Letting it go, together

spoonMonkey enthusiastically bashes a plastic sippy cup against the high chair tray, again and again, until it slips out of his grip and flies through the air, narrowly missing the serving dish on the table. A toddler fork clatters onto the floor, collateral damage in Bean’s tirade against pasta that is the wrong shape.

As long as I continue to shovel food into his mouth, Monkey shouts with excitement. Once the bowl is empty, he shouts in frustration until I’ve mashed up some more of the food off of my own plate and can resume shoveling it into his mouth. Bean complains and refuses to eat. The pasta is the wrong shape. It is too hot, and then it is too cold. The peppers are orange, and he would prefer red. He isn’t hungry. He wants to play.

As the noise level escalates, so does my irritation. Both boys are shouting now. My shoulders tense and my breathing becomes shallow. I catch D’s eye across the dinner table and see my irritation mirrored there. At that moment, Monkey yanks his spoon out of my hand and it drops to the floor, splattering tomato sauce onto my feet. I look up at D again, our eyes meeting. And we laugh. We laugh until I am breathless and D is wiping a tear from his eyes, and Bean is demanding to know what’s funny and Monkey is bemused. And then we laugh some more.

Once upon a time, in our pre-kids life, dinner time was peaceful. It was a chance to unwind and reconnect after a busy day apart. We could talk, or we could be silent. We could enjoy a complicated meal or a simple sandwich. We could relax.

Now, dinner time is non-stop motion. One of us is always up. There are bowls to refill, spills to mop up, forks to retrieve. Something is always missing from the table. Bean wants the construction placemat, not the alphabet one. Monkey’s dropped his cup. Bean has to go to the potty. Monkey needs more food. We are telling stories, asking questions, reminding about manners, persuading a stubborn toddler to eat his food, convincing him to remain at the table just a little longer. By the time I take my first bite of food, it is often cold.

The connection that used to be part of the evening meal can be hard to find, night after night in the chaotic dinner time grind. But in these sudden moments of synchronicity, when we catch each other’s eye and surrender to the mayhem, I feel more connected to my husband than in any memory from our pre-kid, peaceful life. Because this is the life we’ve created, the family we’ve built, together. Yes, life with small ones can be maddening, and we don’t have to enjoy every moment. But we can make the choice to let go of our expectations, to give in and hang on for the ride together.

I’ve heard it said that the season of small kids is one of the toughest for a marriage. I believe it. I feel it. And I look across the dinner table at my husband, and I’m grateful to have him as my partner.

To my breasts: a letter of apology

sorry

Dear breasts,

Guys, I have so many things to apologize for. Is it odd that I call you guys? Would you prefer girls? Ladies? Mammaries?

The other morning as I passed the bedroom mirror, instead of my usual cursory glance I happened to take a longer look. And then a double-take. It had been a while since I’d looked at myself with a critical eye, and the person looking back at me was not exactly the person I remembered. As my eyes traveled down my reflection, I finally found you. What were you doing down there? I was wearing a bra, wasn’t I? Was this just… where you live now?

The realization hit me: I’ve been taking you for granted. I let your youthful prime pass by without notice. I thought you’d always be there for me, right where I left you. And you are still there for me, just a little lower than I’d expected. How did this happen, I wondered? How did I not notice? It seems just yesterday you were firm and bouncing happily away, and now there’s something… listless about you. You’re deflated. Tired. You’re not your old selves.

I haven’t given you the support you need – that is clear. In my defence, it is difficult to find a nursing bra with that magical combination of both adequate support and comfort. So far the best I’ve done is not-quite-adequate support and zero-comfort. But to be honest, I haven’t tried that hard. To put it bluntly, I would rather dive naked and open-mouthed into a pool of ice-cold fish guts than go bra shopping.

You’ve put up with a lot over the years. I’ve encased you in ill-fitting and uncomfortable bras. I’ve lost crumbs and small particles of food in between you. Every time I decide to take up running again you get a thorough jostling. I’ve even cursed your size, tugging at v-neck shirts in an attempt to make you a little more work-appropriate. But in the past couple of years, you’ve gone from purely aesthetic to primarily functional in the blink of an eye. You’ve been latched on to by not one but two greedy babies. You’ve been hooked up to that cold instrument of torture known as the electric pump. (Pit of Despair, anyone?) You’ve been drooled and barfed on. You’ve got stretch marks. You’ve suffered cracks and soreness. You’ve leaked. You’ve been bitten. All in the name of duty.

cow

So I am sorry, dear breasts. It is true – I have valued your function far more than I ever valued your form. And now your form is… changed. I am sorry that I didn’t appreciate you when you were at your best, and I thank you for all your years of dedicated service. From now on I vow to cherish you for as long as we have left together, as I can only imagine that at the rate you’re going, you’ll be somewhere below my waist by the time I’m 40.

