Monday, 7 December 2015

Home for the Holidays

So it's Sunday afternoon, and the kids are getting crazy, and I'm looking for an activity to keep the busy for a couple of hours. I need to bake something for the United Way fundraiser at work the next day, so I think, Great, I'll get the kids to bake with me!

I decide on a couple of easy recipes (quick shortbread, chocolate chip cookies) and give them some minor tasks to do (pour in pre-measured ingredients, mix the cookie batter, etc.). I even give them their own pre-made gingerbread men to decorate while I'm working on the harder tasks. But it doesn't take long before they're fighting over who got more candy to decorate with, who is hogging the icing and who ate whose red candy (spoiler alert: it was the three-year-old). 

I'm trying to resolve their issues and keep them away from the hot oven while also trying to actually get some baking done. So I get flustered and don't read the recipe properly and skip a step, and then I find I've added a teaspoon of salt instead of half a teaspoon...and finally, I end up saying, "Okay, kids! Thanks for your help! Now go find something else to do!"

And eventually, I sort everything out. But while I'm putting the last batch of cookies in the oven, I suddenly feel profoundly sad. Because this is one of those things my Mom would have done...but better.

I always find myself thinking of my mother around the holidays. Maybe it's because she died in January, four years ago now, during a cold snap (she hated the cold just as much as I do). Or maybe it's just because she was so good at holiday entertaining. 

When we went over to my parents' place for Christmas, she'd have a full turkey dinner prepared with all of the accompaniments, including homemade stuffing. She was one of those mothers who would start baking months before and freeze everything in batches so that, come Christmas Day, she'd have a staggering array of goodies to set outmostly from recipes she'd memorized or just made up herself. She would buy Christmas presents months in advance and stash them away (admittedly, sometimes forgetting where she hid them until the holidays had long passed. Getting Christmas presents in July was not uncommon in our house.)

If she had been here, baking with me, she would have found some way to get the girls involved without jeopardizing the results or getting flustered. She would have been calm and in control. And maybe I'm looking at it through the rosy glow of nostalgia...but I bet everything she made would have tasted delicious.

So why isn't she here to help me?

This is the futile question I ask myself every once in a while. When I'm struggling with my kids, my marriage, my work or other facets of my life. When my girls ask about her. When I find I'm not measuring up to my ideal of who I want to be, as a woman or as a mother, and I wish I could ask her for advice.

It's not an answerable question, and I'll never be the sort of mother she was. But my chocolate chip cookies? They tasted pretty damn good.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

3 Experiences that Are Totally Different for Kids

Sometimes, it's not the experience itself but your perspective on that experience that makes all the difference. Here are three experiences that are totally different for kids versus grown-ups.

No. 1: Going to Work

Kid: Wow, this work place must be amazing! Mom and Dad spend soooo much time there; it must be super fun! You get to play on a computer all day, and I bet you can eat as much junk food as you want. Plus, you get to ride a cool-looking train to get there. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I wish I could go, too. Can I come to work with you, Mama? Please, please, PLEASE?!

Adult: Monday. Sigh. Where's the coffee?

No. 2: The First Snowfall

Kid: SNOW!!! We can have snowball fights! Make snow angels! Go tobogganing! Do you wanna build a snowman? I wonder if I can...let me see...yes, I CAN catch snowflakes on my tongue. And guess what: they taste JUST. LIKE. WATER! Maybe today will be a snow day, and I won't have to go to school, and there will be so much snow that we'll have to stay home for DAYS just watching movies and roasting marshmallows....

Adult: Aw crap...snow! Already?! I haven't put the snow tires on yet! It's really coming down...that's going to double my commute. Where the #$%@ is the stupid scraper? Don't tell me: it's still in a box at the top of the garage. And where are the kids' snowpants? Has anybody seen their boots? Do the ones from last year still fit? Well, they're just going to have to squeeze into them for now; we're already late. Damn it, I wish I'd put the car in the garage last night...and refilled the windshield washer fluid...and warmed it up before trying to drive it....

No. 3: Running Errands

Kid: Mom, can we have that cereal, the one with the rainbow marshmallows? Please? Please? I LOVE that cereal; I will eat it EVERY DAY, I PROMISE! And those cookies shaped like teddy bears...can we have those, too? Oh, lookyummy fruit snacks! Let me see if I can reach, I GOT 'EM! Whoops. Anyway, can I open them now? I'm hungry. Do you have any other snacks in your purse? I'm thirsty, too. Are we done yet? I have to pee. Actually, I have to pee RIGHT NOW. Oh...maybe I don't. But I want to get out of the cart. I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE CART!!! LET ME OUT!!!

Adult: All I want is to get in and out of the grocery store in less than an hour and a half without yelling at somebody or totally losing my mind. Is that really too much to ask?!   

