Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Banana That Wouldn't Back Down.

I knew when he was only little that my son was going to be a bit on the stubborn side. Kind of like me, actually. Determined, wanting to be right, and irrefutably unwilling to back down in an argument. And I guess that's why the conversation about who was going to dispose of his half-eaten banana went on for a full thirty minutes.

He perched on the edge of an armchair, his face tired and pouty, worn out from being outside all morning in unseasonably warm April weather and a kids' birthday party in the afternoon, the remains of his banana in his outstretched hand.

"Who is going to throw away my banana?"

The question was so pensive it could have come from a senior-ranking army general, deciding whether or not to attack the other side.

J and I, being the type of parents to encourage our kids to help out around the house, and not under any circumstances to be pushed around by our offspring, immediately produced the same response.

"You are going to throw away your banana."

My son threw back his head in displeasure, letting out a sigh.

It's a tough life when you're an almost-five-year-old your only real worry in life is about which Hot Wheels cars to pluck from the toy bin today, or which nose to stick on Mr. Potato Head. 

"I'm not throwing it away."

"Then there are only three options:" Said J. "You can throw it away, eat it, or hold it. All night."

About ten minutes later, J and I were reading when suddenly we heard a great sigh.

Still with the banana.

"WHO is going to throw away my BANANA?"

"Er. Didn't we just answer that question? No one is going to throw away your banana, except you. The end." I said.

My son has a particular way of glaring at me that only a child of his age can, with a perfect combination of cute and cross. Lips pursed, brow furrowed.

"Take your banana to the bin. You know where it is - under the kitchen sink. That's all you have to do."

I carried on reading, unwilling to carry on the discussion about the flipping banana.

More minutes passed and there was another sigh.

"Good God. Seriously. Are you still holding that banana?" I asked my son.

"I still don't know who is going to...."

"That's it! Go and put it in the bin right now."

But he didn't. He lingered, hovering near me on the sofa, lying, then sitting, then lying again, his banana-hand still outstretched, obstinate and unrelenting.

And I realized, this boy is not only as stubborn as me, he's even more stubborn than me. Oh boy.

Some minutes later, as the banana became increasingly disgusting and now had dog hair stuck to it, he quietly took it to the bin and without a word tossed it in there. 




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Monday, April 9, 2012

I Won't Be Rich Or Famous But I Will Be Happy (And Tired).

In this other life, I had this career - one I'd have done anything for, burnt my candles at both ends for, bent over backward and done a somersault for. Newly graduated I was eager to get ahead. I wanted the whole career thing - the package I'd dreamed up in my head that was going to lead me to status and wealth and happiness. Several years in my enthusiasm was still going strong. I moved around from company to company, using each position as a stepping stone to something better. With each move I was more confident, more capable, more experienced.

I'd sit in the back of a taxi (black cabs - one of my favourite things about working in London), spinning through meeting plans with colleagues in hushed, excited voices, before arriving to present and win over some client.

It was all very interesting - all the dashing around to meetings, dashing back to my desk, dashing to the gym to work out, dashing back to grab lunch, dashing to catch the train. And the dashing rarely ceased. Because when it did cease, I could feel it inside me, outside me and all around me - the unhappiness. I ignored it for a long time. I had this great job, this money, this stuff, and I was unhappy. But how could I be unhappy? Wasn't this everything I'd wanted?

Somewhere around this time I convinced myself it probably wasn't possible to actually enjoy working. Working was something you did because you had to, you were supposed to. If it made you sick, if it exhausted you, well so be it. You need to make money, you work. You need a house, you work. You need chairs and candlesticks and weekend vacations, you work. You don't like it, well damn it smile and say you do!

I never, not in a thousand years, would have predicted the career change I'd make in years to come. I'd never have believed, if you'd told me then, I'd later work as a massage therapist.

(Back Then me: a WHAT?!?)

When I go to work today I don't feel sickness in my stomach before I leave the house. I don't dread the day ahead and all the terrible, heart-racing disasters and stresses it might bring. I go to work and I simply do my job. Sometimes I'm prepared, sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I use my intuition, sometimes I rummage through my text books for medical reminders or answers to problems I might need to fix. Sometimes, as I'm into my third or fourth hour, I grow weary, my hands aching and my body silently groaning and begging to sit the hell down, and I remind myself that I'm grateful to have this job that I love, and I carry on.

I've wondered lots of times what attracted me to massage therapy, having come from a completely different field. What happened to all those things I'd be striving for? Those things I'd told myself I absolutely needed to achieve? Apparently those things we want in our twenties don't hold the weight we think they will in our thirties. All the old aspirations went up in a puff like a cigarette smoke doughnut, up into the clouds, never to be seen again. Basically.

On the first day of my first massage therapy class, I remember quite clearly (it was one of those moments that sticks with you) my instructor saying that she'd had several careers, but massage therapy was by far the best career she'd had. Maybe it was that I found her to be inspiring, or perhaps that I was in a good mood that day, but what she said hooked me. I knew her words were going to hold meaning for me too.

I'm oddly grateful of the old, stressful job, that made me think all jobs were simply drudgery, because it taught me to appreciate what it means to have a job I enjoy. I understand the difference. A simple thing, really, but a good and important thing.

Now, if only massage therapists could be millionaires....
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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter On Hold.

Happy Easter! Hope yours was good. This morning our Easter plans went off course when everyone in our house woke up with a horrid stomach bug. We were supposed to do an early Skype with my parents in England, then head over to my in-laws' for an Easter egg hunt. Instead we spent the entire day in bed.

Thankfully we had already enjoyed a little Easter last week, decorating the house with flowers, doing crafts with the kids and baking treats. But for the first time in probably forever we didn't eat our eggs today. We'll have to wait until our tummies have stopped misbehaving to tuck in our chocolate goodies. And oh boy am I going to make up for it.



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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Flattering Spring Outfit For A Curvy Lady.

Over the years I've come to understand my body shape and what kinds of clothes suit me. I know that bright colours make my skin tone look warmer, that accessories can make or break my outfit, that buying good quality items is a far smarter investment than buying cheap ones (though I still do now and then) and that a really good pair of dark denim jeans is an essential wardrobe item.

I also know that the looks I used to wear - the skinny jeans with waist-high shirts and high-heeled boots, and the short, spaghetti-strap dresses - they don't look good on me anymore.

I'm no fashion expert - I just know what works for me. I catch glimpses of style trends in magazines and on blogs but I don't rush out to the stores and buy into them - at least not in the way I did when I was a single working woman. Now I basically just go with what's flattering and functional for me.

So here's an outfit that works for my body shape. I wear a size 10/12. Below, I'm wearing dark denim jeans from Gap (I love their jeans - they always fit me perfectly), with flat black ballet pumps, a pink shirt, blazer and chunky turquoise necklace. 

What makes this outfit work? It's a combination of things: First, the dark, slim jeans are flattering to my legs/thighs/bum; second, wearing ballet pumps that peek out from beneath the jeans really helps to elongate my legs; third, my pink shirt is long - coming down to my hips, which I think gives the appearance of a slimmer waistline; lastly, the blazer - the most genius and necessary wardrobe item ever invented (in my humble opinion), which pinches my waist in, draws attention away from my stomach, and pulls the outfit together. The necklace is simply there because I love colour and I think the turquoise really adds warmth to the bright pink top.

 
Blazer, Zara. 
Turquoise necklace, a gift.
Pink shirt, Joe Fresh. 
Jeans, Gap. 
Black pumps, Gap.



How about you? What outfits work for your body? 



