my mother-in-law and asked her to come over to watch my younger son. By the time she arrived, M was crying hard and still unable to pee. I lifted him into the car and sped off to our local hospital.

I staggered into the emergency room with my sobbing three-year old in my arms (did I mention he is not small) and went straight up to the counter. The woman wasn't bothered by the loud sobbing or the steam rising from my ears, she simply raised a finger as if to indicate I should be patient. To which I said, loudly "Excuse me!".

"Please wait behind the line." She said.

"Um. What line?"

"That line." She said, pointing to half a line about ten feet behind me.

"You're being serious?" I said.

Because. You know. Screaming child. And, could be serious. Perhaps a burst appendix. Or a bladder infection. Or a bladder that's about to burst. But okay. I'll stand behind the line. Even though there's no one in front of me.

My chin was beginning to wobble and my eyes were welling up.

My back was aching under the weight of my forty-something pound son, and he wouldn't let me put him down.

The pointy-finger lady ushered me into a room, where my son's temperature was taken and some questions were asked, and we were put in a queue to fill in some paperwork, and then be put in another queue to see a doctor.

"We'd better call Daddy on that payphone over there." I said to M, noticing my phone battery was dead.

I picked up my blubbering boy and walked to the phone to call J.

As we returned to our seat in the waiting room, M whispered something in my ear.

"I'm sorry, honey, what was that?"

"I think I'm going to pee now, mummy." He said, eyeing the waiting room cautiously.

"GREAT!" I practically yelled."Pee away darling!"

And he did. Unfortunately his diaper wasn't sufficient to hold the three litres or so his bladder had been housing. I began to feel a warm patch on my legs.

"Uh-oh, time to go to the bathroom."

As I got up, I realized, my jeans were soaked. And not in a good place. But in a place that looked like, maybe, perhaps, I had peed myself.

"Okay, let's go." I said briskly, as only a mother could say.

As we walked to the bathroom, my son looked up and said, brightly "I feel much better now mummy!".

"That's wonderful, darling." I said, as everyone in the waiting room stared at my crotch.

A few completely pointless hours later, we left the hospital. M proudly slurped his popsicle and told me "I fixed myself!".

I drove home, feeling relieved and thankful that we were leaving the hospital with only a very minor concern.

On the way home, I told my son "please don't ever do that again, honey."

And then, there was wine.  

(I suspect soon all my posts will end with wine.)
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A bad parenting day is almost always followed by a better one.

Friday was one of those days. It started poorly and ended poorly. I woke up with the kind of feeling one has when they've drunk too much wine the night before, had their sleep interrupted several times during the night by crying babies, and been woken by a dozen roosters at five a.m. None of which happened to me. But it was a sign of the day to come. It was the kind of day that hovers around I-will-get-through-this-alive and occasionally drifts into actually-I'm-not-sure-where's-the-tequila?

By the time my babysitter arrived late afternoon, and because I had no clients at work, I found myself loitering in a bookstore, browsing the parenting section for some sort of advice. Any! Please! How do I do this?

I've been hankering after a book called "Buddhism for Mothers" by Sarah Napthali, ever since my blogger pal Mwa mentioned it a few weeks ago.

Seeing me tapping impatiently on the computer keypad, a sales assistant came up to help me locate the book. She snorted, when I told her the title. "Oh boy," she said "Couldn't we all have used that book, at every stage!". We engaged in a brief chat about the challenges of parenting young children, and agreed reassuringly that yes, parenting is hard, and yes, we do get through it.

It seemed obvious advice, but I needed it right then.

The next day was better. Maybe because it was the weekend. Or because of the wine I'd drunk the night before to soften the blow of the day. Or because some magical unicorns had flown down during the night and scattered their magical happy dust across the land while we were sleeping. 

Whatever the reason, the day was destined to be better. We spent it doing nothing complicated. And because the weather was lovely (a balmy zero degrees - whoo!), we took the boys and dog out for a walk in the snow. I'm not sure whether it was the fresh air or the sunshine on my face, but I felt a huge sense of relief as we walked.