Too late. Never mind.


Monday, 16 November 2015

Why It's Impossible to Parent Your Kids the Same Way

I remember when my oldest child was 10 months old, and my husband and I started talking about baby No. 2. We knew we wanted two kids, and we wanted them to be reasonably close in age. But we did wonder how we'd be able to share our time and attention with two kids instead of focusing on just one.

My husband is a younger sibling, so naturally, he was worried about that. (Ask any parent with more than one kid what the baby book looks like for their subsequent children, and their response will either be, "What baby book?", or they'll have one but they'll be so far behind in updating it that they won't want you to see it.)

As an older sibling, it used to drive me crazy when my parents would try to resolve arguments between me and my sister with, "Well, she's just a baby" or "You're the older one, so you should know better." So I wanted to make sure our older child wouldn't be overly burdened with that responsibility. We discussed these viewpoints and vowed to be consistent in parenting both children the same.

Which is all well and good...except it didn't really turn out that way. And I'm not talking about giving them both the same pink plastic cups at dinner time, or cutting the chocolate bar carefully down the middle so the two halves are precisely equal, or making sure they take turns playing with a favourite toy. That's the easy stuff. What's harder is to be the same parent to both (all) of your kids.

There are a few reasons this is an impossible goal. For one, your kids are going to have different needs at different times. When you have a toddler and a baby, for example, the toddler may get short shrift sometimes when the baby's needs are more urgent, and vice versa.

The kids are different, too, with their own unique personalities. From a reward and discipline standpoint, what works (or doesn't work) for one doesn't necessarily work (or not work) for the other. It takes a fair amount of trial and error to figure out what each child responds to and why.

Not only that, you are a different person with your first child than with subsequent kids. With your first, you find yourself doing things like checking every five minutes to make sure the baby is still breathing. Why? Because you have no frame of reference for your day-to-day experience and no real evidence you're doing the right things. With subsequent children...well, you got this far and the first kid survived, so you must be doing something right. Right?

And finally, no matter how much we try not to let emotions rule our decision-making, we're all human. You love your kids equally, but, as with adult friendships, you may find yourself gravitating toward one more than the other for different reasons, at different times in your life. For example, when I find myself getting really frustrated with one of my girls, it's usually because I'm reacting to a behaviour or a personality trait that I don't like in myself (e.g., stubbornness). Seeing something you've always struggled with reflected back in your kid's eyes...well, that's hard to deal with.

So I've come to the conclusion that I can't really parent my kids exactly the same. But what I can do is love them and respect them separately for the unique and wonderful human beings they are—and hope that, one day, they'll understand.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Great Escape

It doesn't happen all the time. Just once in a while—usually in an airport or a train station.

During my morning commute, I get off the GO train at Union Station. I walk through the VIA train terminal to get outside, so I can see the travellers waiting with their luggage, the electronic signs glowing with departures for this destination or that. People milling about, talking, laughing, checking their phones, buying coffee.

And for a moment, I think: what if I just got on one of these trains and took off somewhere? I'd never do it, of course. But the temptation is there. And it's even stronger in an airport, with its more exotic destinations: Cairo or Bangkok or Sydney.

I'm starting to understand why people have mid-life crises. Because when you hit a certain age, you start to compare the life you have to the one you could have had. And no matter what you've done (or not done), when you measure yourself by your own idealistic expectations, you're bound to find something lacking.

Don't misunderstand me: I'm extremely grateful for what I have. At 39, I have a caring husband and two beautiful girls. A comfortable house in the suburbs with a pool and a hot tub. A lucrative job and a strong professional career. Not too shabby, really.

But there's a small part of me that wonders: this daily routine of rushing to work and rushing home, school lunches and laundry and swimming lessons, bathtime and bedtime and falling asleep myself with the kids when I put them to bed just so I can get up and do it again this it? 

What kind of life would I have if I'd done things differently? What if, instead of getting married and having kids, I had decided to travel the world, or move to Paris and try to write a novel? What would it be like to be untethered? Would my life be more adventurous? Would I be more willing to take bigger risks for greater possibilities?

I'm not naive; I understand the grass is always greener. I feel guilty for even thinking about it, as though I'm subtly jinxing my good fortune.  

I may wonder sometimes about paths not taken. But the truth is, though I've made my share of mistakes, if I had the chance to do things over again, it's not the big things I'd do differently. I'd probably be wondering about the exact same issues—just from the other side.

The eastbound train arrives, and people rush to get on it. The moment passes. And I keep walking.

Thursday, 24 September 2015


I admit it: sometimes, I have a short fuse.

When I've worked a long week, and I'm feeling drained, and all I want to do is put the kids to bed so I can have a couple of hours of kid-free time, I get frustrated when my kids don't cooperate with my plan. It seems they didn't get the memo.

