Happiness

What does it mean to be happy? Are you happy now? How do you know?

happy (2)
Happiness is what we all want. A happy family, a happy home, happy children. A happy life.

I’ve struggled with happiness this year. I’ve searched for it. I’ve found it where I least expected it, and lost it where I was sure it would be safe. I’ve misunderstood it. And I’ve learned about what happiness means, at least for me.

Right now, in my life, I am happy. And here is what I know: happiness isn’t a permanent state of being. It’s not an overall glow that brings smiles to my lips and infuses my life with light, just because. Happiness doesn’t just happen. It’s a choice. It’s waiting in the everyday moments for me to grasp it and hold on. And so I’m doing that, or trying to. I’m choosing to notice and celebrate the good and beautiful that occurs in the midst of the ordinary, and I am happy.

Here is where I’ve found happiness today:

The way Bean wrapped his lanky arms and legs so tightly around me this morning, so that as I carried him downstairs for breakfast he seemed weightless in my arms.

Listening to D and Monkey in a dad-baby conversation, imitating each other’s sounds and laughing.

Pushing my body through a hard workout and feeling sweaty, drained, and satisfied at the end.

Finally booking a long-overdue date with D.

Wearing my favourite scarf, for the gazillionth day in a row, because who cares if I wear the same thing every day? It’s my favourite.

What makes you happy?

Advertisements

Facial injuries: the unofficial badge of the bad mother?

For my son, it’s a moment of pain soon forgotten. For me, it’s a visible outward sign of my failings as a mother. Too dramatic? Probably.

My kids don’t hurt themselves all that often, but when they do, it’s usually in the face, which is just super great. There was the time that 10 month-old Bean fell forward and caught the corner of the coffee table right between the eyes. He has a thin white scar. A few months later as he was learning to walk, he tripped over the edge of a mat at baby boot camp* and landed on his cheek, on my stainless steel water bottle. The bruise added some colour to the vacation photos from our  friends’ wedding in Mexico the next week. Monkey has suffered a couple of truck-to-face injuries, courtesy of Bean. And, if I put off trimming their fingernails one day too long, both boys will invariably seize the opportunity to give themselves a gash on the cheek or nose during the night.

As I am pretty much a walking guilt factory, until those bruises or cuts heal they’re ongoing reminders of how I somehow let my boys down – even if the injury wasn’t preventable, isn’t serious, or didn’t happen on my watch.

Yesterday I was on my way out the door when my cell rang. It was daycare. Bean had tipped over in his chair and hit his mouth against the table. He was bleeding a lot, and very upset, and I should come get him.

I rushed to daycare and found all the kids sitting at the table, Bean whimpering in the teacher’s lap. He had blood around his mouth and on his hands. He reached for me and I picked him up, only to realize that he had just wet his pants. He hasn’t done that in ages. I took him downstairs and changed him, as he sobbed that his tooth and his mouth hurt and begged me to make it better.

I am a feeler. And strong emotions make me cry, whether it’s sadness, anger, fear, or happiness. When I see another person’s genuine tears, there is a 97% chance that I will tear up too. And it’s only gotten worse with age. Now that I’m a mother, I can pretty much forget the possibility that I’ll get through a day without crying at least once. At first I blamed the pregnancy hormones. Then I blamed the new mother hormones. Then the pregnancy hormones again. Then I tried blaming my postpartum depression. But whatever the reason, all the blame-throwing in the world can’t change the simple fact that I am a huge, sappy sap.

Yesterday with my own child, I was helpless. On the drive home as he cried in his car seat, I cried too. Because he was in pain, and because I was worried. Because his tooth might be damaged, might turn grey and fall out. Because it was my fault. Because I was the one who put him in daycare, even if it was just one day a week. He didn’t need to be there – I’m on maternity leave. He could have been home with me. He might not have gotten hurt.