The opinions expressed in this post are my own. No compensation was received for any brand or product mentioned.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Weightloss And The Average Food-Loving Woman.

For the past few weeks I've been attempting what I would call a half-diet. Not a full-on, proper diet that requires me to follow a strict plan and a calorie limit or anything like that. More like a general movement toward cutting back on sugar and carbs. And believe me, even that - the simple thing of cutting back - is hard. Oh so HARD.

I once tried to go on a real diet and failed miserably. My colleague, who was doing the diet with me, stuck religiously to the rules, measuring and counting every morsel that passed her lips. I, on the other hand, didn't take it seriously, sneaking in little afternoon treats (that I would surely have died without!) and generally not doing it properly. Needless to say, my colleague lost weight and I didn't.

I just really love food.

And once upon a time, before the yo-yo weight gain / weight loss / weight gain / weight loss of having two children in three years, I had a sense of humour about it. I could laugh about my terrible inability to not eat too much food. Because it didn't matter.

Before I became pregnant the first time in 2006, I weighed 150 pounds and wore a size 8 or 10 US (I'm 5'8"). I'd been that exact weight for a while. It was the weight my body sat at comfortably, the weight at which I didn't diet, didn't deprive myself of anything (within reason), exercised regularly. At that weight I wasn't thin. But I was slim and I was happy with slim.

Today I'm 154 pounds. And believe me when I say it's taken a long, long, very long time to even get back to this point. And, admittedly, not with much effort on my part. Getting back down to here has come mostly through time and a little exercise. I'm getting there but there are still those last few stubborn pounds and those last few extremely stubborn inches.


My son took this picture of me before I left for work, yesterday. 
I realize I'm standing in kind of an awkward way, but this is 
the most recent full-length shot I have of myself!

Of course, even when I lose these last few pounds and inches my body won't be the same as it was before. A small price to pay for two beautiful children though, I'd say.

I'm okay with the extra curves, the not-so-perky bits and bobs, the parts that are no longer taut. Honestly? I don't really care about them. They're just part of who I am, now.

What I really want?

To feel good in a pair of jeans again.

It's not much. I'm not asking for a bikini body, legs that can pull off a mini skirt or an abdomen that can carry a midriff-exposing t-shirt.

Just the jeans, please, fairy god-mother.

So I'm doing this half-diet thing. I'm cutting back. I'm eating more protein and less carbs. Eggs instead of toast for breakfast. Salads and soups instead of sandwiches for lunch. Dinner - a little bit of everything. And little or no snacking in the evening (only almonds or Japanese rice crackers). I'm being sensible. But not all the time. Because being sensible all the time is just not for me.

And after all, I'm just a woman, standing in front of a plate of pastries, asking the pastries for permission to one day eat them again.....

How about you? Do you diet? Or do you find them impossibly hard like me?
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Soothing Bedtime Song Fail.

A few nights ago we were getting our kids ready for bedtime, helping arms and legs into pajamas, encouraging good teeth brushing and tucking them in, snug as a bug. It was nearing eight o'clock (a whole hour later than their usual bedtime) and it was the kind of night that saw us reaching our final strands of energy, patience and the ability to stay upright. As I kissed my older son goodnight he turned to me.

"I don't want to go to bed, mommy." He said.

"I know, honey, but it's getting late and you need your sleep. Goodnight." Again I kissed him.

"I don't want to go to sleep because I'm scared."

"Of what, sweetie?"

"Of my room. Sometimes it's scary to be alone in the dark."

"But you've got your moon." I said, gesturing to the crescent-shaped wall-lamp.

"But it's still scary."

"Okay." My body was telling my to be horizontal, but my mind told me to think quickly and creatively otherwise our eight o'clock bedtime was going to turn into a nine o'clock bedtime.

"Oh! I know!" I said, suddenly with an idea.

"I know what will make everything better!" I said, convincingly. "I know a song that will make all of your fears go away. Once you hear it, you'll realize there's nothing to be scared of! Have you heard it?"

My son shook his head, brightening up at the idea of the song.

Neither had I. There was no song.

Why do I do this to myself?

Lucky for me I'm good at improvising, so I sat for a moment, conjuring words and melodies in my head while my son stared at me wide-eyed and expectant.

Then I begun.

There's nothing to be scared of in your room.....
Even if you hear a crash and boom...
If you think there's a monster in your closet...
Just close your eyes and think nothing of it...
'Cause there's nothing to be scared of in your room....


As soon as I heard myself mention the monster, I knew the song was headed in the bad place, but it was too late - the monster was part of the story, so I just kept going.


There's nothing to be scared of in your room.....
Even if you hear a crash and boom...
 If there's a gremlin under your bed...
Then just clobber him over the head....
'Cause there's nothing to be scared of in your room...


Now Gremlins. Time to stop? Nope.


There's nothing to be scared of in your room.....
Even if you hear a crash and boom...
If you hear something tapping at the window...
 Just pretend it's a friendly backhoe....
'Cause there's nothing to be scared of in your room....


At the end of the song I sat and waited for my son to tell me I'd succeeded in making him even more scared than before. But, bizarrely, the song seemed to have hit the nail on the head. Content, he turned over, wished me goodnight and we didn't hear from him again until the morning.

Later that night, I repeated "There's nothing to be scared of in your room" for J. I'm not sure whether it was the initial look of disbelief all over his face, or the laughter that followed, or the "are you TRYING to give our kids nightmares?" question, but we came to the conclusion I should probably think up some new words for the song.
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weekend Glorious Weekend.

I remember adoring the weekend back when I worked full-time. During the week I was climbing a steep hill, a slow, steady climb to the top, all the while keeping the summit in mind. I'd talk about the weekend, dream about it on the bus and the train, conjuring in my head all the wonderful ways I'd spend it. When finally I reached the summit I'd revel in it - in the ability to lay in bed until ten, sit around drinking coffee and reading the papers, and generally doing whatever it is young single people do at the weekend (you'll have to remind be because I can't actually remember what that is....).

These days I love the weekend even more than I did back then. I'm not climbing a steep hill anymore, I'm speed-walking a marathon that has no finish line - not even at the weekend. The weekend doesn't bring relief from the things that need to happen to keep the house afloat. It doesn't forgive me from middle-of-the-night potty trips or (way-too-) early morning conversations about dinosaurs and the Easter Bunny. But the weekend does bring one brilliant, magical thing that outweighs all other things: another parent.

For me, having my other half around is pretty much equal to solid gold. It's like the troops have arrived and we can take on anything together; we're unbeatable when there's two of us. Suddenly an undercurrent of calm has overtaken and now the fortress is much more difficult to shake.

So the weekend is great. Even though I go to work on Saturday mornings. Even though some Saturdays I wish I wasn't heading out early, missing out on leisurely breakfasts and weekend activities with my kids and husband. But the weekend is still great, because I come home in the afternoon, pleased with my morning's work (I love my job - did I mention?), still with plenty of quality hours and just enough energy to enjoy the rest of the weekend with my family.

And now that the boys are getting a little older (three and four) it's becoming possible to do more things together - like going out for dinner. On Saturday night we took the boys to a sushi restaurant for dinner. We actually sat at a restaurant table, the four of us, ordered food and ate together in a civilized manner, without any raised voices or cries. Then we paid our bill and went home to watch the hockey game, throughout which the boys would cheer when our team scored.

Now the weekend is over, the kids are in bed, the dishes are cleaned and put away and all that's left is to curl up in front of a movie. And as we head into another week I'm exhausted but laid-back and happy.

Hope yours was great too.
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Friday, March 23, 2012

Unrushed and Present.


