Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Recap 2009


Christmas Eve: hanging stockings with Mom.



Went to church and participated in the Christmas pageant. Re-enacted the part of the angel who ran around the church saying hello to people, made snoring noises at the baby Jesus, and clapped after all the Christmas carols.

Christmas Eve at Grandpa Keith and Gramma Karen's.


A wee bit hyper to be surrounded by all her grandparents. Oh, and presents.


Snuggles from Grannie Maureen.
Christmas morning at home.
A wee bit overwhelmed that all this present-opening business isn't over yet.
Anytime you want to make waffles with berries and whipped cream? Gwen will totally help you eat them. She just wanted you to know that.


Playing with Dad and her new puppy, Violet, which was her "big gift" from us.

The one and only picture of Gwen in the Christmas dress she got from Gramma and Grandpa - the girl is growing way too fast. She is frowning here because she has been refused chocolate.

Christmas dinner! That I made! (This is only part of it.)

Pretty dishes and cheap-ass centrepiece.

This is what a Christmas tree looks like after two weeks in a house with a toddler. Please note you can see exactly how high Gwen can reach on the tree: the top half looks perfect.

Christmas was exactly what I hoped it would be. Gwen got to revel in attention and love from all her grandparents, and not only did she get spoiled with gifts, but they are all gifts I heartily approve of and that will be fun for her for a long time to come. Auntie Sara got her a bunch of art supplies, Grannie and Grandpa got her a table and chairs, we got her the dog pictured above, Gramma and Grandpa got her a car playmat with some cars ... and much, much more.
Christmas dinner went well, though it was a lot of work and I am still not sure where I went wrong with the turkey (it turned out fine, but about 40 minutes later than it was supposed to be). Our dishwasher ran 5 times on Christmas Day and another 3 on Boxing Day .... how did people ever do Christmas Dinner without dishwashers?)
The past week has been heavenly as both Chris and I are off work. We've been tidying and putting things away, taking down Christmas and catching up on laundry, but mostly we've had a LOT of relaxing. (And a lot of stuffing our faces with leftovers and Christmas chocolates.) Tomorrow we are once again leaving Gwen with the incredibly generous grandparents and going out for New Year's Eve.
I hope your Christmas season is/was stuffed full of whatever delights you desire.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

This Weird Thing Happened on Christmas Day

(More on Christmas will come later ... for now, a quickie.)

Since I happened to be sitting next to Gwen while she opened her gifts Christmas morning, I ended up in a lot of the pictures.

In many of them, I am making incomprehensible faces.


In some of them, I am doing things with my hands that I simply cannot explain.

And in one of them, I appear to be boxing an invisible opponent.

But the weirdest thing is that after looking through all of these pictures, rotating them and editing them for redeye, after perusing my image over and over and over again ... in not one single picture do I look at myself and think, "Whoa, I am fat." Not one.
(I mentioned this to my best friend, who told me he has not ever seen a picture of me and thought I looked fat. "Try to see it from my perspective," I urged him. "EVERY picture I see of me, I think, ugh, I am so fat. To see a picture - let alone a whole GROUP of pictures - where I don't think that? It's almost disorienting.")
(Stay tuned for my New Year's Resolutions, which for the first time in EVER will not include the words "lose weight".)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dear Gwen: Month Twenty

Dear Gwen,
For twenty whole months, I have been hedging my bets on you. Several times a day, your dad and I discuss your two most prominent traits, which are your intelligence and your sense of humour. But throughout these discussions, whether in my mind or actually out loud, I tell myself that every parent sees their child this way, and that in actuality you are probably no different from any other kid. This era is now over. I, your mother, free from bias and hyperbole, am ready to declare you the smartest and the most hilarious twenty-month-old in the history of the universe. Guinness Records can relax, the search is over. GWEN FOR THE WIN.


As evidence: at twenty months of age, you can count to ten. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING. For most of the numbers, it is rote memorization; however, we are confident that you do know what “two” means. For example, the other day we were looking at a picture with many items, including two angels, which appeared in different areas of the picture. I said to you, “Do you see the angel?” (SINGULAR.) And you pointed at them both and said, “two angels”. YOU ARE A GENIUS.

(I’m sorry for all the shouting, but YOUR BRILLIANCE CAUSES ME EXCITEMENT.)

On top of this, you are hilarious. It's much harder to come up with examples of your humour that can be expressed in writing, but here's one: a few weeks ago, your dad was trying to coax you into showing off your incredible vocabulary. "Gwen, can you say I love you?" he asked. You looked at him with a perfectly deadpan face and replied, "YEAH." All that was missing was the eyeroll.

You are also crazy about the alphabet, which you call “ahbeecee”. You request the ABC song several times a day, and sing along as best you can. It sounds like this: “ … … cee, dee … … gee!” etc. You have great rhythm, by the way.
As for the written word, you can recognize several letters by sight, now: X, R, S, Q E, and many others. Your dad and I are really enjoying this stage with you: it’s like you have figured out how to learn, and are trying to learn as much as you can, as fast as possible! You seem so excited and happy about your learning, too, and so proud when you can show off.

You are putting together sentences really well. Your most common types of sentences are greetings and goodbyes: “Hello, Mama,” or “Night-night, Dada,” for example. You also like to point out who various objects belong to: when you see my water bottle, you will say, “Water. Mama water.” You haven’t yet learned the word “want”, so I haven’t heard the phrase “want orange” or “want milk” – when you want something, you just point and grunt, or sometimes whine the object’s name over and over until it appears. This? Is not my favourite of your habits. On the other hand, you have learned to say “I love you” and have even started to say it without being prompted. This ensures that we will keep you around for a little while longer. Well done.

This month has been full of changes and milestones. At the beginning of December, you took your first float plane ride, over to the Sunshine Coast to attend your first English Family Christmas (we missed last year’s due to excessive snow). You did fine on the plane: a little bit of fuss as we ascended, probably due to discomfort in your ears, but you settled fairly quickly. It was a real treat to take the trip in 25 minutes instead of 5-6 hours by ferry (including several hours’ wait at a ferry terminal).

In preparation for this trip, as we were forced to pack light, we decided to see if you could sleep without your waves CD. Sometime between moving you to your own room (July 2008) and sleep training (November 2008) we started playing a CD of ocean waves for you at night: it was on repeat all night long. We even ripped the CD to mp3 so we could take an mp3 player and a small set of speakers along with us when we traveled, to place under your playpen. Anyway, as I said, for a day or two before our trip we decided to try putting you to sleep without the waves, to see if we could skip bringing them along. And sure enough, you had no problem. So one more of your “sleep crutches” disappeared. It seems such a short time ago that we needed to swaddle you and plunk you into a wedge cushion so you wouldn’t roll over and smother yourself. We even had an Angelcare sensor monitoring your breathing. One by one, all these things have disappeared. Next you’re going to tell me you want to sleep in a BED instead of a CAGE. Pshaw!

(A flashback, the better to aid your memory. I think this was taken, like, a week ago?) (Just kidding. It's from July 2008.)

Another big event this month was you spending a whole weekend with your Grandpa Keith and Gramma Karen (and Fritz). Your grandparents offered us this as an anniversary gift, and your dad and I went away for the weekend to a B&B. You had a great time at their house, and didn’t cry or get cranky all weekend (I can only assume this is because they gave you everything that you wanted, at the precise moment that you wanted it, which is exactly what Weekends with the Grandparents are for.) We missed you terribly, but this didn’t stop us from having a wonderful and relaxing time. It was great to come back home at the end of the weekend and get back to our normal, crazy, family life.