Later that day, as I prepared dinner and sipped a glass of wine, I felt a deep sense of happiness. It was the roast cooking in the slow cooker and the vegetables steaming on the stove and the promise of a good dinner with my family. It was the happy shrieks drifting up from downstairs where the boys played. It was the slightly undercooked brownies in a pan on the kitchen countertop that I was sampling while I cooked. It was weekend life. And it was a relief from the week.

There'll be more bad parenting days ahead (and blog posts to document them), but at least I'll take comfort in knowing that the bad days are almost always followed by better days.

And if not, there's always wine.
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Friday, January 21, 2011

The product of being over-productive.

*Please note, when I refer to "you" in this post, I really mean "me" - it's just that saying "you" implies that I did not do these things.*

- In a hurried attempt to get some laundry done, you tug all the sheets off your bed and throw them into the washing machine, not realizing that your son's trucks and diggers board book is hiding among the fabric. An hour later you discover the remains of the book, and when your son asks "mummy where is my book?" you say "look over there - there's a bird!"

And then you add it to the list of things you've accidentally washed/destroyed (hello husband's ipod).

- Your son asks if he can play in the bathroom sink, and because you're in the middle of preparing dinner and doing five other things, you say okay and switch on the faucets for him, telling yourself you must definitely switch them off again in thirty seconds. Two minutes later, you remember the taps as your two-year old toddles into the kitchen, drenched. You scream and run into the bathroom where the floor is covered in quarter of an inch of water.

More laundry.

- Amid all the bustle of the day, you accidentally buy a huge and very expensive slice of cake while at the grocery store, thinking it's a healthy apple. *

Best apple I ever did eat.

* What really happened, was, I bought the slice of cake, knowing full well it was cake, not an apple.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This one time, when I worked at a bank.

It's come to my attention that I'm crap with money.

Well, I suppose I've know for years. But it has become especially noticeable now that I'm self-employed, and have to deal with all the finances... myself. Gulp. Taxes, keeping receipts, making records, etc. And honestly, you might as well tie me to a wall and start poking me with spears right now.

Before the invention of online tax returns, I once had the awful experience of having to actually go into HR Block (it even sounds like a prison) to do my taxes, in person, with another person in a suit and a frown. J had to prod me under the table as I slowly slumped into a nap during the meeting. It was that boring, seriously.

It started at school. I had the distinct feeling my math teacher disliked me when, instead of paying attention to her mathematical rantings, I sat drawing things non-math-related on my note book and chatted at the back of the classroom.

I hated math, and spent my school years avoiding it. 

So it made perfect sense (?) when, after dropping out of my journalism degree at the age of eighteen, I started looking for jobs in the financial sector, in the City of London.

"What do you know about marine insurance?" An employment agency rep asked me.

I smiled and cheekily replied. "Absolutely nothing, but I can learn!"

He chuckled and put me forward for an interview with Lloyds of London.

I didn't get the glamorous job at Lloyds of London. If I had, I would probably by now have been a top millionaire marine insurer, with my own office overlooking Liverpool Street station and a driver. And a boat.

Instead, I landed a not-so-glamorous position at a bank, as a cashier (or teller, as they say here in North America).

It didn't go well. I wasn't good at calculating sums in my head and became permanently attached to a calculator. But I liked the customers, and I liked my co-workers, and I made the best of it by striking up conversations and generally attempting to make it into more of a social fun place than a job.

Then one day at five o'clock, it was time to balance my til as usual. This meant checking the money left in the til against the money I'd taken in and given out during the day. To my horror, two hundred pounds was missing. There was much shuffling and humm-ing and haw-ing as my managers tried to figure out what to do.

Nothing was done, the money was gone. No one had any idea what had happened (me included). 

Amazingly I wasn't fired, but over the next few days I noticed a strange thing happening: certain customers were only coming to my til. As in, actually refusing the other cashiers in favour of me. Ahem.

I didn't last long in the bank job. After a few months, I'd changed my mind again, and decided I wanted to study design. Plus, I'd decided that working in the real world was loathsome, and wanted to go back to being a student.

As it turned out, I was much better suited to design, and stayed with it for the next ten years.

