Monday, January 31, 2011

I have a kid

On Sunday, our local library celebrated Family Literacy Day with all kinds of fun events. There were puppet shows, live music, a magician, a craft table, etc. It was like a con for kids! There was even SWAG.

So I took Gwen out to the festivities and watched her brain explode at the concept of there being live, amplified music in the lobby of the building where we usually remind her to use her quiet voice. We took in two shows, the puppet show and the magic show. There were chairs in the rooms where these shows took place, but most of the kids elected (and were encouraged) to sit on the floor directly in front of the performers. Though Gwen sat on my lap for the puppet show, she happily joined the crowd of kids watching Zigster the Trickster from as close a vantage point as they could possibly get.

I really enjoyed Zigster's patter and his tricks. He'd obviously crafted this particular show to appeal to kids, at their humour and comprehension level, but it was also great fun for the parents in attendance. But even as I watched the show, my awareness was also on Gwen. Gwen was both physically and mentally away from me, relating to the kids and the magician without any mediation from me. It's hard to describe how special that felt.

Then, Zigster singled Gwen out and asked her to come help with one of the tricks. Time sort of slowed down for me for a moment. Would she respond? Would she even recognize that he was talking to her? Would she get shy, or lose focus? She stood up and said "Sure!" and marched over to behind his magician's chest and sat down beside him. I was absolutely tickled. Immediately after sitting down, she started looking around for me; fortunately, I was in the front row and gave her a little wave. "See, your mom's right there, she's protective, I can tell," Zigster said. He pulled out a deck of cards and asked her to pick one. Gwen, who has likely never seen a deck of cards in her life, stared blankly as he fanned through them a couple of times, then started looking around at all the other magic accoutrements. Zigster made her unco-operativeness a point of humour, which is probably exactly what he intended to do anyway. "Do you have, like, any interest at all in what I'm doing here?" he asked. "Yes!" replied Gwen, and of course the audience burst into laughter. "So, could you pick a card, like, today? How about that one? That one right there looks good." He wiggles one card out of the deck and Gwen takes it. "Show it to the audience. Show it to them, but not to me. Don't let me know that it's the ten of hearts, now. Just show it to them." Gwen holds the card obediently and somewhat blankly, with no idea what she is supposed to be doing. Then he asks her to put it back in the deck, which she does, and he shuffles the cards all together, only to produce the same card MAGICALLY a moment later. "Is this your card?" "YES!" shouts Gwen, and she probably had no idea what he was asking her but she was just so darn happy to be there. The girl knows her cues, she is born for show business.

Through the whole trick, I was giggling madly and bursting with pride and oh so very aware that I have a kid. Not a baby, not even a toddler anymore. She's a kid. If she can interact with a stranger in a somewhat meaningful and appropriate way, without any other mediation, she's a kid. If she can sit apart from me and negotiate personal space with other children, she's a kid. She has a lot to learn yet about the subtle give-and-take of social skills, but she's starting to take a step away from me and figure that stuff out for herself. She's a kid. Ready or not, here she comes.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


In the fall of 2008, when Gwen was about six months old, I told Chris that I didn't want to go back to work full-time. "I want to work part-time," I said, "and be home with Gwen the rest of the time." And Chris vetoed it, saying we couldn't afford it. We couldn't afford to live on his salary plus half mine. And so in April 2009 I went back to work full-time, and that was the hardest adjustment I ever had to make, from stay-at-home mom to working mom. And I spent nearly a year being incredibly unhappy in my very volatile job, and then I found a job with a different department, and since then I've been pretty darn happy at work.

And then Chris lost his job.

And then we had to scale back Gwen's daycare* commitment because we can't afford to pay for 3-4 days a week of daycare while Chris is at home.

And soon he will be receiving EI which will be somewhere around half of his previous salary.

So here we are, living on my salary and half of his, while he is at home part-time with our child. Something that apparently, we could not afford to do.

I know he can't understand why, or empathize with me at all, but I'm jealous.

Not to mention completely baffled by how we ended up in this unimagined situation. I never pictured myself as the breadwinner. I'm not career-driven: I love what I do, but I don't live for it. I'm not continually seeking ways to fulfil my ambitions. Having a child didn't derail my career goals. Hell, I don't even know if I have career goals, other than to continue being employed until I can afford to retire.

