Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I know. Those of you without kids are now sneering at your screen, and those who have kids are nodding so vigourously that you're in danger of snapping your necks. It's true. Going to the grocery store alone is a total pleasure. I can cruise up and down the aisles, pondering nutritional values and prices for seconds at a time. It's so peaceful. If they ever put in couches, I might take up residence and enjoy the opportunity to read an entire page of a book uninterrupted. I might start going there every day.
It's weird, too, because in general, shopping for food is not a chore I enjoy. I like to cook, but I hate planning meals and trying to figure out what we have on hand and what we need to buy and then trying to buy at least some of it on sale. Trying to balance nutritional value with financial concerns and environmental friendliness and three people's gastronomic preferences? No, that is not my idea of a good time. But the part where I actually get to go to the store, ALONE, and take my sweet leisurely time matching the items on the shelves to the items on my list, yes, I am starting to enjoy that a lot.
Even weirder is the fact that when Gwen was a baby, I really hated going without her. I'd see other parents with babies in the store, and I'd feel like no one knew I was in the Mom Club too. I'd strike up conversations with toddlers and want to explain to their parents that I wasn't a weird stalker, I was just curious what my daughter would be like in a year or two. Without Gwen, my very visible Mom-cred, I felt weirdly incomplete.
Nowadays, I do end up taking her along for the occasional trip. But she's so grabby and dramatic and vocal and TWO and she just refuses to understand that just because the bananas are in our cart, does NOT mean she can eat them. I wait in anxious anticipation for the day she points at someone and loudly declares how fat/old/black/ugly/different he or she is, which seems to be a favourite pastime of kids and the grocery store. I used to rush from work to daycare to pick her up, then stop at the grocery store on the way home with her because heaven forbid she be without me for ten more minutes than absolutely necessary. Now I leave her at daycare, thinking, she is having a lot more fun playing with her friends than she would be strapped into a cart being told that she can't eat ANY of the delicious foods she sees displayed in front of her.
And Mama gets to have a good time too. Ahhh, bring on the muzak!
Monday, June 28, 2010
- completing my degree
- getting our yard/house in shape to sell
- professionalizing my blog
Any one of which could easily eat up all of my spare time (spare time being defined as "any time that Gwen is asleep and I am not at work"), and of course in typical fashion I have decided to do ALL THREE of these things. This is not at all an unusual pattern for me. At this time last year, I had agreed to and/or recommitted myself to:
- Being a member of Church Council
- Being a member of Church Call Committee (this is the group responsible for finding, choosing, and hiring a new pastor for the church)
- Going back to work full time after a year's maternity leave
Starting a new course with Athabasca University
Since the remainder of 2009 saw me suffer approximately 1,486,392 overcommitment-related panic attacks and nervous breakdowns, I SWORE this year would be different. SNORT, GUFFAW. Well, I guess it kind of is, in the sense that the projects I am committed to this time around are of my choosing; and my family, rather than any outside party, are the ones to whom I am responsible in these goals. They are much more likely to cut me a little slack when I inevitably have difficulty in balancing everything.There is a saying I came across some years ago that has stuck with me, and I really do believe it. "You can have ANYTHING that you want in life. You just can't have EVERYTHING that you want." Despite my strong belief in this, I repeatedly try to do everything at once, and drive myself crazy while doing it. I have no idea how I am going to awesome-ify my blog AND finish my degree AND become a master gardener AND continue the excellent standard of wife-and-mothering that my family has come to expect (SNORT, GUFFAW). Either way, you - my faithful readers - come out the winners: either you get to be part of an awesome online community or you get to laugh at what I'm sure will be the incredibly amusing antics I'll be performing along the way. Anything to entertain, that's me.
So, look for some interesting changes here over the next couple of months. I've bought my own domain and have hired a web developer to pretty it up for me since I have no idea how to do that myself. I'm going to learn how to get hooked up with decent ads so I might actually make some money. I'm going to try to post at least 3-4 times a week and keep up with standard of quality content that you are all used to (say it with me: SNORT, GUFFAW.)
If you'd like to help, there are a few things you can do. You can recommend this site and the Facebook fan group to your friends. You can drop me a line and tell me what you like or don't like, what you want to see more or less of in the future: I'm very open to that type of feedback. If you have any skill with graphic design or marketing, or know someone who does, PUH-LEEZE let me know - I'm especially looking for someone who can work with me in designing a logo. Oh, and you can click on the ads. That would be kind of awesome, and takes no time at all. You might even find something you want, who knows?
It's kind of a weird place for me to be in, mentally. I have been writing here consistently for nearly three years, I've hit 500 posts, I have a small group of loyal readers. Lately, a lot of people I know in real life have gone out of their way to tell me how much they enjoy the blog. And I'm starting to get online comments and followers from people I've never heard of, people from faraway places, people who've stumbled across the site, enjoyed themselves, and let me know. That makes me feel validated: that maybe something that started off as a place to record my journey as a mother and then my daughter's life through my eyes has taken on a life of its own and is reaching people in some way. It's still a leap of faith for me to put on my big girl pants and say, Yes. I believe my writing is good enough to earn some money. It's really hard for me to write this entry and publicly say this, because if I fail, it will be obvious to all and I HATE THAT. But sometimes you've got to take a leap of faith.
My wildest dream is that I will be able to earn enough money to take one or two days off work per month so that I can finish that degree. That's the brass ring, and I have no idea if it's possible. But I won't know unless I give it a shot. So wish me luck. And, you know, click those ads. I'll keep you posted.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Today, you are twenty-six months old. Last month, I opened your newsletter by mentioning that I was actually writing it a few days ahead of time and using Blogger's handy-dandy "scheduled post" option to have it post on the right day, since we would be away on our Circle Tour at that time. I said: "I'm hoping you don't pick up any brand new skills in the lag time between writing and posting this newsletter, making it completely obsolete."