A typical night in our house goes something like this.

- My three-year-old doesn't want to use THAT bathroom but only the OTHER bathroom downstairs, even though we've all just gone upstairs to get ready for bed. Okay, whatever.

- I ask my five-year-old to please put on her pyjamas.

- My three-year-old wants to pick out her OWN pull-up and put on her OWN pyjamas, but NOT the ones I've picked out for her in an attempt to expedite the getting-ready-for-bed process.

- I check on my five-year-old. She's playing with her My Little Ponies. I ask her again to please put on her pyjamas now.

- My three-year-old wants to brush her OWN teeth and proceeds to freak out when I try to brush the teeth she's missed during her own attempts (which is to say, most of them).

- I check on my five-year-old. She's still fully dressed, looking at the pictures in a book. I tell her to PUT ON HER PYJAMAS RIGHT NOW, AND I DON'T WANT TO ASK AGAIN!!! 

And so it goes.

Eventually, at a tortuously slow pace, all of the bedtime tasks are finally accomplished, and both kids are in bed. But, by the end of it all, I'm often feeling kind of pissed off. And then I feel guilty about feeling pissed off. It's a vicious cycle.

But what I need to remember is, all of those mundane frustrations and irritations are really just a drop in the bucket.

When you're a parent, it's difficult to get perspective on your own life. You tend to get mired in your own daily dramas and forget they're really quite trivial.

Appreciating what you have can be hard, and it's human nature to want more. But the fact is, I have two beautiful girls, and they're happy and healthy, smart and thriving. Sure, they push my buttons—a LOT—but they're good kids. Most of the time, anyway.

And the tradeoff for those times when I just want to hand them off is the times when I just don't want to let them go. Like when I'm cuddling next to them in bed, and the house is quiet. When I can feel the warmth of their skin as they lean into me and surrender to sleep, trusting me completely to love them and keep them safe.

The truth is, I'm so very lucky. And I sometimes forget that. But I promise to try harder to remember.

At least, most of the time.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Don't Underestimate Your Kids

It stems from a good place, I think. As parents, we know it's our job to keep our kids happy and safe. We worry about them and try hard to steer them in the right direction. From the moment they become mobile, words like "don't" and "careful!" and "watch out!" become integral parts of our vocabulary. 

But maybe that same tendency to protect them sometimes does them a disservice.

A couple of weeks ago, we took our kids (age 3 and 5) to Canada's Wonderland for the day. The five-year-old wanted to go on a "big kid" ride with me, so we stood in line for the Silver Streak roller coaster. It was a pretty long line, but she was game, so I figured, why not?

As we waited...and waited...and waited...I couldn't help noticing most of the other kids in line looked quite a bit bigger and older. And, watching the roller coaster, it seemed pretty fast. I worried my five-year-old would be scared of the speed and the drops, and I wondered if we should just turn around and leave.

But when we finally got to the front of the line and it was our turn...she loved it. I'll never forget the look of joy and excitement on her face as we whooshed along the track, screaming and laughing at the same time.

I'm embarrassed to admit, it's not the first time I've thought, She'll never be able to do that, or There's no way she'll have the patience for it. And you know what? Most of the time, I've been wrong.

My kids constantly amaze and surprise me. They're always striving to surpass their current abilities and learn new things. So who am I to hold them back?

Our natural inclination is to protect our children, shield them, keep them safe from harm. But we can't protect them from everything—and the irony is, it's usually the thing we didn't think of that happens, anyway.

So when my five-year-old wants to jump into the deep end of the pool with no floaties and swim to the side, why would I say no? Of course, I'll be watching, just in case...but if she doesn't try, then how will she know if she can do it? And if she can't, then how will she ever learn?

I don't want to be a helicopter mom. I want to be the kind of mom who gives her children the strength and support to take risks. Sometimes they'll succeed, and sometimes they'll fail. But I'll be there—either to pick them up and dust them off, or to congratulate them on a new accomplishment. What's important is to give them the freedom to try.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

3 Things I Know About Three-year-olds

My youngest daughter just turned three. So, in honour of that occasion, I give you three things I know about three-year-olds.

1. They want what they want - Whether it's wearing a full-on princess outfit (tiara and all) to go grocery shopping with you or using the blue cup instead of the red one at dinnertime, they know their own minds, and there's no persuading them otherwise. For mine, that currently means wearing the same gold dress every day. It doesn't matter that the dress is more appropriate for an evening party than for daycare. It doesn't matter if it's 15 degrees outside or 35. Or that the dress definitely needs to be washed at some point (because three-year-olds are not exactly known for their cleanliness and fastidiousness about their clothes). She. Wants. To. Wear. That. Dress. 