"Unrushed and present." I read this line in a parenting book and it really stuck with me.

I noticed this morning after I'd dropped off my older son at school and was out shopping with my younger son, how "unrushed" I am when I'm with just one of my kids. I'm so much more calm and unruffled. It's as though time slows down to accommodate our conversations, our schedule, our interactions. I thought, later, about how I could make time slow down like that when I'm with both of my kids.

Unfortunately my time machine is all out of magic bean juice at the moment.

So often I'm rushing through time, steering everyone through one thing and onto another, talking in fast, impatient sentences with the end goal always in mind like a programmed mom-bot. Coats on, coats off, dishes away, list ticked, emails sent, next. (Side note: I honestly think parents could teach organizational skills in colleges.) Sometimes that's just the way it is - we're often surging from one thing to another. I'm dropping off and picking up; I'm preparing the house before I leave for work; I'm packing bags for the following day; I'm squeezing a grocery run in between drop offs and pick ups.

And by the time I flop onto the sofa at eight in the evening I wonder where the heck the day went. I've been trying - really trying to enjoy more of those precious moments that happen during any given day, but there's still an awful bloody lot of rushing around. I'm resigned to the fact that that's the way it's going to be for the next few years at least.

But back to the book I'm reading: It's called Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected, by Susan Stiffelman, and it's really good. I picked it up at the library one day when I was having one of those Oh Gawd What Am I Going To Do moments that resulted from several weeks of fierce parent-child struggles.

I haven't made it all the way through the book yet (the disadvantage of trying to always read six books at once) - but so far it's given me lots of positive encouragement and sensible ideas. Especially in regards to not losing your sh*t every time your children challenge your authority. Honestly, it's really worth reading and I'd recommend it to any parent.

And - as is the proof of any good parenting book - I've been actually putting some of the ideas into practice: I've been using a no-nonsense, this-is-the-way-it-is-like-it-or-lump-it approach to situations, and as a result have been feeling much more serene and in-control about things generally. And when it comes to parenting, SERENE = GOOD. Always.

Example:

"MOM! MY SHOW HAS ENDED AND I WANT TO WATCH ANOTHER ONE!"

"No sorry, you're all done."

"BUT! BUT! BUT! IT'S NOT FAIR! I REALLY WANT ANOTHER ONE!"

"Nope. We're done with shows for today."

*SILENCE*

*MOVES ONTO SOMETHING ELSE*

No engaging in conversations about why or if, just straight-forward clarification. 

Of course the calm doesn't always happen, but it's good to try.


And when that fails?


I'll give you a clue: it has four letters and rhymes with "mine".



The opinions expressed in this post are all my own. I received no compensation for mentioning the book.
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Do These Crutches Make Me Look Fat?

Doctor: "So when did the accident happen?"

Me: "2:45 this afternoon."

Doctor: "That's pretty precise!"

Me: "Yes. I remember because I started my run fifteen minutes later at 3:00."

Doctor: "Um. You fell down the stairs and then you went for a run?"

Me: Defensively. "I didn't realize I'd done any damage! My leg felt okay after the fall! And I was on my way to the treadmill so I just ....went!"

Doctor: "Mm hmm."

Me: Embarrassed silence.

Doctor: Scribbles notes about patient being total lunatic.

Doctor: "And when did the pain begin to set in?"

Me: "About two hours later - at my sons' swimming class."

Doctor: "And have you taken anything for the pain?"

Me: "Yes." Floating up to the ceiling. "Some lovely Tylenol with codeine. It's made everything magically feel better."

Doctor: Raising eyebrow. "And now why would you have Tylenol with codeine sitting around?"

Me: "I didn't! My mother-in-law gave them to me! She had them leftover from the dentist!"

Doctor: "Oh I see. Pretty awesome mother-in-law you got there."

Me: "Yup."

Doctor: Feeling around my knee. "Ooh, so you're hyper flexible!"

Me: "Yes." Winking at J who pretends not to notice.

Doctor: "Well, you haven't broken anything. Looks like you've torn your meniscus."

Me: "Oh God no! Not my MENISCUS!"

Me: "Wait - which one is that?"

Doctor: "The cartilage in between your patella and shin bone."

Me: "Oh God!"

Doctor: "And I'm afraid you've probably just given yourself arthritis in the knee."

Me: "Really? Arthritis? Really?"

Doctor: "Yup."

Me: "Bugger."

Doctor: "And you're going to need to take it easy for a while. What do you do for a living?"

Me: "I have a three- and four-year old and I'm a massage therapist."

Doctor: "Okay, so not much rest then. Just rest when you can."

Me: "Hahahahaha. Okay. Rest. Absolutely."

Doctor: "And obviously no more running."

Me: "Right. For the next week."

Doctor: Again with the eyebrow. "It's probably not a good idea. Period."

Me: "Oh. Okay." And then, to J, in what I imagined to be a whisper but was more like a quiet shout. "I am totally going running again in two weeks!"

Doctor: "In the meantime, here's a prescription for some more T3s if you need them. And grab a pair of crutches on the way out."

It took a while to get the hang of walking with crutches, but finally I did. I even tried to show J some dance moves using my new crutches. He wasn't all that impressed - something to do with it being midnight and us having been in the hospital all night and needing to get some sleep. But I'm glad to report that four days later I'm up and about again without the crutches. Hurray! And there's nothing quite like an injury to make you genuinely appreciate working limbs.





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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Threads Of Contentment.

I'm looking out of the kitchen window. It's Sunday afternoon and the first signs of Spring are materializing. The grass is now only half-covered in snow and the air still holds a snap of cold but also now enough warmth to be outside for hours at a time. The boys' boots are drenched in mud but they don't care because it's just lovely to be outside, sliding and swinging and running around with all the buoyancy that childhood permits.

I stir the dinner and pour two glasses of rum and pineapple with wedges of lime, because that's what summer tastes like and I'm impatient for summer to come quickly now.

It's these moments of unblemished contentment that I'm learning to let myself into. The longer I'm a parent the more I realize that it's necessary to let myself into these moments - really let myself into them, because they're the ones I'll remember when I'm looking back on this in ten years. 

Any given day in our house is filled with countless ups and downs and expecting it to be any other way would be nothing short of madness. The trick - I'm finding - is to enjoy the moments that are about happiness and let go of the ones that are about frustration. Easier said than done, though.

These days are a tangle of goods and bads, smiles and tears, thrills and disappointments, logics and crazies, grins and grimaces, kisses and punches, acceptances and rejections. It's all part of the complicated tapestry of family life.

And I have my ups and downs, too: I love dinner time, sitting around the table with my family while everyone tucks into their food and chats about the day; cleaning up the dishes, not so much. I feel relieved and calm when my house is clean; I hate the cleaning part. Reading bedtime stories to my kids is one of my favourite parts of the day; brushing teeth beforehand is almost always a struggle. I'm proud of my son as he rushes into his preschool classroom to get right on with playing in the sand; getting there on time in the morning isn't always a breeze.

Life's like that.

But when I let myself into the good moments, the not-so-good ones are more workable.

I imagine the good moments to be like a piece of red thread. It weaves through the tapestry strong and thick, locking the whole thing together as one. It rides over the bumpy pieces and comes through the other side in tact. It's subtle enough to blend in but bold enough to still be recognized among the other threads if you look hard enough.

The red thread is always there, winding its way through time, stringing together a pattern of memories. It's watching my sons playing outside in the mud. It's the surprising and hilarious conversations. It's seeing them become more confident in the water, on their bikes, on ice skates. It's looking into their eyes when they're describing something. It's the moment when my husband and I close their bedroom doors in the evening and pour each other a glass of wine.