We’re on the brink of your second Christmas, Gwen, and I think you are ready to dive head-first into all the joy and exhilaration of the hustle-bustle holiday season. We’re so excited to share this time with you, to see how you respond to stockings and presents and carols and having all your grandparents around you. We love you with all our hearts and are so glad you are our daughter.

Merry Christmas, Gwen!

Love,
Mama

Monday, December 21, 2009

The post where I alienate pretty much everyone

Right. So. Santa.

It’s pretty hard to raise a kid in North America avoiding all exposure to Santa. Though some people are bound and determined to try. Frankly, I am still in the “I don’t see the harm,” camp. But to explain why, I have to share a little bit more about my own experiences.

I was raised as a Christian (Lutheran, to be precise). But we believed in Santa, too. I never saw these two figures as opposed: they each had their place in the Christmas rituals. Another important aspect of my fondness for Santa is that the myth was not taken from me in a sudden, traumatic way: that is, there was no older, trouble-making kid who spoiled all the fun by telling me Santa wasn’t real. No one ever said that to me. I came to the realization myself, very gradually and gently, and this allowed me to form my own ideas about what Santa was and wasn’t. I decided that Santa is a symbol: a symbol of kindness, generosity, love. Going the extra mile because “It’s Christmas”. Santa is the excitement of knowing something secret and special is about to happen, the joy of giving gifts to people you love. The wonder of it all.

For me, Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas as seen through childhood eyes. I don’t think that spirit is a made-up fairy tale, at all. I think it exists in all of us, and this time of year brings it out in us.

There are a lot of arguments against Santa. One is that when children find out that their parents lied to them about Santa, they will decide their parents lied to them about Jesus, too, and conclude that he doesn’t really exist either. I think that’s an oversimplification. I think if your faith in God is shaken by a man in a red suit, it’s not the jolly old man who’s to blame. There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to raise a Christian child in today’s world. Santa is the least of our problems.

Another argument is that the Christmas Story should be able to fulfill a child’s need and desire for magic at Christmas time. I believe with all my heart that all these things happened: that God came to earth and became a man; that Jesus was born of a virgin; that a star led the wise men over hundreds of miles to greet the new king; that a myriad of angels heralded his birth; that his birth and death saves me from my sins. I believe all of that – but it took me over 20 years of reflection, study, and discussion with others to get to that point. My daughter – forgive me – is not there yet. She can’t understand that it takes more than two seconds to turn bread into toast. I can’t articulate these abstract concepts to her yet. The Santa concept is a lot easier.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to talk about Jesus’ birth with my daughter. We have an unbreakable Nativity set that she looks at and plays with every day. She knows the baby is called Jesus, and that the female figure is his mother and the male figure his father. She’s twenty months old. That’s a good start.

(To be honest, if you are going to take a hard look at the Christmas story, none of it really means anything unless you also understand and recognize the Easter story. So what? A baby was born to some girl who claims she’s never had sex. BIG DEAL, right? Unless you accept that Jesus is the Son of God, come to earth to die for our sins, the Christmas story doesn’t really contain any magic in and of itself.)

The post I referenced above asks, “I wonder if sometimes Jesus cries at Christmas.” I look around my world and I see so many reasons for Jesus to rejoice with his children on Earth. Millions of people raising songs of joy in His name. Shoppers giving coins to strangers ringing bells and wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. Children learning the value of giving, the importance of family. People all across the world making time for one another, gathering together to share fellowship and wishes for peace. Those are just the things I see – our all-powerful, all-knowing Lord sees so much more. You think Santa’s going to reduce Him to tears? What kind of God do you think He is?

So, yes. Gwen will be raised to believe in both Santa and Jesus. We will teach her about generosity, especially relational giving and giving to those less fortunate. We will teach her about Christ's birth, life, and death. We will teach her about the various meanings of Christmas - both religious and philanthropic - and eventually, when she realizes that the actual physical Santa is a myth, we'll help her to fill that void with her own conclusions about how she can still enjoy the things Santa represents. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Santa. And I believe in my daughter's ability to assimilate all of these cultural concepts and become an amazing, well-adapted person.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Announcement

Something that makes me really, really, really happy is when a director I absolutely adore ends up making a film out of one of my favourite books. This does not happen often, but it does happen. And it has happened this year!

Check it out!

If I had actually seen the trailer for this while in the theatre, and having had no idea it was in the works, I probably would have completely lost my mind with excitement. As it was, I think I read about it somewhere and had to go searching for the trailer, so the screaming Beatlemania glee was avoided, but I am still stoked. And the casting looks awesome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Better Late Update Than Never Update?

So, the English Family Christmas!

I had an amazing weekend. I really think that was the most fun I've ever had at an English Family Christmas! Here are some of the memories I want to keep.


- Realizing that my older nephew, Andrew, thinks that English Family Christmas is a "real" holiday, just like Halloween, Easter, or Thanksgiving - that everyone celebrates it. Since we have been doing this pretty much his whole life, it's understandable!
- Listening to that same nephew explain that being in Beavers actually has nothing to do with the furry creature with a big tail. I don't know, listening to him explain things in his earnest voice just makes me very happy.
- Snuggling with my younger nephew, Scotty, on the couch, where he told me "You can read this book to me, if you want to."
- Watching the comprehension dawn on their faces when I gave them their presents, and then watching them jump up and down excitedly.
- Gwen being a phenomenally well-behaved child all weekend, including sitting in a booster seat at a restaurant for over an hour waiting for our food. She was just so happy to be with everyone, she didn't even make a fuss about the wait and the sitting.
- My sister's relational gift to me was that she got out her cello and played me the JAWS theme. I LOVED THIS! Chris got it on video, too, so I can watch it again any time I want.

Also, this video of Gwen on the trampoline.

Wait, before you watch it: let me tell you that I spent my whole childhood and teenhood as an extremely accident-prone kid. Pretty much every family holiday we ever took involved a trip to the emergency room at some point. I bit my tongue open when I was just a bit older than Gwen, requiring stitches. What was I doing at the time? Playing piano. In Grade Eight, I broke my ankle while going down stairs. Not FALLING down stairs - I never fell. I just stepped wrong. In Grade Nine, I dislocated my kneecap while rehearsing for a choir performance.

You know where I never, never, NEVER hurt myself? On our trampoline. Cause yeah, we had a trampoline in our backyard for all those years and we were on it constantly. Therefore, it's no surprise that my nephews have their own trampoline. And yeah, Gwen will have her own someday, too (take THAT, haters!).

(Note: it totally looks like Gwen broke her neck in this video. In actuality, she did not. In actuality, Chris hurriedly turned off the camera and rushed over to see if she was okay, and meanwhile she grinned and giggled like a fool and said "AGAIN!" I wish that part was on the video, but you'll just have to imagine it.)


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Giving Cans

I mentioned the giving cans in passing in this post, but I think they need more explanation because I am really pleased with how they turned out. I can't take credit for the idea: the original calendar came from here, and the idea to put them on cans came from another member of our Advent Conspiracy group at church, and it just so happened that the local cannery was about to place an order for those excellent cans with coin slots in the top, the better for the veterans to sell poppies for Remembrance Day, when we came along and asked them if they might have anything to suit our purposes.



What I did, and I worked really hard on this, was figure out how to print the calendars onto labels that would fit on the cans. This was a challenge because while I have considerable skill with spreadsheets, I have little to no skill at desktop publishing. However, I did make it work, with help from Chris - who also suggested using the full-page labels you can buy from Staples, rather than trying to find labels that were pre-cut to the size I wanted.



