Sunday, December 26, 2010

Better in than out

In the last week and a half, I find myself having entered that uncomfortable end stretch of pregnancy. My hips and pelvis are sore and achy. My back hurts. I am exhausted, and having trouble sleeping. I have gas, bloating, indigestion... All the unattractive and annoying things about the 3rd trimester are really starting to catch up with me. So, I did what any modern women would do in my situation: I complained about it on facebook.

After stating to the world that my body was in a state of 34 weeks pregnant mutiny-meltdown, one of my friends replied: "Makes you that much more ready and 'eager' for labour!!!"

But, no. Not really.

When I was pregnant with Nik, I remember major impatience in the final weeks. I began my maternity leave at the beginning of November, and did not head to the hospital until the night of December 10th, so I had a lot of time to just sit around and wait for our mystery baby to arrive. Some evenings I would enter our perfectly set up nursery, look at the tiny clothes in the dresser or sit in the rocking chair and think, "This is a nice room. We should put a baby in here."

In addition to the normal new mom anticipation of my first little baby, there was another factor making me wish for the birth: I was crazy itchy. I had been unlucky enough to suffer from a major PUPPS rash during the last month and a half of that pregnancy, red and angry over my brand new stretch marks. I spent a lot of time scratching and trying not to scratch, rubbing my belly with ice cubes, and trying to ignore it long enough to fall asleep. When my OB/GYN told me it would likely go away when the baby was born, I could only think, "Well, bring it on."

Touch wood, but I haven't experienced any itching with this pregnancy. And I'm not really longing for a snuggly little thing to complete the nursery - the first snuggle-bug is still here. The factors are just different this time around, and even with the late-pregnancy discomforts starting to pile up, I am not yet feeling that impatience for baby to arrive.

I think my perspective has changed. With my first pregnancy, I wanted to get it over with, get it done, get to the baby part. Having lived through it once though, it seems to me that there will be lots of time with baby, and the pregnancy seems so fleeting by comparison.

Babies are so easy to care for, so portable, and so connected to you in pregnancy. They never cry, never need to be changed. There are no worries about how much they are getting to eat, or whether they are warm enough. You don't have the hassle of dealing with car seats, bulky strollers or snowsuits. No one is spitting up on your dress 5 minutes before it is time to leave.

Also, consider what a small portion of your life is spent feeling another life move inside of you! If the average mom has 3 children, feels the quickening beginning at around the 4 month of pregnancy, and carries to term, that adds up to maybe 15 months. Over an average lifespan of 80 years, that works out to less than 2% of your life where it is possible to feel your child from within. Less than 2%! When you consider that many women (and all men) go their whole lives without ever experiencing this sensation, how could I wish for it to be over all the sooner?

I am also still in the process of getting mentally prepared for the arrival of a second child. My labour with Nik was difficult, and my transition to mama-hood went over a rough road. Since then, a combination of time, information, and experience have soothed those growing pains, but I still have more fear to let go of before I will feel ready to face the next birth with confidence.

Appreciation of the briefness of pregnancy, and a more realistic understanding of what is to come... These things make it easier to say in the face of a possible 5 or 6 more uncomfortable weeks to come that baby is still better in than out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry little Christmas

The tree is up. The wrapping is done. I have a huge pot of Christmas Eve dinner borscht in the fridge, and the cards have all been sent. We are off to my parent's house for the major gift opening this afternoon, so come 2 o'clock Christmas will be here. But for now I am happy to be sitting by my laptop cuddled up in my robe, with my hair still damp from the shower.

Nik is watching 'Mary Poppins' in the next room, eating cheezies in his pajama top and underpants. On the floor can be found the contents of the couple of presents we let him open last night. Little things like toy cars and new books. Nothing needs batteries.