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Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Colours Of Parenthood.

Motherhood is sunny yellow, fire engine red, sugary pink, crazy purple, delicious green, wonderful blue and bursting orange, with occasional hints of moody gray and frazzled beige.

Across our house we try to maintain the cool, sophisticated shades that help us remember we're not all about the kids, but our children's colours creep through, cannonballing out of every gap, peaking cheekily around corners and out from under chairs and tables, laughing at our attempt at grown-up decor.

There are lime green and vivid blue ride-on cars on the dark-brown hardwood living room floor, revealing it as the playroom it really is. Silver swords and viking hats sit on the kitchen table alongside vases and candlesticks. Primary-colour jigsaw puzzle pieces are scattered in the front entry way, welcome people into our mess house. The master bedroom with its pretty orange and white bedsheets is brought back down to earth by little red and blue race cars, stuffed animals and multi-coloured action figures that somehow make their way into our bedroom at every opportunity, spreading their hues all over the place.

Dinner time is a medley of lettuce greens and bright orange carrots, crimson radishes and mauve kidney beans, ivory rice and pasta and brown meat, as we endeavour to smoosh as many nutritionally-required foods onto one plate. Sometimes, there's a very superficial bubbly pink in a glass.

Winters, once gray, white and black are now flecked with cherry toboggans, navy winter hats with green bobbles, yellow vests embroidered with little engines, turquoise shovels against the white snow.

The black of nighttime is more welcome than ever, pulling sleep down over me like a cloak of luxurious rest.

As for my sons? They're sunshine and bulldozer yellow with splotches of chestnut mud, mint-choc-chip green dripping down sleeves, bouncy-castle red, popsicle tangerine. They're the colour of finger paints, fireworks and rocket ships.

They're every colour you see when you shine light on water.



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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Giving Myself Permission.

After reading this post over the weekend I got to thinking about the whole subject of giving myself permission when it comes to spending money. Where once I gave myself permission to spend on things that made my life better / happier / easier , I now have a hard time with it. So what happened?

Well, money - for one thing. But also, something else: some kind of mental road block that has demoted me in the ranks of worthiness and which I'm having a hard time defining. 

Let's start at the beginning. Rewind eight or ten years: I was a single, working woman, self-sufficient and in the privileged position of being able to spend my money selfishly on whatever I wanted, whenever I felt like it. This afforded me all the things that made my life nicer: clothes and haircuts to boost my self-confidence; holidays to help me unwind and regroup; take-out and restaurant food when I didn't feel like cooking; an abundance of things - essential and non-essential.

Years later I went on maternity leave for the first time and slashed my spending habits. I severed my ties with the consumer world as I'd known it, exchanging my weekly clothes shopping sprees for quarterly ones, the restaurant food for home-cooked meals, and holidays for staycations.

Over time my mindset shifted from this: I want something therefore I will have something, to this: I want something therefore I will weigh up all my options, hunt around, research it to death, check my bank balance and then maybe not end up with it at all because instead we need diapers, dog food, electricity and toilet paper. 

Ten years ago I was reckless with my money, to put it bluntly. Now I'm careful. And though once the idea of being frugal seemed dull, one good thing has come from having it: I'm now in-control of my money: I know how much is available, I'm on top of paying bills, and I feel satisfied in the knowledge that we're doing okay with our money even though it has meant cutting back.

But there's another side to all of this: I've become scroogey. I tirelessly hold onto things around the house that might be re-used and recycled in other ways; I look twice, three times at a t-shirt - even if it's on sale - asking myself do I really want this? Do I really? Do I?; I look in fliers to check for promotions and I make meal plans so that I'm not wasting money on food we won't eat.

And out of the scrooginess has grown the inability to let myself have certain things. One example? A snow shovel: We've had this wooden/metal snow shovel for years. I've always hated it but always used it in some deluded dutiful way. I even used it to shovel when I was pregnant both times, even though it's heavy before the added weight of snow and I almost always end up with a twinge in my back. I've coveted a plastic snow shovel for a while and yet I cannot bring myself to get one. Because as I'm looking at the thirty-dollar price tag I'm thinking about all the other things that we might need before we need the snow shovel. And of course there are always a million and one other things that take priority. And besides, we already have a snow shovel that works, so how can I justify buying another one if we don't really need it?

This leads me to another question. Actually two questions:

1) When did I become such a bloody martyr? and;
2) How do I stop being such a bloody martyr?

Somewhere along the way my preoccupation with keeping our finances straight has gotten twisted up with the notion that I shouldn't buy things for myself - even small things that we can afford that will clearly make my life easier. And don't I want my life to be easier?

I do! I do! (she shouts meekly)

It's not really about the money because I'm quite happy spending it on other non-essential things. It's about the way I feel about spending money on myself. I need to snap out of it, to rethink priorities, reshuffle things a bit, become more aware and more thoughtful about the way I spend money. And I need to learn to once again give myself permission.


How about you? Do you give yourself permission?
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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's Never Too Early To Start Dreaming Of Summer.

Since moving to Calgary almost seven years ago I've complained about winters slightly more than my fair share. Last winter was a particularly bad one, with little relief from the relentless cold and snow, and at one point I actually threw a tantrum that would match that of any six year old girl: I was shoveling snow one day, cold through to my core, my hands and face red from the -20 wind. Worst of all, it was April. Sodding April.

I threw down my shovel and stomped inside (at that point I may or may not have burst into tears) and began my outpouring of the unfairness of it all. I protested that I couldn't live here any more / it was too much / no human being should have to put up with so much winter / it was NUTS / it was ALL WRONG / other people were at that moment living in warm, sunny climes with cocktail umbrellas and floating pool beds. I mean! Really! Cocktail umbrellas!

And then I took a breath and a hot bath. And before long it was summer and everything was okay again.

This winter, on the other hand, has been fantastic. And by fantastic I mean totally manageable for a Calgary winter. And after not having endured a bad winter this year, I can almost smell Spring in the air. And even if Spring is still in reality a few months away it doesn't matter because it's all good.

The thing I absolutely love about this time of year, is the anticipation of all the great things summer brings. But it wasn't until I saw this picture a few days ago on Design Mom's site - an irresistible display of colourful ballet shoes which I immediately Pinterested - that I felt it. And just like that I was in the mood for spring and summer.

These are the things I'm looking forward to this year:

1) Holidays: we've booked our flight and we're going to England. All four of us: two adults, two children and a whole heap of electronic games, colouring pens, candies and anything else that helps us survive the 9-hour flight. I'm excited about the trip - of seeing my family for the first time in a while, and of meeting my brand new little nephew (who I might have to steal and bring back in my suitcase).

2) Summer fashion: As usual, when it comes to summer, I can't get my mind off stripes. As far as I'm concerned every item in my wardrobe should be stripey.

This t-shirt from Joe Fresh reminds me of a t-shirt I bought when I was in Paris about ten years ago.
Every woman needs a great summer dress. I love this light, floaty one from H&M


This year I'm in the mood for a pleated skirt, too. Whether or not I can pull it off remains to be seen. This pretty white one is from Top Shop.


A feminine shirt is always great to have on hand for long summer evenings or to slip over a bathing suit. I like this white embroidered one from Zara.


I love this simple, long gold chain with turquoise beads from Charm & Chain. It would go with so many outfits.



These wedge sandals from Barefoot Tess feel like summer to me. I wonder what colour pedicure would go with them?