Thankfully, he couldn’t see my tears, and I had them under control by the time we got home. But it was still a struggle. (Side note – at least my inner empathy sensors can distinguish the difference between legitimate and not-so-legitimate toddler trauma. Otherwise I would be facing some serious dehydration.) Bean spent the afternoon with cuddles and movies, and was feeling better by evening. Still, his gums are bruised and puffy, and I’ll be on dead-tooth-watch for a few days. (We called the dentist and he said there was nothing to do but wait.)

So here are my questions to the other mothers and feelers out there. Am I as ridiculous as I feel to be so torn up over a tooth injury? How do you keep it in when you feel your kids’ pain? And do you feel the guilt too? Do you beat yourselves up over the bumps and bruises?

* Despite the name, baby boot camp is for the mums, not the babies. But hey, boot camp for babies could be great too! Teach them some discipline right from the start. Am I right? Anyone?

Balancing act

Balance. Work-life balance. Leading a balanced life. A life is hanging in the balance. This cereal is part of a balanced breakfast. We hear advice about balance all the time, particularly in this balance-challenged holiday-crammed time of year. It’s everywhere. So why is achieving balance so hard?

December is affectionately known in my family as the Great Never-Ending Month of Birthdays and Also Christmas. Along with several aunts, uncles, and cousins, my parents’ birthdays are in December – the 21st and 30th, to be exact. (Fun fact – my mother and my husband’s mother share a birthday, which leads to a yearly awkward dance of who’s planned what first.)

This year my parents will turn 60 and 65. They also celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary, and my dad retired – all momentous occasions that deserve celebration. So, at the beginning of the year, I thought about planning a surprise party for them. Midway through the year, I thought about planning a surprise party for them. In October, with the prodding of some relatives, my procrastinating self was thrown into full party-planning mode. Being the dutiful daughter, I called together my siblings and an aunt and uncle and we got to work. Except that I assigned nearly all of the tasks to myself. Evite? I’ve got it. We’ll do potluck – I’ll coordinate it. Decorations? I’ve got the time. Dishes? My in-laws have a rental company. Cakes? I like to bake, so I’ve got it.

I sent the Evite. I managed the RSVPs. I fielded questions. I organized potluck menu and sign-up. I ordered the dishes, silverware, glasses, mugs, and chairs. I planned out a beautiful banner to make. I searched out the best cake recipes – cherry cake for dad, and gluten-and-dairy-free chocolate for mum, and cupcakes for extras. I thought up fun ideas for cake decorations. I planned the extra dishes that I would make in case it seemed like there wouldn’t be enough food. Then, the beginning of last week found me knocked out with a bad cold and a bad case of anxiety. I’d forgotten to get to my doctor to refill my prescription. My postpartum depression symptoms were dragging me down. I was low.

And I thought, where’s the balance in this?

So I asked for help. And, what do you know, people were there to help me. One of my younger brothers and his wife made an amazing banner and an extra appetizer. My aunt brought two kid-friendly main dishes. My two other brothers drove to the party location with me to unload all of the dishes, cakes, balloons, and chairs. My amazing husband, a true Renaissance Man, iced chocolate cupcakes on the morning of the party as I whipped up the vanilla icing. (And then, because he did such a good job, he did the vanilla ones too.)

cupcakes

So, what does it mean to have balance?

It means letting go of the responsibility for everything and sharing the load.

It means not having to be perfect.

It means whipping up cake toppers out of scrapbook paper and cardstock, because you forgot to get the numbered candles at the store.

It means enjoying the party so much that you don’t worry about getting the Pinterest-worthy shot of the two cakes and two batches of cupcakes that you worked so hard on.

It means being okay with the fact that your toddler ate exactly 1.5 white buns and the icing off of one cupcake, because you can get some better food into him tomorrow.

It means letting your kids stay up until 10:30 (when your in-laws take them home to bed) because it’s a party, and it doesn’t happen every day, and the experience of tonight is more important than the potential meltdown tomorrow.

It means having a drink and visiting with friends and family, because enjoying the party to honour your parents is way better than doing dishes. Dishes can wait.

It means enjoying the things that are going right, instead of worrying about the things that aren’t.