Ha! Ha ha ha ha. HAAAAHHHH. Ha.
On that circle tour, you learned how to sing the entire alphabet. You learned how to identify (and request) Raffi music. You learned how to fall asleep in a big bed, by yourself or with me beside you. And my favourite - we were at a playground with your Uncle Mikey and for ten minutes we watched you attempt, over and over, to climb up a certain structure. Every time, you would say "Need help" and I would help you. Then, suddenly, I reached out my hand to help you and you no longer needed my help. Through sheer persistence and willpower, you had taught yourself how to climb up alone.
Oh, Gwen. You are SO my daughter. And I am so very proud of you!
Your love of music and singing continues. You sing along to just about anything familiar these days. I was quite impressed to see you listening to Raffi's "Wiggle Your Waggles Away," and following all the sung instructions for the actions: yawning, clapping, stomping, wiggling, and so on. You follow Raffi's instructions a whole lot better than you follow your parents', but I suppose that's no surprise.
We've made a bit of progress on the "all by self" requests by declaring certain things "Mama's job". For example, it's Mama's job to put you in your carseat and buckle you in safely. It's YOUR job to tell me what you did that day, or what song you want to sing, or whatever other question I can think of to distract you. You seem to accept this. Of course, you use this to your own advantage as well, and are very good at telling us what is Mama's job, what is Dada's job, and what is Gwen's job.
Actually, you're pretty bossy these days. "Imperious" is the word that springs to mind. It's partly my fault, since I let you get away with it more than I should, for the sake of keeping the peace. But we need to get on top of it, because it is already not uncommon for you to order us around like servants, directing us as to what chairs we should sit in for dinner, demanding that we put our feet down from the coffee table, and insisting that you want your milk not in THAT cup, in the OTHER cup! All of these commands, of course, are issued in tones of near-hysteria, as if you cannot BELIEVE the low quality of help on the market these days.
I love you so much, Gwen, and I love being your Mama. I can't wait to see what the rest of the summer brings for you and your adventurous spirit.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
And let me just say right now: Thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you, Chris's Mom and Dad. Thank you so much for spending what I can only conclude added up to years of your lives, reminding us over and over and over to say Please and Thank You. We are better people because of you. If you think you might get some joy out of watching us go through the same struggle ... well, please read on.
So. Gwen has known the words Please and Thank You for quite some time now. She learned the sign for Please before she was even verbal, so that was well over a year ago. I suppose it's stupid of me to expect that once she knew the word and what it meant, she would just use it every time. This is an actual conversation that takes place in our house about ten frajillion times a day:
Mama: Gwen, do you want a snack?
Mama: Yes, please.
Gwen: Yes, please.
Mama: Would you like an apple, or a banana?
Mama: Apple, please.
Gwen: Apple, please.
Mama: Would you like some crackers, too?
Mama: Yes, please.
Gwen: Yes, please.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Gwen's Uncle Mikey was barely able to contain his giggles when he was treated to the following piece of performance art a few weeks ago on our Circle Tour:
Mama: Gwen, do you want this cookie?
Mama: Yes, please.
Gwen: Yes, please.
Mama: Gwen, do you want this cookie?
Mama: Yes, please.
Gwen: Yes, please.
Mama: Gwen, do you want this cookie?
Mama: Yes, please.
Gwen: Yes, please.
Mama: Gwen, do you want this cookie?
Mama: Yes, please.
Gwen: Yes, please.
It probably went on for about 20 more rounds before I just said, "Gwen, do you want this cookie? Yes, please," in response to which she said, "Yes, please," and I got to give her the damn cookie and get on with my life. To make matters worse, that "Yuh" which is her default response is so maddeningly rude and ignorant-sounding. It's kind of drawn-out and has a bit of an upward inflection at the end, so it sounds kind of like a sarcastic teenager responding to a question s/he can't BELIEVE you were stupid enough to ask, like DUH, of COURSE there were lobsters at the birth of our Lord. I get to listen to that intonation hundreds of times a day. It does not put me in a happy mood.
Similarly, if you offer her something she does not want, the response is "NO," said with the same "How could you be so ignorant as to offer me that?" inflection. You can almost see her eyes rolling. Sometimes she actually gets a bit enraged that we have been so inconsiderate, and we find ourselves backpedalling madly. "Okay, Gwen, it's okay, you don't HAVE to have a banana, we were just asking. Hey, wait a second - all you have to say is No, Thank You. It's actually YOU who have no manners, not us!"
(We don't actually say that last part, but it is OH SO TRUE.)
The weekend before last, Chris was away at a martial arts seminar and so I spent the entire time with Gwen and no backup. This was actually quite different from the time we spent together on our trip because there were no other friends or family to distract us: just Mama and Gwen, hanging out for two and a half days. And after two and a half days of her imperious demands and complete disregard for manners, I was completely drained. She's impulsive, controlling, has no regard for others and absolutely no patience for Her Will Not Being Done. PLUS she's emotionally unstable. I felt like I'd spent sixty hours with an abusive person - one who doesn't even have the good graces to manipulate you with subtlety and charm. She's just balls-out RUDE. And I know she doesn't mean to be, but it just wears you down, you know? Living with this tiny person and her huge demands. Reminding her eleventy-katrillion times a day to say Please and Thank You and feeling like you're talking to a void because two seconds later she will need to be reminded again.