3. Ice cream: There's a great little ice cream store a short drive from where we live with the most amazing assortment of flavours, and one of our favourite things to do on a lazy afternoon is to take the kids down there and hang out with our ice creams in the park across the road.   

4. Long summer evenings: I'm a woman of simple wants. A patio barbecue, a glass of wine, and nothing but the rest of the evening to watch the children exhaust themselves in the paddling pool, is my idea of heaven. 

5. Pedicures: It's the only time of year I do it, but I love the look of freshly-painted toenails.



What are you looking forward to this year?



No compensation was received for any of the above mentions. All content is simply my own opinion.
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Cautious Parent Or Internet Snoop: How I Used Social Media To Check Up On A Potential Babysitter.

When it comes to social media, like most people of my generation, I'm knee deep in it. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends; Twitter to talk to other bloggers; Pinterest to collect pretty things I find online; YouTube to watch everything from how to clean grout to music videos; and LinkedIn for my professional thingimajigs.

So it should come as no surprise that when, last week, I received an email from a girl applying for the babysitting position I'd posted earlier that day, that the first thing my social-media-trigger-happy fingers did was, look her up.

The girl - let's call her Polly - seemed fine in her email. More than fine, in fact. She gushed about how much children loved her and how much she loved children and how she would love to work with us. It was all love, love, love with Polly. Her enthusiasm hooked me. If I'm going to hire someone to spend time with my kids why wouldn't I chose someone with a glass-half-full, everything-shiny-rainbows-and-unicorns attitude? I responded right away, asking her for more information.

As our email stream ping-ponged back and forth, I googled her. Because - well, naturally. It's all very well saying you love kids but what if really you're a troll with warts and spikes? What if you're telling me one thing and hiding something else? What if what if what if? (and breathe....) One paragraph in an email tells me very little, but the Internet? There's no telling what you might find out about a person there from a few search words. When it comes to my kids, there's no room for error. If someone's going to look after my children, I need to know who they are.

Of course, ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to dig any deeper into Polly's past. I would probably have spoken to her on the phone, then met her and hired her and been no wiser to whatever else was going on in her life.

So I googled her. Among other things I came across her Facebook page - the crown jewel of biographies. I clicked onto her page and read it. All of it. Most people I know have fixed their privacy settings to limit access to their profile. But Polly had not. Polly's Facebook page was wide open for the world to see. There she was - her photographs, her wall posts (an hour-by-hour account of her life), her friends, her hobbies, the music she listened to and the books she read. All of it right there, available for me to ponder with my cup of tea. It was a detailed insight into this girl's life I would otherwise never have seen.

Admittedly I felt strange looking at Polly's Facebook page with all her private stuff on display. I felt like a snoop - a sneaky impostor peeking through someone's living room window. But then I remembered that she was going to be looking after my children and ditched the guilt.

The first thing that struck me were the number of expletives in her wall posts. But okay - she was eighteen. So, okay. 

The next thing that struck me was the pattern of negativity: "my life sucks", "my life is bull s&$%", "everyone sucks", "I need a job", "I really need a job", "why will no one hire me?", "keep your F'n job I don't want it anyway", "I'm bored", "I'm bored", "I'm bored". Etc., etc.

Suddenly positive Polly was no longer seeming so positive.

But maybe she was just going through a bad patch. 

Then one wall post caught my eye in a way that made my stomach turn slightly. And then another. Apparently, in Polly's world, it's okay refer to women as "bitches" in casual chat. And apparently, according to Polly, "bitches" should not be allowed to drive. In fact, "bitches"shouldn't even own a car. Worse of all, in the land of Polly, talking hatefully about one's own mother on Facebook is an acceptable thing to do.

The expletives I could handle, the negativity could be overlooked, but the blatant sexism and the mean remarks about her own mother? It all gave me a very bad feeling in my gut. I couldn't erase the things I'd read from my mind and at that very moment I realized I'd never be able to confidently leave this girl alone with my kids.

I wrote to Polly and canceled the meeting.

Then I went to Twitter to throw the subject out for discussion: what did other moms think about this? What would they do? Was I wrong to have snooped around on her? Within minutes I heard back from several moms, most of whom said they would have done the same thing.

When in doubt, always ask Twitter.

I then paid to join a nanny finder web site, feeling the need for a little extra security. Or a little extra something - I don't know. Now I have some great-looking, background-checked, references-coming-out-of-the-wazoo babysitters lined up for interviews.

(I may still have to don my Internet sleuth hat though, you know, just for good measure.)

What do you think? Is it okay to use the Internet to check up on someone you're hiring? Is reading their Facebook wall crossing a moral line? Where is the line between wanting to protect your children and being a snoop?

What would you do?
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Strange And Random Things That Make Me Cry Since Becoming A Parent.

Something must have happened inside my brain when I was expecting my babies - some kind of permanent chemical change. Perhaps too many hormones crossed over from the placenta into my bloodstream. Or perhaps all the jumping, prodding and jabbing those babies did when they were growing inside me dislodged something (part of a rib, maybe?) and sent it elsewhere (I got it! Part of a rib relocated to my brain!). It's the only explanation I can think of. Because since becoming a mother my emotional filter - the one that stops me from crying over completely random and pointless things in public - no longer works.

It's the reason I sometimes avoid listening to the news. It's the reason I refuse to watch Saving Private Ryan or basically any sad movie. It's why I carry a supply of tissues in my purse.

The only semi-good thing about this, is that I've managed to narrow down the specific moments that these emotional outbursts tend to happen.

Weddings: It's just a matter of time before I'm rustling in my bag for a Kleenex. The moment the ceremony starts, and the couple begins reciting their vows, there I am, crying (sometimes even more than the mothers of the bride/groom!). There I am, digging around for more tissues and trying to stifle my slightly-inappropriate sobs.  

Airports: There's something about airports. The arrival and departure lounges - the long sad goodbyes and the emotional hellos. People hugging one another with that slightly-too-tight-for-comfort embrace because the thought of letting go just yet is too hard. The moment I step in, my eyes begin to water. I tell myself to stop but those damn hormones (or that piece of rib) won't listen. And so, next time you're checking your bags and you notice a woman with dark glasses power-walking through the terminal with tissues falling out of her back pocket - it might be me.

Sad movies: Enough said. I know you know what I mean.

Sad songs: Don't ever play the song Landslide near me. (Seriously, don't even click on that link.)

And one last thing. One random, bizarre thing that's sure to prompt the snivels.

Hallmark Cards: Specifically the ones with the really long, cheesy verses that go something like...


 Through the years...
You've been there for me...
You held me tight...
When I was sad...
You picked me up...
When I was down...
You were always there for me...
Now I'm here for you too...
Blah Blah Blah Sadness Sadness Boo Hoo

And I know! Those cards are so tacky and impersonal! But still. There I am with my soggy tissues.

It's bloody madness! 


Dear hormones, go screw yourself. Thanks.



Image clker.com




How about you? What makes you cry since becoming a parent?

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Life Keeps Getting In The Way Of Blogging.

I once read one of those What Is My Ideal Job? books where you go through a series of questions that lead you to your best-suited vocation. It was about ten years ago when I was in a miserable spot in my career in marketing, eager to break away and do something different. One part of the questionnaire asked me to write about my ideal day. Not one to hold back in the imagination department, I wrote something like this:

(You should probably start hearing harp music now.)