In the end, the complete shock on my parents’ faces as they walked in the door, the delight when they realized all these people were there for them, the huge smiles as they recognized guests who had travelled, and the tears in my mum’s eyes as she spotted her dearest friends – these things were more than enough to balance out any of the hard stuff.

—————————————-

What does balance mean to you?

Unexpected kindness

Today’s daily prompt:

Is there a person you should’ve thanked, but never had the chance? Is there someone who helped you along the way without even realizing it? Here’s your chance to express your belated gratitude.


We’ve been waiting 45 minutes. The air in the clinic waiting room is stuffy and stale, and one of the harsh fluorescent lights is flickering. Three month-old Monkey is asleep in my arms. Two year-old Bean is sitting on the chair beside me. I am regretting the decision to bring the kids to the clinic, but Bean’s cough sounded so painful this morning. It must be our turn soon.

Bean has been so good. He’s been bringing me book after book from the basket under the clinic’s magazine rack, but now we’ve read them all. He starts to kick the chair. He asks to go home. I tell him we just have a little longer to wait, and he needs to be patient. He kicks the chair harder and asks to go home louder. In the packed waiting room, a couple of heads turn our way. After 45 minutes of sitting still, I know Bean has reached his limit and we’re headed for trouble. And I know I don’t have it in me today to deal with it.

I haven’t slept. I haven’t eaten. Though I don’t know it now, I am at the lowest point in my struggle with postpartum depression. I’m fragile and thin-skinned, imagining judgement and accusation in the eyes of everyone in the room. In my lap, Monkey starts to stir. Within the next two minutes I know that I’ll have a crying, hungry baby and a clinging, misbehaving toddler. I can’t do this.

With one more look up at the clock I tell Bean that we’re going to go home and try another day. Though it’s what he asked for, in typical toddler fashion he is upset at this change in plans. His eyes start to fill with tears, and so do mine.

An elderly man is sitting next to us. Until this moment he has been immersed in his book, showing no signs of noticing us at all. He gently puts his book down and deliberately drops the plastic tab with his waiting-room number onto the floor.

“Oh dear. I seem to have dropped my number. Young man, do you think you can pick it up for me?”

Bean picks it up and hands it back to the man shyly, never meeting his eyes.

“Thank you! What a kind boy you are.”

Bean straightens, puffed up with pride.

“Would you like to see my cane? My son carved the handle.”

My curious boy reaches out a hand to touch the wooden handle of the man’s cane. The tears that flow so often spill out of my eyes and down my cheeks. I look down, hoping no one can see. Just then, our number is called. I take Bean’s hand and whisper to him to say thank you to the man. But as we make our way through the clinic door, I don’t trust myself to look him in the eye, to thank him myself. By the time we are finished he is no longer in the waiting room.

Life with small kids is measured in moments. On some days, each moment has us teetering on the edge, and these small, everyday kindnesses are the difference between isolation and community, between okay and not okay.

So, to that elderly man in the clinic waiting room, thank you. Thank you for your kindness to my son which was compassion for me. Thank you for showing me, in that moment during the dark days, that I was not alone.

What am I even writing about, anyway?

It’s day 3 of my challenge to post every day of November, and I’ve already had my blog’s first existential crisis.* I mentioned to someone today that I had started writing a blog, and they asked what it was about, and I couldn’t come up with an answer that satisfied me, and then I had A Moment. The kind of moment in which your brain takes a very small thing down a spiraling path of crazy reasoning, and suddenly that small thing represents the very meaning of your existence.

existential

So what am I writing about? For me, the what is inextricably linked with the why. Why am I writing? What is the point?

I began writing this blog for three reasons:

1) I sent a friend an email detailing a ridiculous conversation I’d had with my toddler, and she replied that she would totally read a blog consisting entirely of my conversations with him. That planted the seed.

2) I was beginning to drag myself out of the dark pit of postpartum depression and thought that writing about it would provide some opportunities for reflection, self-examination, and healing.

3) I was filled with longing for the person I used to be. When I was young and full of potential I thought I would be a writer. When I grew up, instead of pursuing creativity I went the route of stability – practical education, defined career path. Terrified of others reading my writing and finding it lacking, I found other things to occupy my time. I suppose I saw this blog as an opportunity to recapture the person I maybe could have been, had I been a bit braver and chosen the path less travelled.