Only, once in a while all the wheels in her head turn at the right time and she suddenly says, "I'd like some milk please, Mama," and it is honestly like the heavens open up and the sun beams down and the angels sing and there is nothing I would rather do than go get her a glass of milk. And I tell her a dozen times how nice it was to hear those beautiful manners, and thank her, and kiss her and pat her on the back, and praise the everlovin' snot out of her (oh, if only) and give her the milk and ask her if she'd like some crackers and she says, "Yuh," and I want to put my head through a wall.
Just one more example of her advanced language skills biting her (well, me) in the ass as I expect her manners to be at the same level as the rest of her speech. But I guess manners are a pretty challenging thing to learn. They're so vague and intangible. Why else would a child be able to put together a sentence like "The mommy is pushing the baby in the stroller," and then say, "Want a SNACK!" Both are observations, why does one need these extra niceties like Please? No wonder it's confusing.
We plug away at it. Other people seem to think her manners are pretty good: they see the puppet, not the strings (or the exhausted, exasperated puppeteer parents who can cajole "Say PLEASE," even while fast asleep or involved in a separate conversation twelve feet away or both). So I guess we're on the right track and it'll all fall into place eventually ...
Monday, June 14, 2010
This past weekend was the first nice weather we have had in 2010. Actually, that's not entirely true - there have been some patches of decent weather, here and there. This was the first time such weather lasted longer than 10 minutes. It finally felt like Spring, which is about bloody time since the first day of Summer is about a week away.
Anyway, as if it wasn't glorious enough to have two solid days of sunshine, these two days WERE A WEEKEND. There was some serious rejoicing going on, and I'm sure we weren't the only ones.
I spent some of this marvellously beautiful weather doing something I've never really done before - gardening. And during my two and a half hours of kneeling in the dirt, I came to several realizations. Which I am now going to share with you. Aren't you lucky?
First of all, when people say they spent some time gardening, they mean weeding. What else could it be? Pointing a hose or watering can at the garden doesn't take any time at all - no one would think to mention that. And planting can only be done at certain times of the year, right? So if you ask someone what they did on the weekend and they say breezily, "Oh, I spent some time in the garden," they mean that they were pulling weeds. But gardening sounds so much fancier than weeding, which must be why they say that. Gardening sounds important and sort of Victorian. Weeding, any monkey can do. As evidenced by the fact that I, who know nothing whatsoever about gardening, can weed like a mo-fo.
My entire approach to weeding is as follows: I have not the slightest clue whatsoever of what I am doing, but I do it extremely thoroughly. This past weekend was my second experience with weeding. The first was three years ago when we moved into our house. Every once in a while, I will decide that it is stupid for me, a grown and intelligent woman, to not know how to do certain things. And I feel a surge of determination to learn. This happened when we bought our house - for the first time, I owned land. Dammit, I could TOTALLY have a garden! I spent several hours weeding the weird triangular patch of dirt adjoining our house. It took way longer than I thought it possibly could. And then, a week later, it looked exactly as if I had never touched it. I decided gardening wasn't really that important after all. Second revelation: gardening is something you have to do all the time. It's not a hobby, it's a lifestyle choice. No thank you.
Anyway, Chris persuaded me to weed the front garden, and I was so grateful to have an excuse to be out in the sun that I happily complied. I attacked the garden with my trademark thoroughness and the one gardening tool designed for adult use. (You may think I am joking when I tell you my two-year-old daughter owns more gardening tools than my husband and I put together. You would be wrong. She owns a full-size shovel and a rake, as well as a trowel and two other tools whose names I don't even know. She also has her own pair of gardening gloves. And I am not even counting the watering cans. I own a trowel and gloves.)
I dug and weeded and ... man, gardening is so dull you can't even come up with a third verb for what I did during those hours. That's my third revelation about gardening. Supposedly, there are people out there who LOVE gardening (weeding). That's ... you guys, that's just really weird. Gardening is boring and you get filthy dirty and there are bugs and as soon as you start, you can't ever stop or else the weeds take over again and all your efforts soon become invisible. So the people who claim to love it must have been brainwashed into lying about it. Just like the women who claim that breastfeeding was perfectly straightforward, easy, and filled them with a sense of utter maternal bliss.
Because I was feeling no sense of reward or enjoyment from the gardening (WEEDING) itself, I began to crave external reward. Chris must have known this, because he wandered by every half-hour or so to tell me what a good job I was doing. This is my fourth revelation about gardening, as it relates to me: If I'm going to do it, I better be getting a lot of recognition for it. I better be getting the Pulitzer Prize of Weeding. I'm working on my acceptance speech now.
The fifth and final revelation about gardening grew gradually out of my time in the dirt, and I think this revelation is more to do with me and why gardening is Not My Thing. Gardening isn't really a hobby: you can't choose when to do it or not to do it, but have to jump-to when the weather conditions demand it. Weather being a fickle bitch, you never know how that's going to play out. Gardening isn't really a chore the same way other chores are, either: the more gardening you do, the more you have to do, and there's no way to know when you're done, and no actual real-life reason to do it. Example: there is a real-life requirement for me to wear clothes to my job, therefore laundry is a valid chore. There is no real-life need for me to arbitrarily kill a certain percentage of the green things growing in my garden. No one cares.
(And by the way, does anyone else find it odd that there is this completely arbitrary set of rules for what is a weed - and must therefore be sought out and destroyed - and what is a plant - and must therefore be nurtured and nourished? And that all the things that are hardy and designed to survive fall in the first category, while the second category is full of things that are fragile and easy to kill? How freakin Victorian is THAT? Seriously, I can't be the only one to have noticed this.)
(Just ask yourself: what's the difference between a weed and a wildflower? Really?)
