Saturday, 13 December 2014

Identity Crisis

My four-year-old is going through...I'd call it a phase, but it feels like for frickin' ever. It's a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or that nursery rhyme: When she was good, she was very very good/But when she was bad she was....You get the picture.

In a previous blog, I talked about Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, who wrote The Confidence Code, and its strong messages for women. One of the book's recommendations to raise confident girls is to take care how we phrase our praise and blame. If we keep saying, "Good girl!" when they do something right and tell them they've been a bad girl when they do something wrong, we perpetuate the stereotype that girls have to be "good." And being good all the time could limit them in the future: their desire to take risks, to challenge authority, to think independently and be different. Fair enough. But I have to admit, I find it hard not to reinforce "good" behaviour.

What, exactly, do I want my girls to be when they grow up? Therein lies the challenge.

I want them to be well-behaved...but not too well-behaved. I want them to be respectful of their elders and authority figures, but I also want them to speak up for themselves and express their opinions. I want them to be brave but not necessarily fearless. I want them to be confident and friendly, but I also want them to have the emotional intelligence to empathize with others. I want them to be tough but also kind.

No wonder it's confusing for my four-year-old. If I'm not even sure what I want her to be, how can she meet those expectations?

When I think about it, I realize I've struggled with that same problem my whole life: the desire to be a good girl but also a free-thinking, courageous, independent woman. Maybe it's an issue most women struggle with. I just hope when my girls have girls of their own, they'll have it all figured out.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Four Do-overs from My Childhood

"I want to be a grown-up," my four-year-old tells me on a regular basis. Of course, she also believes Band-Aids can heal all wounds and Subway is the most fantastic place to work on the planet, so I wouldn't give her words too much weight. Still, I remember that feeling: wanting more freedom, always looking forward to the next thing.

Well, as an adult, I can tell you, that was crap. Being a kid is awesome. Sure, being an adult has its perks, but they're few and far between (and mostly involve alcohol or chocolate or other things that aren't very good for you).

In that spirit, here are four "do-overs" I'd love to have from my childhood.

1. I'd take every opportunity to sleep. Like most kids, I wanted to stay up late and do what the grown-ups were doing. And why nap when you can play? As an adult—when 2:00 p.m. rolls around, and I'm at work, and I'm forcing down a second cup of coffee that I don't really want just to keep my eyes open—I often find myself longing for my bed. If I was a kid again, whenever someone said, "you need a nap" or "get some sleep," I'd be like, "hell, yeah!" Especially knowing that being a parent means many, many years of sleep deprivation.

2. When people told me to "go play outside", I'd do it. Without complaining. Of course, I remember wanting to watch TV instead of skipping rope or riding my bike...and with the constant access to technology today, I think my kids are even more inclined to be screen junkies. But now, entire days can go by when I don't see daylight. It's dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home, and my daily experience of "outside" is the view from the window outside my office. If I could do it again, I'd spend as much time outdoors as possible. Except maybe in the winter. I hate winter.

3. I'd give my parents a break. It's easy to see in retrospect, but as a kid, I never realized how exhausting it is to be a parent and work full-time. "Chicken again?" my sister and I would groan at dinnertime, much as my kids now say to me, "But I want soup!" Kids never appreciate their parents as people in their own right. They don't understand that their parents have needs and desires, too—indeed, they had entire separate lives before those kids even existed. If I could go back in time, I'd (try to be) less argumentative and more compliant.

4. I wouldn't be in such a hurry to grow up. I remember being so excited to reach certain "adult" milestones: get my period, shave my legs, have my first kiss, go on my first date....If I could do it all again, I'd relax and take the time to appreciate being a kid. I'm not saying childhood is a magical time when all is right with the world, but it is a brief and transitory period that we don't cherish as we should. And we'll never get it back.

I wish I could get my four-year-old to understand how great being a kid really is—but unless I start giving her unlimited desserts and no bedtimes, I doubt she'll believe me. Like me, she'll have to figure it out for herself. And so the cycle continues.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Three Things I'd Say to My Mom Today

Don't worry...this is not going to be one of those sentimental blog posts that makes you cry. But I feel that since I became a parent myself, I've gained a new perspective on some of the things that I didn't really understand about my mother when I was younger. Here are three.

1. "For most of our childhood, you were tired. All the time. Because we were exhausting." - Until I had kids, I didn't really appreciate the amount of energy involved in the daily routine: working all day, preparing meals and school lunches, giving baths, reading stories....Especially at the ages my kids are now, they're very high maintenance; they pretty much always want or need something. And they get up so frickin' early. I don't remember if I did that as a kid, but if I did, Mom, I humbly apologize. I didn't realize just how wonderful sleeping in could be.

2. "You probably worried about money more than you ever let on" - Don't get me wrong: as kids, my sister and I had a solid upper-middle-class upbringing and wanted for nothing. Heck, my parents even paid for me to spend a university semester at Herstmonceux Castle in England. But I do remember my parents worrying about my mother not having enough retirement income (ironic, I suppose, since she never needed it). And now I understand why: when you have kids, it's really hard to save for yourself. In spite of the fact that my husband and I both have decent jobs and earn reasonable incomes, the last few years have been the most difficult period of our lives, financially. Because kids are expensive. The daycare costs alone are staggering, and when you factor in saving for university on top of the regular household's crazy. So, Mom, I hope you know I didn't mean to take it all for granted.

3. "I understand now why you went to Winners at 8 p.m." - As an older child, I didn't really get why my mom liked to go shopping at night. Why didn't just she do it during the day? Of course, the answer is simple: because that was the ONLY TIME she could have an hour to herself, since she was a working mom and someone has to stay home with the kids. That's one thing I definitely didn't appreciate: what it means, practically, to always have to put someone else first.

So, Mom, let me just say now: sorry I didn't get it earlier. In the typically ego-centric fashion of children, those thoughts simply didn't occur to me. But what goes around, comes around...I have no doubt that, one day, my kids will have the same revelations about me.

Monday, 13 October 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...don't get bitter. That's the lesson I learned last week.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you just felt as though you were failing to be a functioning adult? Generally, I consider myself to be pretty competent. I work full-time at an often-demanding job that requires me to commute 1h 20 minutes each way. I have two kids under age five whom I adore and keep (reasonably) clean, well-fed and entertained. Life is busy—hectic at times. And usually, I've got this.

Except for this past week. Without going into the details, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and I let it get to me. I found myself going into this downward spiral where, with every additional thing that happened, I began to question my capabilities, both at work and at home.