But now, here I am, however many years later, still unable to decipher the difference between baffling terms like "gross" and "net", and screwing my fists up into balls and accusing the world of conspiring against me when faced with financial forms and questions.

I need to get financially savvy! That sounds lame. But I do. Desperately.

And this is why, readers, I am going to make doubly, triply sure that I teach my sons all about money (and when I say "I", I mean "J" of course), so that they don't end up thirty-something years old and googling things like "is a bookkeeper kind of like a fairy godmother?".

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Uncomfortable Humour.

I'll just duck as I say this, but I didn't find Ricky Gervais's performance at the Golden Globes terribly offensive or upsetting. Actually I thought he was quite funny. And despite all the accusations and furor flying around the Internet, I still quite like him.

Perhaps it's because I knew he was hosting the Golden Globes, that I didn't gasp in disgust as he unveiled his antics on stage. And because, although he was dishing out the insults like a fast food waiter, I suspected he'd serve himself a healthy dose too.

I've been a long-time fan of Gervais's, ever since the first airing of The Office on British TV ten years ago. Which is why I was able to anticipate the uncomfortable, thorny spectacle with wise cracks and fun-poking to come. This is Ricky Gervais after all. If they wanted gallantry, perhaps they should instead have asked Collin Firth to host the awards.

Some of his jokes were underhand, unnecessary, I do agree. But it was never going to be a glowing performance with roses and a happy ending.

American humour is very, very different from English humour. And not that I'm stating that as an excuse for people to be unjustifiably rude to other people. What I think I'm saying, is that Gervais's humour is born from a place of, let's say, "eclectic" humour.

Take a look at British TV sitcoms over the past few decades, and you'll see the strange and wonderful and sometimes (who am I kidding - often) offensive culture of British comedy. There's everything. From the satirical (Have I Got News For You); the neurotic (Black Books); the occasionally good-humoured (Vicar of Dibley); the crude (Bottom); the shocking (Ali G); and, the downright weird (The League of Gentlemen).

After watching The Office - the American version - for a number of years (which I adore), watching the British version is practically intolerable. The rawness of it, the ugliness and the general unpleasantness of it makes me cringe, hard. And to think, it was designed to provoke those reactions from the audience, that a writer set out to do that.

That's where Gervais is from.

I'll just end by saying that, while I'm all for cheery, polished TV shows (yes, you, Glee) and everyone loving each other to the end of the earth - it's simply not human to be happy and lovely all the time. Occasionally we, as normal people, are ungracious. I suppose what I'm saying, is that I'm not completely opposed to a little snark every now and then. Because life is like that.
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Attack of the Monster Appetites

About a year ago, we had these two little boys, barely more than babies, who ate like little birds. They grazed on their meals, rarely eating more than half of what was laid in front of them, snacking  and nibbling and generally causing me to worry about whether they were getting enough.

I sounded like a broken record. "Do you want more? More? More?"

When I prepared dinner, I'd simply add on a little extra for the kids. Our grocery bill wasn't much more than when it had just been the two of us, save for the addition of disposable diapers and rice crackers.

Then, suddenly, the small picky babies woke up from a long sleep, and were no longer babies, but giant boys with monster appetites. No longer content with a bowl of cereal and some chunks of apple or banana for breakfast, they leapt up into their chairs at breakfast and demanded a full English breakfast.

Or at least that's what it felt like.

Now they eat as much, sometimes more than me at meal times. I noticed it yesterday at breakfast as I finished my two pancakes and half a grapefruit and M polished off four pancakes and a whole grapefruit. And at dinner last week when he had a third helping of rice with his dinner of chicken and vegetables. Consider, he's three-and-a-half, I'm thirty two.

And O, his little brother, isn't far behind either.

When they were picky eaters, I longed for them to eat more. I'd spend ages preparing all kinds of foods in the hopes I'd get something into them. So of course it's a huge relief to finally see them eating like humans.

And as I throw another chicken, enough bananas for ten monkeys, and three loaves of bread into my shopping cart, I'm aware that these appetites are only going to get bigger.

And bigger.

And bigger. 

Until one day, I'll just be continuously shopping and preparing food and shopping and preparing food to feed the equivalent of an army. Perhaps we'll move closer to Costco.