I wake up at 8:00, refreshed after a good night's sleep. Before breakfast I slip into my bathing suit and swim twenty lengths of my swimming pool. After that I sip a hot cup of coffee and eat a healthy breakfast while looking out through large french doors, admiring the beautiful morning and the huge trees in my garden. I go into my office and sit at an antique walnut desk overlooking the ocean through a large bay window. I write for a couple of hours and then break for lunch and take a short stroll by the ocean. My work day ends at around four, when I start preparing dinner, glass of wine in hand, in my humongous kitchen, a great big feast for family and friends who will arrive later.

The end.

(Dear author of What Is My Ideal Job?, please send me a refund. Thanks a bunch.)

My ideal day never did happen. This is what happened instead:

(You can start hearing drums mixed with fingernails on a chalkboard and crying monkeys now.)

I wake up at 7:00 to my three-year-old shining his flashlight directly into my eyes and asking me what I am doing. Before I can properly wake up, my other son is there, also asking random questions. I shuffle into the kitchen with one eye open and one closed and start putting breakfast together. Then it's time to get everyone dressed. Getting two boys dressed is like getting ten monkeys dressed. Into clothes, shoes, boots, mittens and hats before heading out in the snow to school/playdate/other activity. Later, in between clearing away one meal and making the next and sticking a load of laundry on, I type emails that usually begin "I'm so sorry I've taken so long to get back to you...". By five o'clock I'm so tired I feel like my head is actually going to plunge into my dinner and it's all I can do to plead with my spine to keep me upright for a few more hours.

My expectations are lower - much lower - than that twenty-something-year-old girl with the list of how things in life should be. She can keep the swimming pool and the ocean view. I'll even give up the bay window and the walnut desk. All I want is a little bit of balance - that elusive thing we talk about all the time, as if achieving it is even achievable.

But I want some anyway.

My new thirty-three-year-old ideal day includes spending time with my kids and going to work for a few hours. That's about it folks. Nothing jaw-dropping, nothing spectacular. No french windows or strolls on the beach. Just a little of both: life as a mom and life as someone with other things going on that are not all about family all the time. C'est tout.

And not to be greedy, but I want just one more thing too.

I want to write more blog posts and I want to write them while the idea is still fresh in my head in the morning instead of waiting until the evening when brain has turned to swamp juice and all I can type are things like sploocrnachfl44iggy2lorp87 (or worse, let them pile up in my drafts folder).
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In The Land Of Unpublished Blog Posts.

For every blog post I publish there's another sitting idly in my drafts folder - one that's been written and then shoved aside, never to make a public appearance. And like the committed procrastinator that I am, I don't often get around to deleting them. So they remain there forever, unread, unloved, cast aside in the land of forgotten posts. Forever unmemorable.

Usually there's good reason for my not publishing these posts: they only make sense to me; they're not entertaining, funny or interesting in any way; they reference things that've happened in my life and are way too personal to publish; I wrote them when I was over-tired; delirious or inebriated.

But it's sad. Don't you think it's sad? All those unpublished posts that'll never be read, never given the opportunity to make someone chuckle, grimace, oppose, lob something at or at the very least nod their head at in empathy.

I feel bad for them.

I'm strange like that.

So on behalf of those discarded posts, and because I know you're super sad about it too (I'm pretty sure I can hear you crying), here are a few samples from my pile of rejects.

(They even have proper titles, poor things.)

Love On A Moving Device.
In which I write an entire post in the style of a really bad romantic novel about my new treadmill: how I met him online, fell head over heals for him, then brought him home (much to the dismay of my husband). And how, though our families say it won't last, we'll go far together (miles and kilometers).

Alien Movies And Other Reasons To Always Have The Remote Control.
In which I go into (way too much) detail about my loathing for alien movies and tell the story of how I was tricked into watching one about not just aliens but aliens and cowboys (double whammy NO).

Sexy Libraries.
In which I try to convince you that libraries are really sexy awesome places and get all up in your face about how we should all be reading smelly old books a lot more and then show you a riveting slide show of libraries from around the world.

Mommy Does A Really Good Impression Of You!
In which I explain why you should never impersonate your son's eccentric music teacher with the thick accent.

Hair Is My Problem.
In which I recite a crap poem about my how I can't decide what to do with my hairstyle. 

About That Skeleton I Wanted For Christmas. 
In which I reveal a conversation with my husband about how unfair it is that he won't let me have a skeleton (for anatomical purposes), and how I could call him Jones Bones and sit him in different poses around the house and dress him up for special occasions.

So now you know.

My utter nonsense that is better off in the drafts folder hidden treasures.


How about you? What hidden treasures are in your drafts folder? In fact, why not do your own post and then let me know! I'd love to hear about them.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mess With My Brother, Mess With Me.

As any mother of boys (plural) understands, there are moments of heart-warming camaraderie and moments of hair-raising hellishness. And they often happen back to back. Within minutes they can be playing nicely and then threatening to rip each other's heads off. Laughing and joking around and then hissing through gritted teeth. Smiling and then screaming.

And it's like this a lot of the time - this back and forth, schizophrenic relationship that hangs on the verge of love and trouble. As the mediator, care-taker, whatever you want to label me - it's utterly exhausting - this watching, soothing, intervening, reassuring, reuniting. And repeat. More exhausting for me, apparently, than them. Because they're skipping off to the next thing, the last altercation a distant memory, while I'm sitting down with a cup of tea to try to collect and revive myself.

But if there's one thing I can rely on, it's that aside from the bickering and the up-down turbulent friendship, they'll put all their differences aside to stand up for one another.

I've witnessed it a few times now.

It warms my cockles like no other cockle-warmer.

I had taken my sons to a gymnasium for drop-in play time. It's a fantastic way to burn off energy and I watched as they leaped from one trampoline to another, moving so sprightly and energetically that I wished I was four years old again.

Then a little girl who was also playing at the gym brushed past Oliver. I'm not even sure what happened next, or why he did what he did, but Oliver walked up to the girl and wrapped his arms around her. I watched, confused. The little girl was horrified. She wriggled free from his embrace and backed away several steps. Then she stuck out her tongue at him and pulled the meanest face she could muster.

Oliver was visibly upset by the little girl's display of hostility. But Matthew? Oh he was just mad. I watched his face turn red with anger and then he took a step forward, toward the girl.

"Don't do that to MY BROTHER." He spat.

The girl stood firm, maintaining her spiteful face.

"It's okay." I barged in. I explained to the boys what had happened and they went on with their jumping and leaping and swinging. But I could tell that to my son, the reasons didn't matter - just that the girl had behaved unkindly to his little brother.

Aside from feeling a little bad for the girl (her sisters came to rescue her), I felt a great big gush of pride for the way my son had stood up for his brother so vehemently. It's times like these I realize that despite all the bickering they really are there for each other. It's comforting - especially to a mother - to know that her children, no matter what, will always have each other.

And maybe one day the ratio of getting along / bickering will switch from 50% / 50% to 90% / 10% (some bickering is healthy).


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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ugly Photographs.

For as long as I can remember I've had this naughty habit of deleting every unflattering photograph of myself. It drives J mad. He thinks I should keep all photos - good, bad or ugly. My thinking is that when I'm eighty and I'm looking through pictures of myself from my younger years, I want to think wow, I was an attractive young woman. Not, wow, I looked like the back end of an elephant. Too bad I didn't consider reconstructive surgery.

Back in the pre-children days there weren't so many unphotogenic angles. Now I'm pouncing on the delete key when I see even a hint of a double-chin (it was a trick of the light!) or a wobbly tummy (it was the way I was standing!) or chubby arms (okay okay it was the cakes!).