I think one of the most important qualities you can have—in life and particularly as a parent—is confidence. And that's a hard one, as it takes a leap of faith...most of the time, there's no concrete evidence that you're succeeding. 

Plus it's easy to feel as though you are operating in a vacuum. Why do you think there are so many parenting blogs and online forums out there? Because we're all seeking validation that we're doing something right.

But here's the thing to remember: nobody in the world knows your kids better than you. And they need you to set an example; to show them to behave and how to make their way in the world.

So, after a disastrous few days, I said, "Okay, that's it. Now it's time to turn things around." And I did.

We all know that life has its ups and downs, and those down times can seem endless. But the reality is, this too shall pass. And until it does, you can spend the time wallowing—or you can acknowledge all of the things that are going right and remember just how lucky you are. 

Being happy is the more difficult choice...but it's a choice we all have to make.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Same Boat

I'm at the checkout in the Superstore, packing the canvas bags that I finally managed to retrieve from the trunk with groceries, kids' clothes and other random items while simultaneously taking out my debit card to pay the bored-looking cashier and scrounging at the bottom of my purse for my keys. I glance up, and my four-year-old is jumping right into the middle of the aisle, directly into the path of a woman with a shopping cart. The woman stops abruptly without crashing into her, at the same time as I yell, "Watch out!" 

I abandon the groceries for a moment to pull her next to me and start into my lecture. "Seriously, C—you have to pay attention! You have to watch out for other people! You're in their way, and you could get hurt!"

My four-year-old gives me what I'm sure will become her patented look as a teenager—the one that says, "But I DIDN'T get hurt!" and "You're totally overreacting" and "I'm not really listening to you anyway" all rolled into one. And now I'm holding up the line, and the man behind me is starting to look impatient.

I see women just like me all the time. The woman shushing her wailing baby as she waits in an unmoving checkout line. The woman patiently explaining to her older child why she can't call her by her first name instead of "mom" or "mommy" (the answer to which, by the way, was essentially, "because I said so"). The woman saying "no" for the thousandth time to the thousandth thing that her child has pointed out or asked for or grabbed right off the shelf. The woman bribing her squabbling kids with candy for just five more minutes of good behaviour so she can finish her shopping in (relative) peace.

Don't you see? We all have the same issues.

Having children can make your life seem more insular since so much of what you do, day to day, is focused on your family. So when I have 45 minutes to get the week's shopping done, I see the woman with the fighting kids as an obstacle blocking my path to the yogurt; I see the woman with the crying baby as an impediment to me getting my groceries and getting the hell out of there. I sometimes forget that we are in the same boat.

Life is busy, life is hectic and kids are endlessly demanding. But when you see that poor woman trying to stop her two-year-old from having a complete meltdown in the frozen foods section or cleaning up an entire row of cans that her kid has accidentally knocked over, instead of getting irritated, breathe. And take a moment to give her a little smile or a nod of complicity and understanding. Don't worry; it's fine. 

God knows, we all need it from time to time.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Reality Check

Let's face it: being a grown-up isn't always fun. In fact, it's rarely fun...we find our moments of fun in-between all of the other stuff we have to do, like cooking dinner and doing the laundry and going to work. There's no question that being a kid is a much better deal.

So why, then, when I ask my four-year-old to do a simple task like setting the table, does she freak out, stomp her feet and throw the cutlery on the floor?

Children are, by nature, ego-centric. They can't fathom that the world doesn't revolve around them, their wants and their needs. But the fact is, it doesn't. And life is full of little disappointments.

Our kids today have everything, from Gymboree classes to the latest toys and brand-name clothes. My kids are no exception. Like any middle-class parent—and like our parents before us—my husband and I wanted to give our kids more than we had. To smooth the path for them and pave an easy road into adulthood.

But where does it stop? What happens when our kids realize they are actually NOT the centre of the universe? That, in fact, there's a whole wide world out there that may embrace their presence—but could also do just fine without them?

This issue of confidence and self-worth: it's a sticky one. Too much of it, and you'll get spoiled, entitled kids who mistakenly believe the world exists solely to do their bidding. Too little, and you'll wind up with kids who are too delicate and fragile to cope with life's challenges and move past them.

My four-year-old is bossy, opinionated, outspoken and entirely self-assured. So I worry about the first time she hears the words, "I don't like you" or "I don't want to play with you." I worry what will happen to her self-esteem when she's told, "That's just not good enough."
I worry about how to teach my girls how to stand up for themselves—to be proud of their accomplishments and who they are—without feeling that they are owed something for simply existing. And I don't know how to explain that mistakes and disappointments are an inevitable part of life so they'll need to learn to handle them gracefully, whether they like it or not.

I know I can't shield my kids forever, however much I might want to, and that it's my job to explain these things. But they aren't life lessons that I want to teach. Truthfully, I've barely learned them myself.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Four Parenting Confessions

I caught myself doing one of these things this morning, so I thought, Hey, why not write a blog about it?

Today, for your amusement, I give you a few parenting confessions. Don't judge me; just use this to bolster your confidence about your own parenting skills.

1. I use the smell test for everything. Does the toddler need her diaper changed? (sniff) Yup. Are these clothes clean or dirty? (sniff) Dirty. Is this today's sippy cup of milk or the one from three days ago that might possibly have rolled under the sofa? (sniff) Three days ago. Pre-kids, did you every thought you'd make a habit of sniffing your kids' bums? Probably not. But the smell test is, truly, the answer to every pressing parenting question.

2. I sometimes pretend that I don't hear my kids. Not when they legitimately need me, of course—as a parent, you learn early on to tell the difference between a "my sister stole my toy" scream and an "I might need stitches" scream. But sometimes, when I hear my kids calling, "Mommy, mommy," in that whiny, solve-all-of-my-problems-for-me-while-you-make-dinner-one-handed kind of way, I just don't answer. Basically, I do the grown-up equivalent of covering my ears with my hands and singing, "La, la, la!" Oh, wait—I think I actually did that once.

