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Archive for May, 2012

It Takes a Village, but the Village has Changed

May 28, 2012 11 comments

Like my daughter’s village, when things get stressful we link arms, and hope for the best.

Most of us don’t live with extended family in our homes like our ancestors of yesterday. Our houses or apartments aren’t bursting with in-laws and grandparents, uncles and aunts are not on the other side of the thin wall. Chaotic family dinners are not a nightly occurrence, but reserved for Thanksgiving and special birthdays.

Although we don’t have to listen to our mother-in-law drone on about her gravy everyday, she isn’t around to make chocolate chip cookies, either. Or to hold our infant when our two-year old falls off the swing. Or to babysit for that far too occasional date-night.

I live on the opposite coast of Canada from my family, and my in-laws are an hour’s drive away. Raising three children, there have been times when I could have used that village, but it wasn’t physically there. The miles were gaping, and I was my own island.

At first, it was lonely. Used to the buzz of an office filled with co-workers, I missed adult interaction. But slowly and steadily, I met other mothers with infants, and we bonded over chitchat of breastfeeding and stain removal. My mom friends advised me where to find the best highchairs and how to soothe my baby to sleep. They taught me how to use sign language before my child could speak, advised which laundry detergent to try when skin rashes arose.

My mom friends walked me through first playdates, and took my toddler to swimming lessons when I had another baby to care for. When I miscarried, they brought dinners and muffins while I sat on the sofa and cried. Sometimes, the only time I would speak with an adult during daylight hours was at the doorstep of my daughters playdates, where we would discuss drop off and pick up times, and then discuss life. Those five minutes made a big difference in my day.

My mom friends have morphed and changed overtime, as children move schools and choose other best friends and different activities. Now, my children are in school and involved in sports. Since it’s hard to be in three places at the same time, my mom friends arrange carpools and cheer on my kids when I can’t be there. They tell me who is doing what on the playground according to the rumour mill. They are the eyes that are watching one of my kids when my own eyes are across town watching another. They have my back.

It still takes a village to raise a child, and my village consists of my husband, myself, and my mom friends. By this point in time, of course, my mom friends have become, simply, my friends. We get together for hikes, family dinners, and sit side by side at assemblies (and soon, graduation). We volunteer in rain, snow, sleet and, less frequently, sunshine. We huddle together and shudder at the thought of high school and the teenage years. We have been known to party.

It’s not always easy being a parent, but my friends make my life both easier, and so much richer. My village doesn’t live underneath one roof, but rather is scattered in different pockets along the North Shore, an extended Block Watch from days past. When my own two arms are not enough to hold what needs holding, I have others outstretched behind me, catching what falls through the cracks. And luckily for me, my village loves to dance.

Here’s to my village; I couldn’t do this without you.

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Size Matters

May 24, 2012 2 comments

My daughter’s desk. Where to begin?

I am drowning in hoodies. Floating amongst art projects. Suffocating under Playmobile. Awash amongst chargers. In the war of Stuff versus Me, Stuff is winning, hands down. My white flag is flying outside of my door, if anyone can see past the planters, bicycles and soccer nets that are obscuring it.

So it makes little sense (or else all the sense in the world) that because we are stuffed, from attic to crawlspace to disorganized garage, with Stuff, that we are downsizing. In one short month, we are moving to a house with roughly half the square footage of our current abode. I’m worried that instead of hiding the chaos in cupboards and closets and underneath beds, as is now the case, I will be tripping over it while I make dinner.

In typical fashion, instead of taking it in stride I am panicking.

Not on the outside. No, I’m all I love getting rid of all of this junk! I’m de-cluttering! I feel so great – so much lighter! So free – you should try it! Shoving downsizing down every available throat I see, so that everyone might share my pain. It’s all great until someone loses an eye that they needed, or a hula-hoop. What then, pray tell? This is the sound of my interior war I wage.

Any FRAMED artwork from my children I declare as safe, but the rest is up for grabs. Don’t even get me started about our 4 remotes.

Shakespeare had it all wrong. To toss, or not to toss, that is the real question.

