Thursday, 19 December 2013

Signs and Symbols

It starts with the smallest trigger. I'm driving to the GO station, listening to people phone in to a Christmas contest on the radio to win a trip to a Muskoka resort. The woman on the line wants to give the trip to her mother who, a year ago, had serious health issues and wasn't expected to recover. She did and is stable now, so the woman wants to do something nice for her and thank her for taking care of her grandson. "She's done so much for me," the woman sobs, and you can hear the love and gratitude in her voice.

And suddenly, I'm sitting the GO parking lot, and I'm crying, too. Because where is my mother to take care of my kids? And why isn't she hosting Christmas, as she always used to do? And why can't I give her something to thank her for all she's done for me? Yet even as I'm crying, I'm remembering my Mom's advice for holding back tears: "Look up!"

I don't know if it's just that I'm more reflective at this time of year, remembering this period as the beginning of the end of her life, or if there's something more to it. But everywhere I look these days, I see signs of her.

I pick up a book from the bookshelf and realize it's one of hers. I pull out a gift bag to wrap a Christmas present and, with a jolt, see that the tag on it is in her handwriting. I go to write this blog, and a calendar reminder comes up on my computer: Mom's birthday is today.

These moments, those touches—so brief, so fleeting. I dread them because they often bring dark thoughts and tears at a time of year that's supposed to focus on joy and celebration. But I welcome them, too, because they're all I have left of her.

I don't believe in heaven—though I wish I did—so I can't believe she's looking down on me and the family I've built with my husband and my girls. Still, I'm grateful for what remains: the sweater that, to this day, smells of detergent and tobacco; the scraps of paper I kept with her handwriting. The small but undeniable signs that she was here, that she left an impression on the world. That she loved me. I'll keep searching for those signs of her presence.

And look up.

Monday, 16 December 2013

I Love You, But...

My three-year-old is always pushing the boundaries: exploring what's acceptable and what's not; what we'll tolerate and what we won't; whether or not we actually do what we say we're going to do. And when she does go too far—and knows it—she's figured out ways to lessen the impact. 

Often, when we're in the middle of yelling at her for something, she'll interrupt to say sweetly, "Mommy (or Daddy), I love you." She's figured out, quite astutely, that the sentiment softens us somewhat...because who can maintain a good righteous indignation in the face of a child's innocent expression of love?

Effective as that strategy may be, it rarely causes a total about-face. Both for continuity purposes—because my husband and I agreed that, as parents, we'd make a real effort to follow through on our promises and warnings—and, let's be honest, because she can be really, really frustrating, I find myself saying, "I love you too, but...," and then continuing with the reprimand. "I love you too, but you can't take things away from your sister like that." "I love you too, but you're not behaving very nicely."

What troubles me, more than the scolding, is the "but". With that qualifier, am I inadvertently teaching her that my love for her is conditional upon better behaviour, being nice, being a "good girl"? If so, what a grave mistake I've made.

My darling girl, you drive me to distraction ten times during the course of the day—sometimes during the course of a single morning. You yell and cry and challenge my authority almost daily, sometimes bringing me to anger or tears, too.

But whatever else you may question in life, know this with absolute certainty: I love you. Unequivocally, irrevocably, unquestioningly, unchangingly. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you, and there's nothing in the world that you could do to change that.

No ifs ands or buts. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Story Time

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been reading a lot recently. Rather than buy new books, I'm trying to go through the novels on my bookshelves—the ones that have been sitting there for ages, which, for one reason or another, I just haven't picked up.

The other day, looking for something new, I picked out Bridge of Sighs...and immediately, I knew it was a book that my mother had given me. It had all of the telltale signs: thicker pages, slightly disheveled-looking and ruffled with moisture. My mother liked to read in the bath at night, and the humidity in the air (or, perhaps, the book being dropped in the water) had warped the pages. Most of her books looked like that.

Whatever we may have disagreed on, a love of reading was one thing we always shared. Whenever she'd call to chat or just to check up on me, she invariably asked what I was reading. We'd compare notes on our latest Book Club and whether or not we thought the book was of any value. When I went home to visit, I'd return with an armful of books, leaving behind others that I had enjoyed for her to try.

Now, as a mom myself, it brings me so much joy to see my children interested in reading. My three-year-old has always been a book lover, and no bedtime would be complete without bedtime stories. Even my youngest, just starting to talk, knows enough to say "Book!" and point at the bookshelves in her room...she even has opinions now about which books she wants to read, if you can believe it.

I have always believed in the power of language: to bring people together, to bridge gaps, to open up pathways into new worlds, real or imagined, beyond our immediate experience. I love watching my 16-month-old learn to use words to get what she wants and to convey feelings, and watching my three-year-old learn the permanence of writing things down.

Now that my mom is gone, I miss that experience of sharing stories with her. But I'm lucky, in a way: I get to relive it through the time I spend reading to my girls, through their love of the written word. 

I'll just have to teach them to keep the books out of the bathroom.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What Really Matters

I've been doing a lot of reading these days, and I recently finished, I'll See You Again. If you're not familiar with the book, it's a heartbreaking story: Jackie Hance, a stay-at-home mother of three girls, had to come to terms with the loss of all of her children when her sister-in-law (driving under the influence) drove the wrong way on a highway and crashed their car on the way back from a camping trip.

I bought the book ages ago, but, superstitiously, it took me a long time to pick it up, with the faces of those three adorable girls staring at me from the front cover. It is completely irrational, but it's hard to shake the deep-seated fear that misfortune is contagious. And I can't imagine a world like that, without my two lovely girls in it.

I'm not saying I've never thought about a life without kids. Sometimes, when I'm at the end of my rope, or I feel like my life is about little more than groceries and daycare pickups and bath time, I admit that I've wondered how different my life would be if my husband and I had decided not to have children. Would we travel more? Have more disposable income? More free time? I'm sure we would. Life in that parallel universe would have its would probably even be more satisfying, much of the time.
But that argument only works in the most abstract and general sense. When I imagine a world without my kids, I feel a tightening in my chest, the first stirrings of panic. 

I worry about my girls constantly: that I'm raising them well, that they're getting what they need from me to grow up to be strong, smart, confident women. I would jump in front of a car to protect them, without hesitation. When they cry in the middle of the night, however silly the reaction may be, my heart still pounds.

But when I'm trying to get them to listen or they're melting down in public; when I'm tired and frustrated at the lack of time and space to myself; when it all just seems like work without reward, I forget. Forget what beautiful, loving children I have. The laughter, joy and meaning they've added to my life.