The worst photo I ever saw of myself was taken at my baby shower, one week after I'd give birth to my first son. To say that my eyes practically popped out of my head like cartoon eyes on springs at the sight of that photo is an understatement. I could hardly believe it was me. The baby weight, instead of falling off like it was supposed to (in my dreams), was still there like a great big fat suit of armour. And then all I remember is nailing that delete key in kind of a happy delirium so that not a trace of that whale-person remained.

So that's what I do. I delete. 

And it's not like I delete ugly pictures of other people. No way do I do that! That would be so wrong!

Okay maybe once.

But what do you do when someone else owns an ugly photo of you? What do you do when you're a fanatic ugly-picture-deleter and the ugly picture is not yours to delete? And what if that ugly picture is circulated among friends and family and there's not a thing in hell you can do about it? 

It's bound to happen: think of all the places you go and get-togethers you attend where pictures are being snapped without you knowing. You can't dive into a perfect pose every single time. And unless you're Scarlett Johansson or Sofia Vergara there are bound to be some angles that aren't entirely favourable.

So what do you do?

Well... for one thing, you do not stomp around the house, waving your arms in protest, pouting and hissing profanities. You definitely do not consider stealing the guilty camera and erasing all evidence of it. And no way on earth do you tell everyone within earshot that you definitely do not look like that. That, in fact, that was probably not even you! It was a fake you! An impersonator wandering around the room! That must be it.

No, you don't do any of those things.

What you do is, you remember how to breathe deeply. And then you remind yourself that even though there are ugly photos of you floating around the universe, the world will keep on turning.

Probably. 

Photo, istockphotos.com

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Monday, January 30, 2012

How Taking A Blog Break Has Helped Me.

I've been blogging at Lady Mama for about four years with the exception of the break I took last year, when I decided to go do something different for a few months. The different thing was good for a while even though in the end it wasn't exactly right for me. But the best thing about doing something different - about taking a break from this blog - was the new perspective it gave me about blogging: a perspective I think I might not have otherwise have found. When I came back to Lady Mama it was like all the old things I'd worried about didn't matter anymore.

For instance:

I like to write opinionated posts, but occasionally I'd press the publish button and for a few moments afterward feel sick, worried I might offend or upset someone. Taking a break helped me understand that (so long as you're not going out there with the intention of hurting or offending) there's nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, that in fact it's a good thing where blogging is concerned.

I used to fret about how many comments I was getting. If I had less than ten comments on a post I'd wonder if there was something wrong with what I'd written. I needed validation. Now I know that number of comments have no connection with the quality or value of a post. I've seen all kinds of scenarios on other blogs: There are really excellent posts with just one or two comments and mediocre ones with dozens. There are hugely popular bloggers who continuously get just a few comments and less popular bloggers who get tons. And vice versa.

All writing is still important if it's important to the person who wrote it. 

But I think the biggest thing I learned during my break from Lady Mama last year is the impact other blogs have had on my life. As well as connecting with some wonderful people I've found huge comfort in other people's writing. I've read posts that made me exhale with relief knowing someone else had been through something I'd been through thus removing the loneliness of parenting; I've read posts that opened my eyes to things I didn't previously understand; I've read posts that have changed the way I think about the way people parent; I've read posts that have resonated with me so strongly that I've wanted to reach out to the blogger and yell "YES! YES! YES!" (in more of a you-totally-get-me! way than a When Harry Met Sally way!).

It's the authenticity of the writing in blogs that brings comradeship to people everywhere - in my case with other parents. I would go so far as to say that people's stories and experiences have, in some ways actually helped me to be a better parent.

I learn so much from other people.

I've said it before but I love reading blogs more than I love reading magazines - and I love magazines. And sometimes now when I do read them, I find myself cringing at the artificiality of it all.

The one other thing I learned from taking a break is that, although I prefer to every post to have a goal and a structured beginning, middle and end, it doesn't always happen, and that's okay. Parenting blogs are not software blogs: we're writing from the heart about the things that happen to us and the things we think, and sometimes it's messy and convoluted. Like life.

And I just have to hope my readers made it through to the end of the post....


Hello...?
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sometimes Mighty, Sometimes Meek.

Woke up, got out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream
 A Day In The Life, The Beatles.

Is every week as a parent going to be as turbulent as a bull fight on a speeding train, I'm wondering, or is this just a temporary thing? I have to ask the question because sometimes it's all just so much in one day that I find myself lying in bed almost laughing out loud at the absurdity of the day that's just gone by, imagining how there might be thousands more days like it to come. 

With three- and four-year-old boys - I know I know I know - it's bound to be mental - it's not meant to be any other way. It's just that right now it feels ultra-mental. And maybe this is on top of a particularly mad week in which every day has felt like a marathon without a medal at the end. 

Where is my medal, dammit?

Of all the demented madness that has happened this week, I will share just one thing, because the irony of it is too good: In an attempt to regroup and get back some of my energy and sanity, I took myself off for a therapeutic massage a few nights ago. As a therapist myself, I love getting a massage and feel it's necessary to my health. Seems like a nice story so far? It's about to go far south. The therapist I saw decided it was his purpose in life to remove every kink in my back and spent the entire session kneading the crap out of it, as though I were a slab of meat that needed to be pummelled.

The next day, instead of waking from a blissful sleep (as I usually do after a massage) I woke up in pain from a restless night, feeling as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to my back. Instead of floating through the day, refreshed from my lovely massage, I staggered around like a ninety-year-old woman, downing pain killers like they were jelly beans, and groaning.

"Mommy, what are you eating?"

"Magic medicine beans."

But enough moaning. For now. There will be more later, of course.

The thing with being a parent is that at the end of a bad day, or several bad days, you go to bed, you get a good long sleep, and you wake up with a new energy, and all the things that have happened in the week - the things that whirl and pop around your mind when you're trying to fall asleep - fade away, and you get on with the new day, because the new day is full of promise and things that might be really great. And you know there will be more bad days and more good days, and you just carry on.  

And you never, ever go back to that dumb massage therapist again.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Reminiscing: The Newborn Days.

I've been pouring over pictures of my new nephew and thinking back to when J and I became parents. It seems long, long ago now - that night after our first son was born, when I lay awake all night staring at him, afraid he might stop breathing. The first fumbled attempt at changing a diaper. Putting on his little mittens to stop him from clawing at his face. Dressing him so delicately. All those somewhat frightening, somewhat blissful moments that go by in a flash and at the same time last forever. I remember driving home from the hospital, our little son in the back of the car, thinking, okay this is it, it's just us now. We can do this. We can do this... right?

As he lay in his crib at home, sleeping, I'd poke him every so often to check he was alright (crazy lunatic, I know) and his little arms would fly up for a second and his face would crumple as though to say goddammit woman leave me alone, before he returned to his deep sleep. I remember holding him - this tiny baby - in my arms and wondering how he could be so small when in pregnancy I had been so humongous that it had looked as though there could have been three or four of him growing inside me. (And then I remembered, it was all the pies. Dammit.)


I remember marveling at the miraculousness of it all. Of a baby.

Other things I remember about the newborn days:

- The extraordinary and precious warmth of holding my baby against my skin.

- The angst of breastfeeding.

- The loveliness of sleeping beside him.

- The fear of doing something wrong.

- The happiness and community that our new baby brought to everyone around us.

- The utter exhaustion.

- The swelling pride.

- The frustration of not being able to ask "what is wrong?" and get an answer.

- The phenomenon of the first smile and the first giggle.


All in all, a hurricane of emotions. Thinking back, as treasured as those days were, I'm ever so slightly glad they're behind me.




