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Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Motherhood

March 12, 2012 4 comments

It’s such a normal, predictable equation: go to university, start your career, get married, have a baby. In my hurry to be a grown up, I went “check, check, check, CHECK GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

I was unprepared for the permanence of motherhood. I vividly recall my teachers droning on about how difficult university would be. “No one will write this on the board for you in university,” they grumbled as they fed their chalk into the holder that never held. In university, professors warned us about how trying life was in the real world. “If you’re late, you’re fired,” they reminded me over their round spectacles when I breezed into Poli Sci 101 fashionably late. As for marriage, it was easy to see that had its trials – normal, everyday encounters with couples, and sitcoms like The Jeffersons,  prepared me for a union that is difficult at the best of times – As George said about his marriage to Weezy, We tied the knot forty years ago, and I been swinging from it ever since.

Which brings me to motherhood. I would have liked a few more “Heads up! Be careful what you wish for!” warnings, but once the bun is in the oven, it’s a little late for those. I eagerly digested “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” only to throw it over my shoulder when I spied “The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy” on a bookshelf. It was like reading Cosmo after a owning a yearly subscription to Family Circle. Vicki Iovine prepared me for pregnancy, but no one prepared me for motherhood. (Incidentally, Vicki has split up with her husband, so I’m guessing “The Girlfriends Guide to Divorce” is on its way.)

This topic is on my mind these days, since my twelve year old daughter’s loftiest goal in life is motherhood. I’m sure this is a passing phase, but nevertheless I am arming myself with an arsenal of reasons why becoming a mother – while it’s the highest calling and all that crap – is actually something one should put it off until they can’t any longer. I’m not going to stand idly by and let my child think it is all baby powder and toothless grins – because there is a lot of shit to add to this equation, both figuratively and literally.

1. Your body will never be the same.

After housing a person for a gestation period, delivering a rugby-ball sized person from where the sun don’t shine, and allowing them to both pacify themselves and feed themselves by sucking on your breast, perhaps this is obvious. But my old college roommate said it best when she exclaimed “What happened to your boobs?” a year after the birth of my second child. My once perky chest had shrunk in size (What? It only stands to reason they should grow…) and could now belong to a circus act demonstrating how far one’s skin can stretch. It’s a party trick I have yet to pull out in public.

2. You didn’t know the meaning of patience (or worry, or fear. or anger.) Until you’re a parent.

I thought I was an easy going person until I had a child. A little spilled red wine didn’t bother me in the least. But watching my (once sweet) two-year old play wheelies with my newborn’s stroller while she is strapped into it sent me into a rage so quickly it was like emotional whiplash. If my reactions could somehow be measured, they would look like an altitude watch after a day of downhill skiing: several peaks of joy, followed quickly by plummets of despair, with confusion, panic, fear and anger thrown in on the way down. No wonder I’m exhausted by the end of each day.

4. Forget about vacations for eighteen years.

Whereas you once woke up and wondered how to spend another leisurely day in paradise, vacationing quickly becomes more work than life with children. By the time you’ve force fed them, applied their armor of suntan lotion, blown up their floaties, and wrestled their hats on their heads, it’s time for lunch and a break from the sun. Then the whole process starts over again. That bestseller in your beach bag is purely for show.

5. Even though you keep your receipt, the store will not take them back.

When I dream of things strangling me, I wake up gasping for air to find one of my children’s limbs – arm, leg, whatever – thrown across my neck. Even in my own bed, there is no such thing as self-time. As I type this, my kid is at my elbow because her DS is plugged in to my computer. Being a parent means you might never be alone again. I’m not condoning those mothers who hit the road, never to be heard from again, but there are moments when I understand what they were thinking when they stepped on the accelerator.

Babies are adorable until you spend an overnight flight sitting beside one with an earache, and life can bring plenty of earaches. That’s all I’m saying.

Does Labeling Kraft Dinner ‘Smart’ Make it So?

February 21, 2012 2 comments

The burning question of the day: Is Kraft Dinner, by any other name, still Kraft Dinner?

This notoriously cheap and tasty dish, loved by undergraduates and toddlers everywhere besides Berkeley, has re-branded itself, smacking the word SMART across its boxes, in addition to a promise to provide a helping of either vegetables, fiber or omega 3.  I’m naturally drawn to all things cheap, easy, and tasty, but then add words  SMART and well, you had me at cheap.

Kraft Dinner is a formidable favorite of mine left over from my student days, when hitting two food groups in one meal for 99 cents was only trumped by the cheap beer at J.J. Rossi’s every Tuesday night. And to this day, KD (as it is affectionately known to all who consume it) is a runaway favorite when nursing a hangover. Try it, and thank me later.