Okay, then. It's a pick-your-battles thing. Which leads me to No. 2...

2. They are 100% correct about everything, at all times - Or so they think, anyway. There is no one—and I mean, no one—more imperious than a three-year-old. Three-year-olds should run boardrooms, they're so confident about the validity of their position. And if that position happens to completely defy logic, or the laws of nature or physics, then so what? 

That toy, which is twice as big as the one she's trying to shove it into, just doesn't fit in there? Doesn't matter. IT GOES IN THERE. And that's that. Failure to understand this will undoubtedly lead to a meltdown of epic proportions.

3. They are really, really cute - There's something magical about that time of transition between toddler-hood and school age. Three-year-olds try so hard to keep up with the big kids, yet they still want to be snuggled and carried in your arms. They can express their needs and desires—loudly and clearly—but their language doesn't always keep up with their thoughts and imagination. 

For example, my three-year-old still calls polka dots "poke-a-bots". I think this is totally adorable and am trying hard not to correct her.

I find it helpful to remember that, however tiring and exasperating they may be sometimes, three-year-olds are also hilarious and adorable. I try to keep that in mind when mine is freaking out over my egregious error of giving her the wrong colour socks or refusing to go to bed unless I play with her stuffed animals and sing her songs for 10 minutes. 

(And guess what? She can't tell time yet. So that's one I can win...for now.)

Monday, 29 June 2015

It's the Little Things

Pre-kids, my husband and I loved to travel, spending much of our disposable income on  trips to exotic locations. While in university, I spent a semester studying abroad at an English castle and then backpacked through Europe for a few weeks. I travelled up the east coast of Australia with my sister, lounging on white sandy beaches, exploring Fraser Island and heading to the outback to climb Ayers Rock. 

Together, my husband and I hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and hung out with howler monkeys in the Amazon. We cruised to China, South Korea and Japan, climbing the Great Wall, eating delicious Korean food and shopping for electronics in Tokyo. For our honeymoon, we took a luxurious Mediterranean cruise, trawling the cobblestone streets in Nice, visiting art galleries in Florence, watching the most beautiful sunsets in Santorini.

And then, we had kids. And we were grounded for a while. 

Just the thought of a long flight with a toddler and a baby seemed like more effort than it was worth. Factoring in two sets of diapers, spare clothes to cover any bodily fluid leakages and enough wipes for a small army, the packing alone could take days. So, aside from a couple of beach vacations, our kids haven't been to that many places. Yet.

This past weekend, we took a mini-vacation and brought the kids to Niagara Falls. Okay, it's not Paris or Monaco...but we went on the Maid of the Mist (now called the Hornblower, apparently) and watched my five-year-old squeal with joy as she got soaked by the spray. We let them explore kitschy attractions like the upside-down house, the mystery maze and the fun house. We rode the giant Ferris wheel at dusk, looking down on the roaring falls and twinkling lights below. At night, we watched fireworks from our hotel room. On the way back home the next day, we dragged the girls to three wineries for some grown-up time and then rewarded them by letting them pick out treats at the chocolate factory.

And you know what? They had a blast. And so did we.

Maybe travelling with kids isn't just about big trips to far-off places. Maybe what's really important is the time you spend with them, showing them things you enjoyed that they might enjoy, too. 

We'll get back to the more exotic travel some day, as the girls become less needy and more self-sufficient—I can see that shift happening already. And the day will come when they won't want to travel with us at all.

So I'll try not to feel antsy about missing out on trips to Thailand or New Zealand; I'll get there someday. Today, my time is better spent focusing on finding joy in the little things—because to my kids who love me, that's what matters.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Always Something There to Remind Me

Even with its warmer weather, budding trees and blooming flowers, I always kind of dread May. When I start to see the ads for jewelry stores on TV, urging me to "spoil your mom on Mother's Day!"—even though I know it's a cheesy holiday—I still find myself getting teary. Because when other people are taking their mothers out for lunch, to the spa or a show, or worrying about what to give them, I'm not doing any of those things.

I thought I did pretty well this year. We went out for a nice (admittedly, slightly hungover) brunch on Sunday, just me and my girls and my wonderful husband. I smiled at the kids' cute homemade gifts and gave them lots of kisses.

But it just takes the smallest thing to trigger a reaction or a memory. The other day, I'm driving home with the windows down, sun streaming in through the sunroof, and I'm thinking how lucky I am to have everything I have: the job, the husband, the house, the kids....

And it's not a new thought, but it suddenly hits me: my kids will never know their Nana. My youngest never even got to meet her. My mother will never push my two-year-old on a swing or help my five-year-old learn to read. She'll never come over for dinner and bring the kids little gifts (my mom was a champion gift-giver—she had the rare ability to find and give you the one thing you didn't know you wanted or needed until you saw it). She'll never again play dress up or tea party, or any of the millions of make-believe games she once so patiently played with me.