I got my Christmas present from my husband last night. A couple of new CDs, a small teapot, and clothes that don't fit... ;-) Looks like we will be braving the after-Christmas mall exchanges crowd once again. From me he got a new digital watch and a game. Actually, I gave him the game a few weeks ago after Nik saw the same one in a flyer, and told him, "Daddy? We have that game. That game is hiding." No surprises when a 3 year old is in on the secret, I guess. :-)

Christmas is quieter for us this year. About a week ago, I entered that stage of pregnancy when running up and down the stairs starts to seem like a major undertaking. Walking down the hall to put something away requires a cool-down and a 5 minute breather. Unloading and reloading the dishwasher may be the most productive part of my day. So there has been more sitting, more reading, more knitting. More cups of tea and movies. And much less decorating. No baking. No Christmas letter.

Nik did get to see Santa, but it was because my sister took him. He will be recieving a mountain of presents from extended family, but at home there will be only his stocking on Christmas morning. We are going to two Christmas dinners, at beautifully decorated homes. I am bringing the borscht, and the mashed potatoes. We seem to have found a balance between festivity and simplicity.

It has helped me to see the blessing of family and friends even clearer. We don't have to do it all to have it all. So often I am grateful that is not left to my husband and I to provide all the trappings of Nik's childhood, or even of our own lives. Over the years we have received so much, from cups of coffee and conversation, to money to help up pay for our wedding or first home. Children's toys, clothing and books, baby equipment, computer parts, meals, lodging... even air fare has been given to us. People have shoveled our driveway, mowed our lawn, washed our dishes, and folded our laundry. I think of where we would be without the helping hands of those around us, and I can't believe how much I so often take for granted. How much poorer we would be without them, in all ways. How much less we would be able to offer to our son.

But with our lives enriched by the generosity of others, we have easily found our way to another merry little Christmas. Wishing each of you the same.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Love to the library

On Friday mornings, Nik and I head down to our local library. It is five minutes away by car, and, on nice summer days, a 20 minute walk. A few times a year, we sign up for the mom and tot storytime group, led by the soft-spoken Mr. B. The rest of the time, we just go in on our own, reading stories, selecting some to take home, picking out videos, and otherwise browsing the children's collection. It is probably our calmest together time, and we rarely miss our weekly visit.

Winnipeg has an amazing system of public libraries. There are 20 branch locations throughout the city, the largest of which is the Millennium Library, in the heart of downtown. According to the statistics posted on the website, the Winnipeg Public Library collection has over 1.6 million materials, including books, magazines, CDs and movies. Also available are books on tape, sheet music, and language learning resources. Library computers have internet access, word processing software, and educational games for kids.

The library offers lots of free programming for children, teens, adults and families. Bring your kids to one of the many storytime programs, or drop in during a Family Literacy Day. Special programs featuring musicians, magicians, historians and authors of all kinds are scheduled throughout the year. Take a free workshop to learn more about green living, health and wellness, or researching your family history. Other classes focus on computer skills, photography, or creative writing.

Even if you don't have time to sign up for classes or browse the shelves at your local branch, that need not stop you from taking advantage of the huge collection of library materials. My favourite feature of the library is the huge online catalogue, which allows you to search for materials, and have them delivered to your closest branch, with notification by e-mail or phone when they are ready to be picked up. You can also renew materials online, and sign up for e-mail notification reminding you when your materials are coming due, helping you avoid any late charges.

Almost everything offered at the library is free, though there are a few things that have a minimal cost. Printing and copying services are available at every branch, with a fee of 20 cents per page. If you request materials, and do not pick them up within 9 days of being notified that they are ready, you pay $1.20. Adult collection DVDs have a borrowing fee of $2.20. If you lose your library card, it will cost $4.05 to replace it. And, like any library, there are fees associated with lost, damaged or late return materials.

In my perspective, these costs are insignificant compared with the huge amount of value in the materials, resources and classes available to you with your free library card. You don't even have to take my word for it. The library has recently added a "Library Use Calculator" to its website, that quantifies your library use as a dollar amount, based on the average costs of purchasing the same materials and services privately. Even when I plugged in my most minimal numbers for a month, costs came out at over $5000 per year to buy, $0 to borrow.