Because I was making 36 of these, I wanted them to all look the same and to look semi-decent (the one above is the worst one, with a very crooked label, and so naturally that's the one I kept for myself). If you just wanted to make one for your own family, you could just use any old jar, and either tape the calendar on, or have it hanging nearby, or whatever.

The calendar printed on the can says:
Dec 1 - 10¢ for every hot water tap in your home
Dec 2 - 75¢ for every vehicle your family owns
Dec 3 - 5¢ for every pair of jeans you own
Dec 4 - 5¢ for every bed in your house
Dec 5 - 25¢ if you get a daily newspaper
Dec 6 - 3¢ for every cosmetic item you own (this sparked a lot of conversation about what exactly constitutes cosmetics. We decided lip gloss, perfume/cologne, nail polish, facial moisturizer, and any kind of hair styling product counted.)
Dec 7 - 3¢ for every pair of footwear (I'm appalled to say that between the three of us, we own 36 pairs of footwear, and no, that does NOT count socks.)
Dec 8 - 5¢ for every meal with meat this week
Dec 9 - 15¢ if you have pots and pans
Dec 10 - 20¢ for every tv you own
Dec 11 - 10¢ for every flush toilet in your home
Dec 12 - 5¢ for every blanket you own
Dec 13 - 15¢ if you have dishes for food
Dec 14 - 3¢ for every light switch in your home
Dec 15 - 5¢ for every window in your home
Dec 16 - 5¢ for each magazine subscription
Dec 17 - 20¢ for every bathtub or shower
Dec 18 - 10¢ for every outside door you have
Dec 19 - 25¢ if you have more than 25 CDs/ DVDs
Dec 20 - 10¢ for every non-tap-water drink this week
Dec 21 - 25¢ if you have a snow blower or lawn mower
Dec 22 - 3¢ for every hair care product
Dec 23 - 15¢ for every bedroom in your house
Dec 24 - 2¢ for every soap bar or dispenser
Dec 25 - 15¢ for every present you received (Ooh, that last one's a killer, eh?)
$45 can help to build a freshwater well for a family who needs it. Is that easier to do than we think it is? Give the gift of life this Christmas.

Every afternoon I sit down with Gwen and a big jar of coins. I count out what needs to go in the can, and she puts it in. I don't know how much she understands at this point, but I intend to continue this tradition every year. I find this particular exercise very moving because not only is it a great tool for collecting money, but it gives you an opportunity every day to think about the things you have that most of the world doesn't have. And after that, it's pretty hard not to cough up the change.

I gave out about 30 of these cans at our church's Advent Fair on November 29th, and told people that they could either bring back the full cans to the church and donate to our safe water cause, or they could donate them to another cause close to their hearts. It will be interesting to see how many come back, but more than that, I hope I get the chance to talk to people and hear how they incorporated this into their routines, how it changed their thinking around Christmas and their attitudes about the many material things we take for granted every day. That would be fascinating to me.

If you decide to do something like this in your family, please share your story with me!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Relational Giving & The English Family Christmas

Once upon a time, there was a family whose last name was English. This family had a mom, a dad, and two little girls. The mom was very sick and the dad was not very nice. When the two little girls had grown up and had families of their own, the mom saw that they didn't like being around the dad, and didn't really have any kind of relationship with him. This made the mom sad. So, she made the two now-grown-up girls promise that no matter what, they would always get together as a family around Christmas time. Not long after, the mom died.

One of those two little girls was my mom, and was a long time before she and her sister started keeping their promise. The English Family Christmas is the result of that promise, and it is now in its sixth year.

It's an odd little tradition that we have, I suppose. We usually get together on the first or second weekend in December - those two now-grown-up girls, their husbands and children and grandchildren. We all take turns hosting. Two years ago, I was the hostess - I put on my first large family dinner while five months pregnant with Gwen. This year, it's my sister's turn. 18 people - 12 adults, 6 children - are descending on her home this weekend. Oh, and one baby-to-be (not mine, just to squelch any rumours!).

The English Family Christmas is a fantastic example of what's important to me around Christmas. We get together with our family, share a meal, catch up a bit, enjoy the madness of the six kids running around like idiots. Some years we have sung Christmas carols. The fact that we all travel every year to be together and share that time makes me really happy.

Bringing me to my next topic - relational giving. I've been working hard to wrap my head around relational giving this Christmas, as mentioned in this post. It really is a mindset, and I find that the traditions that already exist in our family, along with the fact that we don't live too spread apart, are somewhat supportive of the relational giving concept - but also make it hard to change the patterns that are already in place. Let me try to explain.

If you have a friend or relative who lives really far away, instead of shipping them a gift this Christmas, you might send them a letter telling them you're coming for a visit this year. See? Because spending time together is so much more valuable than a stupid sweater.

However, if you have a friend or relative who lives semi-nearby, and you already see them a couple of times a year, and you intend to continue seeing them twice a year, and they also expect you to give them a Christmas present, well .... then what?

I have also found that when trying to come up with relational gifts for people - and I've been working on my list since September - there are two categories of people who are really hard to figure out. Those with whom you really have no relationship, the people you buy for only out of obligation, are the first category. The second category is those people with whom you have a very healthy and happy relationship. For example, it was nearly impossible for me to figure out what to give my long-distance best friend - I already make the time to chat with him online at least once a week; we are in email contact nearly every day; and we spend a weekend together a couple of times a year. Relationally, there's not much I could do to top that up.

However, the in-between people - those with whom you have a pretty good relationship, that perhaps could use a little nourishment - those are the people it is fun to think of relational gifts for! The gifts I am most excited about giving, this year, are for my nephews, and since I don't think they read my blog, I'll share them here with you.

Since my nephews live far-away-ish, I only get to see them a few times a year, usually at large family gatherings such as the one this weekend. But I'd really like to spend some one-on-one time with each of them, doing something special that they will enjoy. I discussed it with my sister, and we decided that sometime in the Spring, she will bring the boys to the Lower Mainland and I will meet them there with Gwen. On one day, I will take Andrew (who will be 7) to Science World; on another day, I will take Scotty (3) to Crash Crawly's. On both days, lucky Auntie Sara will hang out with Gwen! Relationship-building in every possible direction.

There are lots of reasons to give relationally. It saves money; it's environmentally responsible; it's less likely to clutter up someone's house, and more likely to be appreciated; and of course it builds relationships, which is what Christmas is supposed to be all about, right? That being said, there's no reason the relationship-building has to happen during the magical Twelve Days: as mentioned above, the Nephew Trip is happening in the spring (they are getting decorated, illustrated certificates that show what their gifts are, so they do have something to "open" and then look at while they anticipate the coming adventure).

It just occured to me today that this is actually Gwen's first English Family Christmas - since we were snowed in last year and didn't get to travel. I'm sure she's going to have such a great time running around and being crazy with all her cousins, big and small. And you know what else? I bet she doesn't really care too much about the presents. It's only us adults who get all wound up about that stuff. Gwen would just be happy if you put on some music and let her jump on the bed, please. Maybe play a little ball, or read a book together. She's a girl of simple tastes. She wouldn't say no to a banana. Mostly she just wants to hang out with you and do what you're doing, really.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! If you have fantastic ideas about relational giving, share in the comments!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Today is the first day of Advent! A couple of weeks ago, I published this in our church newsletter:


The Advent Conspiracy – adventconspiracy.org
There’s a conspiracy afoot, and you are invited to be a part of it. There are a few facts you need to know first: like the fact that worldwide, lack of clean water kills more people every day than anything else. In third world countries, it’s not unusual for children and infants to die from diseases caused by drinking unclean water. But here’s another fact: the estimated cost to make clean water available to everyone, forever, is $13 billion. That may seem like a lot, until you consider the most shocking fact of all: that Canadians spend over $35 billion every year on Christmas.