My days are full, and the minutiae of parenting small children isn't always pleasant. But I don't want it to take a tragedy to make me appreciate what I have. 

So when my kids are acting like monsters and I'm eying the exits, I'm going to try—really try—to take a moment, a breath, a heartbeat. To remember how lucky I am now, today, in this life. 

Because I have my girls.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Facing My Parental Shortcomings

This weekend, my husband and I went to a wedding out of town. We split the kids up, sending the three-year-old to stay at a friend's house while another friend of mine stayed over at our place with the 16-month-old.

We were dancing, drinking and generally having a good time, when we got a text from the family who was taking care of the three-year-old. She was sick and throwing up, and was asking for mommy.

It was late, we'd had a couple of drinks (okay, quite a few drinks), and we were quite far away. Our friends stressed that we shouldn't come home, that she would be fine and they would take care of it. So we finished out the evening, slept over at the hotel and drove home the next morning to find that, after a terrible night, our three-year-old had bounced back to her usual buoyant self.

Here's the shameful thing: part of me felt guilty for not being there for my little girl. But the bigger part of me was relieved that I didn't have to deal with it.

I hate those viruses—the mess, the constant bathing and cleaning, the worry that if one gets it, the other one will surely get it, too. I'm not good at that. And, I realize, there are lots of other tasks that mothers are supposed to excel at that I just don't do all that well.

Now that they're both at daycare and the eldest will go to school next year, I'm constantly worried that one of them will come home with head lice, which would totally freak me out and probably cause me to boil the entire house.

I'm no Betty Crocker. my idea of dinner during the work week is to throw something with some sort of vegetable in it on the kitchen table within half an hour.

I'm not as patient as I should be. I frequently find myself yelling or sighing over behaviour that, if I could look at it objectively, I would classify as just "kids being kids".

And I find it hard to appreciate the daily joys of family life when most days seem like more of the same: work, mealtime, bath time, bedtime, repeat.

I sometimes worry that I'm not doing my kids justice—that they're not getting the mother they really deserve. Because most of the time, they're great kids: cute and smart and interesting. But they can also be challenging and frustrating and exhausting.

I recently read an article in Today's Parent on "surprising parenting strategies that actually work", and it recommended that you make mistakes—lots of them—so that your kids don't feel they have to live up to some unachievable vision of perfection. No problem there...I make mistakes pretty much every day. 

I just hope that when my kids reflect on their childhood, they'll also remember the things I do get right—reading them stories, laughing and being silly with them, giving them plenty of love and cuddles—because that's what really matters. Even if I don't buy organic produce, and they sometimes go to school with their shoes on the wrong feet.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Dangers of Nostalgia

I was putting away the laundry this morning, and I came across my old nursing bras. I stopped nursing my second little girl a couple of months ago, so I really have no use for them anymore. After two babies, the seams are falling apart, the pads are falling out and not all of the fasteners work...they're so ugly, you'd wonder why I would keep them around at all.

The easy answer is, they're comfy, and I'm lazy, and I just didn't get around to it. But the real answer is, maybe I'm reluctant to let them go.

Don't get me wrong: when I think back to those early days, it's not all fond memories of a contented infant suckling at my breast while I stroke her hair with a Mother Teresa-type smile. In fact, with my first baby, nothing could have been further from the truth. In previous posts, I've talked openly about my struggles with nursing the first time around: how my milk didn't come in for ages, how the baby would scream every time I put her near my breast, how rejected and exhausted I felt. How I felt like a failure when I finally ditched the nursing and went to bottles. Even with my second, whom I ended up nursing for 14 months, it wasn't all cuddles and kisses: there were plenty of middle-of-the-night, I-can't-get-her-to-latch screaming fests, plenty of milk-soiled garments and, most of all, plenty of exhaustion from being the sole food source. And yet...

I've had enough experience now to know that I'm entering the "danger zone" of family planning. When your littlest starts walking and talking, you start getting nostalgic for those baby days—and no matter how much you KNOW it's not a good idea, some small part of you starts to wonder, "What if...?" However much I may have resented those newborn days of constant needs and demands, I still remember the simple peace of skin-on-skin, slow breaths, so close to my heart. Even my youngest doesn't want to cuddle that way anymore.

And as much as I complain about how exhausting and frustrating my children are on a daily basis, the simple truth is, they've enriched my life in ways I never would have imagined. So it's hard to say, conclusively, "That's it. No more kids."

But I know, in my heart, that our family is complete. We are the family we want to be, and I'm looking forward to the next stage, beyond diapers and soothers, as they grow up. So I threw those ratty old bras away.

Besides, I could always buy more.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Red Gloves

"Did you buy new gloves?" my husband asked me, holding up a pair of red leather gloves that our 15-month-old, in her usual path of destruction, had strewn across the front hallway.

"No," I said quietly. "Those were my mother's. I bought them for her."

It was December, almost two years ago. My mother was clearly getting worse, confined to her bed for much of the day. Her birthday was December 19th—close enough to Christmas that it was always a struggle to find two distinct, yet appreciated, gifts. That year, however, she'd been quite specific about what she wanted. I turned up for her birthday with a bag of presents that seemed woefully inadequate for the situation: a book on harnessing your brain power, some cosmetics and the red gloves she'd asked for.

I presented everything to her in bed, with the weak winter sunlight shining through the window, and she thanked me. We talked briefly, awkwardly, avoiding the elephant in the room, and she complained that she didn't have the strength or energy anymore to do the things she wanted to do.

Taking a page from the cancer books that espouse optimism, I smiled at her and took a deep breath. "Well, you'd better work on getting your strength back," I encouraged. "Because...I'm pregnant. We're having another baby."

It was early in the pregnancy, but—seeing the writing on the wall—we'd decided to tell our immediate family the news. I don't remember her exact reaction, but I'm sure she smiled and congratulated me.

She never got to wear the red gloves I bought her, so quick was her decline. Other than a brief phone conversation on Christmas Day, when she complimented the cake I'd made and sent home to her with my father, that was the last lucid conversation we had.

And when, months later, my second daughter was born, she was no longer around to meet her.

I kept those red gloves, though—just as I've kept the scraps of Christmas wrapping with her handwriting and the sweaters that still hold that faint mix of tobacco and perfume. I hold tight to the physical objects that remind me of my mother, because I'm afraid of the other things that are slowly slipping away. Enough time has passed now that I can't recall the exact timber of her voice or the specific slant of her smile. I worry that, if more time passes, all of the ties that bind her to me will slowly disintegrate.