At the end of the day, however, the garden was thoroughly weeded and I do have to admit it looked pretty good. I'm going to make sure to go outside and enjoy the weed-free look every day for the next week, which is about how long I think it will take for the weeds to take over and make it look like a jungle again. In the meantime, I don't think I'll be turning into a master gardener any time soon. If I really feel the need to involve myself in a task that involves getting covered in filth and feeling confused about what to nurture and what to squelch, all with the knowledge that the job is never really done and will probably not be noticed by anyone for a long, long, LONG time - hey, there's always parenting.
Friday, June 11, 2010
2. On a more positive note, yesterday I got approval from my manager to have my time and tuition paid to take some computer-based Access 2007 training. I am excited about this, because I am a big dork.
3. I've been on an Isagenix cleanse for the past week. I have today and the weekend and then back to 'normal' eating on Monday. It's kind of amusing and wholly appropriate that I happened to be on a liquid diet when my tooth fell out. Also, looking at my horribly ugly mouth kind of kills my appetite anyway.
4. I'm not really capable of thinking or writing about anything other than my tooth problem at the moment, with a side of how annoyed I am that my dentist office apparently took the day off without changing their voicemail or their posted hours on the door. I'm really flummoxed by that. Did I tell you how I broke the tooth this time? By chewing on my nails. Chris had words to share with me about that. I have already clipped all my nails down to nothing this morning. Which also means that if anything gets itchy, I have to be all zen about it and not care, because I sure as heck can't scratch it.
5. It's nearly the weekend. It kind of feels like it already is, since Chris is off and home with Gwen today, and I am home waiting for my 12:30 dentist appointment (which I achieved by calling every dentist I could find and throwing myself on their mercy. It sounds dramatic, but I actually got a "yes" at the third place I called). This weekend, I will be weeding. Weeding is fun - the first time you do it. Really, I'll just be happy to be outside and not be rained on. Especially if I have all my teeth in place while doing so.
Happy Weekend, everyone!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
It took nine years from the first awakening of maternal instincts until the time the ultrasound technician confirmed that yes, that was definitely a girl in there. My daughter. My Gwen. Though I'd already spent months of pregnancy bonding with the being who shared my body, the instant she was pronounced a girl I felt a deeper bond, a profound understanding of who this being was. I now had a place to gather all the things I already knew about this baby: love of music, physically active, enjoyment of parents' voices and touch. These things were hers. These things were Gwen.
I know that I was awfully sick during that pregnancy. I took anti-nausea pills for just about the entire 40 weeks, and even still most days I threw up (like clockwork, at 9:30am. I quickly learned NOT to be on a work conference call during that time). I know that I was moody and gigantic and unwieldy and uncomfortable and didn't sleep well. I know all those things, and yet when I try to remember what it felt like to be pregnant, the image that comes to mind is lying in bed at night, holding my belly and singing to Gwen, feeling her kicks growing stronger and stronger. Sometimes Chris would talk and sing to her too, but even in those moments I was the mediator: my body was the medium through which Chris could commune with his daughter. And when he rolled over and said goodnight, she was still with me. Sharing one's body is not always easy, but the memory that is strongest is how magical it felt. How amazingly comforting it was to never, ever be alone.
For the first few weeks, perhaps even months, after she was born, I could not really truly internalize the fact that she was a separate person. I pretended to, for the sake of the other people around us, because I knew that they would think I was crazy otherwise. But in my heart of hearts, I genuinely felt that Gwen and I were two parts of the same person. She might be in a separate room from me, and yet she is still me. I imagine this is how twins might feel.
Feeling like Gwen and I were parts of the same being made the newborn phase somewhat easier. I often woke in the night for no reason, and a moment later Gwen would begin squeaking to request a nursing session. Did she wake because I did, or did I wake because she was about to? It didn't matter. There we both were. In those moments, it felt right that I was existing primarily to fill her needs. It still felt like we were sharing the same body, even though Gwen wasn't in it anymore.
As the months went on I gradually grew out of feeling like Gwen and I were the same person. However, I still felt very in tune with her. There was a long stretch of time when her father could not comfort her, when she fought him bodily and shrieked until she was placed in my arms. This was hard on all of us, yet I was somewhat comforted to know that I could put right whatever was bothering my girl. When we did sleep training, I tuned into her more than ever. I watched her vigilantly for signs of tiredness, learning her signals and cycles and responding to them appropriately so that she could learn them too.
Going back to work and getting used to leaving Gwen for a large portion of the day was extremely hard. I felt like I was being torn apart. What frightened me even more was wondering how Gwen would respond. After all, I am a grown-up who understands financial responsibility and time management. How would Gwen comprehend the changes? Would she understand that I would come back at the end of the day, or feel abandoned? I walked to work on my first day feeling utterly sick to my stomach. As soon as I found out that Gwen was doing absolutely fine, I perked up and felt human again.
Nowadays my connection with Gwen is no less strong, and shows itself at interesting times. You see, the reason I wanted a daughter for all those years was simple. I knew that no matter what chromosomes your kid gets, there will be times when s/he drives you absolutely up the wall. There will be times when s/he slams the door and shouts that you are the worst parent in the world. There will be times when you will really, really want to kill that kid. But I strongly felt that if my child were a girl, I would understand where she was coming from. I may not be able to stop her from slamming the door and hating me - but I would be able to relate, and probably even understand why she felt that way. There would be nothing my daughter could feel or think or experience that I had not also felt or thought or experienced.
Naturally, this is not empirically true. The world around us changes rapidly, and of course Gwen will have many experiences that I have not had. But internally, her emotional responsese to those things - that is what matters. That is what I can relate to. That is what I can nurture. That is what our relationship will be built on.
So here we are, in the throes of two, and there are moments, lots of them, when Gwen is hard to be with. There are times when Chris and I have had long, circular discussions about her sleep habits. Most kids, it seems, get worn out. If we take Gwen out to the beach and the playground and for a long walk, we might then think she'd be grateful to fall into bed for a nap. This doesn't usually happen. "How can she still be awake?" we ask each other. "She should be exhausted!"