And meanwhile he's jealous of me, because at least I have a job to go to. At least I have some way to define myself.

I feel like I'm in a weird mirror-image world. It's disorienting. I don't think this is to do with my preconceived gender roles so much as the utter lack of planning and choice that went into our current situation. Meaning, if we had consciously chosen to live this way then I would probably feel less disoriented. But in reality our situation has landed on us and we are just trying to adjust to it the best we can. I guess when you find yourself in an unforseen situation, you end up doing unimagined things.

*Thank God we have the flexibility to do this. If we were in a daycare centre, as I originally planned, rather than a home-based daycare, this wouldn't even be an option: we would just lose our spot.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Gwen: Month Thirty-Three

Dear Gwen:

Today, you are thirty-three months old and you are without a doubt the most interesting child imaginable. Here are some things you have said and done lately that make me feel astounded to have you as a daughter:

(As I arrive home from work): Hey Mama! It's awesome to see you. I have something for you. (Puts a crown on my head) Now you're Princess Mama.

(After building a snowman): Hi Snowman! Happy Holidays to you. How are you today? (Shakes branch-hand.) I'm happy to meet you.

(As I arrive home from yoga): Hey, Mama's here! Hi, Mama! Do you want to come and have dinner with us? Go get your bib, then! It's all ready!

I think you have been a much more enjoyable person this past month, Gwen. You are still whiny and demanding at times, but this miraculous thing happened one day and the heavens opened up and filled your heart with knowledge and the following conversation took place:

Mama: What are you missing?
Gwen: My manners.
Mama (awed): Yes ... do you want to try again?
Gwen: Mama, can I have my milk please?

So now some variation of that conversation takes place a thousand times a day, but it is still worlds and worlds better than the previous demands, which were repeated often and never politely. Now when you forget your manners (nearly always), at least we know what to say to prompt you to get it right. This is immensely gratifying, and along with your new transition from "Hey" to "Excuse me", almost has you sounding like a human being. It's a real treat to see these little habits sinking in.

The one verbal habit we haven't figured out how to address yet is the whiny, "I don't WAAAANNNNNT to," or its twin, "But I WAAAANNNNNT to." In your world, this stands as a valid response to any command we issue or any demand we decline to meet. Logic is irrelevant in the face of these discussions, to wit: "I'm sorry, Gwen, we don't have any bananas," is met with "But I WAAAANNNNNT one." Repeated explanations of the utter lack of bananas only cause you to repeat your point with increasing volume and decreasing emotional stability. Or, if I say "Listen to Mama, please," you respond, "But I don't WAAAANNNNNT to." Barring long existential discussions about how we all must do things we don't want to do, I'm not sure how to deal with this problem yet.

You had a great Christmas this year, Gwen. On Christmas Eve, you dressed as an angel and took part in our church's pageant. At one point, the kindly narrator told about the shepherds hearing heavenly music from the angel choir. And then you burst into song. "Laaa, laa laaa laaaa la laa," you sang sweetly (and mostly tunelessly) from your vantage point near baby Jesus. It. Was. AWESOME. On Christmas morning, unlike every other kid in the world, you didn't really want to go downstairs to see what Santa had left. Instead of feeling excited, you felt quite shy and timid, and it took a lot of coaxing to get you to come down. You told us you would rather just have a time-out on the stairs. It just goes to show that you can still surprise me, Gwen.

Shortly after Christmas, we spent a harrowing but ultimately successful four days potty-training you. I predicted that you would love the independence brought by this step, and I was right. Nowadays when you have to go potty, you jump up from whatever you are doing and say, "I have to go potty!" Then when I jump up to come with you, you say, "NO, Mama, I do it all by myself! You go away!" And then, most maddening of all, you won't proceed on your path to the potty UNTIL I SIT BACK ON THE COUCH and make it clear that I have no intention to follow you. Meanwhile, convinced that your bladder is about to burst, I'm shouting, "RUN, Gwen! Run to the potty! GO!" But go you shall not until you are sure you can go alone.