So the other day, when it was cold enough, I wore the red gloves as I left for work, kissing my beautiful family goodbye. I know my mother would have loved my girls. And the gloves.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Finding the Joy

It's Saturday morning, and we're at Costco. (I know...who goes to Costco on a Saturday? The answer: EVERYONE.) The baby and the three-year-old are both sitting in the cart, vying for space and attention. We have exactly an hour before we have to get the three-year-old to her gymnastics class, so we're rushing down the aisles to get the items we need. The baby is getting tired and cranky, whining to be picked up. The three-year-old, bored, is starting to misbehave and climb around on the cart. I dole out a steady stream of snacks to placate them. 

I look around at the wide aisles full of merchandise, rendered garish by unflattering fluorescent lights, and I'm surrounded by suburban discontent. I start to feel slightly desperate—I have a sudden urge to run for the exits.

When I signed up for this "having kids" project, I was prepared to change a lot of diapers, clean up various bodily fluids, struggle with sleep deprivation. I understood that being a mom meant putting my kids' needs before my own. What I didn't realize was how unrecognizable my life would become.

Gone are the days of partying until 2 a.m. and sleeping in until noon, or lazing around on a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea and a good book. Gone are the spontaneous evenings—if someone at work has tickets to a show or a friend wants to go for drinks, I can't just say yes without carefully planning first.

The truth is, much of the time, the daily grind of working full-time and raising a young family isn't all that enjoyable. You run around all day—dropping off the kids, picking up the kids, squeezing a full day of work in between—and the time you do spend together as a family is that few hours in the evening when everyone is hungry, tired and grumpy. 

So why do it? Where's the reward?

It's in watching my baby copy me, as she toddles around the house with a purse on her arm, saying "bye bye" and blowing kisses. It's in playing hide and seek with my three-year-old (whose idea of hiding is to sit behind a chair in full view). It's in watching my girls tackling each other in their pajamas, giggling, clearly loving each other's company.

I need to recognize the joy when I see it—in those moments—so that when I'm tired and out of patience, they'll remind me of why I chose to become a parent. So that I'll once again feel that intense, binding love that will carry me through the most difficult days.

It's not much, I know. But it's a start.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Remembering What's Lost

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. I know many people for whom this day has a highly personal meaning.

I had a miscarriage with my first pregnancy, and I was devastated. One moment, I was daydreaming about welcoming a newborn into the world; the next, that joyful vision was cruelly wrenched away from me. I felt angry, sad, inadequate. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who have repeat miscarriages, the grief they must feel. Of course, I'm now fortunate have two beautiful, healthy girls, but I still sometimes think about that baby-who-never-was. It's just not something you forget.

There is this bizarre shroud of silence around miscarriage—as though there is shame or blame in it. Even the terminology is inadequate: "miscarriage" is so detached, so clinical, but to "lose" a baby suggests that it is someone's fault. You can't "lose" a baby the way you lose your car keys.

I don't know why, as women, we're afraid to talk about this kind of loss. Maybe it's because it makes us question ourselves, our bodies, our very femininity. Maybe we're worried that it will jinx us to say the words out loud.

But we should. Because when I eventually started talking about it, I was surprised by how many people had similar stories. Only by honestly sharing our personal experiences can we find comfort in others—and offer empathy in return.

So today, let's be brave and vocal. Let's support each other. I know we can find the space to grieve past losses while still looking forward, together, with hope.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Giving Thanks

I'm sitting here, drinking a glass of wine and watching the Food Network, while my family sleeps upstairs. I should be happy: it's Thanksgiving weekend, so we have three days off work and no plans. But that's the problem: it's Thanksgiving weekend. And we have no plans.

The thing is, my mother was always the architect of our family holidays. She was always the one who would invite everyone over for dinner—no matter how many of us there were or how much work it would be. She was an amazing cook and a gracious host. She did it all, and she made it look easy.

Me? I have two young children and a full-time job. And I suck at cooking. This family planning thing—it's not my forte.

On days like this, I miss my mom.

I miss the way she brought everyone together—whether we wanted to be or not—and reminded us that however different we may be, we are still family. We share the same blood, that common bond. I miss the laughter, the relaxed banter, the freedom of belonging.

I miss the feeling of being more than just me.

So, this Thanksgiving, I want to focus on what I do have. On my kind and generous husband. On the beautiful, smart girls who will carry on my bloodline. On my family that still remains.

And give thanks. For everything.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Five Things I'm Tired of Hearing Myself Say

Sometimes it worries me that my kids are only one and three years old. Because there's a WHOLE lot of parenting to go before I can unleash them on the world....

In honour of my fractious children, for today's post, I give you five things that I'm seriously tired of hearing myself say to my kids.

1. "No!"/"Don't..."/"Stop..."—This is pretty much a given for the early years, particularly with my over-confident and exploratory one-year-old. Her favourite activities are taking stuff out of stuff (for example, the entire contents out of my pantry) and destroying things. (Even the three-year-old now calls her "Destruct-or". My bad.). So I'm pretty sure I'll be saying this one in my sleep for at least the next five years.

2. "Listen!"—which is often followed closely by, "Focus!" I say this daily to my three-year-old when I'm trying to get her to do a particular task (brush her teeth, put on her socks, etc.) while she blithely continues whatever random activity has newly diverted her attention. Sigh.

3. "Sit!"—It does concern me that I may be treating my kids like puppies, given how often I tell them to "sit!" and "stay!" I don't feel so badly about the one-year-old, with her propensity to try to climb out of the slippery bathtub or plunge to the floor by rolling off the change table. But I also find myself saying this at just about every meal time, as my three-year-old squirms in and out of her chair, turns around, looks out the window....

4. "How do we ASK for something?"—This is our not-so-terribly-clever way of reminding our three-year-old to say "please" when she wants something. It boggles my mind that we have been drilling "please" and "thank you" into her head for the past three years, but she still needs to be reminded all the time. Yet she can recite entire books and a litany of songs from memory. Clearly, memory is selective.

5. "Go to bed!"—Seriously. Just do it. I've brought you a drink of water and your favourite stuffed animal. I read you a book, sang you a song and rubbed your back. You're obviously tired, so why are you fighting me on this one? I'll tell you what: how about YOU stay up and do the dishes, and I'll go to bed early....

As you'll notice from the entries above, many of my daily utterances to my children are one-word admonishments. I'm a little worried that, by the time my kids leave home, I won't have anything meaningful to contribute to adult conversation. 