3. I worry about how other parents judge me based on how I'm feeding my kids. This is a paranoia that started early on, when I tried to breastfeed my first baby and wasn't successful. When I'd take my her to mother's groups, and she'd start to fuss, I'd guiltily bring out a bottle of formula, wanting to proclaim loudly to everyone, "I tried really hard to breastfeed, I swear! It just didn't work out!" And that feeling—that I'm not doing it right or well enough—has persisted. I have never been the kind of mom who prepares organic healthy gluten-free snacks from scratch. Sure, I try to make sure that my kids eat their fruits and vegetables...but I also let them eat goldfish and Timbits and chicken nuggets and pre-made meals from Longo's on a regular basis. Not only do I hate to cook, but I work full-time and have a long commute—and, frankly, I'm not willing to spend my two days off doing something that I hate. That's my reality.
4. I look forward to the time when they're both asleep. It's not that I don't enjoy spending time with my kids. It's just that they're constant—always needing something, always wanting something. Every day is, to a large extent, driven by their schedules. So, by the end of the day, I'm ready for some time to do something that I want to do. Plus, no matter how bad they've been during the day, they look so darned cute when they're sleeping.

Now, if you'll excuse me...something doesn't smell great, so I'd better figure go out what it is.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Fine Lines

Yesterday, I had the vastly unpleasant experience of someone stealing my wallet and having a grand old time with my credit cards until I noticed that it was missing. After many, many hours of worrying, and berating myself for not being more attentive, and cleaning up the mess that this inconsiderate person created, I now find myself wondering what I can take away from the experience.

Obviously, my No. 1 learning is, for God's sake, don't keep so much stuff in your wallet! I'm embarrassed that I wasn't smarter or more careful—but to be honest, that's not what's really bothering me.

My parents both considered themselves spiritual but not formally religious people. We didn't go to church, because they had issues with the conflicts (wars, genocide) that organized religion can sometimes cause. I explored a few different paths, visiting different churches with my friends, but none of them felt right to me. Then I went to university and read Nietzsche, and out went any notion that organized religion would be my source of comfort.

But I do believe that everyone has to believe in SOMETHING, so I decided that I would believe in people. People are essentially good, I told myself, and throughout my life, I've found many examples to shore up my argument. So what's really bothering me about this incident is that it's shaken my faith in just how "good" people really are.

Plus, I'm finding myself more preoccupied with an even bigger dilemma: if I don't understand this kind of behaviour, how can I possibly explain it to my kids?

As parents, we invest so much time and energy in teaching our kids to share, to get along, to be nice and to participate actively in our community. Those are undeniably important messages.

But how do we reconcile these messages with the other messages that we also need to convey: that not everyone is nice, good or honourable? That, at some point (and, let's face it, probably at many points) in my kids' lives, someone is going to try to screw them over? That they will sometimes lose out to factors beyond their control. That there are bad people in the world. And that even essentially good people can still make bad decisions that have damaging consequences.

Mostly, I worry about my eldest daughter—the one we call the Arbiter of Justice, since she always lets you know where you stand when you violate one of the "rules" she's learned. Because no matter how smart or pretty she is, and no matter how well she thinks she understands how the world works, sooner or later, someone isn't going to like her. Someone will steal something from her. Someone will violate her trust. Someone will break her heart. And the thought of having to teach her that breaks my heart.

Share...but don't share everything. Help others...but not if it puts you in danger. Be kind...but don't expect everyone to be kind to you.

I want my kids to do what's right. But if I don't understand how people can act the way they do, how can I possibly explain it to them?

We don't live in a world that's black and white; it is so many subtle shades of grey. I want to raise kids who understand how to live—and thrive—in such a world. I just hope I'm equal to the task.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Finding the Moments

This past week, we went on a family vacation to Manitoulin Island to visit my husband's mom and her husband. It was not the most successful trip we've ever taken. 

The drive—which takes six hours on a GOOD day—took an entire extra hour because part of the 400 was closed. My youngest got a GI virus, which she very kindly passed on to me and my mother-in-law. It took us all several days to recover, and then my husband got a cold. The weather was not fantastic—one morning, it felt like October—and being stuck indoors on Manitoulin Island is kind of missing the point. 

By the end of the week, my husband and I had reached the point where we were ready to put the kids back in daycare for a bit, just so we wouldn't have to be CONSTANTLY entertaining them.

I admit it: I was a little pissed off. A whole week of hard-earned vacation, and that's what we get for it?


Here's the thing: when you have kids, you have to look for the moments that make a difference.

Watching my eldest climbing like a mountain goat on the (many) rocks. The sheer joy on her face as she ran in and out of the (very cold) water. The full hour we spent playing Crazy 8s on the kids' picnic table outside. The sweetness of seeing my youngest child interacting with her grandparents. A cold glass (or two) of chardonnay, watching the waves lap against the shore. Letting the battery die in my Blackberry and not checking my work email. Just doing nothing for five minutes.

It wasn't perfect, but what in life is? Especially when you have two growing, changing, demanding and energetic children with you. The thing about kids is, they're always there, 24/7...and while you know this intellectually, you don't really understand it emotionally until you have children of your own.

Life is busy, sticky, messy. Things rarely work out as you've planned. Case in point: my four-year-old, who should be napping right now, is sitting on my lap as I write this blog post.

It's not a perfect life, but it's a good life. As long as you can find the moments.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Let It Go

My youngest daughter just turned two, and I have to admit, it hit me harder than I had expected. I watch her wrestle with her sister, or hear her ask me questions in full sentences, or see her stubbornly refuse to let me put on her shoes for her, and I am forced to realize that she's not a baby anymore.

It's hard to let go. And when you think about it, it's understandable: so much of your time and energy as a mother—particularly in those early years—is spent worrying about how your children are doing, and what they are doing, and keeping them safe. 

But when you get right down to it, that's what parenting is all about: the gradual letting go of your children as you empower them to be independent individuals. Teaching them how to make their own decisions, and giving them the skills and strength they need to succeed on their own.

That's why I struggle with stories like the recent one about the South Carolina mother. If you haven't heard it, here's the gist: she worked at McDonald's during the day and often brought her nine-year-old daughter to work with her. But, not surprisingly, the daughter got bored of sitting in a restaurant all day and wanted to be dropped off at a nearby park. The mother left her daughter at the park while she worked for several hours, on several occasions. Now, she has been arrested for "unlawful conduct towards a child."

This story makes me sad, for several reasons. The woman—who is clearly a low-income earner—will most certainly lose her job. She will probably also lose custody of her child, who is currently with the Department of Social Services. And that means that her daughter—who is fine, by the way—will also lose her mother.

Did the mother make a wise decision, leaving her daughter at the park alone while she worked? Well, no. But what if the child had been 11 or 12 instead of nine...would it then have been okay? If it had been just once, instead of several times? If it had been for an hour instead of several hours?

I don't know what choices this woman had—whether the father is in the picture, whether she has any family or friends who could have helped out, or whether social childcare programs were an option for her. 