I just might need to take on another job to help pay for the groceries.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taking good care of yourself when you've got small kids. (Answer not provided)

As I said goodbye to my Mum on the phone yesterday she told me, as she often does, to take good care of myself. I love my Mum. After a brief pause I responded, as I always do, that I would. Sometimes in that pause I find myself wondering whether to laugh or cry at the question. It seems so ambiguous. What does it even mean - to take care of yourself? Does it mean - get a good night's sleep? Eat properly? Exercise? Drink enough water? Does it mean to rest more? Eat more chocolate? Get regular massages?

I find myself in the peculiar and unenviable position of asking aloud that seemingly simple question - what does it mean to take care of oneself? I think I used to know. It used to be something to do with sleeping in on the weekend, taking vacations every few months and doing yoga. But somewhere in between growing up and being grown up I managed to lose it.

I still haven't kicked this stupid cold/virus thing - it's been a month now. A month! Maybe that's why I can't get my head around the question. And, now that I'm a hypochondriac, I'm still inventing ailments for myself: earlier today I decided I must have cracked a rib when I was coughing so hard last night - that would explain the pain on my left side when I breathe in. You see? I'm losing my mind, people. Losing it.

And, you know how, when you're not altogether healthy, everything is so much more difficult to deal with?

Like - life? 

I keep waiting for motherhood to get easier. (Stop laughing!) I had it on good authority from my next door neighbour that the first two years with two kids were the hardest. Now, as we turn the corner with a preschooler and a two year old, things are, um... not. I keep waiting for the difficult stages to pass and be replaced by easier, calmer stages. But instead of calm, more challenges phases appear as the boys enter new phases of development.

And with my potentially but probably not cracked rib and my hacking cough, my patience is about as thin as a string of floss that's been split a hundred times. Instead of being the composed, even-tempered mother I wish I was, I'm like a raging bear with a sore head.

So I'll wait to feel better and my energy to return, and then I'll figure out this taking care of myself business.

Tell me readers, I really really really (that's three reallys by the way) want to know - what do you do to take care of yourself?
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Perhaps you'll be... Two.

Perhaps you'll be a writer, you so love your books. Now and then I spy you in a corner with Dr. Seuss or Eric Carle, exploring the pages, mouthing sounds. Every night we curl up with our favourite stories, always ending with Goodnight Moon. You point at the words, asking me what they mean. One day soon you'll know all about words, my love.

Perhaps you'll be an actor. You've a thousand expressions, each one designed to invoke a reaction. You want to make me laugh, or let me know you're angry. You want everyone to know you've arrived. Sometimes when you're talking - half in English, half your own language - you extend your arm out theatrically, as if to emphasize the point you're making. Occasionally, when you're upset, you throw yourself on the floor dramatically, peeking up at intervals to check I'm still watching. It's hard to be serious in front of that face.

Perhaps you'll be an advertising executive. You really know how to turn on the charm with those brown eyes and that smile. You could get away with a lot. Sometimes you do.

Perhaps you'll be a stunt man. You've never been one to take things slowly, or assess the risk - with you it's always head first, think later. I'll never forget how, at just four months, you leaped out of your car seat and onto the floor. I hadn't anticipated a leaping baby. I sat in the doctor's waiting room clutching you and pleading with the universe to let nothing be broken or damaged. You're desire for adventure scares me and makes me proud.

Perhaps you'll be a scientist. You love to experiment. The cabinets beneath our bathroom vanity are peeling and wrecked from your water experiments. You're perpetually pouring liquids from one container to another, and you get a kick out of taking things apart and putting them back together.

Perhaps you'll be an entrepreneur. Already a determined little boy, you're independent and eager to do things by yourself, the way you want them done.

Perhaps you'll be an athlete, you run so fast I've found myself at times sprinting to keep up. You climb and hoist yourself up onto things and I've no idea how. Perhaps the speed and agility came from trying to keep up with your big brother. Or maybe it was trying to escape.

Perhaps you'll be a really great friend and brother. And maybe a husband and a father too, one day. 