However tempting it is to remind an adult, "How do we ASK for something?", I should probably work on expanding my vocabulary.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Bye bye, Baby

I'm sitting here, crying as I write this post and laughing at myself for crying. Nothing's wrong; I just put my youngest to bed for the first time in about 14 months without nursing her to sleep. And it actually went really well.

Intellectually, I'm fine with this. She's more than 14 months old, she was only nursing at night and only from the breast that she "preferred." We'd clearly gotten to the point where it was just for comfort. Knowing that I was going to be away from home on a business trip, with no desire to pump at this late stage, it was a logical decision. 

Hey, we had a good run. 14 months far surpassed any milestones I'd imagined for our nursing relationship. If you'd asked me within the first few months how I enjoyed nursing, I probably would have responded bitterly. No sleep, painful nipples, milk leaking out constantly....What's there to like?

Yet over time, I found a sweet comfort in nursing, in that time we shared. When she'd look up at me and smile like I was her universe, I felt loved. And needed.

Stopping nursing has its benefits: freedom at night (I can go out without having to put the baby to bed first!), not having to constantly wear bras and nursing pads, allowing my body to finally go back to its normal pre-baby state.

But I'm sad, anyway, because it means she's not such a baby anymore. We're not going to have that nightly ritual, that time for just the two of us to be still and present together. 

I am no longer needed in the same way.

So much of watching your children grow up is learning to let them go. I watch my beautiful girls, and I'm flooded with a frightening feeling of transience. Nothing is permanent; everything changes. This change is just one of many, and I'm sure it's not the hardest one.

But I still need a moment. To say goodbye to my baby—and hello to the bright-eyed toddler she's become.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Practical Magic

I was talking recently with a friend who's struggling with the decision of whether or not to have children. We discussed the pros and cons, and then she said something that really resonated with me. "The problem," she said, "is that it's all so clinical. We've taken all of the magic out of childbearing."

I have to agree. For many women who want to build careers, we plan our lives so carefully that unexpected pregnancies are the exception and not the norm. And sex for the sole purpose of procreation—ruled by tight timelines and squeezing in a "quickie" during our most fertile days—is hardly the stuff of romance.

When we're lucky enough to get knocked up, we have tests that can tell us we're pregnant before our bodies give us any clues. And the pregnancy itself is strictly orchestrated, with blood tests, routine and efficient doctor's appointments (with my last baby, I was in and out in under 15 minutes) and occasional ultrasounds, which focus less on marveling at the baby's in utero acrobatics than on identifying potential health problems.

For those who have trouble conceiving, the clinical side can be very aggressive: drugs, injections, invasive and uncomfortable procedures, and a vast array of data and statistics that reduce the chances of a successful pregnancy to a dispassionate numbers game.

My friend is right: we've lost some of the magic of having babies. So where can we find it again?

The magic is in the fact that it's possible to conceive at all—that two very different people can come together to create a brand-new human being out of nothing.

It's in the fact that a woman's body can stretch and shift and change so dramatically to support and carry that being for nine months.

It's in the moment when, as a pregnant woman, you feel the first stirrings of life inside you and think, Wow—this is for real.

And it's in the birth itself, when you hear that high-pitched newborn wail and see your red, wrinkled—but to you, indescribably beautiful—baby for the first time.

It's in the way your breasts—previously used only for entertainment purposes or to look good in a tank top—suddenly swell with the milk you need to feed and comfort the baby you've just brought into the world.

It's in that amazing first year, as you watch your baby grow from a helpless, entirely dependent newborn to a walking, talking little person, with her own expressions and gestures, feelings and opinions.

It's in that indescribably fierce love that forever binds your children to you, and you to them.

It's the magic of life. And however cynical we've become, that's a magic that never, ever gets old.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

...But I LOVE my kids!

It happens all the time. I'll be talking with another mother, and she'll be sharing the latest trials in her house: "My two-year-old is so obstinate! He doesn't listen! He is driving me crazy!" I'll listen to the story and laugh and commiserate. But after a while, she'll pause for a moment, and a guilty look will come over her face. Then comes an abrupt about-face: "But I LOVE my kids...."—followed by an all-too-earnest diatribe on how wonderful motherhood is. 

I have to admit, I do it too. It's hard not to—no one wants to look like a "bad" parent. But I'd like to pass on a message to my fellow mothers: I get it. You don't have to defend yourself, and you don't have to explain.

My kids can be cute and cuddly, smart and funny. My husband and I often watch them at a party or a family get-together and smile at each other with a secret swelling of pride, thinking, They are so adorable! How did we get so lucky, to have such wonderful, beautiful girls? 

Sometimes, my kids are absolutely lovely. 

And other times, they are more akin to demon spawn.

But does admitting that mean we love them any less? Of course not.

My husband put it well the other day, as we were lamenting the horrid behaviour of our three-year-old over a glass (bottle) of wine. "Look at it this way," he said pragmatically. "If you had a friend who constantly burst into tears and threw massive temper tantrums and yelled at you that they weren't going to be your best friend anymore, would you like them all the time? Would you be okay with that kind of behaviour?"

No, indeed.

So let's collectively let go of the idea that we, as parents, have to handle the vagaries of our children's moods and desires with perfect grace. We're not perfect; they're not perfect. But we're hardwired to love our kids—so let's just accept that love as a given.

And let's be honest with each other about our struggles and feelings, so that we can find a solution, a coping mechanism or, at least, a measure of comfort that we are not alone. 

That's what I'm trying to do here.

Because, you know, I love my kids.

Monday, 9 September 2013

No More Babies

My youngest—my 13-month-old—seems to have changed overnight. She's walking now and starting to talk, and I'm amazed at how much she understands, even if she can't communicate it all yet. Every day, she's looking, sounding and acting more like a toddler: mischievous, opinionated, full of spirit and into everything.

So that means, this is it: I have no more babies.

The rational part of me—the part that dreaded having a newborn the second time around—is supremely relieved. I was walking through the baby aisle at Whole Foods the other day, eying the nursing covers and the bottles and the jarred baby food, and my overwhelming reaction was, Thank God I don't have to do that anymore! 

No more sleep deprivation (well, most of the time, anyway); no more frustration at trying to figure out what on earth the little creature is screaming about. No more marathon nursing sessions; no more pumping. No more living my life in three-hour increments based on a baby's sleeping/napping schedule. 

As my kids get older, it's getting easier—and my friends with older children tell me it gets easier still. I fantasize about the day I'll be able sleep in past 7 a.m. or go on vacation with my husband and leave the kids behind.