And when that realization hits you (once again), it's like being dunked in ice water. You have to take a moment to breathe deeply, to force your thoughts away from the dark path it wants to follow and focus instead on the present. You have to remind yourself, again, of what you do have—which is a lot. Easy to say, hard to do.

I've always thought (even though I know life doesn't work this way) that my sweet, cuddly two-year-old was the tradeoff for my loss. When my mother died, that baby was growing inside me. Circle of life, and all that.

It's funny, though: when you lose a parent, you never entirely get past it. There's always a little hole you can't mend, a tear in your universe you can't repair, an empty spot where that person used to be.

But the only way to live is to live the life you have, not a Hallmark version of the life you wish you had. So I'll just have to cuddle my two-year-old close and enjoy her. For both of us.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Running the Gauntlet

It's 7:10 a.m., and I'm standing outside the toddler's door while she wails inside her bedroom. She is mad (I think) because I tried to make her put on pants? Or maybe because it's Blue Day at daycare, and she wanted to wear blue, but she pulled out a pair of black pants instead and I told her they weren't, in fact, blue?

I'm not 100% sure, but she's definitely mad about something. And now it's 7:15 a.m., and we're behind schedule, and all I want most deeply and fervently is for her to PUT ON HER FRIGGIN' PANTS so I can get in my car and drive to the GO station and get a coffee and sit in peace on the train for half an hour.

Weekday mornings with kids are the worst. You're rushed and you don't understand why they can't just listen for once, do what you want for once, so you can get to work on time to deal with the rest of the crap you have to deal with that day.

And evenings aren't much better. Often, the kids are tired and hungry, you're tired and cranky, and—let's face it—you're counting down the minutes until you can put them to bed and have a glass of wine and think about something other than who stole whose ball or whose turn it is to ride the scooter.

When you have small children, there are days that feel like a marathon. You're running and running, but it doesn't seem like you're getting anywhere. And you'll feel guilty for thinking this way, but you might even wonder why you're doing it, if it's worth it.

But then, there it is: that moment.

When it's dark and cold, and you snuggle up next to your daughter's warm body and bury your face in her hair, inhaling its clean, fresh scent. And your arm's around her, and her little hand is resting on your arm, gently, not wanting to let go of you even as she sinks into sleep. And you listen to her breathing get deeper and deeper, and your heartbeat slows, too. 

For once, your mind is quiet. The world stills. And, just for a moment, that's all that matters.

And that's why you do it. 

And it's enough to make you get up and run the gauntlet again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Sisterly Love

There's a five-year age gap between me and my sister. As you can imagine, there's a big difference between, say, a two-year-old and a seven-year-old, or a five-year-old and a ten-year-old. 

Of course, most of those differences faded as we got older. But growing up, it made for a fair bit of conflict. I remember it drove me crazy when she wanted to copy everything I did...when, of course, all I wanted was to be an individual. And I'm sure she got pretty sick and tired of me bossing her around.

Now, with my girls, I'm starting to see that sisterly dynamic forming. They're much closer in age—just two years and three months apart—but that has its own challenges. "I had it first!" "She got the bigger piece!" "She's not sharing!" "She hit me!" And so on. There are fights. There's competition for attention. There are tears and tantrums.

But the other side of that dynamic is one that gives me pure joy.

We're in the car the other day, driving back from my father-in-law's place in Collingwood. It's close to a two-hour drive, so we purposely left late, thinking the kids would pass out in the car.

No such luck. For at least half of the trip, the two-year-old sings one of those random songs that two-year-olds sing (you know—the ones where they basically sing every little thought that comes into their head?). Loudly and tunelessly. The four-year-old complains that she wants to sleep and it's keeping her awake. "There's no reason to yell," my husband agrees. 

All is quiet for a moment...then the two-year-old pipes up, "But my reason is, I want to sing." I start to laugh. My husband starts to laugh. Then the four-year-old starts to laugh—and, seeing her laugh, the two-year-old laughs too, even though she has no idea why it's funny.

Often now, I hear my girls talking to each other, carrying on mini-adult conversations over the minutiae of a child's day. The four-year-old delights in clowning around Three Stooges-style—purposely falling over, bumping into things—and the two-year-old eggs her on with an infectious giggle. They get all dolled up in princess gear and dance around the house, or they get involved in some elaborate make-believe game, the rules of which are impossible for anyone over the age of five to understand.

I can see it happening: that inevitable sisterly love. I have no idea if it will last or what their relationship as grown women will be. But the basic bond—it's there. And it's beautiful.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Four Truths About People With Kids

When it comes to social interactions, there is sometimes a gap between parents and non-parents. So in the interests of bringing these groups together, today, I'd like to share four facts about people with kids.