But… now that we’re talking again, would you just do me one favour? Would you maybe put the brakes on that inevitable journey down my torso, just for a little while? I promise, I’ll go bra shopping right away and find you something nice. It won’t poke. The straps won’t slip. I promise – I’ll find you the support you need. Because you’ve put up with a lot, and you deserve it.

Dads can be judgy too

We’ve all heard about judgy mums. You know, the ones who have discovered the secret to perfect parenthood and are honour-bound to share it condescendingly with all in their immediate vicinity.

“We make all of our baby’s purees out of organic food.”

“Baby doesn’t eat purees – we are doing baby-led weaning as it promotes a healthier relationship to food.”

“It’s so much better for your connection with Baby to wear him; you should really try it.”

“Why are you still wearing your toddler? Shouldn’t he be walking on his own?”

“Time-outs are the best way to discipline your toddler. My toddler’s behaviour has improved dramatically with time-outs.”

“Time-outs are cruel punishment that make kids feel isolated and don’t teach them the correct behaviour. We would never do time-outs.”

“Breast is best, no matter the circumstances.”

The judgy mum and backlash against the judgy mum have been well documented (for example, here.) It’s tough to be a mother – there’s so much pressure to be perfect and it seems that the weight of this perfection falls solely on our shoulders. We agonize over each and every parenting decision and then feel guilty if we don’t measure up to someone else’s standards.

But what about the dads? Why should mothers be the only ones to carry the weight of perfection? Why are we the only aggressors and victims in the war of perfect parenting? Why are they called the “Mommy Wars?”

I’ll tell you a secret: judgy dads are out there too, and they’ve been flying under the radar this whole time. They’re free to spout their judgy judgment all over the place without fear of being labeled or judged themselves, because the judgy dad isn’t “a thing.” Yet.

I present for you snippets of a conversation I had with a dad I met last week at a parents and tots group.

On family size

Dad: How are you finding the adjustment to having two kids?

Me: It’s getting easier now, but honestly it was really tough in the beginning.

Dad: Yeah, I have three. The third was the hardest by far.

On gardening

Dad: Do you have a garden at home?

Me: No, we don’t. Maybe another year.

Dad: You really should. It’s so good for the kids to eat vegetables that come right out of their own garden.

On picky eaters

Me: Bean tends to be a pretty picky eater. He won’t touch protein, unless it’s frozen chicken nuggets. I’d rather he ate the real food that I cook, but some nights I just need him to eat something and so we do nuggets.

Dad: We don’t do any kind of processed food in our house. I don’t want that stuff in my kids’ bodies.

Me: Hmm.

Dad: I do all the cooking. The kids sit at the kitchen island and I get them involved, you know, smelling the spices that go into the food, that kind of thing. It makes them excited to eat it.

Me: That sounds like a good way to do it.

Dad: But, you know, my kids can be picky too. Like, some days they’ll eat pickled beets, and then the next day they only like beets that aren’t pickled.

Okay, I get it. Different things work for different people. But come on. If your kids will eat beets, pickled or otherwise, they’re probably not that picky (unless beets are all they will eat). This was a clear example of humblebragging. The dad was parading the examples of his spice-smelling, beet-eating kids as a reflection of his super-awesome parenting, all while judging my obvious inability to prepare healthy food for my own kids. But guess what? I try to get Bean involved when I cook too – it’s just that in my tiny, island-less kitchen there’s no space for the kids to sit docilely and watch as I whip up a delicious gourmet meal. It’s Bean, standing on a chair beside me at our cramped counter, and me, trying to keep him from touching knives and raw meat. (All while Monkey alternates screams of happiness, excitement and rage in the bouncer just outside the kitchen.) Bean is not the type of kid to be a spectator. He is in the action, all the way. For about 2 minutes, after which he has made a big mess and is no longer interested.

Suffice it to say, there are a thousand ways to do this whole parenting thing, and what works for one family may not work for another. Nobody can be perfect all the time, because there is no perfect.

So to the judgy dads out there, I say this. Judge all you like, but I’m on to you. The judgy dad is now officially a thing.

That time I took parenting tips from MTV’s Teen Mom, and other confessions

When Bean was a baby, a friend lent us a Bumbo chair. I wasn’t sure how old a baby had to be in order to sit in it safely, but I was reasonably sure Bean was still too wobbly. One day while nursing and channel-surfing I came across an episode of MTV’s Teen Mom and saw that one of the show’s subjects had her six week-old baby sitting in a Bumbo chair, as happy as could be. Question answered! Later that day as my seven week-old Bean wobbled uncomfortably in the Bumbo, my husband walked in and said “Um, are you sure he’s ready to go in that thing?” “Sure,” I replied. “I saw it on… oh wait.” *

bumbo seat

I’m sure some babes are strong enough to use this seat at six or seven weeks, but Bean wasn’t one of them.