And yet.

No more babies means no more naps with a sweet-smelling newborn cuddled right up into my neck, searching for that warmth and comfort that she lost when she left the womb. No more tiny clothes or adorable but pointless shoes. No more waiting impatiently with a hard, swollen belly, wondering, What is this little person going to look like? Who is she going to be?
It means there's no longer anyone who is hopelessly, helplessly dependent on me. And, if I'm being honest, I'll miss that.

So when I nurse my 13-month-old to sleep knowing that this time might be the last time; when I watch her eyelids grow heavy and feel her warm hand clutch mine, I want to freeze that moment. And keep her a baby for just a little bit longer.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Double Standard

This morning, we took the kids out to brunch with our next-door neighbours and their kids, who are of similar ages. Any parent knows that meals in restaurants with small children are never relaxing occasions: much time is spent coaxing them to eat; the rest, trying to keep them entertained without letting them destroy the place. 

My 13-month-old recently starting walking, so naturally, she refuses to sit for more than 15 minutes at a time. And she's now going through every parent's favourite toddler phase: the obsession with stairs. Up the stairs, down the stairs, up the stairs, down the stairs....

At some point during her adventures, it became evident that she needed a diaper change. Urgently. My husband kindly volunteered and whisked her off to change her...only to return just a few moments later. The only change table was in the women's washroom. 

Reluctantly, I abandoned my coffee and carted her off to change one of those lovely diapers (why, oh why, do I ever give her corn?), but part of me was annoyed. Not at having to do yet another diaper change—after all, I've been changing diapers for one child or another for more than three years now—but because my husband didn't even have the option to do it. And it's not the first time we've encountered this scenario.

Come on, folks—it's not the 1950s anymore. In our family, we share responsibility for taking care of our children. My husband pays his dues in everything from diaper-changing, to feeding, to entertaining a squirmy baby on four-and-a-half-hour plane ride. Granted, the restaurant was an older one, but it irked me that the natural assumption was that any diaper-changing on the premises would be done by the mothers.

I don't want to read too much into this; I'm not suggesting that the lack of change tables in men's restrooms is to blame for an uneven division of labour in child-rearing. But I do think  it propagates a stereotype that we've been trying to get past and which, for many families, is patently untrue: women are responsible for the "dirty work" of having babies.

Having helped to bring these children into the world, there's no reason why men can't take equal responsibility for raising them. And our culture, from restaurants to retail, should support that.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Honesty Is the Best Policy

I'm currently re-reading We Need to Talk About Kevin. If you haven't read it, it's a very well-written, if fundamentally chilling, piece of fiction about a mother whose son grows up to commit an atrocious crime.

The story is written from the mother's perspective, and the description of her reservations and fears about motherhood is quite realistic. She's a career woman who abandons trips to Paris for Play Doh, who has trouble balancing her new family with her existing sense of self, who struggles with her identity as a mother. Sound familiar?

That deep-seated fear of failure...I think it even starts in pregnancy. When I went into labour with my first child, my water broke late at night, and the nagging pain eventually turned into back labour. (Side note: if you haven't experienced back labour, it feels like someone is driving knives into the base of your spine. People say you forget what labour feels like—I remember exactly what it felt like, and it was the worst thing I've ever experienced.)

After 24 hours, my doctor concluded that the labour wasn't progressing and recommended a C-section. Exhausted and emotionally drained, I burst into tears. I'd wanted the opportunity to push the baby out, to prove that I was strong enough to bring another human being into the world. Needing a C-section felt like a cop-out—as though I was already failing at motherhood before I'd even had the chance to start.

Similarly, during those first few sleep-derived months with a newborn who wouldn't nurse, so many people said to me, "Enjoy this goes so fast!" And they were right: it does go fast. But for much of that time, I felt tired and frustrated, thinking maybe I just wasn't cut out for the gauntlet of motherhood. I kept wondering, Why am I not enjoying this? What's wrong with me? And I still feel that way sometimes: when I lose patience with my eldest, when I second-guess a decision I've made—or when, frankly, I just don't want to be around my kids for a while.

Motherhood is full of moments that make us question ourselves and our abilities. Our children stress us, test us, try our patience. So why do we feel the need to be tough all the time? Why do we feel that we have to be perfect?

We're all in this together. And the greatest gift you can give to another mother isn't a toy or a baby book; it's your time and understanding. 

Or, you know, an offer to babysit.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Love in Snapshots

"Just PICK something!" I cry in exasperation, as my three-year-old dithers over whether to wear the pink sundress with the polka dots or the pink sundress with the hearts on it. My husband comes in to commandeer the three-year-old...meanwhile, I try to stuff a squirming one-year-old into her clothes as quickly as possible. Unwilling to lie on the change table, changing her is somewhat like changing an octopus—it seems like she has at least eight limbs.

Once everyone is dressed, there's a flurry of activity as my husband and I try to sort out who needs to bring what to where, and who's taking which car. Does everyone have shoes? (run back upstairs to get shoes for the baby) We need a cheque for the daycare today! (run back upstairs for the cheque book). The three-year-old is thirsty. The one-year-old is climbing the stairs.

Finally, everyone is out of the house. I'm racing to the car, and if I hurry, I might just have time to get a coffee without missing my train....

Now that I'm back at work, our morning routine is hectic, and the evening routine isn't much better. We're always rushing, there's always something that needs to be done, and we're always behind.

So much of parenting is like this. We're always looking forward, planning ahead to the next event, anticipating the next crisis....

And then, there are moments that give you pause. 

I watched my three-year-old on the swings at the park today—she's just learned that if she pumps her legs, she can move herself without needing a push. I watched her long, tanned legs move back and forth, her blond hair waving in the breeze, the evening sun on her face as she laughed with a friend swinging beside her. And I thought, My God—she's so big. So tall. So grown up, compared to the little baby I remember.

We need those moments, I think, to remind us that the essence of our lives isn't the daily grind. It's not the early mornings and the cranky evenings; it's not the lost shoes, missed connections and hasty kisses.

Love is in the snapshots—the moments that remind us why we chose this path. Why we wanted a family, and why we get on this crazy merry-go-round, day after day.

In the rush of life, we can't afford not to take the time 
To be present,
To watch and enjoy the miracle we've made,
And to breathe.

Friday, 9 August 2013

A Toast to Fathers

In my blog, I focus on the trials and joys of motherhood—and trust me, there's a lot of material there. But I realized that I've ignored another important part of parenting: the fathers.

