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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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Magic Ice Cream.

Every year, during this season of goodwill and unrelenting illness, I have a little word with myself. I tell myself that yes, we're all sick, again for the third (or fourth or fifth) time so far this winter, but what's really happening is that we're paying upfront for future years of strong immune systems and infrequent sickness. I'm right. I am right? Right? I must be. I like to tell myself this otherwise I might punch the wall. I'm trying to stay positive. Really trying.

Just last month I found myself driving to emergency at 11:30 on a snowy Saturday night with my younger son, who it turned out had croup. Then yesterday once again I loaded the car with crying people and drove to the emergency - this time the one at the Children's Hospital - for my older son who's leg was causing him great pain for no obvious reason.

(Can I just say that the Alberta Children's Hospital is a really fantastic place and I am so extremely thankful it's in my city.)

Four-and-a-half hours in hospital, a ride in a wheel chair, an x-ray, a wrestling match with a nurse and a tube of medicine and several brain-grinding hours of Treehouse later and the doctor presented my son's diagnosis: toxic synoviris - a virus that settles in the hip joint, causing pain to the entire leg and making it almost impossible to walk. Thankfully, it's not too serious and usually clears up in a week or two.

Fingers triple crossed. Because as viruses go, this one sucks in a major way.

"Just make sure he takes some anti-inflammatories." The doctor advised before we left the hospital. I nodded obediently, picturing the scene: me trying to persuade my son to drink his medicine; him refusing; me trying harder; him telling me he will NEVER AS LONG AS HE LIVES NO MATTER WHAT drink that stuff; me trying harder still; him flat-out refusing; me lying on the floor, tired and defeated.

Feeding medicine to my son is (I imagine) sort of like what would happen if you tried to feed toothpaste to a tiger.

So, back at home I came up with another plan.

Magic ice cream!

Or, in other words, ice cream with crushed anti-inflammatory tablets stirred in. With love, of course.

The (magic) ice cream went down nicely and I relaxed in the knowledge that my sneaky efforts would result in my son getting a little relief. And as I watched him eating his medicine without the slightest suspicion, I considered what a mad and unpredictable ride parenting is. Just when I think I have a handle on all things child-related, something new and unforeseen pops up to keep me on my toes.

And now, with a cold starting up in my own body, I might need some magic ice cream too.
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!


I hope 2012 is a great year.

I hope your dreams come true.

I hope you laugh a lot.

I hope you tick off all the things on your list.

I hope you feel free.

I hope you eat cake and drink wine. (But not too much. Leave some for me.)

I hope your days are merry and bright.

LM.
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