On the other hand, it seems that sometimes you do want company while you're doing your business. Last week, you came out of your room in the morning and came into our bed for a brief snuggle before deciding, as is typical for you, that snuggling is boring. You then went into the bathroom, grabbed your potty, and brought it into our room before sitting down and ... well, doing what one does when on a potty. Right next to our bed. I ... I just can't explain that. It got us out of bed in a hurry, though.

Although you still love to watch Blue's Clues, you have now added Backyardigans to your TV-on-DVD repertoire. Your dad and I are really grateful to have something new to watch, and we love the music and the imaginary play modelled by this show. You have picked up a lot of sayings from the characters, like "Oh, for goodness' sake," and "Here goes nothing!" One thing I'm not a fan of in the show is that at the end of every episode, the characters all discuss going to someone's house for a snack. And you, like every other TV viewer out there, think that sounds like a good idea so you ask for a snack too. Regardless of the fact that you may have finished breakfast 30 seconds earlier, or that dinner is only a few minutes away, or that YOU ARE ACTUALLY CURRENTLY EATING WHILE YOU'RE WATCHING THE SHOW. No, you will insist, using the same phrases that the characters use, that you are hungry and need a snack. And oh, how hard done by you are when we do not agree!

We recently started your third round of swimming lessons - Sea Turtles. You are really enjoying your time at the pool and it's fascinating to me to see how competent you are becoming. I haven't actually taken you swimming since you finished your last round of lessons over a year ago, so you are a totally different kid now from who you were then. You are pretty fearless, which is no surprise, and it doesn't faze you too much when you get a mouthful of water. At our last lesson I had the awesome experience of watching you finally "get" how to blow bubbles. I know your Dad and I have been modelling this to you for years, in the pool or at the lake or in the bathtub, and it FINALLY clicked! It was so neat to watch your eyes light up as you blew those bubbles - you were so proud. I'm really glad that you are happy and confident in the water, and I PROMISE to take you to the pool more often.

Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. As always, I love you a million billion kajillion (and two) and look forward to what the next month will bring.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Five

1. It really is awesome to have a potty-trained child. Arguably, we have traded one set of inconveniences for another: instead of leaving the house with diapers and wipes, we now leave with at least one change of underwear/pants, wipes, and a folding toilet seat. We also have to suggest (sometimes strongly) that Gwen use the potty before we leave home, daycare, Gramma’s, or anywhere else we happen to be. This still seems easier to me, and I am very happy not to have to change (or pay for) diapers anymore. This new regime has slipped rather easily into our routine, and I am really proud of Gwen and happy that we took on this onerous task.

2. I read this incredible book called The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness which was recommended by a dear friend of mine. Ever since reading it, I look at money in an entirely different way. It’s been very eye-opening and definitely not always pleasant. I encouraged Chris to read certain sections of it too and we are working on our own money makeover now (made slightly more challenging by the unemployment and the unknowns surrounding his EI eligibility, etc.). The way I look at it, the next 1-3 years are going to be incredibly hard for us no matter what we do. But if we take some positive steps during that time, we will be in a better situation than we were before this crisis.

3. On a related note, I spent about $800 last year on weight-loss products. That doesn’t count my gym membership, either. I don't regret any of that spending but I can't afford it anymore, so I am working on finding new (cheap or free) ways to deal with my disordered eating and my love of sitting above any other activity. I do not currently have a goal to lose weight or even fit into a particular outfit. I just need to feel like I am looking after myself, without spending a ridiculous amount of money to do so. I bought Just Dance 2 for the Wii on Boxing Day which I have been calling my “cheap gym membership”. From Dec 26 until Jan 11 I danced/worked out every single day, then I got that nasty cold and stopped, and of course I have not yet resumed. That’s a pretty short-lived habit, even for me. Like anyone else, sometimes I need to say things out loud/publically in order to stick with my commitments, so I might be putting some of that stuff here. Here’s what I’ve got so far: Starting immediately, I'm back to dancing 6 songs/day, 7 days/week. Starting January 24th I am going to add sit-ups. In the Spring, I will start walking to work at least twice a week. I am not ready to make any chocolate-related commitments yet but I can see possibly giving it up for Lent.