So, here's to the Dads.

Here's to the men who get up in the middle of the night to bounce screaming newborns and change dirty diapers and hug their exhausted, teary-eyed partners.

To those who spend hours carrying babies and toddlers—in Baby Bjorns or in their arms or on their shoulders—not because they have to, but because they want to.

To the initiators of tickle fights and roughhousing that usually ends badly but is crazy FUN for so long before that.

Here's to the kissers of boo-boos and wipers of noses, the bedtime-story readers and the sneakers of illicit snacks. 

To those who bring to our daily struggles a different perspective, a new approach or just plain, much-needed moral support.

And to the many men I know who cook, clean, wash dishes and do other household chores that nobody wants to do but are necessary to keep domestic life running smoothly.

Here's to our partners in our parenting successes ("We finally got the kid to sleep!/potty-trained/to stop biting her sister!") and failures ("Uh oh, I guess we should have baby-proofed that door...") —all of which we will (hopefully) learn from.

Here's to the men we love, whose children adore them.

I guess, if we really had to, we could do it without you. But we wouldn't want to.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Sweet Emotion

Tomorrow, I'll be putting my baby in daycare for the first time. I'd planned a nice, easy transition, taking her in for a couple of hours on Thursday and Friday last week...until she came down with a bad cold and I had to keep her at home.

So tomorrow morning, I'll be dropping her off in a "this-is-your-new-reality" kind of way and leaving her there. Alone, with people who are essentially strangers to her. All day.

Clearly, the idea is causing me some anxiety. She's been my constant companion for the past year, so the thought of watching her little face crumple when she realizes that I'm actually going to LEAVE her fills me with dread. Intellectually, I know she'll be fine—but that doesn't stop the butterflies in my stomach.

I've had debates with other parents about the nature of parenting: whether it's purely a rational exercise or whether emotion must also be involved. Some argue that parenting decisions must be made based solely on reason—for example, whether or not to vaccinate or how to discipline your child for bad behaviour—and I surely agree that reason must be a guiding force.

But for me, emotion and reason go hand in hand in parenting. Do I believe in mother's intuition? I'm not sure. But I do believe in trusting my instincts, however irrational they may initially seem.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Why I'm Still Nursing, when my baby was two weeks old, she woke up at midnight. She seemed really off to me: warm and a little short of breath. My husband and I debated what to do—after all, it was the middle of the night, and we had a sleeping two-year-old in the house—but I pressed him to take to emerg. So we drove to the hospital and waited for a couple of hours until we could see a doctor. He admitted her right away.

Not knowing what was wrong with her, they immediately started treating her for the most common truly serious illnesses. That meant watching my two-week-old cry and cry as the nurse tried to find her tiny veins to insert an IV, holding her little body inside a frightening-looking machine to get a chest x-ray, feeling helpless and vulnerable as she was whisked out of my arms for a lumbar puncture.

Thankfully, everything turned out okay. We made the "reasonable" decision to have them treat her, no matter how hard it was for us on an emotional level. But it was that feeling, deep in my gut, that something just wasn't right that brought us to the hospital in the first place—and it was the right place for us to be.

I don't know if it's the same for other parents, but I need to listen to both my heart and my mind when I'm making parenting decisions. Because the fact of the matter is, my love for my children and my desire to do the best for them are inexorably intertwined. I'm not sure I could separate them, even if I tried.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Back to the Grind

Next week is the end of my maternity leave. Like it or not, I'll be heading back to work.

Our new schedule isn't going to be easy. With a one-year-old who protests every diaper change and an often-uncooperative three-year-old, I can barely fathom how we're going to get everyone out of the house on time in the morning. And with my husband and I both working full time, I have no idea how we'll manage to get dinner on the table before someone melts down (It might be one of the kids, it might be me—it's too soon to tell.)

However, there are many reasons why going back to work is a good idea. It forces me to get out of the same jean shorts I've been wearing all summer. It makes me think beyond what time the baby napped and what we're eating for dinner. It provides an opportunity to interact with people who know more words than "mama", "dada" and "no". It gives me some freedom and personal space—and it will likely give my girls a mother who appreciates them more because of both of those things.

Whatever guilt I might have felt about putting my kids in daycare is mitigated by the fact that my eldest, who's been in daycare for a couple of years now, would rather be there than at home most days. There will be an adjustment period for my second, I'm sure, but she'll be okay.

I know, without a doubt, that going back to work is the right decision for me.

And yet.

In an earlier post, I wrote about cherishing the "lasts". This "last", for me, is a big one. We don't intend to have any more kids so this is my last maternity leave, the last time I'll experience that bittersweet swelling of pride and sadness as I drop my youngest off at daycare for the first time. Sad at being separated from this little being whose life has been so closely entwined with mine until now, sad that she'll probably have a tough day as she comes to terms with her new reality...but also amazed and proud of how much she's grown and what a smart, gorgeous little girl she's becoming.

I'm ready to go back to work—and she may not realize it, but she's ready, too.

So I'll kiss her goodbye and try not to cry as I let her go. Whatever tears we both shed, I know that, for her, this is just the beginning. There's a whole world out there for her to explore, full of promise and possibility. I just hope she'll let me come along for the ride.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Don't Worry, Be Happy

I'll admit it: I'm a worrier. I'm the kind of person who, when something minor happens, mentally jumps ten steps ahead to the worst-case scenario. It's my way of managing expectations: if I imagine the worst, then what actually happens can't be all that bad....

But if I was a worrier before, then having kids opened up a whole new world of worries for me. Especially the first time around, I found I was constantly judging my decisions, questioning my instincts, filling my mind with self-doubt. 

Each new stage brought a fresh wave of worries. 

Infant: Is she gaining enough weight? Is it too early to start solids? Is she going to smother herself if I let her sleep with a stuffed animal?

Toddler: Should we take away her soother? Is she ever going to learn to potty-train? She's coughing a lot...should I take her to the doctor?

Preschooler: How do I deal with these temper tantrums? Why won't she listen? Am I doing the right thing by disciplining her?

Even with my second baby, I found myself worrying. Is she nursing well enough? Should I wake her up to feed her? Is it bad to swaddle her when she's more than three months old?

And then there are the ridiculous worries:

The baby's been sleeping for a long time...what if it's SIDS?
I got really mad at my eldest today—does she think I don't love her? 

Those irrational worries stem from my deepest, darkest fears. Fear of my inadequacy as a mother; fear of a cruel and dangerous world that, despite my best efforts, I can't control.