Some answers are easier than others. Any clothing, whether remotely stained or in need of mending or repair, out of style, or too tight in the bum? Gone to Salvation Army. Bins filled with Barbies and Little Ponies that are gathering dust? Banished to our garage sale. Ikea shelving that I never got around to installing? Again, easy garage sale material. Step stools, the pink Hungarian platter from my husband’s great aunt, side tables with wobbly legs, Pilates DVD’s that seemed like a good idea at the time, learn to read books: gone, gone, gone.

Stuffies have ruined my life. No joke.

But then there is the memorabilia. The box full of essays I sweated over in university that now read like Greek to me: I could peruse these one rainy day and learn about Thomas Hobbes all over again, it would be like a re-education. A meeting of my twenty-year old mind. Toss, or hold on to for that rainy day in my future? Baby clothes and dresses too cute for words, surely my kids will want these when they are thirty, so what’s twenty more years of packing them around? The plethora of vases that look divine with the right arrangement, which never seem to materialize, but one day might. The snow globes and trinket boxes from travels, the doilies from great-grandmothers who have passed, the mismatched coffee mugs that hold the perfect amount of coffee. This is the stuff over which I agonize. And unfortunately, it constitutes half of our belongings.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go and the Stuff You’ll Accumulate Along the Way. What would Dr. Seuss do?

How do you determine whether to toss or not to toss? Someone, make all of these decisions for me!

The Big Apple Took A Bite Out of Me

May 16, 2012 3 comments

Never bite off more than you can chew, they say. ‘They’ are generally unnervingly conservative, however, so I tend to toss out those words of wisdom with the bathwater. Forget about the baby. Instead, I embrace the idiom ‘seize the day’. Spoiler alert: seizing the day is exhausting.

Being a tourist is hard work, and I made one key rookie mistake while visiting NYC. My plan to not sleep while visiting the city that never sleeps was more than a little daft. We arrived in Newark at 11 pm, and by midnight were seated comfortably in a bar in Soho. At 1 am we were seated for dinner. When 3 am rolled around, we rolled down the street to another bar. The story has it we arrived back at our hotel at 5 am, but I can’t verify that with any conviction.

The three-hour time change notwithstanding, this was a victory. This is the kind of stamina I haven’t seen since my university days. However, unlike those moments as a student when I would bounce back from those typical Tuesday nights, I spent the rest of our time in New York recovering from this initial binge; whereas that was supposedly only the beginning. Not the first time in my life my best laid plans have backfired like Lindsay Lohan’s attempts at rehab.

My nocturnal challenges aside, I feel like I grew because of this trip, and not just in waist size. Truthfully, big cities are not my thing; I am as uncool as I sound. Concrete jungles only make me long for the solitude of my North Shore mountains. However, eight million people live there for a reason, not just to check out the view from the Empire State Building. Amongst our fantastic dining experiences, we went to a rave and watched some incredible performance art that you didn’t need to be high on E to appreciate (just wine). We went to Cindy Sherman‘s exhibit at the Moma, a woman who has photographed herself in various forms of disarray over forty years and has the breadth of work to prove it – a brilliant satire of life as we know it, and more thought provoking than I can explain with mere words. We saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway – if I say uproariously funny will I sound like the pamphlet they handed me when I stepped into the theater? Truly hilarious, what else would you expect from the creators of South Park? The New York Public Library featured an exhibit on the letters and manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose real life played out like a soap opera well before its time. A little gallery of heaven right there.

If you haven’t seen Cindy Sherman’s work, you really should.

I tried not to drool, but looking at Shelley’s scribbled pages of genius made it difficult.

These experiences, easily, were the highlights. The things I will hold close to my heart and take with me past New York and beyond. The rest was tourist play. Why I can run easily run ten miles, but have great trouble walking a couple of miles worth of city blocks is one of life’s great mysteries.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a vacation, but visiting New York was invigorating in a different way. You might say the Big Apple took a bite out of me, instead of the reverse. But I chewed as much as I could in my attempt to seize the day, and I was happy with the contents of my Granny Smith.

The Premier Asked, and Mom Bloggers Answered Emphatically: Childcare

May 9, 2012 7 comments

When BC Premier Christy Clark invited mom bloggers to a round table discussion about how to make things better for BC families, there was one resounding answer: create affordable and accessible daycare.

As you know, my days of daycare are long since over, thank whatever God you will. Because it was a nightmare, and one I’m not keen to revisit, even in my memories. But for those of you foreign to the issue, here’s a recap.