4. I am just about finished my “Psychology and the Mass Media” course and will soon be starting “Understanding Media Literacy”. Electives are fun, but challenging: social science courses require a completely different set of writing skills from that used for humanities courses, which is my major. (I have finished the core English requirements for my degree, so I have to take some different stuff for my last few courses.) My recent term paper was about the power of advertising: I got to analyze ten different ads of my choosing to determine what types of persuasion techniques were used. I choose to examine ads from a parenting magazine because guess what, I have a few of those lying around. The results were interesting (perhaps only to me) and can be summed up thus: advertisers will use any and all persuasion techniques available to sell their products through the exploitation of the parent-child relationship. You knew that already, though. My exam in this course is next Thursday, please wish me luck!

5. I still really love my new job, which isn’t all that new anymore since I have been here for 10 months. For a long time I didn’t want to write or talk about anything negative about my job because it was so much hype and upheaval and hand-wringing to come to this position from my last one, and I thought any negativity would be met by “I thought this was your dream job?!” But I’ve now come to realize, even in your dream job there are bad days. And those bad days don’t make it any less your dream job. Kind of like how fighting with your partner doesn’t automatically mean you’re in a doomed relationship or that you don’t love that person. Unfortunately, lately there have been several bad work days close together, and that has not been very enjoyable. The weird thing is that despite the badness, I really do love this job.

Monday, January 17, 2011


A plastic hoop that you twirl around your waist is called a hoop-a-loop.

A rope that you use for jumping is called a jump-a-rope.

Something you crawl through, and which trains also go through, is called a tuttle.

The list of ingredients and instructions for making cookies is called a rest-a-pee.

An musical instrument that has a lot of black and white keys is called a pee-nano.

Another musical instrument with different holes that you blow into is called a monica.

A delicious pasta dinner is called noonles.

The meal you eat in the morning is called bre-fikt.

A wonderful place with slides and swings is called a paingond.

A place you go to learn about history and space and dinosaurs is called a mus-amm.

We live in a country called Candada.

The things you hang on the Christmas tree are ordamints.

The white fluffy things that fall from the sky in winter are snow-flacks.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Five

1. I've been sick. Not the throwing-up kind of sick, nor the kind of sick that the doctor can give you a prescription for. Just the kind where my nose drips constantly, my head aches, I'm exhausted and I can't think straight. I've been off work since Wednesday. I'm practicing what I preach by staying home instead of infecting others. My Puritan work ethic is having a hard time with this. And then I'm home, with Chris, and I see him doing laundry or cooking or cleaning and I keep offering to do it, and he says "You're SICK. Sit down, I can do this." And I'm kind of at a loss. Also, yesterday and today, both Gwen's parents are at home but she is at daycare. I wondered later if her caregiver judges me for this, but then I decided I don't care*. I have to pay for the spot regardless, Gwen might as well go have an enjoyable day instead of listening to me blow my nose 1,839,605 times an hour.

*I should mention that Gwen's caregiver is not at all judgmental. I am just a guilt-riddled worrywart who thinks way too much about what other people think of me.

2. On Tuesday night we had an enormous dump of snow. I'm pretty sure this is the biggest snow I've seen since I was a kid. Gwen stayed home from daycare, mostly because it would have been too unsafe to drive her there. Now, would it make me a bad person if I went and played in the snow with my kid when I had called in sick to work? Or would it make me a bad person if I kept my kid inside all day instead of letting her take the rare opportunity to play in a huge amount of snow? Hmmmm.

3. Today is Chris's last official day of employment. This means that his ROE should be arriving soon, and we can finally get things in process to apply for EI and determine if he is eligible for any re-training funds. He has one more test to do at SetBC, then he and his employment counsellor will decide what line of work he wants to pursue. It's been a challenging six weeks and in many ways it feels like it's been months since we got this news. Now at last the waiting part is nearly over and the next part - where we find out just how hard it's going to be, and for how long - is about to begin.