How about you readers? How do you look back on the newborn days? Do you miss them?
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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Overseas Auntie.

On Thursday I was given some of the happiest news of the week / month / year / decade: I became an aunt! Auntie Sarah. Wonderful, brilliant news, except that I live approximately five thousand miles away from the tiny bundle of love that is my nephew, and how, exactly is one supposed to get one's fill of baby snuggles when one is so far away? For now I'll make do with pictures of the sweet little boy and wait impatiently for our visit to England later this year.

"Can we go and see our cousin today?" My sons asked, hopping up and down, when I told them the news that the baby had arrived.


"No, I'm sorry, we cant. They live very far away from us. But we will see them this summer, when we go to England."

"Oh..."

Times like this are inextricably joyous and difficult because I want desperately to go and be part of the joy that's happening there, and I can't.

Damn those thousands of miles!

But on a positive note, I'm so incredibly proud of my brother - a daddy for the first time, and his wife who is - I'm telling you - one of the most beautiful people inside and out that I've ever met. Again - damn those miles! But here we are, my brother and I, having our families thousands of miles from each other, but still finding ways to remain close, to support one another and to stay in touch as often as we can. And despite this I occasionally find myself cursing the distance between us and wishing I could wave a magic stick to make it shrink.

How about you, readers - how do you cope with living far away from family?
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If I Knew How To Get A Great Picture With My Kids I'd Write A Tutorial.

Everyone is in a good mood. I grab the camera and round up my sons. We sit together on the sofa and I hold the camera out in front of us, hoping my arm isn't visible in the shot. I have this brilliant idea of a prefect, slightly quirky shot that will end up in a frame on my wall. It's going to be good, I can feel it.


Not a bad first effort. But not everyone is looking at the camera. Or smiling. Try again.


Now everyone is pulling a strange face or looking elsewhere. Again.


Everyone is losing interest. But okay everyone, we can do this! Look at the camera and smile!


Is that smiling? Is it? One more time. How about we all say "bananas" instead.

 
Saying bananas is a bad idea that results in everyone looking totally distracted and the shot being wonky. Let's scooch up together and try once more. This is the last time. Promise.



I'm beginning to do that fake smile I do when someone is taking too many pictures. One last time... everyone just "be normal"!

Okay. I give up. It's a wrap.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Reward Chart Has Magical Powers.

For months I've tried to persuade my sons to get themselves dressed in the morning. For months I've encouraged them to clean up their toys after playtime (with me on hands and knees singing that bloody awful "clean up clean up everybody clean up" song like a broken record). For months and probably years we've worked on good habits, nice manners and helpful tendencies. Sometimes all of our hard efforts pay off beautifully. And sometimes, friends, let's be honest: working on these things is like pulling teeth. My teeth, to be precise.

A while ago I decided to try a reward chart. I found a pretty one online and decided that the pretty reward chart was the answer to my prayers and would also look nice on my fridge. The chart failed. Though it looked attractive, it was too complicated and before long the boys lost interest. I gave up and tossed the pretty chart in the recycling bin, and we resumed our efforts the old-fashioned way (ie. nagging gentle encouragement).


Then one day at a playdate with my son's friend I noticed a piece of paper with tick marks crossed through on their fridge. The mom explained to me that her kids had to collect a certain number of ticks in order to get a reward (a movie, some TV or a treat).  

Right away I knew it was brilliant and wished I had thought of it first. I should have known. Simple is always best. Well, duh.

Back at home I put together my own reward chart just like theirs. I explained to the boys that when they had collected 10 smiley faces, they could have a new Hot Wheels car.

Shazam!

Suddenly there was a new enthusiasm to perfect all the things we'd been struggling with for so long. The morning after the chart went up they disappeared into their bedrooms after breakfast and re-emerged dressed from head to toe. Head to toe. Suddenly they were offering to clean up the toys from their bedroom floors and even the playroom downstairs. Things were happening. It was almost too good to be true.


By the time the weekend rolled around they had both reached their ten smiley face stickers and were given their reward as promised.

The other incredible thing about this reward chart? The mere suggestion that a sticker might be removed (OH GOD NO NOT THE STICKERS!!) as a result of bad behaviour and - snap - all is well again. Magic.

Now, I'm not one to assume that this reward chart is the answer to all my parenting problems (ahem) but for now I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying watching my sons' new zest for doing things independently. I'm enjoying the extra time this allows me. I'm enjoying it. 

I just wonder how long this magic will last....
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Three!

At three, he's seldom still. He loves to move. He runs, skips, hops up and down and walks in a zig zag simply because it's fun. He dances, spins and twirls, arches backward over a chair and squeezes through a tight space to see whether he'll fit.

At three, his eyes are huge and brown and they sparkle often, with glee or delight, sometimes with mischief, sometimes with pride.

Sometimes I have to hold his head still long enough to look into those eyes before he's off again.

At three, his face is almost always smeared with food. His arms and hands are almost always smudged with paint, pen or chalk. His feet are almost always bare because socks prevent him from running fast.

At three, his smile is wide and cheeky. His cheeky cheeks and lips give away secrets and dissolve moments of anger or frustration.

At three, he is still, just, but almost not anymore, my baby.

Happy Birthday to my sweet little boy!


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Monday, January 9, 2012

Tamarind Tarts to Tater Tots.

I remember once, back when I lived in England, watching an American food show on TV in which the host was enthusiastically preparing a dinner that "all the family would eat!". I watched in disgust as she mashed up potatoes with broccoli (in order to trick her kids into eating vegetables), and smothered everything in a layer of grated cheddar before dumping the potato-broccoli-mish-mash next to a hunk of pork and declaring it a triumph on a plate.

There was no way in hell I was ever going to make a meal that required mushing things together or hiding vegetables from people. When I became a parent my kids would eat what they were served - be it chicken tikka masala or spinach frittata.

Hahahaha.

Right.

And then, ten years later, this evening, I put on my apron and went about cooking a family-friendly meal, as if that callous young woman who had cackled so cattily at the TV food show woman had never even existed. As I chopped my veggies into small bite-sized slices and prepared a cheese sauce in which to smother the vegetables, it hit me: it was happening to me. Correction: it is happening to me.

You see, we started off with pretty good eating habits. I went about feeding my sons the strangest of foods as soon as they were ready to eat: hummus and blueberries for breakfast; kidney beans as a snack; curries; Marmite on toast.

Okay not the last one.

The idea was to introduce them to a few more unconventional foods so that we'd avoid all those problems other parents seem to be having. 

But over time, the adventurous palettes turned to more traditional ones and our dinner times have become - basically - tedious. I repeat the meals that our children will eat over and over and over each week because... well, they'll eat it. And because full tummies mean happy faces, easier bed times and less arguments and really who doesn't want an easier life?

So this evening I laid my culinary feat on the table and waited for the thunder of feet rushing excitedly to the table. The dish? Wait for it. Because it's good. This is the name of it: Cheesy Tater Tot Chicken Casserole. The perfect child-friendly meal. Half disgusting, half delicious, exactly the sort of the thing that should have them throwing themselves at the dinner table.

Instead?

"Yuck." Said my son, M, staring down at the dish.

"Excuse me?" I said, offended.

And then I proceeded to whole-heartedly defend my tater-tot casserole as though it were a crown of lamb, using all the enticing adjectives I could think of, reasons why they should eat it, and finally threats (ie. no dessert).

Despite my efforts, no one really liked my cheesy casserole. Can you believe that? Oh, except for me and my husband who devoured almost the entire thing.

But don't tell anyone!

 
Image from funkylunch.com

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