1. We're tired pretty much all the time - I'm not saying people without kids aren''s not a contest. I'm just pointing out that those of us with kids are perpetually sleep-deprived. It starts in the early infant days, when the constant feeding schedule makes you feel like you're perpetually cat-napping, and continues when your kids are little and their constant needs and demands wear you down. Add to that baby brain—a pervasive fog that can take years to dissipate—and you don't exactly have a recipe for success. So if you find yourself thinking, Why is she asking me that question? I've already told her that!—well, that's why.

2. We don't mean to be boring and neglectful, but we sometimes are - I blame this one partially on biology and partially on conditioning. And it's particularly a problem for mothers.  As a mother, one of the very first things you learn is to distinguish your baby's cry from any other baby's. And, as your kids get older, you're conditioned to go from sound asleep to wide awake in seconds at the slightest cry of "mama!" from another room. (Side note: my husband can sleep through anything. The kids can be bawling their eyes out or screaming at the top of their lungs in the middle of the night, and the next morning, my husband is like, "Really? I didn't hear anything."). So when our kids are vying for our attention, we find it hard to concentrate on you. It's not that we don't want to carry on an adult conversation; it's just that it's hard for us to ignore our kids—no matter how much we might want to. In fact, we may have forgotten how to have an adult conversation. A gentle reminder never hurts.

3. We are envious of you at times - Any parent will tell you they love their kids and wouldn't trade them for anything—and of course, having kids is a choice. Yet when you casually mention your long and boozy dinner the other night, the tickets you got last-minute for the Raptors game or the trip you've booked to Europe, we will probably be a bit jealous. It's human nature to want what you don't have, and the No. 1 thing you lose when you become a parent is freedom. There's no such thing as spontaneity...any outings must be carefully planned in advance and revolve around the question, "But what will we do with the kids?" So yeah—sometimes, we resent that loss of freedom and wish we could have it back.

4. We're not trying to brag about our kids...but we will. Obsessively. - Imagine you had a big project at work, which was stressful and a total pain to orchestrate but ended up being successful. You'd want a thank you or some credit from your team members, right? Some praise from your boss? And you'd probably get those things—but when it comes to parenting, it's a different story. It's highly unlikely you'll get any praise from your kids for your successes but extremely likely they'll point out all of your failures. And, since there's no reliable benchmark for good parenting, you're often not sure you're doing well at all. So when something does go well—say, your baby starts sleeping through the night or your toddler is finally potty-trained—you're borderline desperate for positive reinforcement. So please try to cut us some slack if we sound like a broken record...parenting is our biggest project ever, and we really need to share our successes. With anyone.

So there you have it: four facts about people with kids. I'd love for people without kids to share their perspective, too, to get the other side of the story.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Home and Away

We recently took the girls to Punta Cana for a week's vacation at an all-inclusive resort. All in all, it was a lovely trip: the weather was fabulous, the resort was kid-friendly, there were no major disasters. It was, however, a learning experience for us, as it was the first time we'd taken a trip as a family of four. I'd like to share some key lessons with you today.

1. You can never have enough snacks - I know, I know—I've said it before. But this is in a different context. Remember: we were staying at an all-inclusive resort, with an open buffet and a wide range of food choices. Yet inevitably, my kids would eat three bites of their meal and say they were full. Then, as soon as we left the restaurant and got to the pool or the beach, they'd ask for a snack. And a drink. We thought we'd packed a ton of extra food just in case, but we came home with nothing. In a similar vein...

2. You can never have too many diapers and wipes - So we're in the Dominican Republic, and the food is different, and the water is different...and while nobody got sick per se, we definitely went through more than the usual amounts of diapers for the toddler. As for wipes, they're the MacGyver of baby products: there's nothing they can't do.

3. You will miss having a buffer - My kids can be needy in general, but man, when it was just my husband and I trying to meet all of those needs, it was surprisingly hard. "I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I have to go to the bathroom, you need to change my bum, where's my bear? watch what I can do!...." Some days, they just went on and on and on. My husband and I felt we didn't have a vacation as a couple, even though we were pretty much always together. Luckily, we met another family with two girls, and the kids were able to (sort of) amuse each other so the adults could have some grown-up time. But there's no question, it would have been a very different trip if it had just been my husband and I.