4. Gwen is crazy these days. Everything is "Hey Mom. Hey. Hey Mom. Hey Mom. Hey!" so I finally taught her to say, "Excuse me." She caught on fast. Now it's, "Excuse me Mom? Excuse me Mom? Excuse me? Excuse me Mom?" Sooooo much better. The other day I got home from work (this is before The Sick) and she said, "Hey Mom! It's so awesome to see you!" She is also in swimming lessons again. This is the last level that is parent-attended: that means next time, we turn her over to the instructors and get to sit by the side of the pool, warm and dry, until the lesson is over. I can see that Gwen is already far more competent than at her previous swimming lessons, though she is still pretty disinterested in staying focussed and obeying the teacher's instructions. When she is into it, though, it's pretty awesome. She can do a pretty good back float, a terrific back glide, and last night for the first time she figured out how to blow bubbles. It was pretty cool to see the light go on and her finally understand the instructions we'd been modelling for her since her first lessons at 8 months old. She is also doing totally awesome with her pottying.

5. I've been catching up on uploading photos to Facebook and it has made me realize how many awesome stories I still have to tell here. They've been in the back of my mind, all these incredible adventures I had in the summer and fall, and I think I've sort of been saving them for a rainy (or snowy) day. A day when I had nothing else to talk about, a day when I needed cheering up. Those days are definitely here, but it's hard to find the time/motivation to sit down and do the damn writing. Now that I've mentioned it publically, though, I think the stories will come soon.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Potty Training: OH YES WE DID

If you want to hear about how the Amazing Gwen is now the Amazing Potty-Trained Gwen, please read on. If you don't (and I don't blame you), please to enjoy something else today.

So, yeah. Christmas vacation. On the one hand, it was a brilliant idea to ensure that I could focus solely on Gwen and her bladder for 3-4 straight days, with no distractions or outings; on the other hand, THAT IS NOT A VACATION. I am exhausted.

The method we used was the Three Day Potty Training method. I had reasons for this: first, I am impatient. Second, I am impatient. Third, every potty training method you look at emphasizes that Consistency is Key. In Gwen's average week, she is cared for by us at our house, by her caregiver at daycare, and by her Gramma at Gramma's house. That meant I either had to dictate Consistency to the other caregivers, at the other locations, or I had to do it myself in a shorter period of time. Oh, and fourth, I am a control freak.

When I first heard about the three-day method, I worried that it might be a bit of a rougher method. How else could you guarantee a child being trained in only three days, if you weren't going to use punishments or unpleasant consequences? When I actually read the book, though, I was very pleasantly surprised. This method is very child-oriented and focusses on the positives almost exclusively. There is no punishment or negative reinforcement. Love, patience, dedication, and praise are key principles; punishment, even verbal disapproval such as "Bad girl!", are not part of the method.

On Day One, we got up, got dressed (Gwen in a t-shirt and a Pull-Up), and ate breakfast. We got ready for our day. Then, when those details were taken care of, we threw out her diapers - with her participation - and told her that since she was a big girl, she was now going to wear big girl panties. Then we began plying her with liquids, and reminding her constantly that she should keep her panties clean and dry. "Let me know when you need to use the potty!" My job, of course, was to focus on Gwen constantly; to recognize her "I need to go" signs before she even recognized them herself. And to catch her in the act and rush her to the potty.

That first day, there were a lot of accidents. In fact, I think there was only one success, and it was a pretty coincidental one.

Day Two was not very different from Day One. A lot of accidents. I wasn't able to see any signs on Gwen's part: mostly, if we managed to avoid an accident it was because I knew it had been about 20 minutes since she'd downed a cup of juice, and took pre-emptive action. By the end of Day Two, I was really tired.

Day Three things started to click a little more. Gwen would suddenly say, "I'm peeing on the floor!" and rush to the bathroom. We still had to change her; she would wet just enough to realize what was happening, then go to the potty to finish the job. It was definitely a step in the right direction. Also, on this day, I finally started to realize what Gwen's "sign" was. When Gwen needs to go, she gets really agitated, switching often from one activity to another. Which ... is pretty much how she is all the time. Only slightly more so. I don't blame myself one bit for taking three full days to figure this out. In fact, it's kind of a miracle that I got there at all.

Day Four. The author of the method said that some kids may need four days, and we chose to take this extra day with Gwen, feeling that she was just not quite ready to head back to daycare. On Day Four, we had only one accident the entire day. Furthermore, the day started with Gwen rushing off to the potty of her own accord, rather than doing so because I suggested it. This was a pretty big leap and I was thrilled.