As a parent, one of the hardest things to do is to trust your instincts and your sound judgment. There's no instruction manual for motherhood, no magic set of rules or strategies that will make your kids turn out perfectly. And as much as you want to protect your children and keep them safe, you also have to give them space to grow and develop on their own.

So I'm trying, really trying, not to worry so much because it's pointless—and it's exhausting. Kids are all different, and there's no one on earth who knows my kids better than I do. That doesn't mean I won't get it wrong sometimes.

But it does mean that, most of the time, I'll get it right.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Out With the Old, In With the New

Right now, our family is going through a lot of changes. We had a big garage sale last weekend and got rid of a ton of things we're not using anymore—including the black sweater and most of the baby stuff, since my youngest is one now and hardly a baby anymore. 

We recently got the exciting news that we're going to be on the home reno TV show "Leave it to Bryan". We've been scrambling to get organized and arrange childcare in time for the filming, and our property looks like a demolition zone.

And, in just two weeks, my youngest will be starting daycare and I'll be going back to work.

As parents, we spend a lot of time creating and enforcing rules and routines for our children. Mealtimes, play times, bedtimes...their little lives are governed by these daily routines. So when they need to adjust to new circumstances, we worry. What if my baby hates her daycare? What if my eldest is too young to stay at her grandmother's house for a week? What if, what if, what if.... 

The funny thing is, kids have an amazing ability to roll with the punches. It's the parents who find it hard to change.

After my first mat leave was over, I remember dropping my eldest daughter off at daycare for the first time. When she saw that I was actually leaving her there, her little face crumpled and she started to wail. I beat it out of there and barely made it out of the room before bursting into tears. 

For the next few days, every time I dropped her off, she'd cry. I felt horribly guilty for leaving her—until a kindly staff member said to me, "You know, she only cries for about five minutes after you leave and then she's fine." Huh. As it turned out, she wasn't pining for me all day. And soon, there were nothing but smiles when I left for the day. That actually hurt a little...for me, that is.

Sure, my baby is probably going to be upset when I drop her off at daycare for the first time. But it won't be long before she adjusts to this new reality—probably faster than I'll adjust to our crazy new routine of dropoffs and pickups, full-time work and scrambling to fit some fun into the evenings.

Change can be scary, because it means letting go of what you know and embracing uncertainty. It often means moving out of your comfort zone in search of something new, different, better. But whether you like it or not, change is inevitable—and in parenting, it's the only constant.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Letting Go of the Black Sweater

We're having a garage sale on Saturday and, in preparation, I decided to go through the two wardrobe boxes languishing in our basement. Both were full of clothes I'd left down there when we moved a year and a half ago—clothes I wasn't sure I'd fit into, post-baby #2, as well as some seasonal items. As I was digging through one of the boxes, I found it: a black sweater with faux-fur panels down the front.

I bought that sweater two winters ago. That was the winter I was pregnant with baby #2. It was also the winter that my mother died.

There isn't anything special about that sweater. It's not a designer brand, it wasn't expensive; I'm pretty sure I bought it at H&M. But I bought that sweater because wearing it made me feel tough and edgy. Strong. And that was a time when I desperately needed strength.

I remember wearing that sweater to the hospice to visit my mom. It was January, and the weather was bitterly cold. We knew it was a matter of days, at that point, so my family took shifts: we'd sit at her bedside for a while, then drink tea in the hospice's kitchen or wander aimlessly down the nearby country roads. My mother was already so far gone that I wondered if she even knew we were there.

As she struggled for breath, I was struggling, too. Dealing with the nausea and fatigue of the first trimester, I also had to deal with the waves of sadness that crashed over me in the middle of the night. For me, those two events—my pregnancy with baby #2 and my mom's death—are forever intertwined. 

That sweater is a reminder of a particularly hard time in my life. But more importantly, it's a reminder that I got through it. And today, I no longer need that physical "armour" to feel strong.

 I am strong.

So I'll gladly put the black sweater out on Saturday with my other discarded clothes. I'm done with it now; someone else can have it. I hope it gives them the same strength it gave me.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

I Never Thought I'd Breastfeed For a Year

If you'd asked me 11 months ago if I was going to breastfeed my baby for a year, I probably would have laughed. And then cried.

Despite the perpetual haze of sleep deprivation, I vividly remember the early days of nursing, when it seemed like that was all I was doing. The middle-of-the-night screaming when I couldn't get her to latch, followed by my own tears of frustration. The constant whir of the breast pump as I worked to keep up my milk supply while the baby learned to nurse properly. The leaking boobs, the smell of sour milk on all of my clothes, the discomfort of engorgement if she slept for too long. The evening cluster feeds, when she'd nurse for hours on end before finally passing out. And the pain, oh the pain...I had blisters in places I didn't even know it was possible to get blisters. 

I remember dreading the next feed and desperately wondering if I could palm her off with a soother instead. I remember trying all kinds of strategies to calm her down enough to wait for the milk to let down—swaying, singing, humming, bouncing, walking around....I remember the regular visits to the lactation consultant, the gnawing worry about whether she was getting enough, the continual questioning, "Is this normal?"  

I wasn't even taking it day by day; I was taking it feed by feed. Three months of nursing was my goal; six months was my stretch goal.

And then one day, it got a little bit easier. And then a little easier still. Once we got past the three-month mark, I began to feel like I knew what I was doing. (Remember, I never succeeded at breastfeeding my first child, so even though it was my second, I was still a total rookie.)

Then I blinked, and she was six months old.

I blinked again, and now she's a year old.

Obviously, I'm cutting down on the nursing sessions so that I can go back to work without causing her undue stress. I plan to keep breastfeeding in the morning and at night for a while, as long as we're both still happy with the arrangement, but she's getting better with her sippy cup every day and she eats more than her three-year-old sister. She's going to be just fine.

Women don't always talk about the difficulties of breastfeeding—perhaps because we're embarrassed to talk about that part of our anatomy, or because we're too ashamed to admit that something so "natural" may not come naturally. But I think it's important to share the challenges as well as the benefits, so that other women who are struggling know they're not alone. The beginning is hard, but it does get easier.

 I never thought I'd breastfeed for a year. But here we are.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

You're Almost One, Baby

You're almost one, baby—but surely, it was only five minutes ago that you were a helpless newborn, feather-light in my arms.

I watch you now—crawling, standing, climbing; so close to walking—and you seem less and less like a baby and more like a little person.