But I do know that every single day of parenting is full of decisions that can either minimally or profoundly affect your children and your family—and you don't always know which one it will be, at the time.

I'm not looking forward to the day that I have to make decisions like whether my eldest is old enough to walk to school on her own, or when it's okay for her to take her sister to the park on her own. And that's partly because I'm afraid of making the wrong ones—What if there is a degenerate in the park that day? What if there's a distracted driver when she has to cross the busy street?—but also because I'm afraid of how others will judge those decisions. 

As a society, we are quick to blame and punish parents for their failures. But the reality is that parenting is a series of choices, and we've all made choices that didn't go as planned.

Of course, it's our job to keep our kids safe—as much as we can control that, anyway. But it's also our job to gradually let go of that control. Because that's how our children will grow up.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The D Word

My four-year-old has started to say something that I just don’t want to hear. And no, I’m not talking about the four-letter words that proliferate on the playground (though I’m not crazy about those, either). This four-letter word is of an altogether different calibre.
In play, she’ll stretch out on the floor and say, “I’m dead.” Or jump on top of me or my husband when we're roughhousing and say, “You’re dead.”
I try not to take it too seriously. After all, she's just a kid. But my own loss is still recent enough that it hurts to hear her say those words. Part of me wants to grab her by the shoulders and ask, “Do you understand what you’re saying? Do you know how much it hurts when someone you love dies?”
Of course she doesn’t. At four years old, a child’s grip on time is tenuous at best—and this is a kid who falls asleep in the car in the afternoon and wakes up thinking it’s the next day. There’s no way she can conceive of the permanence of death.
This kind of behaviour is normal for her stage of development. I’ve read the articles, and they advise taking it slow, giving her just the information she needs to satisfy her curiosity. When I’ve asked my daughter what she thinks “dead” means, she says, “It means you’re not here anymore.” 
True enough—but it's not like taking an extended holiday. When you experience the loss of someone you love, it changes you, shapes the person you will become. Part of me wants her to understand that.
But a bigger part of me wants her never to understand.
I want both of my daughters to grow up strong and brave, open to experience all of the joys that life has to offer. But that means they’ll also be exposed to the struggles and setbacks that come with them.
As mothers, we want to be superheroes to our children. From the beginning, our natural instinct is to protect them. We want to shield them from the losses and pain that are an inevitable part of growing up, but that’s a losing battle.
I know I’ll eventually have to explain to my daughter what death really means...but not today, okay?
Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, my little one. It will happen before you know it. For now, just be a kid. And let me protect you for just a little while longer.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The (Mommy) Confidence Gap

Recently, I went to the Art of Leadership for Women conference with some colleagues. Clearly, the draw was Martha Stewart—who remains a terrifying and awesome presence despite her time in the slammer—but I really enjoyed Katty Kay's session on the confidence gap. She and Claire Shipman (both journalists) have been researching the roots of confidence—particularly, why men have so much of it and women, ostensibly, so little.

Some people say they're creating a gender divide that doesn't really exist. But as I listened to her talk about how women dwell on the small mistakes and forget the larger victories; how they obsess about being perfect and are afraid to the risk of being wrong; how they secretly believe they don't deserve the good things that have come their way, I thought, That sounds like me.

And you know what else? That sounds like motherhood.

There is nothing more beautiful—and more terrifying—than the moment the nurse or doctor or midwife places your newborn in your arms for the first time. And even as you're falling in love with those sweet little features, you're thinking, Oh my God...they trust ME to take care of a newborn?!

Those endless questions—What do I do now?, Am I doing it right?—haunt us. We worry about whether our children are developing the way they're supposed to—because if they're not, clearly, it's our fault. We blame ourselves for problems or when things don't work out (see my obsessive guilt about not being able to breastfeed my first baby if you want proof of that one).

And yes, during that moment when we look away for just one second and the child rolls off the change table or falls off the bed, we question whether we are fit to be mothers. 

I'm sure fathers experience some of those thoughts and feelings, too. But they ring particularly true for mothers, I think, because we are always evaluating ourselves—against other mothers or against some ridiculously high standard that is impossible to meet.

That's why we need to help each other out. As women, as mothers, we need to be kind to one another. In the absence of a "village" to help us raise our children, the least we can do is support one another—and know that, despite our confidence in our parenting skills (or lack thereof), we have all of the competence that we need to raise healthy, happy kids. 

This, I know, is a gap we can overcome.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Three Things I Rarely Said Before I Had Kids, Which I Now Say Every Day

Sometimes, when I listen to myself talking to my kids, I sound like a broken record. But what's funny is that most of the things I say, I would never (okay, rarely) say to an adult.

So today, I give you three things that I never said before I had kids, which I now say ALL THE TIME.

1. Don't put that in your mouth. This oral fixation long does it last, anyway? Because I still have to remind my four-year-old not to suck on her (newly manicured) fingers. And my not-yet-two-year-old—well, there's no telling what she'll decide looks interesting/tasty on any given day. She's been known to eat crayons, stickers...pretty much anything she can fit in her mouth. Yesterday, she was sucking on the lid of lip balm like it was a lollipop. Good parent that I am, I removed it before she swallowed it. Much to her dismay.

2. Go to sleep. Adults usually leave each other's sleeping habits alone, but I have spent more time trying to get my kids to go to sleep than doing any other parental task. And my kids are GOOD sleepers! I hear from other mothers that bedtime can be a battle of epic proportions, requiring boardroom-sharp negotiation skills and bribery that rivals the corruptness of world politics. Or, you know, just waiting until they pass out.

3. Why would you do that? I'm very curious about the thought process that my kids must go through, because often, their actions mystify me. For example, why is it that my kids' first reaction to something new is usually, Can I break it? What makes one decide to dump out every Q-tip or Kleenex from the box and then put them back in, one by one? When one has a napkin close at hand, why would one wipe one's sticky, chocolatey hands on one's clean clothes? What motivates one to think, I wonder what ketchup feels like in my hair? If you find out, please let me know.

What do YOU say to your kids that you never thought you'd say? I'd be interested to hear your comments on this one.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Greener Pastures

I like to read family drama-type novels, and I recently read Sleepwalking in Daylight, a story told from the dual perspectives of an adopted teenage girl and her mother. The mother, who is also the biological mother of twin 8-year-old boys, is a stay-at-home mom who embarks on a quasi-affair with a man who has a wife and a little girl (although their relationship is really more about talking than about physical intimacy). 