My theory is that unlike most kids, Gwen gets wound up, not worn out, from these exciting activities. You can't fill her morning with fun stuff, then rush her home, throw her in bed, and expect her to sleep. She's still buzzing with energy. No, the fact that her naptime already got bumped back an hour due to those adventures does NOT mean she'll fall asleep faster: instead, you need to bump it back ANOTHER hour and give her a nice, long, wind-down time. You need to read her more pre-nap stories, not fewer. You need to talk to her about what you did that morning, and maybe about what you're going to do when she wakes up. You need to give her time to process it all.
How do I know? Because that's how I operate. Is that projection? Yes. But it's only harmful if I'm wrong, and so far, I'm not.
Last week she got herself worked up over something, we're still not sure what, and cried for about an hour. She just could NOT get herself under control. We comforted her, we practiced deep breaths, we rubbed her back, and when she pushed us away we left her alone. We reminded her often that we were there for her and ready to listen to whatever she needed to express. It went on and on, and at the end of it we were all drained.
But at the end of it, I looked at her and thought - Oh, I've had days like that. Days where everything just seems to fall apart, and one little thing sets you off and you slip into tears and can't manage to pull yourself together. You start off by noticing that a light bulb has burnt out and before you know it you're weeping and wailing about the deterioration of the ozone layer and you know you're not making any sense but you just. can't. HELP IT.
And I think if she were a son, I would have looked at her and thought: Crap. Boys are aliens. WHAT THE HELL, kid.
I may be wrong. Maybe I'd be just as empathic with a son. I'll never know, and that suits me just fine.
She is my daughter, and she is the best (and maybe some of the not-so-best) parts of me. And I love her more than I love myself. I know her as well as I know myself. I hope I always will.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Here's why I'm pro-school:
"A growing body of research shows that quality early learning programs can have a rangeof benefits for children. These include improvements in reading, writing, math, creativity,social development, work habits, motor skills, and performance on standardized tests. Inthe long term, they have also been found to reduce costs in other social policy areas."
-- Expanding Early Learning In British Columbia For Children Age Three to Five: Early Learning Agency Report, April 2009
The other reason I'm pro-school is that Gwen is really, really smart.I am absolutely overjoyed that full-day kindergarten will be in effect all over our province by the time she starts school, and am crossing my fingers that the other recommendation made by the Early Learning Agency in their April 2009 report will come into effect soon enough for our family, as well. That would be the implementation of half- or full-day programs for three- and four-year-olds. Essentially: subsidized preschool.
When I say Gwen is really, really smart, that doesn't mean I think she's going to graduate high school at age thirteen. I'm not even concerned about academic performance at this stage - I've never been tempted to drill her with cue cards to teach her how to read. What I mean is that she is craving stimulation, all the time. She exudes the readiness to learn. She is intelligent, she is resourceful, she is persistent, she is thoughtful, she is clever, she is observant. She will pick up gestures and phrases and meanings faster than you could possibly expect.
I know some people are bristly at the thought of full-day kindergarten. I've heard other moms say they don't want to rush their kids into academic pursuits too soon. "Let kids be kids!" While I agree with the sentiment, I don't think three or four years old is too soon for some semi-structured group learning, and the research backs this up.
What brings this home to me more than anything is Gwen herself. She is two years old and knows her alphabet, her colours, her shapes, her numbers up to twelve (some days, fourteen), and the lyrics of countless songs. She could not possibly make it more obvious that she is ready to learn. Let kids be kids? Okay, but recognize that a kid's main job is to learn like crazy, to soak up everything he or she can. I think we have a responsibility to nurture that, to provide children with a stimulating environment and positive opportunities.
Yes, sure, there are lots of options out there for learning. Lots of kids get terrific, stimulating learning opportunities from their parents. They may take part in semi-structured group classes such as Gymboree, Kindermusik, or a host of others. They may attend the school district's excellent Strong Start program, a drop-in for kids under five and their parents in a high-quality learning environment. Or, you know, they might be SOL because both their parents work.
For those kids, there's preschool. That's where Gwen will be next spring when she turns three. It may not be government-subsidized by then, but I do appreciate the province's efforts to make these valuable learning opportunities - which, as stated above, go such a long way in determining the future course of a child's life - available to all children.
So, if Gwen already knows so damn much, what is she going to learn in a preschool anyway? Well, my own preference is that whatever preschool she goes to will have just as clear a focus on social learning as academic learning, if not more so. I want Gwen to learn what it's like to be part of a larger group of kids than the three or four she's with at daycare - all the social interactions and adjustments that go along with that. I want her to adapt to a somewhat structured day and to plant the beginning seeds of discipline and respect that come with the expectation she will listen and obey her teacher. I don't want kindergarten to be the first time any of that happens.
As I mentioned above, every family needs to make their own choice based on their own values and the needs of their child. I'm grateful that the government is making more choices available to more families. This is our choice - what's yours?
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
It's just like thousands of other boxes all over the country, maybe millions of boxes all over the world. It's just like dozens of boxes I've received before. But this one is different for one simple reason.
I first started my degree in November 2002 as a result of reading the book Happiness by Will Ferguson. The protagonist of the book is an editor who - get this - gets paid to read books and tell his boss which ones are worth publishing. He also gets to make snarky comments about the ones that aren't. This sounded like a good job, and I figured an English degree was a good step towards getting a job like that. But as I couldn't afford to quit my job and do school full-time, distance learning via Athabasca University was the best solution.