The statistics were not in my favour; for all of the children in need of daycare in our province, there is space for about 20%. I knew this, going into my first pregnancy. But I was stupidly optimistic. Other people had trouble finding daycare, but surely my little cherubs could scale waiting lists just like they would one day scale mountains on their way to conquering the world. Somehow, I would find an in, and my career would continue to flourish as fast as my body shrunk back to its former size.

Reality, however, proved drastically different than the world I inhabited in my head.

As my maternity leave came to an end, no daycare spots magically appeared, just like the baby weight did not fall from my hips. I remember strapping on my Baby Bjorn and knocking on the door of every licensed daycare in our community, in a futile attempt to make headway. Surely, they couldn’t turn us away in person?

Surely and easily, they did. I looked at licensed at-home daycares, and finally found one I thought would work. My daughter, predictably, screamed like a tyrant everyday I left her before fighting the morning commute. I thought it would abate after a week, but it never did. “You’ll know in your gut,” everyone told me, “if it’s a good situation or not.” Everyday, I felt sick when I said goodbye to her. If I listened to my gut, I would have to quit my job, since there were no other childcare options. (My husband and I were not comfortable with leaving our baby with a nanny, which was the solution for most of our friends.)

Everyday was a struggle. Everyday I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Everyday I evaluated the importance of my career over my daughter’s well-being.

A couple of daycares and a year later, I was ready to go on maternity with my second child. If you think it’s hard finding daycare for one child, it’s almost impossible to find places for two. And at double the cost, economically, it makes less sense. I threw in the towel, gave up my job, and have been out of the work force ever since.

Of course, I’m one of millions of women who have done the same thing, there is nothing special about my situation. However it left an indelible mark where my career once lived. A path unexplored. A giant piece of me taken away, not to mention a livelihood. How many other women feel the same way? Likely, millions.

Christy Clark was brutally honest, if nothing else, about the situation. For starters, BC can’t afford a system of daycare similar to the costly Quebec model, she told us. Quebec has higher provincial taxes and receives transfer payments, which help fund their program. And secondly, it’s hard to convince voters to care about childcare, since it affects people for a small window of time (roughly five years, from birth until age five).

My children are now in school, but this doesn’t mean I am short sighted about the need for a better childcare system in our province. It no longer affects me directly, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want things to improve for other families, and especially other women. Our society and province would only stand to benefit from a strong childcare system that enables women to continue on their career paths.

I may not benefit from a better provincial childcare system in BC, but I have three daughters that are intent on conquering the world, and they just might.

A coalition of child care advocates, who are much smarter than me, have put together a compelling and comprehensive plan for a better childcare system in BC. For details, check out their website at http://www.ecebc.ca.

The Mother Lode of Love

May 8, 2012 8 comments

I have received countless homemade Mother’s Day gifts from my gang. A hand-painted coffee mug, several cards where triangular globs of tissue paper form my body, etched pencil drawings of my likeness, and one year, a handmade lilac scarf with a stick-figure of me drawn in fabric markers. So many Mother’s Days, so many treasures.

But how to tell them that their gift to me is themselves? The amazement I experience as life happens to them. Just yesterday, my seven year old learned that dolphins sleep with one eye open, and she now tells this fact to everyone she encounters, the pride in her knowledge unmistakeable. My ten year-old sporty girl throws herself body and soul into every game she plays, and doesn’t leave an ounce of regret on the field. My twelve year-old daughter laughingly tells me every detail of her first date – how much longer will that last? I am privileged to be a voyageur into their world, and my nose is pressed up against the glass tight.

Easily, the most precious gift they give me is the chance to be their mother. I am quick to point out the pitfalls of motherhood, but this doesn’t mean I don’t bask in its sunshine, and at times its rays are blinding.

True story: I encourage my youngest daughter to stay in her own bed, telling her I can’t sleep as well when she is wedged in between myself and my husband.

She thinks this is due to the cramped quarters, but actually it is not. I can’t sleep because I can’t help staring at her face, perfectly lost in dreamland. I can’t sleep because I can’t believe my luck and fortune that this little face beside me, this beautiful person is my daughter.

She is seven years old, but the wonder of her is new to me everyday.

Their gifts to me far exceed the cardboard box that is kept underneath my bed. Their gift to me is the very meaning and embodiment, the mother lode, of love itself.