So, how have I done?

1) I’ve written about Bean. He continues to say ridiculous things, and it is so very amusing to record them and share them with you on What-my-kid-said Wednesdays.

2) I’ve been writing about my experience of postpartum depression, though I haven’t shared it yet. It’s still deeply personal; I’ve only shared my struggle with a handful of people in real life, and while in many ways it’s easier to be honest behind the anonymity of a blog, it’s still tough to hit that “publish” button. My palms get a bit sweaty just thinking about it. But it’s coming.

Aside from writing about depression itself, this blog has helped me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I’d been feeling swallowed up by this maternity leave, consumed by the day-to-day details of babies and toddlers, like I had no identity other than “Mum.” Even though I’m writing about being a mother, the act of writing helps me feel like more than just a mother.

3) I can’t go back to the person I was, and I wouldn’t want to. My life is a good life. But I can search for elements of the old me that bring me happiness. I can flex my creative muscles, weakened from lack of use, and try to live up to some of the potential I once had.

That’s the why. So what is this blog about? What am I even writing about, anyway?

Motherhood. Kids. Life. Self.

Humour. Sadness. Friendship. Depression.

Writing. Reflection. Commentary. Community.

I’m writing for me, so this blog can be whatever I want it to be.

 

* I Googled existential crisis just for fun, and check it out – there’s a WikiHow page for “How to Deal with an Existential Crisis (with Pictures).” Ha!

“Every f**king time, Mummy.”

Two years ago, if you’d asked me whether I ever swore in front of my kid, I would have said no. I didn’t swear much at all – at least not out loud. I had nothing against profanity; it just didn’t feel genuine coming out of my mouth, so I mostly abstained.

Then I had a second child. And postpartum depression, which came with some pretty dark times. It turns out that during times of trial, my inner self swears like a long-haul trucker who’s just dropped a cement block on his toe. And sometimes, despite my desperate attempts to maintain control, that inner monologue came out into the world.

Up until Monkey was three or four months old, the only way I could get him to nap for more than 20 minutes at a time was to take him for a walk in the Ergo carrier. This period of time coincided with a particularly terrible two year-old phase for Bean. Leaving the house was necessary for my sanity, but getting Bean out the door was like pulling teeth. Without anesthetic. The battle would begin over getting dressed and continue through coming downstairs, coming to the door, sitting still to put shoes on, getting in the stroller, and every other tiny step that made it possible to leave home. During the typical hour of painful negotiation, Monkey’s wails would grow louder, Bean would grow more defiant, and my already-weak grasp on self-control would slip. On one occasion, I muttered under my breath (okay, probably more over breath than under), “Every fucking time.”

I knew that I should stop swearing in front of Bean; I knew that it would catch up with me someday and he would repeat what I’d said. Everyone would know he was copying me, because my husband never swears. Every time I let an f-bomb slip I would feel guilty and ashamed, and wait for the inevitable repetition from my toddler… and every time I dodged the bullet. He didn’t seem to notice.

Until that day. As we walked down our street with Bean finally in the stroller and Monkey snuggled happily against my chest, Bean sang loudly, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Oh fuck.

“What’s that, Bean? Duck, duck, duck?”

“Yeah, duck, duck, fuck.”

“Duck?”

“Duck.”

At that moment I vowed I would never swear in front of the kids again, and I’ve mostly been successful in keeping that vow. After our walk, Bean seemed to have forgotten about his new word. I listened for it for the next few days, and finally breathed a sigh of relief.

Later that week as I put Bean to bed and went through the usual dance of please-one-more-song-no-I’ve-sung-all-the-songs-what-about-rockabye-no-I’ve-sung-that-already-what-about-lullaby-no-it’s-time-to-go-to-sleep, Bean looked up at me, shook his head slightly, and said softly, “Every fucking time, Mummy. Every fucking time.”

Please, tell me I’m not alone – have your kids repeated anything you didn’t want them to hear? What did you do?