What hooks her is this: after a chance encounter and conversation on a commuter train, he asks her, "Do you ever want to walk away from your life? Do you ever think this life is not exactly what you had planned? Do you ever crave something, anything, that could wake you up?"

Suffice it to say, everything ends badly—the book is more of a cautionary tale than a real life lesson. But I think, if we're honest with ourselves, many of us would admit a certain truth to some of those questions.

Before you had kids, did you have a clear vision of what your day-to-day life would look like? For most working parents, each day is much the same. The specific activities vary, but generally, you rush to work, to rush home, to rush the kids through their evening routine, to eke out a couple of hours of time to yourself before you pass out. And then you wake up and do it all over again.

Fulfillment: it may well be the Holy Grail for adult women, but I'm not sure it exists. I know many others like me who, if you asked them, would say they're generally happy. Yet they're still always looking for more.

Part of the issue may be the expectations that we place on ourselves. We're always waiting for that next step in life—the new job, getting married, having kids, buying a new house, et cetera—that will bring us true contentment. And, as if that weren't enough, working mothers heap on more expectations. For some reason, we believe that we have to be good at everything—from decorating birthday cakes to disciplining our children to balancing chequebooks to kicking ass in the boardroom. Well, guess what...we weren't perfect before we had kids. So why would we ever think that we could be perfect now?

There are ways to create change, great or small, without changing course entirely. Sometimes, a change in direction is exactly what you need. For example, we have friends who packed up the kids and the house and moved to Australia for a year. You can do that sort of thing, even when you have kids. You just have to want it enough.

What's hard is that, well, we're all so tired. When you get to a certain point in your life, it's so much easier to swim downstream than to fight the current. But it means that, often, you're just drifting.

The lesson that book taught me wasn't that I need a life overhaul but, rather, that I should dig deeper to find the energy to change the parts that I want to change. So I will. And perhaps I still won't find that elusive Holy Grail of fulfillment...but I hope I'll get just a little bit closer.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

To My Four-year-old, With Love

How can you possibly be four
When just four minutes ago,
You fit perfectly into the crook of my arm, curled up like a seashell, sleeping with concentration,
Or crying those plaintive infant tears as I rocked you endlessly in the rocking chair,
Or clinging to my chest like a little monkey, bright-eyed and curious about the world around you?

How can you be four
When just four seconds ago, 
I watched you take your first wobbly steps—and then take off like lightning,
Watched your world expand as you learned something new every day
And began to understand its joys and sorrows?

How can it be
That you are no longer a baby or a toddler,
But a little (big) girl whose lean legs and arms dangle when I pick you up,
Who speaks in full sentences and questions everything, 
Who can ride a bike, count to 100 and spell her name,
Who tells knock-knock jokes (albeit bad ones)
And knows every line from Frozen by heart?

You are growing up. 

And it worries me, because sometimes—most often when you're sulking or mad—I look at your sweet, sullen face, and I catch a glimpse of the lovely young woman that you will become. And while I have every confidence in your brains and your beauty, I'm not at all ready for that.

So do me a favour: don't grow up. Stay my little girl; let me read to you and sing to you.
Keep wanting me—to be with me—every day.

Give me four more seconds to cuddle you and hold you close. 
Let me be your moon and your stars for just four minutes longer.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

I don't think I'm alone in this, but sometimes, I feel like I'm living in one of those dreams where you're screaming as loud as you can but no sound comes out of your mouth. Because when I talk to my kids, it's like I'm speaking into a vacuum. Talking into a void.  Clearly, they don't hear me when I ask them to do stuff.

For example, here's what a typical morning sounds like in my house:

Me: "Okay, babe, it's time to get ready for school. Please put your pants on."

The three-year-old responds by dancing around the room, singing "Let It Go" from Frozen.

Me (holding up the pants): "Please put your pants on, honey. I have to go to work. I'm going to miss my train."

The three-year-old picks up a book from her bedside table and starts leafing through it. Meanwhile, the toddler wanders idly into her bedroom and tries to grab the book away from her, yelling, "No, MIIIINNNE!"

Me (to the toddler): "Give that book back!" (then to the three-year-old) "WHAT did I ASK you to DO? Put your pants on, PLEASE!"

"Noooo, I'm reading that!" the three-year-old yells back, wrenching the book away from the toddler and knocking her off balance. The toddler, predictably, falls on her butt and starts to wail. "MAMAAAAA!"

Me (as the three-year-old picks up a stuffed animal to play with and the toddler tries to climb into my lap to be comforted): "PUT YOUR PANTS ON!"

Now, not only am I yelling at my kids (which, of course, instantly makes me feel guilty), I'm also late for work. But most of all, I'm in a state of frustration, wondering, Why this is so hard? Why doesn't anyone LISTEN to me? 

I honestly wonder, sometimes, if I'm actually speaking out loud. If a mom yells in a forest, does it make a sound?

I hope this is just a phase; that the constant repetition and commitment to routine will one day pay off with polite, intelligent children who listen and respond to adults in a thoughtful manner. But a larger, more pessimistic part of me fears this is just an early harbinger of the teenage years. 

Do you hear what I'm saying?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Rush Job

I'm standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to buy eggs and a few other essential items for the week. It's Saturday afternoon, and the store is crowded—everybody in the suburbs seems to be out shopping today. 

The elderly female cashier is chatting with the woman in front of me, who appears to be complaining about a minor health issue. "I knew someone who had a brain tumour—can you believe it?—and she couldn't drive for weeks," the cashier commiserates as she puts the woman's items in her shopping bags at a leisurely pace. No one seems to be in any rush to finish this least, no one but me.

I find myself gritting my teeth, barely resisting the temptation to roll my eyes. Why can't she just get on with it? I think impatiently, shifting from one foot to the other. The kids will be up from their nap soon; I need to get home. I still have to pack the diaper bag before we leave for dinner, and I want to throw in a load of laundry before we go...

Then I stop for a second and think about it. Am I really in so much of a hurry that I can't let these nice women have a brief conversation? Does it really matter if I get home five minutes later than planned?

Looking at the fabric of my life, I realize that I spend most of my waking hours rushing. Rushing to get dressed and ready for work before the kids wake up. Rushing to get the kids ready for daycare. Rushing to the GO station to catch my train. Rushing to get to work on time so that I can leave on time. Rushing home to get dinner on the table before the kids melt down.

Life with two small children—with both my husband and I working full time—is hectic and often exhausting. I'm so used to trying to cram every spare second with activities that I've become the queen of multi-tasking.