Wishing all mothers, everywhere, a very happy Mother’s Day this Sunday.

A New York State of Mind

May 7, 2012 11 comments

Many people have told me the best way to see New York is during the NYC Marathon. Mind you, these people were runners. And since I consider myself one, also, I have been holding off on a New York trip until I trained for that race. I wanted to see the five boroughs on foot, the arduous way, alongside the 50 000 other runners that make the trek out to Staten Island. I just had it in my head I would do this one day.

But sometimes life doesn’t play out perfectly on cue. Despite my best laid plans, a trip to New York has presented itself, but over the Mother’s Day weekend instead of race weekend. Far be it from me to decline, give or take the marathon. Marathon? What marathon?

Who cares? I’M GOING TO NEW YORK! This occasion absolutely calls for all capitals.

I am ecstatic to finally visit this iconic city that never sleeps, and experience it’s peculiar energy and buzz. I’m excited to browse through SoHo, drink a genuine Manhatten, visit the MoMA, Times Square, Top of the Rock, enter the New York Public Library, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and yes, run leisurely through Central Park. I’m going to a show on Broadway and will be eating in restaurants that are far too cool for me. We are going to an underground rave, and I’m told, will be conquering Century 21. We will do this, all of this, in three days. Of course no one ever sleeps in this city.

We are staying somewhere in Midtown; since someone fun and hip booked this trip, the hotel, I’m told, is fun and hip. Not that it matters. Sleeping isn’t on the itinerary.

I’m as excited to see New York as I am to get the monkey off my back of Not Having Been to New York. It is a conversation stopper, when people are musing about past trips to the Big Apple, to drop in the tidbit that I haven’t been before. Like blasphemy, or pant-wetting, it causes people to shift uncomfortably in their seats. They often mutter, “You should really go, you will love it.” Like I don’t know this.

So since I’m finally going, I’m going big, hitting as many highlights as possible. It will be exhausting, I know, but my children will totally permit me to sleep for a week upon my return. The more I see, the more I will be able to converse about. In my near future, when people say, “Don’t you just love the High Line?” I will say, emphatically, yes, I love the High Line; and the whole conversation will be much more comfortable without the slump in their shoulders on account of me never having been before.

What’s your favorite thing to do in New York City? I have loads of time to fill.

Lessons in Life (and Self-Publishing an E-Book)

May 4, 2012 12 comments

Not everything in life is fraught with difficulty, and littered with obstacles, like the garbage can I had to hurdle this morning while walking the kids to school. For instance, did you know any idiot can string a few sentences together and self-publish an e-book?

I’ve tested it. It’s true, and fairly easy. If you have all of your ducks in order, it takes about five minutes. By ducks, I mean a written manuscript, cover artwork, and a marketing description.

I thought it would be fun and fancy to put together a book of essays on motherhood in time for Mother’s Day. I found a graphic artist on Craigslist, Ed, who deftly assembled a cover for a miniscule amount of money. While Ed was creating his masterpiece, I cut and pasted essays I have written over the years into a Word document, and voilá, my main ducks were assembled. I planned on winging the marketing description duck. (In fact, I more than winged it, I wrote it in one minute when I heard my children coming up the driveway from school. In a bid to get something accomplished that day, I panicked and hit ‘publish’. I’m not sure what I said, but am hoping it can be changed if it’s as cheesy as the hamburger I’m about to eat.)

Since I have a Kindle, Amazon seemed the like the most natural recipient for my prose. They offer their own publishing service, Kindle Direct Publishing, and it’s simple to navigate the process. There were a few things I had to investigate further: ISBN numbers, Digital Rights Management, and the issue of dealing with an American company as a Canadian citizen, but nothing critical. It wasn’t brain surgery, or as difficult as getting my kids to eat vegetables.

I was hoping to publish it as a Kindle Single, but it turns out you have to apply for that special status. I am waiting for the Gods of Kindle Singles to get back to me on that one, fingers crossed.

But in the meantime, my status has changed from in review to publishing, so that has to be a good sign. I’m not trying to sell myself short here, but if I can do this, anyone can. Getting my children to eat vegetables, on the other hand, takes true genius.

A Mother’s Tonic: Tales from a Real Housewife of Vancouver, is available for $2.99 in the Kindle Store on Amazon, I think.