But MOST importantly, it is liked by all three of my children, and that has only ever happened with chocolate and root beer, naturally making me suspicious of its nutritional content. Since it takes about 3 minutes to whip up a lunch of KD, from a time management aspect alone I want to love the stuff. I could really use a break from my children complaining about the healthy food I give them – There are too many seeds in this bread! Why doesn’t this peanut butter taste like peanut butter? Can’t you put sugar instead of a banana in my smoothie?

I get a fair bit of flack every day for toiling over their meals. It is crazy to want to provide your kids with a healthy diet, after all. Drives. Me. Insane.

So sue me – I got a bit excited by the SMART marketing. I purposely avoided reading the labels – I suspected the fine print would only reveal a dish that was still, for the most part, unhealthy. I even got creative and bought all three different boxes and combined them into one dish, so my kids would get a serving of vegetables, fiber, and omega 3 in one, painfully orange, highly processed blob.

No surprise, they loved it. Licked their bowls clean. Why don’t you make this for us all the time?

Unable to stand the suspense any longer, I grabbed the box and read the fine print. The vegetable serving they promise amounts to half a serving of vegetables (my ten-year old is supposed to have 6 servings a day), and it comes by way of a cauliflower powder. It’s hard to imagine, all chemistry aside, how many nutrients can be left of the cauliflower once it has been processed into a fine blend of dust and mixed with processed cheese.

As I peeled carrots, I told them sadly, KD would remain in the “seldom consumed” category. Damn you, Kraft Dinner, I really wanted to invite you into my life again. Parting is such sweet sorrow – so, until the next hangover.

Reach for the Stars, Not A Diaper Genie

January 26, 2012 15 comments

My daughter is nesting.

She spends every spare moment surfing Bed, Bath and Beyond for new bed linens. She scours paint colour wheels for a new shade to compliment her walls. She’s chosen new light fixtures. I am finding scraps of paper doodled with lists of baby names.

I’m terrified. You’re twelve, I tell her. Go play outside.

Of course, attempts to intervene are rebuffed, and only intensify her longings for domesticity.

We discuss career paths, but she is only dreaming of motherhood. Inwardly, I’m aghast. Outwardly, I gently encourage her that motherhood will be there for her, but she should first go to university, explore the world, have some fun. What could be more fun than being a mother, she asks.

I bite my tongue.

There was a time in my life that I could have related with this maternal instinct of hers, but it was twelve years ago, when she was in utero. It lasted about a week. I’ve moved on. Her instinct, though, is more stubbornly rooted, despite the absence (thank God) of potential suitors.

When I was her age, I vividly remember doodling career options, not baby names. Dreaming of travel, not diaper bags. A pied-a-terre in New York, not a house in suburbia. Notwithstanding I ended up with the diaper bag and house in suburbia, but let it be known I never intended for this to happen. I certainly never dreamed about it.

It’s just a phase, my friends tell me. But I detect a look of horror in their eyes.

Every ounce of me wants to stage an intervention, but instead I keep my mouth shut, knowing when she picks up my disapproval she will run with it. It would be easier to deal with pink hair. Pierced eyebrows. Friendship drama. Boy trouble. I hadn’t counted on dreams of domesticity.

Mothering in Volumes

May 7, 2011 11 comments

How does one say Happy Mother’s Day to a mother who went so far beyond the typical realm of motherhood that she had NINE children?

Here we all are - Mom is feeding me in the background

As the last of the litter and the runt in the pack, I stood to gain a lot from her incredible patience and selfless work.

Constantly in motion, she went about her business and endured the craziness of our household without any frustration. As a mother of only three children, I’m not sure how she accomplished this feat. The noise level alone would be worthy of earplugs.

If she wasn’t in the kitchen she was doing laundry or vacuuming or washing floors. And consider, if you will, having six children under the age of eight, and no such thing as disposable diapers? No dishwasher? No microwave?

With part of the gang at my sister's First Communion

The funny thing is, my siblings and I wonder at her work ethic, but she just shrugs it off, saying it was nothing next to what her mother did. She comes from yet another incredibly strong woman, with thick skin.

My mother was one of fourteen children. She grew up in a small village in Newfoundland, in a small three bedroom house: one bedroom for her parents, one for the girls and one for the boys. They slept on mattresses made of horsehair, three or four to a bed, and long before luxuries like indoor plumbing. I imagine it to be like the fishing village version of Little House on the Prairie. There was a one room school house and lots of chores for everyone. Surviving the frigid North Atlantic winters that lasted into July was a task in itself.