But here's the downside:
I'm not sure I remember how to "single-task" anymore. It can be difficult to concentrate on just one thing; I sometimes find myself flitting from task to task like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, settling nowhere. And when I do have five minutes to do nothing, I find it hard to let go of all the balls I'm juggling. To just be present.

That means I occasionally lose sight of what's important, too. When I'm playing dress-up with my kids, I shouldn't be worrying about emptying the dishwasher or folding the laundry. Conversely, when I'm at work, I shouldn't be thinking about what we're going to have for dinner.

And when I'm waiting in line at the grocery store, I shouldn't be stressing out because I have to wait an extra five minutes. Instead, I should treat that five minutes as an unexpected gift of time to myself—because, as any parent knows, even doing errands without the kids still has the ring of freedom to it. That's what I'll strive for, in the future. Even when we run out of milk.

Monday, 10 March 2014

I Don't Have to Love My Stretch Marks

Women often have complicated relationships with their bodies, and having a baby complicates it even further.

Even in this enlightened age, women's magazines devote significant space to "losing the baby weight" and "getting your body back". Celebrity mags, in particular, focus on how quickly these poor women can bounce back to a pre-baby state (You're wearing a bikini six weeks after giving birth? When was the last time you ate something?) rather than what led to the weight in the first place: bearing a new life. The cosmetic and health industries have a wide range of products and services designed to erase, as quickly as possible, the fact that you ever carried a life inside of you. 

So let me say for the record, I'm not on board with that.

The counter-culture reaction has been to celebrate the post-partum body. You may have seen the poems that are circulating on Facebook and mom blogs these days about embracing the sacred womanliness of child-bearing. They're lovely poems, and I'm sure they help some mothers feel more self-confident about their post-baby bodies, so they serve a good purpose. But why does the pendulum have to swing so far in the other direction?
Don't get me wrong: having my girls was the best thing I've ever done. They're adorable and funny and smart. They keep me honest, keep me laughing and keep me on my toes every day. 

I celebrate the joy they bring into my life. But that doesn't mean I have to celebrate the stretch marks.

I'm not ashamed of my body now—far from it—but I don't think it has to be an either/or scenario. I can dislike the loss of cleavage after nursing or the silvery stretch marks that still reach like thin fingers across my hips and belly. I can dislike the pale surgery scar that shows how my babies came into this world. 

And none of that discounts, even a little, the love I feel for the astonishing little miracles that caused those changes.

Making women feel that they must love everything about their post-baby bodies is, I fear, as much of a high standard to meet as getting back to a pre-baby state. And the last thing we moms need is more guilt.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Three Things I'd Say to a Mom Who's At the End of Her Rope

Today, I picked up my kids from daycare. And, as is so often the case, I wondered why it's seemingly impossible for them to both be in a good mood at the same time. 

Upon leaving, my three-year-old threw a tantrum—a full-on screaming, stomping, attract-the-attention-of-all-the-other-parents-and-make-you-feel-like-everyone-is-judging-you kind of tantrum. (I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that it involved her refusing to put on her coat when I asked her to, followed by her getting mad when I put her sister's coat on first instead). This is not my first rodeo; I've experienced such tantrums many times before. But it did give me pause to think what I'd do if I hadn't had that experience.

In that spirit, I give you three things I'd like to say to a mom who is at the end of her rope.

#1 Take a break. Maybe other parents deal with everyday stress better than I do, but when I reach a certain level of frustration with my kids, the best thing I can do—for all of us—is to step back and get some perspective. For me, that might mean getting a manicure or going out with my girlfriends...even just sitting in a coffee shop with a book for 20 minutes feels like a mini-vacation when there's no one tugging on your sleeve or demanding to be picked up. I love them dearly, but there's no doubt about it: I'm a better mom when I take some time away from my kids.

#2 Cut yourself some slack. Having small children is a bit like living with small dictators who are also megalomaniacs. When you are continually confronted by irrational, emotional behaviour, it's normal to have an emotional reaction yourself. Sometimes, you'll react to your kids the way you want to, in a calm and adult manner. Other times, you'll wish you had a time machine so that you could have a do-over and not yell at them like a crazed banshee. But losing patience from time to time doesn't make you a bad makes you human. Learn from the experience and move on, but don't take it to heart.

#3 It's just a phase. One of the most challenging, yet also helpful, things about children is that they're always changing, forcing you to change with them. So whatever it is that's driving you crazy right now—whether it's sleep disruptions, throwing food, screaming in the car seat or toddler tantrums—take heart: it probably won't last. What seems like forever is really just a drop in the bucket. Your kids will move on to another form of torture soon enough.

And for good measure, I'll add an optional #4 How about I watch the kids while you go take a nap?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Moving On

This morning, my one-and-a-half-year-old woke up too early, crying out for mama. Hoping to get another half-hour of shut-eye, my husband picked her up and brought her into our bed, with her blanket and her toy lamb and her soother. I cuddled her and stroked her hair, and then I slipped away to take a shower and get my day going. When I came back, there they were: my husband and my little baby, both fast asleep. But what struck me was how much space she takes up in our bed now—compared to those first couple of months when she was just this little doll, sleeping peacefully curled up on my chest. She'll be two years old this summer. Where did the time go?

The other day, I went over to my dad's house to look for some trivial thing that I thought my mom might have owned. I searched through the closet in the main bedroom, which, more than two years after her death, is still full of her stuff. I ended up taking a few things—shoes, boots, some bangles, a bag—and it felt strange. A final affirmation that she is, in fact, never coming back for them. But I know she's not coming back, and it's been two years. It's time.

The thing is, life continues with or without you. There's no point in resisting or trying to turn the tide; change is inevitable. 

And nothing drives that point home more than kids do. As my girls grow up, each new stage has its joys and its challenges. Sometimes I want to hurry it up and move on; sometimes I want to savour it. But I'll know I'll never get to experience that particular stage in that same way, ever again.

My life has changed a lot in the past few years, and it's not exactly how I pictured it. But all in all, it's a good life. I can dwell in the past—or on what might have been—or I can be here for what is. 

So I'll wear the brown boots that used to be my mom's, which are mine now. I'll teach my preschooler how to write her letters in preparation for junior kindergarten this fall. I'll read bedtime stories to my toddler as she listens and learns more new words every day. I choose to be present. I choose to move on.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Four Things You Don't REALLY Know About Having Kids Until You Actually Have One

As all parents know, there's sometimes a significant difference between parenting expectations and reality. So today, I give you four things that you think you know but don't really know until you have kids.