Happy birthday darling boy. May your birthday be filled with cake and adventure.
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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spring cleaning in January.

Ouch ouch ouch... oh God what is that.... what is that burning in my eyeball? What is it? Is my head exploding? Why do I feel like the room is spinning? Did something just erupt?

Oh, wait.

No. No. It was just my babysitter telling me she's moving to another city at the end of the month.

My response: "Oh great, good for you. We'll be sorry to lose you!" All cheery and accepting.

I could lie on the floor and wail like a baby, or I could treat this as an opportunity to find a great, new babysitter.

So I wailed.

But then I picked myself up because obviously I am a grown woman who deals with problems responsibly and maturely. Obviously.

I like January. It's a cliché but it is a time for fresh starts! It is it is! Over-zealous promises and crazy ideas that might never come into fruition but look good on paper. I have a dozen brewing quietly in my head: I want to finally write down and publish (if only for my kids) a story my father told me for years as a child; I want to run some super duper exciting giveaways on this blog; I want to finally assemble that wedding album that's been waiting for seven years; I want to go away for the weekend with J - just the two of us - for the first time since we became parents.

January can be overwhelming, especially with the addition of unexpected obstacles like finding new childcare. Add onto that, the cold, and the distance to the next foreseeable vacation, and suddenly it seems a far nicer idea to slip under a duvet with a box of chocolates and hide there for a few days.

I suppose that's why making plans and inventing projects is such a therapeutic way to start the year. It's a spring cleaning of sorts, thankfully not the dusting and vacuuming kind.

What kinds of spring cleaning do you have planned for the next few months?
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Monday, January 3, 2011

Inching into 2011 like a snail on crutches.

These past few weeks - though full of illness, early nights, coughing and sneezing, a hundred box of tissues and general sickness all around the house - have been nice in a strange way. There's something cathartic about a period of laziness, where idleness and indulgence are allowed and even justified. And after a year of running on coffee and adrenaline and generally using more energy than I have, it's been quietly satisfying to lie around in pajamas, watch movies and eat high-calorie snacks without leaving the house for days on end.

Not so much the few extra pounds I've gained doing so.... Ahem.

And now it's January 3rd and 2011 is in full swing, and I'm not nearly ready for the action to begin again. I feel like an animal who's been in a cave for six months, about to be leave hibernation and confront the world for the first time. I'm waiting for something to kick me into action. Tomorrow my son goes back to school, and the next day I'm working, so I suppose life will kick my behind into gear whether I'm ready for it or not.

One of the best things about bumming around at home has been the time we've spent with the boys. Unhurried, undisturbed time that has let us take in the moments and watch how they change from one day to the next.

Oliver, our youngest, is talking lots, making sentences that surprise us with their clarity: "I can't reach it." or "I want to see DVD." Every morning, he goes straight to his brother's room and taps on the door, calling "An! An!! Annie!" This, apparently, is his brother's new name.

I've been glad of our sons' close age gap these past few weeks - their company, and their ability to keep each other entertained, has been so appreciated. They race around the house, roaring into each other's faces, hiding behind curtains in joint conspiracy, whispering secrets and getting into all kinds of trouble. Occasionally fists or teeth or feet are used to communicate with each other. And it usually ends in giggles or tears, but either way, they've become friends.

And with all the lounging around and waving aside responsibilities and duties as though they didn't exist, I'd given hardly a thought to New Year's resolutions, or what mine might be. Until a few days ago, when I scrambled together a last-minute list in my head. 

My list includes an array of promises such as getting back into running, eating more healthily, clearing outstanding debts, spending less time online (especially Face(waste-of-bloody-time)book) and more with family, continuing with my massage therapy studies, reading more books, being a more patient person, giving back more, and about another twenty things I can't even remember any more. Oh yes, and being more, um, focused about my goals.

Emerging from this sick spell I feel optimistic and energetic about this coming year. I'm like Julie Andrews skipping down the road to the Von Trapp house for the first time, singing "I have confidence in sunshine... I have confidence in rain..." (if you don't like / haven't seen The Sound of Music, I'm sorry but we can no longer be friends.).

Happy New Year everyone. Hope yours is a fantastic one.
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