When my mother was thirteen, she was enlisted to help her aunt in Nova Scotia, whose husband had died in the war. The distance between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, in those days, was not easily traveled. This essentially meant leaving behind all that she knew, to help someone she had never met.

Despite how hard this must have been, Mom talks fondly about her Aunt Mary. Childless, she treated my mother like her own, and sent her to nursing school in Halifax when she finished high school. While in training she met my dad, and after graduating got married.

Folklore has it that on the eve of her graduation ball, my mother swung from the chandelier at the Lord Nelson hotel in Halifax, fulfilling a dare she had made to her classmates for years. She was a bit wild and full of fun, that woman.

After a couple of years, my oldest brother was born, and the other eight children followed at regular intervals. Her nursing career was interrupted while she surreptitiously cared for her own ward at home.

I think about this and I’m impressed all over again. Kate Plus Eight has nothing on my mother, who unquestionably just did it all, without giving any of it a second thought.

When I was eleven or twelve my mom went back to work full time as a nurse, and worked her way up to being head nurse, where again her patience and hard work were put to the test. Talk about a life of servitude.

My father died of cancer in 1993, a devastating blow for all of us, and somehow my mom has persevered and continues to inspire us all. For her eightieth birthday seven of us nine children, plus her brother and his wife, celebrated by going on a Caribbean cruise together. We packed a lifetime of fun into those seven days, our motto was rock it till we dock it. And that we did.

Rocking it till we docked it

Happy Mother’s Day, mom, you continue to be our beacon, our guiding light, our inspiration. You are an amazing person and a woman to be reckoned with. But we’re still not sure how you did it.

Goodbye Retail, Hello Price-Slashed Wholesale

March 4, 2011 9 comments

My new Sun Ice raincoat. Okay fine, it's not me wearing it...

Retail shopping is so yesterday.

I refuse to pay full price for anything anymore. If it’s not on sale, forget it. With huge outlet malls cropping up in suburban areas, and email alerts conveniently telling me when my favorite shops are busting out goods at huge discounts, who needs to?

The only thing better than driving south of the border to hit these outlets is when these outlets come to you, in your own backyard, a new trend that is catching on like wildfire.

My friend has an in on a sweet line of Sun Ice ski jackets and outdoor apparel – her family owns it. Instead of shipping their extra stock off to a discount center, she is setting up racks in neighborhood homes and selling them at big discounts. I went by her house for a sale where she had partnered with a local yoga line, Tonic. We had coffee and I left with a super cute yoga outfit and raincoat that both rival Lululemon – but at half the cost.

Next year's ski jacket - would it look as chic with a helmet and no make up?

 

I was giddy with delight, flushing with victory so pure I was puzzled. I felt something was missing, and then realized it was that feeling of buyer’s remorse. Unlike usual, I had none. No guilty feelings thinking, “I didn’t need that”. I had gone with the hope of finding some new yoga wear (whether doing yoga or not, I live in this stuff) and a raincoat that was a tad different from everyone else in Vancouver. I found both within the confines of her friendly living room and spent a fraction of the cost.

Life may be beautiful, but mine is seldom this easy.

I am being invited to sales like this on a regular basis; women hosting jewelery designers and clothing lines in their own homes. The environment is much more welcoming than harsh fluorescent light and those mirrors that make my hips look wider than they are. I’ll gladly exchange the bored out of their mind teenage shopkeepers for honest women who know a garment flaw when they see one.

The concept of shopping is changing as quickly as the world is shedding its landlines. I don’t aimlessly browse through shops in the hopes of randomly discovering something I like and is on sale (unless, of course I’m at Winners and in need of retail therapy). My shopping is much more purposeful and driven by red tags.

I’m ignoring the middle man in favor of neighborhood homes, my days of mall crawling are officially over.

I’m dreaming of an intoxicated Christmas

December 27, 2010 8 comments

At the risk of sounding like a lush, Christmas dinner is just not Christmas dinner without a glass of Viognier – my favorite turkey pairing wine- or at the very least, some liquid containing alcohol, be it moonshine or cognac.  Like Art Garfunkel’s lackluster solo career without Paul Simon, turkey dinner is bland and tasteless without wine, and my mood is certainly not as festive.

That I have married into a family that does not drink is a source of considering wrangling, not to mention countless thoughts of “what was I thinking?”.  Imagine, if you will, spending an entire day trapped within the confines of your in-laws house, a pack of sugared-up children squealing in delight as they chase each other around, and no rum for your eggnog in sight?