Since 2002, a lot has happened in my life. I left my first husband and moved to a brand new city - that was the first time I took a break from school. I re-married, got pregnant, bought a house, had a miscarriage, got pregnant again, all while continuing to study. Somewhere in the midst of all this it became clear that a degree in English would probably not affect my work life in any way, so finishing the program became valuable merely for its own sake rather than as a means to an end. I took a year off both work and school when Gwen was born, and returned briefly to my studies in early 2009 - only to discover that trying to balance school, work, motherhood, volunteer duties, and the ever-elusive "having a life" didn't seem to work. School was the thing to go, and though I felt it was the wrong choice I didn't know how to correct it.
Now it's 2010, and I have 15 credits left to earn. FIFTEEN. That sounds like such a piddling little number, doesn't it? Full-time students could earn that in one term, maybe two. Alas, I am not a full-time student. I am a full-time employee, I am a full-time parent. It takes me about six months to finish one 3-credit course. That means that finishing up those last fifteen credits will take me about two and a half years.
Do you know what the date will be in two and a half years? November 2012. Exactly ten years since this ridiculous, amazing, misguided, inspired, brave and crazy dream began.
You guys, I'm going to do it.
That's why today feels different. This is the first time since I started my degree that there is an end in sight, a firm(ish) plan for when and how I will complete this program. It means that I will be studying non-stop for the next 2.5 years, and because I have already reached the maximum number of prep and junior-level courses, I won't be able (as Chris suggested) to take straightforward and easy stuff like Basket Weaving 101. All my courses have to be above the 300 level, so I'm taking stuff like Popular Culture and the Media, Psychology and Women, and Literature and Hypertext. No, it won't be easy. But the thought of finally being done, of having at last reached this lofty goal - and the poetry of having done it in some arbitrarily-defined time, like a decade - is immensely appealing. I'm going to do this.
I've contacted an advisor and confirmed that the degree requirements have not changed in the intervening decade (!), and that the courses I plan to take will fulfil them. I'm working on a study schedule and wistfully fantasizing about ways to take some time off work to get this done.
When I became a mother, I struggled with the feeling that spending money on my own education - which, as it seemed it would not genuinely affect my career, felt like a vanity project - ultimately took away from any money that could be spent on Gwen's future education. And who knows, maybe Gwen's education would actually be in the right area and at the right time and able to do her some genuine good, so how could I take away from that? It was my wonderful husband Chris who put me straight, pointing out what a great role model I would be for Gwen if I followed through on my plan and completed this goal. This new aggressive plan for completing my degree will mean sacrifices by all three of us, so it genuinely will be a family victory if - no, WHEN - it comes to completion.
Wish us luck.
Monday, June 7, 2010
The reason we chose to do sleep training with Gwen when she was only 7 months old was simple: I didn't want her to be able to stand up in the crib and shriek, "MAAAAMMMMMAAAA!" when I left her there to learn to fall asleep on her own.
Let me dig into this tangent for a second. That is what sleep training, in any form, really is: assisting your child in learning how to fall asleep without your help. That's the objective view, at least. From the child's point of view, of course, you are heartlessly abandoning them and will NEVER LOVE THEM AGAIN.
There is a school of thought that allowing babies to cry themselves to sleep will cause brain damage. I am not here to rule on whether or not this is accurate. What I will say is that the intensity and the length of time for which Gwen cried (at seven months old) prior to falling asleep, was acceptable to us, her parents, as safe and non-damaging. We do not believe that her emotional state or her physical brain were harmed in this process. NOTE: this does NOT mean it was easy to listen to her cry, just that we believe she was safe while doing so.
We also followed the philosophy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., who compared the crying of a child learning to fall asleep without assistance is similar to the crying of a child upset because his mother won't let him climb up on dangerous playground equipment. It's protest crying. And just as we don't let Gwen do things that are dangerous, no matter how she cries or fights or fusses, we don't let her compromise her sleep simply because we are unable to withstand her protests. Dr. Weissbluth also brings forward many valuable points about just how important sleep is to productive learning and later success in life, concluding that not doing whatever it takes to get your child a good night's sleep is just as dangerous and neglectful as letting him climb that jungle gym.
So. We did sleep training, and it was a resounding success. And then this trip came along, this trip where Gwen could climb out of her playpen and suddenly my strategies of just leaving her alone until she was ready to go to sleep were totally null and void. And I had vowed before going on this trip that I was not going to stress about her sleep, so I didn't. If she didn't want to go to bed, she didn't. I wasn't going spend two hours arguing with her about it.
Which brings me back to: there's a reason why we did sleep training when she was a baby. Because now? Now that we are back home and trying to get into a routine and she's had a week or so of staying up late, watching TV before bed, and snuggling with Mama? Now she argues about it. And it is INCREDIBLY hard not to get drawn into it, because she's a very smart little girl, and I'm a patient and compassionate Mama, and I want her to go to bed but I also want her to feel GOOD about going to bed, and that means that I want her to understand what's going on and participate in it voluntarily.
The fact that she can speak full sentences tricks me, without even realizing it, into expecting her to be a reasonable, rational person, and as a result I treat her that way. If a rational, reasonable person were crying and begging me not to leave, well, I would not leave. I would stay and help them through whatever they needed help with, in whatever way possible. But Gwen, despite her language proficiency, is NOT a rational and reasonable person. She lacks the self-awareness to say, as anyone else would, "Okay, I'm feeling better now. Thanks for the hugs. I'm really tired, so I think I'll go to bed." And as much as I'd love to believe Gwen is capable of self-regulating like that, she really is not. The second half of our holiday proved that in a very loud and emphatic way.