4. Sometimes, there's just nothing you can do - Our return flight home didn't depart until 9:45 p.m.—way past everyone's bedtime—and involved the usual long period of sitting on the plane, waiting for takeoff. Not exactly a recipe for success. My two-year-old didn't understand why she wasn't allowed to take off her seat belt and wander around. Plus, the stewardess asked us to turn off the iPad and the entertainment system wasn't on yet, so we didn't have a lot of tools at our disposal. Believe me, I tried: stickers, stories, cuddles, lollipops...the toddler just wasn't buying any of it. We became those parents you never want to be: the ones whose kid is screaming and annoying everyone in an enclosed space. It wasn't great, but we got through it. Which brings me to the most important point...

5. Even though it's difficult at times, you'll want to do it again - As with anything in life, our trip had high points and low points. And the kids are still so young, they probably won't remember any of it. But we will. We'll remember how the two-year-old, watching the Michael Jackson impersonator moonwalk on stage, looked up with delight and exclaimed, "He go backwards and backwards and backwards!" How our increasingly coltish four-year-old went on every slide in the water park a hundred times and tried to make friends with every little kid she saw. How much fun the two-year-old had making—and smashing—sand castles, and how she started asking for "pina coyadas" every time we went to the bar. How the four-year-old giggled uncontrollably while petting a stingray and tried to learn Latin dancing.

When you have kids, you have a choice: you can make them your lives, or you can bring them into yours. We chose the second option. My husband and I loved to travel before we had kids, so why should we have to give it up now?

So we won't. We'll go on another trip, and maybe it will be just the two of us, but more likely, it will be the whole family. All four of us—and a massive bag of granola bars.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

3 Suggestions (Not Advice) for New Moms

That first period of having a newborn—and feeling like you have no idea what you're doing—can be very stressful. And you're going to get a lot of advice from "veteran" moms, most of it unsolicited.

At the risk of sticking my nose where it doesn't belong, I'd like to offer three suggestions for managing that early phase of motherhood. Call them recommendations, if you like. But they're definitely not advice (see Suggestion #3).

Suggestion #1: Don't be afraid to ask for help
This seems like a no-brainer, but many new moms—including me—find themselves subject to a ridiculous notion that they have to somehow prove they're worthy of motherhood. That asking for help is admitting they can't handle things on their own. This can lead to martyr syndrome, where parents (let's be honest: usually women) wind up doing everything themselves because they've said "no" to others too many times.

Everybody needs help sometimes. And it's better to accept genuine offers of help than to refuse and feel secretly resentful that you have to do it all yourself.

Suggestion #2: Be specific about what help you really want
In my experience, people really do want to help. But you need to tell them exactly what you want them to do. 

When I had my first baby, people would ask me, "Do you need anything? How can I help? Can I come for a visit?" And I would say, "Sure! Come whenever you want!" But what I really meant was, "I want the company, but I'm terrified you'll show up when I have my boobs out and the baby's crying and there's milk spurting everywhere and I haven't showered in 48 hours." 

What I should have said is, "Sure, why don't you come by around 2 p.m. for a quick visit?" Or, "To be honest, I'm exhausted this week. If you're willing to hold the baby for half an hour, I'd love the chance to take a nap. Is that okay?" One of the best things a friend did for me when I had baby No. 1 was to come over, bring all of the necessary ingredients and make lunch for both of us. It was perfect: I enjoyed some grown-up company, I didn't have to attempt the then-arduous task of leaving the house with an infant and I got a real meal instead of whatever I could cram into my mouth between feedings.

Suggestion #3: Listen to everyone's advice but make up your own mind
When you have a baby, you'll find everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing and how you should raise your child. Unasked-for opinions will be gently or adamantly offered on topics ranging from what you should feed your baby, to whether your baby is dressed appropriately, to what kind of childcare arrangement you should have. 

For the most part, it's well intentioned, and "veteran" moms may have insights you'll find valuable. The key is to hear what they have to say but make your own decisions. This is sometimes hard to do, especially when those offering the advice are family members or close friends who believe they know best. But the reality is, you're the parent. It's your decision (or you and your partner's). 

So those are my suggestions: whether or not you take them, I won't be offended. And if you want me to hold the baby for a while, just let me know.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Tea for Two

I remember when my older child was maybe nine or ten months old. My husband was watching her, and I was drinking wine with my girlfriends (because I could drink wine again! Exciting!). Feeling heady with the wine and with a blissful rush of love for my expanded family, I was waxing sentimental about how great it was to have a baby that age.

"Do you think you'll have another?" one of my girlfriends asked.

"Oh yes!" I said with absolute confidence. By this point, I was past the early "what-the-hell-am-I-doing?" feeling and, at times, terror that I was screwing everything up. Past the 2 a.m. feedings and long sleepless nights. Past the struggling to breastfeed and the guilt at eventually giving it up. We had a routine that worked, she was sleeping and eating well, she was meeting all of the first year milestones. Okay, maybe I hadn't figured out all of the nuances of parenting yet, but I was getting there, I thought. I had a handle on it.