Without beer goggles, hopelessly mundane conversations become unbearably hopelessly mundane.  That story about the time my sister-in-law was doubling her Barbie on her bike, and turned to watch her hair blowing in the wind causing her to fall and break her wrist is not as charming the tenth time around.  With a glass of wine in hand I suspect I would be more patient.  I consider weighing in with my own memories of the time I mistakenly drank my father’s glass of whiskey – I was pretending I was in the Flintstones, I was Betty, Wilma was giving me medicine, incidentally – and my 5-year-old self drunkenly fell down the stairs in front of my parent’s company.  I keep this memory to myself – this would be akin to blasphemy.

Years ago, when I got myself into this mess, remaining sober on celebratory occasions was not a big deal.  Back when my social life was in full swing (another way of saying pre-children), waking up without a hangover, or at the very least that sour taste in your mouth, was a welcome respite on Boxing Day.  Those sweet stories of my betrothed’s childhood were charming the first time around.  But as my family has grown, so has my need for a cocktail once the clock chimes five.  My social life now null and void, occasions like Christmas can provide the perfect excuse for even earlier cocktails.

Alcohol causes nothing but trouble, my in-laws argue.  Admittedly, alcohol has gotten us into some hiccups along the way in my own family (a family where the question is would you like a dash of eggnog with that rum?).  There was the time my teenaged brother fell into an alcohol induced sleep with a cigarette burning on our ottoman, and we narrowly escaped our house being burned down.  But for the most part, spirits add festivity and fun to our gatherings.  Those tiring stories become riotously funny.  Tongues loosen, guards drop.  Very rarely, scores are settled.  Always people are teased mercilessly.

The hard stuff adds color.  Christmas dinner with my in-laws is conducted in black and white, and yields ho-hum, stilted conversations.  For instance there is much discussion over the done-ness of the turkey. The conundrum of keeping the white meat moist while cooking the dark meat properly has been dissected and debated to the tiniest detail.  The hours spent on this topic would surely have produced world peace had that been the debate.  This year my in-laws barbecued the turkey: a whole new day dawned.  The teetotalers were so enamored by this progression that the lumpy mashed potatoes and dressing (with or without raisins – always good for a fifteen minute discussion) were scantly noted.

If you happen to be my mother-in-law, I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but offer me a glass of wine next year and I guarantee you will prefer my slightly intoxicated state.  If this makes me an alcoholic, then so be it; the first step is admitting it.  Next year I’m bringing a flask.

Eat cake.

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment
Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting topped ...

Image via Wikipedia

I can’t bake to save my soul.  Which is either a crime, since my favorite thing in the world is homemade chocolate cake; or a blessing, since I could quickly and easily devour an entire cake in one sitting.  My waistline says blessing.

Many women can laugh off their inability to bake, saying their time would be better spent shopping or chatting or fill in the blank with your favorite woman stereotype.  But as a stay at home mother – of girls to boot – it has not escaped my children’s notice that I cannot bake.  What is more synonymous with “stay at home” mother than baking?  It’s in the job description, wedged between changing diapers and folding laundry.  In fact the only thing I detest more than baking itself is baking with my children – magical moments spent creating chocolate chip cookies whilst wearing matching aprons do not occur under my roof.  That’s what Grandma’s are for.

Recently, my oldest daughter had a friend over to dinner.  I had, ahem, slaved to make a cake for dessert, it being a particularly stormy and dismal Sunday.  The cake had turned out well – as they normally do from the box.  Duncan Hines rarely disappoints.  But my child was mortified – mortified – when her friend asked me to pass on the recipe to her mother and we told her it was from a box.  She had no idea such a concept existed.  Her mother, clearly, would never dream of baking from a box, my daughter told me later.  We all have our strengths, I ventured.

I have the extremely good fortune of having a friend who not only bakes, but bakes very well.  She made me a chocolate cake for my birthday, and let me tell you I have thought of nothing else since.  It was rich, dense and moist, an explosion of goodness on my palette.  The frosting – also chocolate – was likewise rich with a hint of coffee.  Too rich for my friend’s taste, she said she has never combined the two.  But perfectly rich and beyond delectable for me.  Try as I might, I will never be able to describe its perfection on my tongue, but will simply say:  Best. Cake. Ever.

We handily polished off half of it the night of my birthday.  The next day the kids went to school and we were alone together, me and that cake.  I stared at it, and it stared right back.  In the light of day, it looked even sexier and more alluring than it had in its virginal state the evening before.  All day it beckoned me, and I purposely busied myself and avoided the kitchen.  It was exhausting, not eating that cake.  I waited until my kids were home from school before having another piece, forcing myself to share it equally among us.  There was no way I could stop at one piece otherwise.  It was a very long six hours.

It subsequently dawned on me that it is a blessing, indeed, that I don’t bake.  I could not muster such amazing restraint on a regular basis.

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