The gifts. The wrapping paper. The shopping. The Christmas cards. The decorations. The traffic jams. The crowded stores. The credit card bills. Is this what Christ intended when he gave of himself, that very first Christmas? The Advent Conspiracy doesn’t think so. We think that Christ calls us to a higher purpose – rejecting consumerism and reflecting on how to give what really matters: ourselves. This is called giving relationally, and it can change the way you think about Christmas. It can add peace, love, and joy to your holiday season. It can create memories that will last a lifetime!

What if you skipped that toy he doesn’t need, that sweater she won’t like, and that gift certificate you feel obligated to buy, and instead, give something truly valuable – like your time? Talk, eat, sled, bike, craft, cook, read, play, create, sing, dance, build, draw, laugh, hike, write, together. You might just start a whole new Christmas tradition! Here are some more ideas on relational giving:
52 packets of gourmet hot chocolate with a personal coffee cup: So that you can share a special time together once a week.
Deck of cards and book of card game rules: This gives you an excuse to do something to hang out together.
Collage of special photos: Highlighting your favorite memories together.
Craft supplies: Geared to help you do something creative together.
Gardening gloves with a plant or flower seeds: Indicating you'll work on a garden together.
Homemade cookie mix with instructions for baking: Take turns making each other a round every couple of weeks.


We challenge you to cut your Christmas spending by 30% this year, and donate the money you save to CLWR’s clean water initiative – where, right now, it will be tripled by CIDA. There will be info available on the bulletin board, in the weekly bulletins, and in next month’s newsletter. There will also be an Advent Fair on November 29th, partially sponsored by the Advent Conspiracy, where you can learn more.

We want your help to make Christmas a life-changing event again – just like it was on that very first Christmas. Are you ready to conspire with us?

**********


I've actually been working since June to make this a reality at our church. We decided to give any donations earned to Canadian Lutheran World Relief, where every dollar given right now is being tripled by the Canadian International Development Agency. So far, our little church has given $675 to build freshwater wells for families who need them. I'm really hoping that the month of December will at least match that, if not more.


One of the really cool things I found while hunting around for inspiring links is this Advent calendar. I got rid of the graphic, changed the focus from orphans to water, and shrunk it small enough to fit on a can - a can with a coin slot in the top. I love this calendar because not only is it a tool for collecting a bit of money, but for every day in December it makes you think about all the things you have that so many people don't have.


And ultimately, that's all I want people to do. I want people to think about whether our Christmas traditions really accomplish what we want them to - the expression of love, the sharing of joy, the experience of "peace on earth and good will towards men". I am touched by this message and excited about sharing it with others. Maybe it will touch you too.



Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Blathering

There’s so much going on, yet nothing amounts to enough for a real post (in the fantasy world where I have time to make real posts, of course). So here’s a bunch of blather.

While traveling with Gwen earlier this month, I tried something that had been recommended to me when she was much smaller: showering with her. Moms of newborns will agree heartily about the scarcity of showers available during that phase. I had a couple people tell me that they just brought the baby into the shower with them: put them at one end with a couple of toys, and Mom got some all-important preening time. When Gwen was that age, she HATED being in the water. Then it took her three months longer than expected to be able to sit unassisted, and by the time she did, she was completely in love with crawling and there was no way she’d hang out while I groomed and lathered.

When we took our recent series of swimming lessons, I showered with her at the pool afterwards. In that case, the shower was mostly about getting the chlorine rinsed off her: I showered at home later, preferring to use a water source that doesn’t automatically shut off every forty-five seconds. Anyway, she really disliked the showers at first, but by the end was quite accustomed to them and even enjoying them. Thus, one night while we were at my folks’ I brought her into the shower with me for a full-length Mama and Gwen Shower. It was a hit.

She loved it and I loved it. It is so incredibly convenient. I hate showering in the morning anyways, so usually the evening routine is a bath for Gwen, bedtime for Gwen, and a shower for me. By the time I finish my shower it’s nearly 8pm and then I have to do my hair and then the night is pretty much shot. Now we have a shower together instead, my hair dries a bit while I put her to bed, and then I’m all prettified again long before 8. I realize this is incredibly boring for the rest of the world but it is awesome for me, and Gwen seems to really love having a shower with her Mama. I can’t really share any pictures here though so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

When Chris picked Gwen up from daycare yesterday Denise asked if Gwen has a problem with biting. Naturally, this stopped him dead in his tracks. Every parent fears their child being the bully, especially the BITING bully. But it turned out that Denise meant biting food. Gwen doesn’t really bite her food. She just shoves as much of it into her mouth as she can and then chews and swallows it. She doesn’t use her front teeth in the process at all. Chris pointed out that most of the food we give her is either bite-sized or soft (or both), so she doesn’t get a lot of practice with this skill. (We do give her crackers and so on, but they just get shoved on in.) As an added bonus, while we were having this conversation, Gwen was in her chair eating a banana – which she had demanded, been coaxed into saying please, and then been given. She shoved about half of it in her cake-hole, and while chomping away with her jaws barely able to close around the mashed-up, masticated fruit, she demanded “MORE”. Okay, so the kid needs some table manners.
I never thought that biting lessons would be part of parenting – somehow figured it would come naturally – but that is what I found myself doing last night, feeding Gwen a Mum-Mum cookie and eating one myself (yuk) the better to demonstrate how to take bites with her front teeth: little bites, at that. “Little bites! Little bites!” I said, over and over, pulling the Mum-Mum a little further out of her mouth so that she’d bite off a half an inch instead of two inches. I’m still kind of stunned that this is on our curriculum, but okay, I’ll play along. Next time we’re going to eat something I like, though.

It was during this lesson and my constant repeating of “Little bites!” that Gwen said “big bite”. This might be her first actual sentence, as in, independently putting together two different concepts. Yes, she has said two words together before: “All done” is a great example, and as recently reported she often says, “I did it!” But my thinking is, she has no idea that “all” and “done” are separate words or concepts. She doesn’t use them independently. As far as she is concerned, that is one word. That’s a far cry from putting the word “bite” that she hears me using, together with the opposite of the other word she hears me using, to form the phrase “big bite”. It’s amazing to watch her development at this stage, it is just in full swing.