And then, when she was just over two years old, we had baby No. 2. And everything changed.

You know intuitively that having more than one child must be more challenging than having one. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and as a parent, you only have so much energy. But what you don't realize is, when your kids are little, it's not just harder, it's exponentially harder. 

For me, at least, the transition from one child to two was a real shock. Balancing the needs and demands of a toddler with the competing demands of a breastfeeding newborn was tough, and I felt someone was always losing out. As the second baby got older, their interactions were mostly competing for attention (usually mine) and fighting over toys.

That still happens, of course. But now my girls are two and four, and I can see the dynamic shifting again. 

As I write this blog post, they're sitting on the couch side by side watching Treehouse. And this morning, when I went to take them downstairs for breakfast, they were both sitting on the floor in my older daughter's room, looking at books together. 

It's possible now for my husband and I to have 15 minutes after dinner to just relax as they play together in the family room, before someone inevitably steals someone else's toy and causes a meltdown. They're still pretty constant—Can I have some milk? Where's my puppy? She's not sharing!—but we can leave them to their own devices for a while without always having to entertain them.
When we decided to have two kids, two years apart, we hoped they'd become close. We hoped they'd be good friends. Realistically, who knows what kind of relationship they'll develop? But from a parent's perspective, there are so many lovely things about having two. 

Watching them clown around, the older one pretending to fall over and making the other one giggle. Listening to them sing songs together in the backseat of the car on road trips. Seeing my older daughter, who is learning to read, try to read a story to her baby sister.

Like all siblings, they fight and compete, and it's still hard to balance their needs. I know sometimes my older child loses out because her younger sister, at two, is still pretty dependent. 

But I can see glimmers of a future where they're more self-sufficient—and, I hope, more reliant on each other. And I can't imagine a world, or my family, without them both.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


You know how it goes. Some days, you're at the top of your parenting game. You're patient; you're calm. You come up with fun and interesting activities for your children. You laugh with them; you tickle them. You think, Gosh, how did I get so lucky to have such wonderful kids?

And then there are the other days. Maybe you have a headache, or a muscle is twinging in your back, or you feel a cold coming on. Maybe your boss breathing down your neck and you have more work than you can handle. Maybe you're rushing back and forth, work-home-work-home, feeling like you're spread too thin and not doing any of it justice. Maybe you're tired or bored of the monotony that parenting small children can bring. Maybe it's all of those things.

Then there's that one extra thing: the proverbial last straw. The toddler tantrum, the defiant preschooler. The cup of milk spilled too many times. The freakout over some minor thing that, as an adult, you know doesn't really matter. The "no" or "I want" or "I don't like" expressed once too often. And you're done.

You can't summon that calm demeanour. You aren't feeling patient or sympathetic. You're not in the mood for coddling or negotiating. You're just pissed off.

And the worst part is, you can't take back those moments when you yelled instead of reasoned, reacted with frustration instead of understanding. They sit on your shoulder every single day, whispering into your ear, You're doing it wrong. You can do better. You should do better.

Some days, you're the parent you want to be. But most days, you're just a parent. 

I can only hope that when my kids are all grown up, they'll remember the good days more than the bad ones.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Attached at the Hip

With our first child, my husband and I were very focused on making sure she met all of the developmental milestones and progressed at the right pace. We pushed her (and still do) to learn things on her own and showered her with praise when she did. We encouraged her to be sociable and friendly with others. In a word, we taught her to be independent.

With our second...well, not so much. Of course, we would have worried if she'd missed an important milestone or seemed to fall behind, but it wasn't an issue. And of course, we praised her for learning new things. 

But on the independence front, I don't think we've done as well. I used to call her my little spider monkey because of the way she'd hang onto my neck and refuse to let go. She'll beg to be picked up and carried rather than walk herself. And tonight, she's only just fallen asleep after, oh, about an hour of crying for mommy and daddy when we tried to get her to go to sleep on her own.

I see it mostly as my fault. She was my last baby, so I have held her tighter and closer to me, not wanting to move beyond that precious time. As a baby, I nursed her and cuddled her. She's so darn cute, we find we both want to coddle her. (The reason she won't go to sleep on her own, incidentally, is that we've gotten into the bad habit of lying down with her in her bed until she falls asleep. Bedtime has become an extended and time-consuming process.) But in the grand scheme of things, are we really doing her—or ourselves—any favours?

It is so hard to let go of your children. It feels like letting go of a part of yourself. Naturally, you want them to grow up, but a part of you wants to keep them two (or three, or four, or eight or whatever) always.

But they can't stay babies forever—nor should they. They need to grow and move on, and so do we.

So it's tough love time now, but I'm sure that in the long run, she'll know how much she's loved. After all is said and done, we tell her—and show her—every single day.