Gone are the 2 a.m. feedings, those frozen moments with nothing but you and I and the deep stillness of the sleeping world around us;

The long days camped out on the couch in front of TV reruns while you nursed and slept, nursed and slept—so tiny I could hold you your little body in the crux of one arm;

The lazy afternoon naps with you curled up on my chest like a question mark, your head tucked under my chin, your steady breath warm and soothing against my neck.

Infancy passes in a heartbeat. You'll be a toddler soon—and it's just another heartbeat from walking to running, skipping, singing, dancing. 

Once, I was the centre of your universe. Now your world is expanding and, with it, your independence from me. This is normal and natural; this is as it should be. I can see you growing stronger and wiser.

But no matter how big you get or how old you are, I'll never forget 

The soft strands of your fine baby hair;
Your tiny fists holding fast to my shirt;
The sweet honeyed smell of your skin.

You're almost one, baby, and you're growing and changing every day. But I'll always be the guardian of your history. Because I knew you first.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Six Things NOT to Say to a New Mother

Nothing invites unsolicited opinions like having a baby, and it's amazing how inconsiderate people can be during that delicate period of adjustment known as new motherhood. A number of my friends have had babies recently, so if you're talking to any of them, I hope you'll take these suggestions to heart.

#1 - "You look like you could use some sleep." You think? Maybe the reason I look tired is that I've had a bawling baby attached to my boob for the past 24 hours...

A better option: "How about I watch the baby while you have a nap?"

#2 - "You look great for someone who just had a baby!" — This sounds like a compliment, but it isn't. What it really means is, "You aren't a total wreck, considering that you've just pushed a watermelon out of your lady parts/undergone major abdominal surgery—but the truth is, you've looked better."

A better option: "You look great." Period. And if you can't honestly say that, remember what your mother always told you: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

#3 - "Your baby is crying; she/he is hungry/tired/hot/cold..." — One of the biggest challenges of new motherhood is confidence: it's hard to feel like you know what you're doing when it's something that you've never done before. I can't tell you how many times I've been out with my baby and someone tells me that she needs a hat or her feet are cold (which, by the way, is because she pulls off her own socks. Short of taping them to her feet, there's nothing I can do about that.). It takes time and a lot of patience for a new mother to get in tune with her baby's needs. The most helpful course of action is to give her the space to figure it out for herself.

#4 - "How come you're not breastfeeding?" — I think I've made my opinions pretty clear in previous posts, but I feel that a mother's choice of how to feed her baby is hers and hers alone. Putting pressure on a new mom who can't or chooses not to breastfeed is unfair.

#5 - "How are you liking motherhood? Enjoy every moment!" — This is usually meant as a conversation starter, but the truth is, it's difficult to enjoy the early days with a newborn—especially if you're doing it for the first time. You're probably feeling exhausted; you may feel confused and unsure of yourself. You may have the baby blues. The idea that you have to enjoy every explosive diaper change and screaming fit at 2 a.m. is totally unrealistic.

A better option: "How are you doing?" Offers of help and support are always welcome.

#6 - "Are you going to have another baby?" — Seriously? During those early sleep-deprived days, having more kids is absolutely the last thing on your mind. (In fact, you may be secretly wondering if it's possible to give this one back. Just for a little bit, so you can get some sleep, maybe wash your hair....This feeling is normal and will pass.)  

Let's wait until the cluster feeding is over to discuss that, shall we?

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Cherishing the "Lasts"

As parents, we make a big deal about all of the firsts. The first smile. First tooth. First word. First steps. First day at school. And so on. But in our excitement to move on to the next milestone, we don't always take the time to value the "lasts"...probably because often, we don't know when they're going to happen.

Barring any surprises, I've had my last pregnancy. The last time I'll feel a new life growing inside of me; the last time I'll hold a wailing newborn with tears in my own eyes and think, Hello, my little one...I've been waiting so long to meet you. 

In a week, it will be the baby's birthday—the last time we have to count her age in months instead of years. In a month, it will be the last day of my last maternity leave.
One of these days will be the last time I nurse the baby, or the last time I rock her to sleep in that green rocking chair I've spent so many hours in. One day, my three-year-old will call me "mama" for the last time, moving on to "mommy" or "mom" instead. 

Don't get me wrong, there are some "lasts" that I won't miss. The last cluster feed, for example...spending hours camped out with a baby attached to my breast. Or the last diaper change, whenever we finally get there.

But each age and stage has its unique and fleeting joys and challenges. And I think we need to cherish—and mourn—all of the "lasts" before we can truly move on. 

So I'll pack up the swaddling blankets, the nursing pillows and the newborn toys for our next garage sale—but not without a pang of regret.

Thank goodness there are so many firsts to look forward to.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

It's All About the Moments

As soon as you get married or are in a long-term relationship, people start asking that pivotal question, "When are you going to have kids?" (And it's usually phrased as a "when" not an "if"). People started asking me the moment I returned from my honeymoon! And then once you've had a child, people immediately start asking, "Are you going to have more?"

But having kids is a choice, and the choice is a difficult one.

I've always wanted kids, and I would make the case for having them to anyone who asked me. The funny thing is, I find it hard to explain why. Sure, I wrote a recent post on Five Good Reasons to Have Kids, but that's not the whole story.

When you look at the practicalities, it seems there are more arguments against having kids than for it. Kids are expensive—moving from diapers to daycare to after-school activities to university expenses, there's a continual drain on your finances. Kids are needy—from day one, it's all about their needs, their wants, their schedule. 

In fact, kids change the entire face of your life as you know it. No longer will you be able to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to the movies or take a vacation—you'll have to plan well in advance. You won't want to stay out late or party hard on Saturday night, because you know the kids will be up bright and early the next morning, regardless of what you want to do. And you won't have as much time as a couple, because now, you're a family.

So what is it about having kids that makes us converts? Once we truly understand the depth of the commitment, why do we often want to do it again?

I've thought about it long and hard, and I think it comes down to the moments. The first smile. Those wobbly first steps. When your toddler learns to say "I love you." When your child makes you laugh hysterically at something utterly ridiculous. A big hug at the end of a long day. The peaceful look on your sleeping baby's face. There are so many beautiful moments, every day.

It's easy to forget or diminish the importance of these moments during those times when parenting seems like a long uphill battle; when you resent the constant demands on your time and patience, and you're tired of putting everyone else first.

But then it happens: 

Your child comes running to you yelling "Mama!", as though you're the only person in the world she wants to see.

You watch your kids giggling at each other in the backseat of the car. 

Your baby looks up at you with a sunny smile that's filled with pure joy and worship.

And you're hooked again.