As I recalled the incident of Bean and the Bumbo today, I starting thinking about other less-than-exemplary moments in my parenting history.

Bless me readers, for I have sinned… this is my confession.

1. When my husband is on night shift I put Bean to bed about 45 minutes earlier than his usual bedtime, just so I can have more alone time.

2. When it’s just me and the kidlets home for dinner we sometimes just eat peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. Or I put crackers, cheese and veggies on a plate and call it “tapas” so that I can pretend to myself that I’m not just serving snacks for dinner. This isn’t even an original idea; I got it from a friend.

3. I told Bean that Caillou on Netflix was broken. It’s not; I just really, really dislike Caillou.

4. Once when I really wanted to get out of the house and Bean was refusing to come to the door, I bribed him with the promise of a blueberry muffin from the drive-through coffee place close to our house. Win-win: Bean went to the car happily, he got a muffin, and I got a coffee. However, this go-to trick is becoming a tad (a lot) overused. I promise the muffin even when he doesn’t require bribery, just so I can get the coffee.

5. When my husband is home and the kids are playing, sometimes I say I have to go to the bathroom and then just take my phone upstairs to lie on the bed and check my Facebook feed. Or read blogs. Or do nothing.

6. Monkey has two teeth and I keep forgetting to pick up a new infant toothbrush, so I haven’t brushed them yet. (I wipe them with a washcloth, but it’s not the same.)

7. Sometimes when Bean really wants to do something, I tell him yes, but first I make him shout “Mummy, you’re the coolest!”

8. The three year-old boy who lives next door has all the toys, including a bunch of ride-on motorized cars and ATVs. Bean has nothing so glamorous or exciting, and all his little heart desires out of life is to play with this boy and drive his cars (it is always one of the make-sures). The dad will often take his son outside in the early evening to ride on his PowerWheels Escalade, and I know that if Bean sees them there will be no peace in our home until we go outside too. (Side note – we get along really well with our neighbours and the boys do play together; I just can’t come to terms with the sight of two toddlers driving down an actual road in a tiny car.) So, as soon as I hear the telltale sound of the Escalade starting down the driveway next door, I sprint to our blinds and close them. If Bean asks what the sound is, I tell him the neighbours must be wheeling their garbage bins to the curb.

9. And finally, one that isn’t about parenting: I watched the most recent season of Game of Thrones without my husband. And he doesn’t know it yet.

Confession time! Are there things you’ve done (or continue to do) as a parent that you want to get off your chest? This is a safe place, I promise.

* Point for clarification: it’s not that teen parents are bad parents, just that perhaps I should have considered more than just the one source when determining the developmental appropriateness of the Bumbo seat for my own infant.

Monkey missed the memo


MEMORANDUM

ATTN: Babies

RE: Sleep

It is come to our attention that some of you may be mistaken about sleep. Specifically, how much of it you are supposed to do, and when. Please be advised: babies are to sleep more as they get older, not less.

Thank you.


When Monkey was around three months old, he slept through the night for ten glorious nights in a row. I was refreshed. I was happy. I was that mum, the one who showers and blow-dries her hair and has endless patience and makes homemade salad dressing. “How’s Monkey sleeping?” other mums would ask, and I would say “Oh, actually pretty well now, thank you,” never daring to mention that “pretty well” was code for 8-10 hours straight(!!!) for fear that a) the other mums would hate me and b) the universe would punish me.

And then it ended.

Despite my efforts to appease the cruel universe and keep my good fortune under wraps, Monkey started waking up at night again. He has his ups and downs, usually waking to nurse twice per night. But recently it’s been out of control.

Last night, he woke up approximately 18 times. I say approximate, because by 4:00 a.m. I was delirious. He nursed, he cried, I rocked him, I cried, he nursed, he rolled in his crib like a fish out of water, bumping his head on the rails and crying even harder. Rinse and repeat. I think I fell out of the rocking chair.

So now what? One of the toughest things about motherhood, for me at least, is that I never really know why anything is happening. Babies are a multiple choice test with no answer key:

Why won’t Monkey sleep?
a) he’s teething
b) he’s caught his brother’s cold
c) the seam of his sleeper is making him itchy
d) his room is too cold
e) his blankets are too warm
f) he’s growing and he needs to eat
g) he’s become accustomed to nursing in the night and waking is a bad habit
h) his mother did something awful in a past life and is being punished
i) all of the above
j) some unknown combination of some of the above
k) because babies be babies

To comfort myself, I summon all of the truisms and age-old advice my sleep-deprived brain can remember: This too shall pass. Babyhood is such a short time in the grand scheme of things. I’ll miss the midnight cuddles when they’re gone. He won’t be waking up in the night when he’s 20 (though this won’t be my problem anyway).

And so continues my long-standing and deeply gratifying love affair with coffee.