Chris also reports that Gwen may understand the concept of “two”. I forgot to put in my recent newsletter that Gwen likes to “count” occasionally. Her counting sounds like this: “zhoo ... zhee … zhoo … zhee …(etc)”. There is never a one, and never anything higher than three, and things might get counted multiple times, but whatever. It’s still adorable. But as I was saying, Chris said that when they were getting in the car yesterday, he handed Gwen two stuffed animals of the bovine persuasion (because she likes to have company in the car). She said, “Two cows.” Even if it was just luck and she doesn’t actually grasp the concept of two yet, that’s yet another sentence that she created without mimicking. Damn, kids are cool!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Gwen: Month Nineteen

Dear Gwen,
Today, you are nineteen months old. You have a vocabulary of over 100 words that you will use, in context, without prompting: you can mimic and/or understand many, many more. (To put it in perspective, The Experts expect you to know and use five words by this age in order to eliminate the possibility of a speech delay.) You are completely unstoppable when it comes to Getting Into Things: you can now climb up onto our coffee table, our couch, and our dining room chairs without any assistance – and VERY quickly! This, in turn, means that you can climb onto the dining room table, the kitchen table, the kitchen counters, and so on. AND YOU DO. Your dad and I are really scrambling to figure out how to keep you (um, and our stuff) safe during these new developments.
Your personality is really shining through, too. You have a great sense of humour and love to make your parents (and grandparents) laugh. You are also very, very into music. You love to dance and you love to make music with, for example, Grandpa Ron’s piano. You have started to be interested in watching things on the TV, and your favourite thing to watch is music videos (especially those that simply feature the band playing their instruments. “Guitar! Guitar! Grandpa! Drum!” you shout excitedly (because both your Grandpas play guitar, the word guitar is ALWAYS followed by the word Grandpa). The instant the music ends, you sign and say “more” until we start another one.
This month, I took you on a week-long trip: first to Powell River, where we spent five days with Grandpa Ron and Grannie Maureen, and then to Vancouver, where we celebrated your great-aunt Liz’s 60th birthday with many family and friends. I was nervous, as usual, about what effects the trip would have on your sleeping habits, especially since we’ve gone through some struggles lately in that area. And as usual, I suppose I needn’t have worried, because you slept like an absolute champ. You always turn out to be far more adaptable than I think you are – but I guess in the long run, I’d rather worry needlessly than get overconfident and then pay the price!
You sure had a great time hanging out with your cousins and second cousins at the big birthday party. Last time you saw all those kids, you couldn’t walk yet: this time, you were in your glory as you could follow them from room to room and participate in whatever craziness was going on. You were just glowing with happiness to be part of the action, whether dancing to Raffi, jumping on the bed, or taking turns with an electronic toy.
Even though you are a very fast learner, Gwen, you don’t always learn things the exact way we would hope. For example, on the weekend I went to the spa and got a manicure with a lovely plum-coloured nail polish. You noticed this dramatic colour right away, and I took the opportunity to try and teach you the word “purple”. You were very co-operative, and often pointed at my fingernails and said “purrpurr” for the next day or two. I was quite proud of your growing mind, until your father pointed at his (non-painted) fingernails and asked you “What’s this, Gwen?” Sure enough, you answered “purrpurr”. (This is similar to the way you cover your mouth and say “cough, cough” AFTER you cough, or the way you stand up on a chair and shout “BUM!” (because that’s what WE say when you stand on a chair…)

Your favourite songs are “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. You request the latter nearly every day, and for the former two you will attempt to do the actions and even sing along a little bit. Your favourite stuffies are Bunny and Lamby, and I think your favourite toy is your LeapPad, though it’s hard to know for sure because you play with pretty much all your toys fairly consistently. Your usual M.O. is to dump all the perfectly-organized baskets and bins of stuff all over the floor, one after the other, as if you are making sure all your toys are still there. We call this the Toy Inventory.
You are also still enthralled with books. Some of your favourites are “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb” and “I Already Know I Love You”, as well as your beloved Baby Einstein Alphabooks. It is thanks to the Alphabooks that you already know two of your letters: R and O. (I keep telling people it’s not nearly as amazing as it seems: if you can recognize and identify a picture of a dog and a cow and a sheep, why should it be amazing that you can recognize and identify the shape of a letter? It’s not as if you understand the abstract concepts represented by the letter, you just know that that shape is called “R”.)
On the other hand, something I do think is kind of amazing (an opinion shared, so far, only by your Uncle Mikey) is the fact that you have somewhere picked up the phrase “I did it!” Not only is this phrase utterly adorable when spoken with your wide-eyed pride and awe, but I cannot figure out where you learned the switch from “you” to “I”. Prior to you using this phrase, if you accomplished something, I would praise you: “You did it!” But when you started saying it, you didn’t parrot me, saying “You did it!” – you said, “I did it!” Unless Denise has been saying “I did it!” whenever you complete a task, and you are just mimicking that, you are some kind of freak genius child who has realized that I am I and you are you and that is not supposed to happen for another couple of years. In any case, like I said, it’s super-cute to hear you say it. (I’ve tried to capture it on video, but it’s completely unpredictable, so I have not succeeded.)
It's hard to capture just how amazing you are, Gwen, but every month I try my damndest. If nothing else, I hope these newsletters show you how proud I am and how blessed I feel to be your mom. I love you so much, my girl.
Love,
Mama

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We are on Holiday!

Last weekend I left Gwen with Chris and went down to Victoria to visit my best friend and help him celebrate his birthday. I had an awesome time. It's great to get away and just be Laura for a while, separate from being Gwen's mom. On Sunday morning I drove back to Nanaimo, grabbed a quick nap, packed up Gwen and all her stuff, and we drove up Island to catch the ferry to Powell River, where we are visiting my parents for the next few days.

I am absolutely LOVING this vacation business. This is the first time I have taken more than a day or two off work since returning to work in April (because my employer doesn't award vacation time until six months after you return to work). Because we are not at our own house, the Gwen-maintenance chores are a little more, well, high-maintenance, but .... that's ALL I have to do! No housework (other than cleaning up after Gwen), no schoolwork, no rushing around to meetings and yoga and swimming lessons, no chores to be done, no calls to return. Just hang out with my daughter, try to mitigate the chaos she is causing at her grandparents' house, and enjoy their company. You guys? I started a book on Sunday and finished it last night. I LOVE VACATIONS!

I hadn't really predicted how marvellous it would be to be "off" not only from work, but from all my other extra-curricular activities. It's downright lovely.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Sleep

We have had a really rough time with Gwen's sleep lately. The roughest it's been since before sleep training (which was just about a year ago now).

It seemed to be a combination of separation anxiety (which peaks around eighteen months of age) and the nasty cough she has been suffering since that throat infection a few weeks ago. Since our sleep training, our routine has ended with us putting her into her crib, saying goodnight, and walking out of the room. Gwen would then play with her books (we always left some on the shelf within her reach) for about 20 minutes and then lie down and go to sleep. Suddenly, when we approached the crib at bedtime, she would cling fiercely to us with all four limbs, sometimes even using our waistbands as footholds and attempting to climb up our bodies away from the crib.

If we did manage to disentangle ourselves and get her into the crib, walking away and reaching for the doorknob to exit the room earned us blood-curdling shrieks. Gwen has always been well able to express her displeasure, but this was a new kind of screaming, a scream that reached the next level. A scream to make your ears ring. A scream to make your heart break. A scream that made you turn around, walk back to the crib, pick up that child and swear that you would do whatever it took to not ever have to hear that scream again.

One night, Chris "slept" on the floor of Gwen's room. More than once, in fact more often than I can actually recall, I got into Gwen's crib with her. The two more comfortable alternatives - comfortable for us, at least - were to have Gwen sleep in our bed with either or both of us, or to have her sleep on the floor with us. She would not tolerate either. She wanted to be in her crib, but she wanted us right there with her.


(This photo is a re-enactment to prove that yes, I can fit in a crib. This picture was taken in the middle of the day, faraway from any actual required sleep time, and was taken several days after Gwen stopped demanding that I get into the crib with her in order for her to go to sleep. Had this been an actual Nighttime Crib Sharing Experience, she would be in pajamas, she would be curled up on my chest, and it would be so dark you wouldn't be able to see any of that.)