We've been back from our trip for a full week now and we are still having some real struggles at bedtime. And it kills me, it really does. I have had to work to pry her limbs off my head, where she has wrapped herself like some kind of face-sucking alien. And let me tell you, that girl is strong. But it's not the physical battles, it's the emotional ones. All she wants is for me to lie down with her until she falls asleep. (Is that so wrong?) And some nights, the only reason I don't do that is because I don't want her to get used to it. It's like the mentality that makes us go to the gym and work out so that we will look good in our exercise clothes when we're at the gym. Whafuh? It's a cruel joke that kids are too young to grasp the concept of "sometimes", as in, sometimes Mama will snuggle with you, and sometimes she won't, but either way THE WORLD WILL NOT END.
I guess if she were a rational, reasonable person, she would know that already.
Friday, June 4, 2010
First, Linda at All and Sundry tells us that "It's all normal" when it comes to feeding your child. Having been contacted by a doula, Linda ponders what this pro-breastfeeding advocate might have said to her when she was [formula-] feeding her own kids. Apparently, this unnamed doula feels that there are a lot of negative things said to breastfeeding mothers, and so she takes it upon herself to counteract this by offering an encouraging comment to breastfeeders whenever she sees them. Linda muses on what she herself might say to a formula-feeder, and concludes that the appropriate response would likely be to "Smile and tell her what a beautiful baby she had. Because anything else is really none of my damn business."
To which, of course, I offer a hearty AMEN.
Heather at The Spohrs Are Multiplying opens her post by saying that "Breastfeeding is really, really hard in the best of circumstances." (Now there's a sentence we don't see or hear often enough!) She discusses her own struggles in feeding her daughters. Madeline, born premature, spent her first weeks and months in the NICU, being fed pumped milk. Annabel is healthy and at home, and has been since the start, but Heather's mental health deteriorated so significantly following Annabel's birth that her doctors, caregivers, and family were all pleading with her to increase her medication to a level that would genuinely assist her. Heather, with the stubborn single-mindedness that seems so familiar to me, didn't want to up her meds, as it would then be passed to Annabel through breast milk. It became a choice between her own mental health and her daughter's physical health, and we all know who
These are powerful stories that need to be shared. I've witnessed horrible prejudice and mistreatment of bottle-feeding moms, and I've treated myself badly for my own sense of failure. My mental health was precarious at the time that I tried to make rational decisions around how to feed my daughter, but of course I couldn't realize that at the time. Looking back, I wonder how I got through it. But even knowing what I know now doesn't change the fact that I still struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I've tortured myself on dark lonely nights when I can't sleep, wondering if Gwen's disinclination for affection was caused by an unrewarding breastfeeding relationship. I've wished thousands of times that one choice or another could be revisited: the choice to have a hospital birth led to us getting the Norovirus, making Gwen too ill to nurse and jeopardizing my milk supply. Or the choice to believe the public health nurses when they said I didn't really need to see a lactation consultant, they were just as knowledgeable.
The breastfeeding bomb pops up in unexpected places, and whenever it does it's like a punch to the gut. Gwen is now two years old and yet when she goes to the doctor, I still have to answer whether she was breastfed or not (and I never know what to say, because it's not really a yes-or-no question in my world; yes she was, but not exclusively). Reading magazines or checking out websites about parenting and kids' health will still poke me in my sore spot by reminding me that one of the Top Five Ways to Avoid Everything You Want to Avoid and Make Your Kid Brilliant is to breastfeed.
I am taking steps, now, to let go of this. It's still difficult. But I think there are a few key things that are helping me. One is to realize, like Heather says, that breastfeeding is difficult at the best of times. Having difficulty with something that is difficult is not a mark of failure. And ours, like Heather's, were not the best of times. A favourite statement I like to remind new moms about - one that I wish I had known, back at the time when breastfeeding felt like the only way to be a good mom - is that "Lactation is natural. Breastfeeding is an art." Yeah, that's right, world. It doesn't just happen magically, and it isn't all innate. IT'S A HELL OF A LOT OF WORK. Sure, some women take to it more easily than others, and if you're one of them, thank your lucky stars. But for the rest of you? You need to know - you're not alone. You are not the only one struggling with this. And it pisses me off that we as a society would rather let new moms feel like failures, feel isolated and scared and that they are doing it wrong, than to tell the truth: it's hard, and feeling like it's hard is NORMAL, and it doesn't make you a bad mom.
Another thing that helps is to look at Gwen - who now gives affection eagerly and unabashedly - and know that neither her health, nor her intellect, nor her emotional development, are any the poorer for having breastfed for a shorter time than I imagined, and having never achieved the brass ring of "exclusive breastfeeding".
Finally, and this is the hardest and yet most important key to my letting go: I did not fail at breastfeeding. (I have never said or typed those words before, and it's challenging to do.) I need to change my thinking. I did breastfeed. I breastfed my daughter to the absolute extent of my ability for nine full months. That was not what I'd planned, not what I'd hoped, but that is what happened. And I should - I CAN - accept that. I did not succeed to the extent that I'd dreamed, but that is not the same as failure. And I am starting to work on redefining that experience not in terms of what I did not do, but in terms of what I did do. Maybe I can even define myself (in my own mind - the only place it really matters) as a breastfeeding mother, not a breastfeeding failure. And when I see those little breastfeeding bombs, I can remember those moments with contentment, not resentment.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
PERSONALIZED AND EVERYTHING, YOU GUYS.
First of all, I was all set to take the picture, but I couldn't find one of the pieces. In fact, three weeks later I have no idea where it is. (It's the piece that's meant to go on one side of the box's lid, to make it look like a floor. It's never stayed on properly, and in fact I didn't even know what it was until I saw Amber's post with pictures of the other houses she's created.)