#1 Parenting is a 24/7 job. Sure, you may anticipate the sleepless nights spent rocking a wailing newborn...but you don't anticipate the night your older child gets sick and keeps you up for hours the night before a really important business meeting. Or that you will face literally years of being unable to go to the bathroom without a small person following you in. Or that any plans you make for the foreseeable future will be made with the caveat, What do we do with the kids? The thing about having kids is, they're always around. And even if they're not physically with you, they're still top of mind. Always.

#2 Sleep will become the most important commodity. From the moment your baby is born, your life will revolve around his or her sleeping patterns. You will crave sleep the way you once craved sex or Ben & Jerry's, and you will bargain and trade for it over anything else. And even when your children are regularly sleeping through the night, for many years, your life will be dictated by their sleep schedules. When will they need to nap? How late can they stay up if they don't nap? Should we leave the party or try to put them to bed here? Is it worth the effort or should we just pack it in and go home? And so on.

#3 Potty training will take over your life (for a while). In truth, my first wasn't bad. Once she made up her mind to do it, there was no turning back. But before that, there was a long stretch of accidents and frustration and wondering what we were doing wrong or if we were pushing her too hard. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of the messes of parenting, and I'm really not looking forward to going through potty training again with kid No. 2.

#4 Sometimes, you won't be the parent you want to be. I don't know about you, but when I imagined what I'd be like as a parent, I often pictured myself doing crafts with glitter glue at the kitchen table, with Christmas carols playing in the background, or baking chocolate chip cookies with two smiling girls who'd jump up and down in anticipation as I proudly took them out of the oven. And sometimes, that's what it's like. But more often, I'm gritting my teeth as I count to five at the top of my lungs and threaten to revoke TV-watching privileges while my preschooler screams bloody murder and throws herself into contortions on the kitchen floor. I have to accept that, while I'm not always the model mom, I'm doing my best. That's got to be good enough.

And a bonus #5: no matter how different your day-to-day life may be from what you'd imagined, you'd still do it all over again. In a heartbeat.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Time After Time

The other day, at about 6 am, I heard my eldest child crying in her room. When I went in to see what was wrong, she sobbed, "I want a hug and a kiss!" (our standard nighttime routine). She was completely convinced that she was just going to bed, although she'd actually been asleep for a good 10 hours.

That's how it is for kids: time has no meaning except for the rules and routines we apply to it. They live entirely in the present, while adults spend most of their time dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

Since my mother died, I've spent a lot of time thinking about, well, time. When I look back, I have this feeling that I didn't maximize my time with her. I never asked her how she felt emotionally...what she thought lay in store for her "after" or if she was afraid. We never got to have a final conversation like the ones you see in the movies—where all issues are resolved with a loving embrace and a teary goodbye—since she was completely lucid one day and near-comatose the next.

That said, we all knew she was sick, and we had two years to have that conversation. So why didn't we? Denial surely played a role. I was many ways, it was just easier to focus on my somewhat demanding life, with a move to a new home, a challenging two-year-old and an exhausting pregnancy. But the other reason is simple: I thought we had time.

When you have children, time becomes more elastic and flexible than you ever thought possible. Those early newborn days can stretch into one seemingly endless night, where the hours have no meaning...yet somehow, overnight, my three-year-old's pants are too short and her wrists are dangling from the ends of her sleeves. In a heartbeat, my one-year-old became too big to lie across my lap when I rock her to sleep.

Time: we're always seeking more of it, yet we recklessly squander it. We don't always appreciate it—but when it's gone, we mourn its loss. And if we blink, we miss it: the brief, unremarkable moments that make life worthwhile.

As hard as it is sometimes, I will try to give my children more of my time...because no one knows how much time we really have. But when it comes to showing them how much I love them—how fully they own my heart—it's never too late.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Choosing Wisely

I read recently that the United Arab Emirates has introduced a new law that requires mothers to breastfeed for two years. Those who don't could be sued by their husbands. If a mother can't nurse for health reasons, she will have to use a wet nurse.

I'm not usually the type to get up in arms over political decisions, but words can't express how much I disagree with this. Why is it that as soon as a woman has a baby—actually, as soon as she gets pregnant—her body suddenly becomes public property? 

I can't tell you how many times in the past few years, through two pregnancies and having two infants, that I was told how to act, what to do or what not to do by people who don't even know me or have a vested interest in me or my family. "It's wrong to drink any alcohol when you are pregnant," a random stranger at a work event once advised me. (I was drinking sparkling water...did she think I was going to lunge across the table for the wine bottle? I admit that I did have the odd glass of wine during both pregnancies, but only very occasionally and always in moderation). "Your baby's feet are cold—she needs socks," another woman said to me while I was grocery shopping. ('s not wintertime, and she just pulls them off immediately, so what's the point?). The constant commentary used to drive me crazy; now, I've accepted that receiving unsolicited advice is part of being a mom.

But being told—in fact, legislated—how to feed your child? That's just not okay with me.

As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I tried really hard to nurse my first baby, but it just wasn't working. Giving it up was the best thing I could have done: I instantly had more time instead of being chained to a breast pump 24/7, felt better and bonded better with my baby. Even with my second—whom I ended up nursing for 14 months—there were times when I felt like I was nothing more than a food delivery system, constantly on call and spending hours alone with her in dark rooms to calm her down enough to nurse. And while I ultimately enjoyed bonding with her in this way, it took me a long time to get past the pain and discomfort (which became a whole new ballgame when she got her first teeth!) as well as the worry of being the only food source (what if I can't get her to latch? Is she getting enough?).

The last thing we need, in the world of parenting, is yet another way to propagate the "mom guilt" that is so very prevalent already. We need to trust mothers to make good choices for themselves and their children. Because if we don't trust them to feed and nurture their babies as they see fit, then what, exactly, do we trust them with?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Whine and Dine

If you have young children—and particularly if you and your partner are both working full-time—you know that evenings during the work week are the worst. The kids are cranky; you're cranky. You rush home to pick them up from daycare, deposit them in the hallway and instantly, they're clamouring for dinner.

My husband and I do an okay job of organizing meals for most of the week, but by the time Friday rolls around, we're often out of ideas and energy. So we often make the decision: let's go out to eat!

This seemingly simple solution to the dinner dilemma is, in fact, much harder than it looks. Dinner out, in our family, usually goes something like this:

5:30 p.m. - Throw the kids in the car and rush to a nearby family-friendly restaurant in a vain attempt to feed them before they get hungry and irritable. Upon arriving at said restaurant, realize that we have left behind critical items, such as the toddler's sippy cup and the preschooler's teddy bear. Too late. Ward off a temper tantrum from the preschooler with the promise of the iPad.