Thanks to the lovely cushioned headboard that came with the crib bedding my mom bought for Gwen, getting into Gwen's crib wasn't actually that uncomfortable. I'd be in the same position as shown above, except Gwen would be facing the other way, snuggled into my chest. I would sit there with my back against the cushion for 10-15 minutes (I'm not sure, there's no clock in her room) and then start easing us both into a lying-down position. Once I got her lying down I'd try to move away so I wasn't touching her, but if she started crying or whimpering I'd move back. After not touching her for a few minutes, I'd start working on getting out of the crib. Once I made it out of the crib, I'd crawl out of the room on hands and knees towards the door. That way, when I opened the door and a small amount of light came into the room, she wouldn't see my leaving figure silhouetted there unless she stood up. And if she stood up, well, the jig was up and I'd have to start over again anyway.

So yeah, those were fun nights.

***
There was originally another 400 words on the end of this post, all about how we were past the worst of it and how the addition of a blanket and a giant cow seemed to have Saved the Day Night. But then? Gwen got up at 12:45am and we were all awake for the next two hours. I eventually got to sleep in my own bed - Chris was not so lucky, spending the night on the floor of Gwen's room once again. So perhaps I should not be so hasty with the celebrations and lauding the giant cow.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Obligatory

A couple of weeks ago we took Gwen to the Corn Maze just outside Nanaimo. When I posted the pictures on Facebook later, I wrote "We took Gwen to the Corn Maze. Mostly it was an excuse to take some pictures of her, to prove to her later that she had a fun childhood."

It's all very tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time there's a kernel (heh) of truth to it. I was thinking about this again yesterday, since it was Halloween.
We dressed her up in the obligatory costume, totally chosen and designed by us (not her).

We made her sit on the couch next to the other costumed cuties for the obligatory Halloween Party picture.


We took her out for the obligatory mall trick-or-treating, which consisted of us very infrequently wheeling her up to a mall employee, coaxing her to "say trick or treat" (which she can't and won't do), and then having a piece of candy plunked into her bucket.


We ended up with about six pieces of candy, two of which were safe for her to eat. So we had the obligatory candy before dinner.

Did she actually care about any of this? Would she have much preferred to stay at home in her usual comfy clothes and play with her own toys rather than being hauled around from one place to another, strapped into the carseat and then the stroller and then the carseat again and being given a nearly endless stream of instructions about what she is to do and say and touch and most importantly what she is NOT to do and say and touch?

All good questions, but I don't have time to ponder them. I've got to figure out where to buy a dress for Gwen's picture with Santa. Only 53 days till Christmas!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dear Gwen Month Eighteen

Dear Gwen,

Today, you are eighteen months old. It’s a big milestone – you are now on that delightful downhill slide towards your second birthday. Also, as your dad pointed out the other day, you are halfway to being three years old. THREE! When you’re three, you’ll be going to preschool and learning how to use the potty. INCONCEIVABLE.

You have already taken quite a few steps away from babyhood. For example, we discovered back in August, shortly before our trip up the lake, that you would quite happily drink milk from one of your Rubbermaid drink boxes. We were all too happy to leave all the hard-to-clean bottles and their assorted pieces at home and break you of the bottle habit once and for all. You never put up a fuss. Shortly after that, we decided to stop giving you a drink of any kind right before bed. After all, we grownups (if we have healthy habits) don't have a big drink or meal right before bed. Why should you? Now you drink milk with your dinner, then brush your teeth and go to bed. Like some kind of KID.

And what kind of kid are you, exactly? Most parenting experts out there, and all the advice they give, seems to be based on applying some sort of label. I’ve always resisted this, not least because I don’t usually like the label that seems to fit you, my beloved daughter. But your dad has a different perspective. He thinks you are an easy child. He’s got a point: in general, you sleep well (and have been sleeping through the night for nearly a year), you are not a picky eater, you are very social and adaptable rather than getting shy in new situations or around new people, you respond well to occasional changes in your nap or bedtime schedule, and so on. But on the other hand, how can my go-go-go-Gwen be characterized as an “easy child”? There’s so much more to you than that: the determination to explore everything, even when told “No” a dozen times, the constant level of talking and activity, the intensity with which you approach pretty much everything. Maybe that’s the key: you are an intense child, which means that your joys are infectious and your laugh irresistible, but when you’re ready for dinner, WATCH OUT!
Your vocabulary continues to expand. This month, the additions include some articles of clothing (socks, pants, shirt, jacket, boots) and related instructions (on, off). You also make the weirdest noise when asked what a frog says. Apparently, in your world, frogs don't "ribbit", they make some kind of light-saber noise. It makes me so sad that I will never get an explanation for this.

Your beloved friend Isabelle (I’belle) just turned two this week, and I had the opportunity to witness one of those famed Two-Year-Old Tantrums. Oh, Lordy. You are a spirited child, Gwen, and have never had any difficulty in expressing your displeasure swiftly and obnoxiously – but watching Isabelle confirmed that the worst is yet to come. Isabelle has been an amazing influence on you: she is an extremely affectionate little girl, and I credit her for teaching you how to give hugs and kisses, something which we all enjoy and for which your dad and I are very grateful. On the other hand – well, you clearly look up to Isabelle, and like to emulate her. And Isabelle has now entered a new stage of development, with certain behaviours with which certain phrases are associated, and I think you see where I’m going here. It’s going to be a stormy winter, is what I’m saying. We’ve seen it already, with the advent of what we call the Frowny Face. This face was first seen on October 16th, and at first it didn’t seem to have any connection to your actual mood. That, combined with the fact that it’s kind of adorable, prompted us to just giggle at it for the first day or two that it appeared. However, both the meaning of the frowny face and our response to it has now changed. One does not LAUGH at the FROWNY FACE. Not if one wants to live to tell the tale.
Knowing that your second birthday is approaching, your dad and I have decided to try learning some actual parenting tools, and specifically discipline techniques. It was high time. Up until now, we’ve kept everything you’re not allowed to touch (which, let’s face it, is about 93% of our home’s contents) on a shelf out of your reach. But you’re getting really tall, and we’re running out of shelves, and neither your dad nor I are willing to just give away all our possessions and fill our house with soft, unbreakable items that don’t cause a choking hazard. We’re a little materialistic that way. So, we are trying to establish some rules in our house, rules like “even that huge and tempting volume knob is right at eye level, please leave it alone.” So far it’s not going that well. I’m already having nightmare flash-forwards about the holiday season: you, a decorated tree, and several brightly wrapped packages in the same room. This won’t end well, I’m sure of it.
Well, I guess that's all for this month, Gwen. I sure am proud of you - you amaze me every single day with your intelligence, your strength, and your humour. I love you so much and am so happy that you're my daughter.

Love,
Mama

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stuffing Her Face - Then and Now

Six months old - first solids


Eighteen months old - first uncut apple
Some things just don't seem to change, after all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ten Quick Takes

#1: We finally managed to find not one but TWO reliable and reasonably-priced teenage girls who are willing to come watch Gwen on Monday evenings. And by "watch Gwen" I mean "watch our house to make sure it doesn't catch on fire" because actually, we put Gwen to bed before they get there and in fact we are paying them to watch movies on our big-screen TV. (I have NO PROBLEM with this, in fact I am quite pleased with them both.)

#2 A couple of weeks ago one of them was "watching Gwen" while Chris was at class and I was at a meeting, and I came home to the sounds of Gwen crying. She'd been in bed for over an hour, so that was worrisome. I wasn't really able to get a clear answer from the babysitter on how long Gwen had been crying. I went upstairs to give her a dose of Motrin and then all hell broke loose. See, it was Monday, which is the day that I work all day and then go to yoga and then go to a meeting, and if I am lucky I see Gwen for about 15 minutes over dinner in between these commitments. And now she was screaming and clinging to me for dear life and begging with her body if not her voice, "Please don't leave me, Mama!" and I COULD NOT stand to have our only interaction that day be me walking away from her and leaving her to cry. I tried absolutely everything I could think of to get her to sleep, with no success, and finally decided she may as well come downstairs and be awake.