On Day Five, we sent Gwen to daycare with a backpack full of extra pants and panties. I spent the day worrying that for some reason, her caregiver would call and tell me Gwen wasn't adequately trained and that I had to come pick her up. I don't even know where my brain comes up with these things. That phone call never came, and Gwen came home in the same panties she left in. She'd stayed dry ALL DAY. Naturally, we made a really big deal out of this.

The next day just happened to be New Year's Day. In the afternoon, Gwen made a request of the sort she makes pretty damn consistently: "Mama, can we make cupcakes?" (Actually, she calls them pupcakes.) And I said something I don't often get to say: "Yes, Gwen, we can." She was over the moon. We went into the kitchen and make pup - er, cupcakes, and took them to my in-laws' for dinner that evening. We made a big fuss over Gwen, put a candle in her cupcake and sang "Happy Potty Day to You", exclaiming loudly and often how impressed we were at her newfound potty abilities. She was accident-free all day, and all the next day as well.

The one challenge we have not really had to deal with yet is the Out and About part of things. We now make sure that when we're heading to daycare, Gwen goes potty before we leave the house. When she's at Gramma's or at daycare, she's comfortable and confident there and knows where the bathroom is. But there's more to the Out and About thing. Like being at the library, or the grocery store, or a friend's house, or church. I think any time we are in a new place for more than a couple of minutes, we're going to let her know that there is a potty there if she needs it, and that she should let us know. We're going to keep a bag with a folding seat insert, wipes, and change of clothes on us at all times.

Now, just in case I haven't bored you to tears with all of this, I want to talk about night-time training. The method we used urged us to get rid of all diapers and Pull-Ups, not confuse the child by putting him/her back into them at nighttime. There were a few tips and tricks for helping kids wake up dry, for example, limiting liquids for ~2 hours before bedtime; offering multiple opportunities to empty the bladder before bedtime; and getting the child up 1-2 times a night to potty again. We did all of these for the first five nights, and we determined that it wasn't working for us. Gwen was experiencing a lot of anxiety before bed, asking to use the potty over and over and over (with no activity while there) and staying on for 10-20 minutes at a time because she was so nervous about wetting the bed. She's not a deep enough sleeper to stay asleep when we took her to the potty at 10pm and 3am: she would wake and whimper piteously and just generally be miserable throughout the procedure. (Who could blame her?!) Some nights, we didn't get her up to pee (or she just didn't do it when we put her on the potty). This seemed to have no correlation to whether or not she woke up dry.

I decided that the most important thing was to keep her out of Pull-Ups long enough to break the association that she could/should just pee in them whenever she wanted. On the sixth night, we put her back in a Pull-Up. She is now much less anxious at bedtime; she gets to sleep straight through the night; and it's about 50-50 whether she wakes up dry or not. Pretty much the same as it was without Pull-Ups. I feel okay about her continuing to wear a Pull-Up at this stage, as I know nighttime training can take a great deal longer. Truth be told, I felt a little uncomfortable with the recommendation that we teach her to get up in the night and go use the potty alone. I just don't feel good about Gwen being up at night by herself at this age. In another year, sure, but she's not even three yet. Then again, maybe a part of me wants to hang on to a little bit of her babyhood.

I found the whole process of potty training to be like the newborn phase again. Your every ounce of focus and concentration is situated on this uncommunicative, illogical being who seems hellbent on thwarting you at every turn. Plus, toddlers -unlike newborns - are mobile. It's mentally draining. I expected it to be like sleep training, but it really wasn't: sleep training is about giving the child the tools, then leaving him or her to figure it out. All the hard parts in sleep training relate to separating yourself from an unhappy child, trying to "ignore" her tears. Potty training is the opposite: you have to erase that separation and put your entire consciousness onto the child's body to read its signs. Instead of walking away, you follow. Instead of offering tools, you interpret the child's behaviours, over and over, and respond on his behalf, encouraging him to start doing the same.

There is one thing that's similar about potty training and sleep training, though, and that's the immense pride I feel in watching my child "get it". On Day One, I watched her mindlessly pee on the floor without any awareness of what she was doing. On Day Six, I watched her jump up from her activities, announce, "I have to go potty!" and run off to take care of that all by herself. In just one week, she has been transformed into the Amazing Potty-Trained Gwen.

And that is DEFINITELY worth a pupcake.


Related Posts with Thumbnails