5:45 p.m. - Sit down at the table indicated by the hostess. She smiles kindly at the kids who, in turn, do their best impression of angelic cherubs. Knowing that time is of the essence, we order immediately.

5:46 p.m. - The toddler decides that she no longer wants to sit in the high chair. Refusing to be diverted by colouring or playing peekaboo with a table napkin, she attempts to climb out herself. Rather than risk injury, one parent decides to walk around with her for a bit—whereupon the preschooler decides that she, too, wants to walk around.

5:46 p.m. - 6 p.m. - While one parent waits for dinner to arrive, the other parent walks around the restaurant with both kids, trying to amuse them with such clever tactics as, "Look! It's a mirror! Who do you see in there?" and occasionally swigging from a glass of wine when passing by the table.

6 p.m. - The toddler decides that it has been WAY TOO LONG since food was forthcoming and starts to wail. Return to the table and attempt to force the toddler back into the high chair, which is much like trying to squish an octopus into a paper towel roll. Dinner has not yet arrived, so we break out the snacks to tide the toddler over. The preschooler, of course, wants a snack too. And milk. And a fork. And a napkin.

6:05 p.m. - Now that the kids are full of granola bars and goldfish bars, the food arrives. They pick at their food while focusing on dropping all available cutlery and attempting to play with the people at the next table. The toddler, bored, takes off her shoes and socks, and then chucks the rest of her food on the floor. The preschooler whines for the iPad. We negotiate with the preschooler while picking up things off the floor and, in between meeting various kids' demands, attempt to scarf down our own dinner.

6:10 p.m. - Both kids want dessert, but the toddler will only sit still if she's on someone's lap. One parent spoons ice cream into the toddler's mouth and helps the preschooler figure out the iPad while the other pays the bill.

6:15 p.m. - Pack up the leftover food and attempt to clean some of the detritus off the floor so that we're not totally embarrassed by the mess we're leaving behind. Chase after the toddler, who's sprinting for the exit, with her coat.

6:20 p.m. - Buckle everyone into their car seats and realize that the toddler is missing a mitten. One parent stays with the kids while the other goes to look for it. After five minutes of searching, realize that the toddler is, in fact, sitting on it.

Go home. Put the kids to bed. Collapse on the couch. And think about what we're having for dinner tomorrow.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Coming Full Circle

Dear Mom,

So. As of this week, it's been two years since you passed away. I'd like to believe that you are in a better, brighter place, keeping an eye on us. But since I don't, perhaps it's time for an update.

The Arbiter of Justice, as we call her, is three and a half (or, as she will tell you, "three and eight-twelfths"), and she is a ball of boundless energy. She has the most wonderful imagination, and she's smart—so smart, in fact, that I sometimes forget she's a preschooler and treat her like the eight-year-old she will one day (too quickly) become. Although there is the usual arbitration over toys and competition for attention, she is surprisingly patient and loving with her younger sister—probably more than I ever was.

Our little Destructor will be one-and-a-half next week and is entirely her own little person, talking up a storm and making her opinions quite clear. She is an affectionate child—the kind who will climb into your lap for a cuddle or nestle her head in the tangle of your hair, to feel the warmth of your neck and the steady beat of your pulse. Of course, she adores her big sister and follows her everywhere.

As I look at my girls—one with eyes like blueberries and the other, like pools of melted chocolate—I sometimes have this uncanny feeling of deja vu. I've been here before, once upon a time. Only you were the mother, and my sister and I were the blue- and brown-eyed girls. Now I'm the mom. I am you.

That's not to say I'm as good at it as you were. But I just want you to know: I get it now.

I can imagine what it was like for you to put your career on hold and stay home when my sister and I were small (a sacrifice you made for me, I know, because I was a preemie and you worried about my development). How we must have tried your patience; how many times you must have bitten your tongue, squeezed your fists and thought, This too shall pass. I understand how hard it was for you, when you did go back to work, to rush home to get dinner on the table, clean up the kitchen, throw in a load of laundry, get us bathed and in bed, and accomplish all of the other myriad tasks that no one really wants to do but that must nevertheless be done. I understand now how you must have craved time to yourself; how you must sometimes have wished for nothing more than to be alone.

And I understand, too, the anticipation of seeing those small, earnest faces burst into smiles as they run to greet you when you walk through the front door. The joy at hearing that wonderful word "mama" for the first time, which never gets old. The tidal wave of love for your children that overwhelms you in the smallest, most unremarkable moments but is always there beneath the surface, a vast and endless sea.

I wish I could have told you all of this when you were still alive. But since I can't tell you, I'll have to settle for telling other mothers. Mothers who, like me, are only human—who make mistakes and who sometimes struggle, too—but who still wake up the next morning determined, ready to keep going. To try again.

I get it. I understand. This frustrating, terrifying, glorious and awe-inspiring experience of motherhood binds us together.

And, of course, binds me to you.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Sticker Shock

My family recently purchased those stickers that you put on the rear windshield of your car—the corny ones that represent different members of your family. We selected a tough guy playing hockey for my husband, a stylish-looking woman holding a glass of wine for me (which, thanks to my husband, is affixed at a slight angle, making her look tipsy), a dancing girl for my eldest daughter and a little girl holding a teddy bear to represent my youngest. 

I know some people hate those stickers, but I have to admit, I kind of love them. I like the snapshot they provide of the people around me. This family has four kids; that one has a dog, a cat and two goldfish; these people like to ski and those ones like to travel. But I'm also aware of what a reductive picture they portray.

I read a blog post a couple of weeks ago by a mother discussing the way we represent our families on Facebook. Her message was, Let's show the real family behind the photos—with its fights and tears, trials and tribulations—not just the happy, smiling moments that most people present to the world. And I think that's an admirable goal.

My family isn't perfect. Heck, it's only 2:30 p.m. on New Year's Day, 2014, and I've already yelled at my three-year-old for throwing a tantrum. I long ago came to terms with the fact that I will never be one of those mothers who home schools her kids and buys only organic produce with which to effortlessly whip up wholesome family meals each night. But, at the same time, I am more than the images shown by the stickers on my car or the photos on my profile page.

I love my husband, I love my kids. And we are doing the best we can, day by day, to navigate the twists and turns that life brings us—making mistakes and, hopefully, learning something along the way; finding bright spots of joy and hope in mundane routine. And that's what I hope you'll see behind the stickers when you watch our car go by: a family.