#3 She was up until 10:30pm. I may have stress-eaten half a chocolate cake that was in the freezer that night. Those things might be related.

#4 It wasn't the babysitter's fault. We had given her absolutely no guidance or instruction on what to do if Gwen cried. Despite this, at the moment she told me she didn't know how long Gwen had been crying, I wanted to scratch her eyes out. Motherhood is a powerful thing.

#5 Giving up dairy for a month seemed to improve Gwen's rash. Three weeks in, I decided to put her back in cloth diapers for a couple of days (she's been exclusively in disposables since the rash started, which is going on SIX MONTHS). The rash came back, the very next day. Back to disposables. Goodbye, hundreds of dollars spent on cloth diapers and all the good intentions I had about trying to preserve the planet for my daughter. Last night, I stripped all Gwen's diapers and am going to give them one last try. If the rash appears again, well, at least the diapers will be pre-stripped for sale to some other parent.

#6 To confirm that dairy was the culprit, we decided to give her some dairy last weekend, because in our bizarre mouthbreathing interpretation of the scientific method this makes perfect sense. Her rash has not recurred. Now I'm TOTALLY confused.

#7 Though her rash is (knockonwood) absent, there are other bothersome issues for Gwen currently. She has a vicious cough that makes her very restless at night. She is often irritable, especially in the afternoons, and we're not sure if this is due to teething pain or what. And bedtimes are sometimes a screamfest, due to what we think is just plain old separation anxiety. Poor kid.

#8 There are bright spots, too. Last Sunday my parents came for a brief visit and we went out to Boston Pizza for dinner. The waitress was so taken with Gwen that she came and tied a balloon to her chair. I don't think Gwen had ever seen a helium balloon before, and believe me, that balloon was The Best Thing Ever. She absolutely adored it. Later, at home, she was playing with her balloon when I said to Chris, "Why don't we let her play for a few minutes, then I'll take her upstairs and put her to bed." She marched purposefully over to the gate at the bottom of the stairs, demonstrating her willingness to go to bed and her sheer brilliance in interpreting our speech. And she held the balloon firmly in her hand, with all her heart believing that it was going to accompany her to bed. Disabusing her of that notion was a little difficult.

#9 Another bright spot is her swimming lessons. They are two evenings a week, 5:30-6pm, and all three of us have been going together. It's a bit of a logistical challenge, not only in the sense of "how to shower, dry, and dress three people, one of whom is a slippery unco-operative octopus, in a room the size of a closet," but also the sense that we usually eat dinner at 6pm, and now we are leaving the swimming pool at that time, then embarking on the shower-dry-dress* challenge, and then driving home and getting dinner together, which doesn't exactly keep us on target for the 7pm bedtime. We've taken to prepping dinner beforehand, or planning some microwavable leftovers for those nights, because we want Gwen to be eating approximately two minutes after she walks in the door. We also change her into jammies after the swim to cut one more step out of the process between pool and bed. All these logistical tricks are TOTALLY WORTH IT, because the swimming lessons are SO MUCH FUN. Gwen adores the water, loves kicking and splashing and clapping and singing and jumping in (she can't really jump yet, she just kind of leans over until she falls in) and trying to blow bubbles and everything else. The only thing she doesn't like is the back float, and you know, *I* don't really like it either, so I can forgive that.

*Seriously, think it through. Naturally you deal with the cold and shivery toddler first, so you rinse her off in the shower, then dry her with the towel and get her all dressed in warm and cozy clothes, usually on a handy surface like a high change table area. Then ... what? You can't pick her up to put her on the floor (or in her stroller), because you are standing there in your bathing suit, dripping wet, and she is all warm and dry. HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS?

#10 Tomorrow (Friday) is the very last day that I can say my daughter is closer to one year old than two years old. On Saturday, she will be EIGHTEEN MONTHS OLD. I have been giddily anticipating this milestone since, oh, her birthday, I guess? It's pretty exciting. Just think: she's been eating solid food for AN ENTIRE YEAR. Stay tuned for more random pontificating on the subject when I publish her eighteen-month newsletter.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate .... now, in general, as I've said before, I'm a straight-arrow vaccinator. Gwen has even had the chicken pox shot, which is one that many parents who are otherwise pro-vax turn down. But the fuss these days about the H1N1 shot ... I don't know. I just ... don't know.


I usually get the flu shot every year, because I work for the Health Authority. Previously, I worked at a building with a nurse, and didn't even have to leave my office to get the shot. I don't work with the public very often, but I do often work with those who do, and I do often attend meetings at public sites. So I'm exposed to the flu virus, and as such I get the shot. I haven't had the flu in years. Last year, all three of us - Gwen, Chris, and I - got the shot. And we were all 100% fine.


When I went into the local health unit to ask when this year's flu shot was going to be available, I learned that the seasonal flu shot was not even going to be offered until the new year. Instead, they recommended that we get the H1N1 shot.


You know, the H1N1 shot that's been on the market for like, a day and a half now. The shot that hasn't been through the clinical trials. The shot that may or may not give you Gulf War syndrome. That one! Yeah. Sign me up. Me and my 18-month-old daughter, please!


I think what concerns me about this vaccine is that, by default, we have no idea whatsoever about long-term effects. What if, in thirty years, Gwen is infertile? Do I want to look back at the winter of 2009 and wonder if this vaccine caused that? "Gee, I'm sorry, darling, that you will never know the joy of bearing your own child. But hey! Remember when you were two, and you didn't get the flu? YOU'RE WELCOME!"


So, on the other hand, what if we turn down the vaccine and she gets the flu? Well ... it's the flu. People don't usually die from the flu, right? And by all accounts (by which I mean, according to Amber, who saw it on the news ... I am nothing if not a rigourous researcher) H1N1, like chickenpox, seems to hit harder in adulthood than childhood. Meaning, the kids who are getting it are just FINE.



At this point I'm leaning pretty solidly towards not vaccinating. What are you all planning? (Here are some links to help you decide ... not that they've helped me all that much.)

In this video from Fox News (of all places), a doctor admits the vaccine is more dangerous than the flu and that he will NOT be getting it for his kids. (If you only follow one link, make it this one ... it's interesting to watch, because the interview goes in a direction unexpected by either party.)

A fact sheet that is pretty much, well, factual, as opposed to agenda-driven.

A pro-vax Q&A from Babycenter.com.

Anti-vax article casts doubts about whether the H1N1 vaccine has been adequately tested.

In this news video, health workers in Albany rally against enforced H1N1 vaccinations; the Chair of Preventative Medicine responds.

This article details the intense hunt for side effects that will be taking place after the vaccination is rolled out across North America.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Attention all non-Feminists and/or non-Mothers

When I go off on a rant about how society doesn't support mothers? Shit like this is exactly what I'm talking about. I am incensed by this, not only by the original incident, but by the wholly predictable outrage it is causing. Outrage like "How dare this spoiled woman allow her child to act out and then expect the rest of us to tolerate it?"

I apologize to Jenny Manzer and to the rest of the parents I know for not being detached enough and/or well-rested enough to give this topic the articulate and well-written treatment it deserves, but I chose timeliness over excellence in this case.