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I loved spending time with lots of family and friends that I hadn't seen in a long time. The pinnacle example of this was seeing Ryan and Tasha, friends I graduated with and ... kind of haven't seen since. (Actually, I saw Ryan once at our 10 year reunion, but that was 7 years ago and all I remember from that encounter was his repeated - and wholly justified - mocking of the crappy band hired for the event.) As a bonus, Ryan and Tasha have a brand new baby girl, and I got to hold her! Score one for me!
I also got to connect with friends who were sort of on my outer circle prior to this trip. To be blunt: they were mostly my ex-husband's friends. But they invited Gwen and I over for a morning, and now they are OUR friends too. That felt really good. Added bonus: four-month-old baby! I totally got to hold her too! Value-added bonus: Gwen got along really well with their older son and there was a hilarious moment when the two toddlers decided they didn't want us mommies in their space and pushed us out of the bedroom. So yeah, my daughter was alone in a bedroom with a boy. Didn't think THAT would happen for a few years yet, haha! Super-duper added bonus: they are moving to the Island soon! Lucky Gwen, she won't have to worry about the challenges of a long-distance relationship.
I was also really impressed by Gwen's cousins' behaviour towards and treatment of her. Andrew (7) and Scotty (nearly 4) are now old enough to realize that Gwen is smaller and less hardy than they are, and they treated her accordingly. Many, many times throughout my stay at their house, one or both of the boys was watching/taking care of Gwen for a few minutes while I had a shower, packed the suitcase, got lunch ready, etc. It was a real treat.
One day, I took Gwen to the mall, intending to buy a sunhat for myself. I ended up buying a few other things in the process as well. Gwen was in the stroller for about an hour all told, while I wheeled her around and tried on clothes. Somehow, she tolerated this. I know some grown people who have difficulty with this kind of errand. Actually, come to think of it, I'm one of them - so it's really kind of mind-blowing that she behaved as well as she did.
Sidenote: upon exiting the mall, it was POURING rain. Raining so hard that it was bouncing back up off the pavement. Raining so hard that Gwen said, "Mama, it's raining bubbles." And I couldn't remember EXACTLY where I'd left the car. And Gwen and I were both in summery clothes and she was in the stroller and by the time I found the car her pants were as wet as if they'd just come out of the washer, and my feet were sloshing in my sandals. I just kept laughing and laughing. I thought it was too over the top hilarious. I said to Gwen, "I just can't believe it!" and she echoed me back, which made me laugh even harder.
Sidesidenote: since buying that sunhat, we actually haven't seen the sun a single time. Bite me, WEATHER.
Gwen is ... kind of a lot to handle. And while I am very used to her antics, setting her against the backdrop of other places and other people really sharply accentuates that she is a 30-pound bundle of CRAZY. Nowhere was this more evident than at the beautiful, pages-of-a-magazine home of two of our friends, where Gwen rapidly unfurled half a roll of toilet paper into the toilet, the resolution of which required a plunger. Um. Yes. That would be MY kid.
The night before we left on our trip, you may recall, Gwen stayed over at her Gramma and Grandpa's. It was discovered on that night that Gwen can now climb out of the playpen. Did this have an impact on our trip? OH HO HO. If by "impact" you mean "her sleep got worse and worse as the trip went on and by the end of the trip, "bedtime" was at 10pm and came with ~20 minutes of HARDCORE screaming before finally crashing, usually SIDEWAYS in MY BED" then yes, I'd say there was an impact.
(At home, Gwen sleeps in a toddler bed. She only uses a playpen while travelling, or at Gramma's, or at daycare. And when she's at home in her room, if she decides she's not quite ready to go to sleep, I have no problem with her getting out of bed and wandering around the perfectly safe and free-from-breakable-objects room. But when staying in other people's houses? Those rooms do not generally meet the criteria for toddler-wandering. And thus, she needs to stay in her playpen. And with that era at an end, the sleep was also at an end.)Gwen's behaviour and mood deteriorated accordingly. Which reminds me: if you happened to be on the 12:10pm ferry from PR to Comox this past Monday, and got to witness Gwen's ear-splitting, body-flinging temper tantrums in the cafeteria? I'm really sorry. I don't even know what she was upset about. I hope the shrieking didn't impact on your enjoyment of the ferry food.
She missed her nap most days, and anywhere between one and three hours of her typical 12-hour nighttime sleep. That's like a third of her daily sleep. If you missed a third of YOUR sleep for 5 days or so, you'd be a bitch, too. So I understand why it happened. It still sucked to be a part of it.
Also (Beware, Grandpa George and other delicate readers): The fucking weather can GO FUCK ITSELF RIGHT IN THE EAR. Remember how I mentioned above that we haven't seen the sun since that nasty rainstorm on the way out of the mall? It's true. And that was halfway through our holiday. Ten-day holiday with a toddler? Potentially fun. Ten-day holiday with a toddler who isn't sleeping? Kind of dodgy. Ten-day holiday with a toddler who isn't sleeping and hasn't been outside for three days? FUCK THIS NOISE.
There are two parts of this that irritate me. One is that I have once again been catapulted back into the pre-sleep-training days where I can't answer any question - How are you, what's new, how was your trip - without relating in some significant way to Gwen's sleep. I hated that then and I hated it now - I despise being so one-dimensional.
The other part that irritates me is that after a good night's sleep at home on Monday and a solid nap at daycare on Tuesday, Gwen transformed into an entirely different child. I came home Tuesday afternoon to a cheerful, articulate, charming and good-natured little girl. THIS is the child I wanted to go on holiday with. THIS is the child I wanted to show off to my friends and family. I missed this little girl A LOT.
So yeah, we're home. I have to charge the camera battery in order to get the pictures off. I have to keep working with Gwen to get her sleep schedule back to normal. I have to catch up on all the stuff that happened while I was gone. I have to reflect on the trip and figure out how to do it better next time.
It's good to be home.