First of all - a child who is sitting in her seat on the bus, not touching the driver or any other passengers, is not acting out. Secondly - the mother was doing everything in her power to get the child to calm down: a far cry from sitting idly by and expecting her fellow passengers to tolerate the misbehaviour. Thirdly - the bus is a public place. The downside to going out in public is, of course, that there are other people there. Drunks yelling, teenagers making out, would-be gangsters swearing at people, hipsters listening to loud music, old people snoring, fat people taking up more than their share of seats, smelly people with their odours all up in your face, crazy people who want to tell you about the messages the aliens send them through their cat food, barely-dressed people whose skin is all too visible. You know ... THE PUBLIC! Guess who else is part of the public? Children. Mothers. Fathers. You. Me. Jenny and Briar.

In the interest of fair disclosure, here's where I come down in this whole debate, which is becoming more and more common lately. I wholeheartedly believe that when parents take their kids into public spaces, particularly spaces that are not oriented towards children (for example, church as opposed to Chuck E. Cheese) those parents need to take responsibility for ensuring that their children meet certain standards of behaviour. "Parent", in my vocabulary, is not only a noun: it's a verb. Part of parenting is teaching your child what behaviours are expected as they move through different situations and contexts. Here's the catch: you can't teach them how to behave in those situations and contexts if you don't expose them to those situations and contexts. You can't teach your kid how to behave at church if you don't take him or her there. So yes, Great Unwashed Public, we The Family will occasionally join you, uninvited, in public places.

Now, does the public have the right to expect certain behaviours - and, notably, the absence of many other behaviours - while in public places and using public services? Yes. (Are those expectations always met? Please see above listing of The Fascinating Personalities of Public Transit.) But guess what - children learn differently from adults. An adult knows, when s/he boards a bus, what behaviour is expected. (Probably because, when s/he was young, someone took the time to teach him/her.) If s/he forgets, a polite reminder from an authority figure is usually all that's needed. Children often need a little more persuasion. It can take a good long while to get a toddler calmed down when s/he is worked up.

Parents and children have a bad reputation because for some time, the trend was away from discipline and towards permissive behaviour. As a result, any time a child in public is acting like anything other than a miniature adult, we hear accusations that the parent is "letting the kid act out" and "expecting us to tolerate it". I can't speak for all parents, but I can speak for myself; I can speak for those I know; and I don't have to speak for Jenny Manzer, because it's written right there in the Times-Colonist: "I was doing everything I could to calm her down." Here's a message for every non-parent out there: if you have ever witnessed a loud, annoying, or anti-social behaviour from a child, and wondered about the parent's response, the fact is that for us, that sound is ONE THOUSAND TIMES LOUDER than it is for you. Yes, we hear it. Yes, we see it. Yes, we are doing everything we can to make it stop, and we have been doing that since way before it was loud enough for anyone else to notice. When it comes to our own child's misbehaviour, we are WAY more vigilant and sensitive than you will ever, ever be.

It wasn't good enough for Mr. Busdriver, though, and he demanded that Jenny and her daughter leave the bus - some considerable distance from their home. Jenny and her daughter were now stranded on the side of a road, with no stroller or baby carrier, and to make matters worse, there were groceries to carry, meaning Jenny didn't have enough hands to manage her bags and keep her daughter safe. It's a good thing Jenny's daughter is old enough to walk. Come to think of it, it's a good thing Jenny's daughter can walk, instead of using a wheelchair.

I think what enrages me the most about this whole thing is that Jenny and her husband are working hard to do things right. In these frightening times of climate change and peak oil, they have made the lifestyle choice of not owning a vehicle, and using public transit for all their travel. That's a challenge even without kids - with two of them, those parents deserve a medal. Not to be kicked off the damn bus.

By going public with this story, Jenny has opened herself and her family up to immense criticism. I know, I know, it's not a surprise: guess what, people say things on the Internet that they wouldn't say in real life! Because they are HIDING BEHIND THEIR ANONYMITY! The cost of comments like that is real, though, and not just to Jenny: to other mothers and fathers who see what that family went through, and decide not to risk taking their child out in public. If we want a generation of kids with no social skills, keeping them all at home and well out of the public eye (and ear) is a good way to get there. But if we want them to learn how to behave in public, we have to take them there. And then we have to teach them how to behave.

Lesson Number One: don't act like an asshole busdriver.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear Gwen: Month Seventeen

Dear Gwen,

Today you are seventeen months old. You are like this amazing miniature person running around our house. I am pretty sure that if I said "seventeen months old" to you three or four times, you'd be able to repeat it back to me, because you have turned into this insane learning machine. Your vocabulary and understanding are growing by leaps and bounds, and we have to be very careful about what we say and do when you are around, because you pick things up very quickly.

Some of your new words this month are apples, keys, pretty, and back - as in, "put that back". You have learned not only the word, but the concept, and are often quite insistent on putting your books and toys "back", exactly where you last saw them. You also take items out of your mom and dad's hands and do the same thing, which is amusing, if somewhat inconvenient. I'm glad you're tidy, but sometimes you have to wait for us to be finished with the item first, okay?

You have also started saying 'itz' (which means Fritz - your grandma and grandpa's dog, whom we are looking after while they are in Europe) and 'i'belle' (Isabelle, your friend from daycare). I am so excited about the fact that you are learning names - this seems to indicate a new level of cognitive development. You can say your own name, too - 'G'n' - but usually when I ask you to "say Gwen" you respond "me-me!" You really love to talk, and sometimes you will just repeat every word you know, all in a row, just for the sake of hearing your own voice. Your Grandpa Ron would probably say that reminds him of your Auntie Sara!

My favourite of your new words is Mama, which you now use for me quite consistently. Currently, I am the Parent of Favour, which I don't mind at all, though it does mean I have to be careful. For example, your dad gives you a bath every night, and if I happen to stop into the bathroom to discuss something with him, you will immediately insist that I pick you up. I've decided that my presence is far too distracting, and that I have to just wait until bathtime is over.

You still love to play patty-cake and you are mesmerized by any of the Mother Goose-type songs, rhymes, or games. You are starting to learn some of the actions and words, too: If when playing patty-cake I pause after "mark it with a ...." you will chime in "djee!" (That's a G, by the way.) You also love to dance, and often the first thing you do when we get home after daycare is walk over to the stereo, point at it, say "datz" and wiggle your butt a bit until we get the message.

Your imagination is continuing to develop. You will often mime eating invisible food out of my hand or your own, with no prompting from me. If you see a picture of food in a book, you'll pretend to pick it off the page and eat it, complete with "num-num" noises. Clearly, you are a genius. A genius who likes to eat.

Speaking of eating, we are in the midst of our first attempt to modify your diet - we have taken you off dairy foods, at the suggestion of our naturopath. You have had a bad diaper rash for several months now: bad enough that sometimes you scratch it and make it bleed, which is a heartbreaking sight. The rash sometimes fades, but never disappears, and always flares up again. So, the doc suggested dairy might be a culprit. You are taking well to rice milk, and I am grateful that you are not a picky eater, as doing any kind of elimination diet when a child is already limiting her own intake is a real challenge! We'll know in a couple of weeks if dairy is in fact the culprit for your sore bum.

I got to take you to Strong Start a couple of weeks ago, for the first time since April. That was a lot of fun! It was really cool to see how you played with different things, and in different ways, than you did last Spring. When I last took you there, you were just barely beginning to walk. Oh, how life has changed! It was wonderful to introduce Miss Kathy to the new you. I hope we will get to go again soon.

So, that is what you're up to these days, my girl. As always, I am so proud of you, and so grateful that I get to be your Mama. I love you so much and am so excited to celebrate your big milestone of eighteen months in October!

Love,
Mama

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