If you're a Winnipeg resident, I challenge you to get your library card, and use it at least once every three weeks. You could start by checking out the New and Noted collection for hot reads, or putting a few cds on hold. Sign up for a workshop, or take in a free lunch time concert or lecture. Do it for six months, and see what happens. At the least, you will come out of the experience just a little bit more informed. At best, you will be a true convert, and like me, want to send much love to the library.

*All photos courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library

Sunday, December 12, 2010


It is amazing

what you can do

with some Lego men

two cake mixes,

and a few cans of frosting.

Nik is 3 today!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Community lights

I have heard it said that Winnipeg is famous for its Christmas lights. Not world famous, or even nationally known, mind you. What they say is that the pilots know us. That the pilots that fly over Winnipeg, in and out of the airport here, see a difference between the night scene here and that in other cities. Tiny points of lights are everywhere.

The downtown strip is done up every year by the city. Various BIZ (Business Improvement Zone) groups also do their part, dressing up their own mini Main streets, hanging wreaths, stringing lights and decorating trees in front of the shopfronts in their neighbourhoods. The casinos also get in on the action, with lit up message of 'Season's Greetings', lights on the building and trees, and large lit figures next to the entrances. Even the roof of the Super Lube is sporting stripes of golden lights.

One of my favourite traditions in the Christmas season is taking the long way home. Once the sun has set, we will often detour from our regular route, and take to the quieter residential streets just to look at the Christmas lights on everyone's homes. I don't know if you could find a block without Christmas lights. They range from the truly understated single green porch light, to the massively overdone Christmas wonderland scenes complete with Nativity, Santa with sleigh and all nine reindeer, and light-covered roofs, fences and house fronts. Some homes boast large amounts of blinking coloured lights, to which my son will say, "Look Mom! A party house!" I am glad we don't live across the street from 'a party house'.

Last night, as we searched out the Christmas lights, we drove through one of the newer neighbourhoods not far from our home. It is full of impressive, two-storey houses built just in the last few years. Many of them have vaulted ceilings, attached garages, and sparkling chandeliers. They are open concept with large windows, through which you can see large leather seating arrangements and dark wood dining sets.

We live in the left side of a duplex that was built in the 70's. It needs paint. The floors squeak. The fence is old and decrepit. And it is certainly devoid of vaulted ceilings, attached garages, sparkling chandeliers, large leather seating arrangements and dark wood dining sets. After such a description, you might be thinking I returned home last night wistful, and wondering when we will be able to move into that newer neighbourhood. But that is the not the end of the comparison.

On my street, there is a sidewalk. And on that sidewalk travels the mailman, delivering mail from home to home, often with a smile or a nod for passers-by. Traveling east down our street will lead you to the community centre, which has a small playground, baseball diamond, and outdoor skating rink just outside its doors, and out of which runs a Mom 'n Child drop-in playgroup, and a local kids hockey team. Traveling a few blocks south of our home could lead you to the public school with it's large playground, enclosed by trees and backyards, or to the swimming pool, wading pool or hockey arena. If you are willing to walk a little farther, there are many more parks, schools, churches, shops and even the public library, all accessible by sidewalks canopied by towering elm trees.

The streets of the new neighbourhood have no sidewalks, just many, many driveways. There is just one large mailbox for 40 homes, and the mailman stops there in his truck. I saw just one small playground, and this was right next to the road, with nary a tree in sight. And there are certainly no wading pools, libraries, or baseball diamonds.

Both neighbourhoods are full of Christmas lights. But I believe that my neighbourhood is also rich in different kind of light, the light of community. And I wouldn't trade it for vaulted ceilings.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Too much!

Nik's birthday and Christmas both fall in December, so for a couple of years now, we have experienced a double whammy of new toys and other gifts. We are also expecting a new little person at the end of January, and although I know new babies are small, the accessories that multiply around them can quickly take over one's home. Since our house isn't getting any bigger, my thoughts have been turning more and more to decluttering, simplifying and scaling back. We need to make space.

I know I am not alone. Everywhere I look, people are fighting the battle of too much and too many. Too much stuff in their houses. Too many commitments in their calendar. Too much shopping to do (especially at this time of year). Too many things to get done before the day is through. And, like me, most of these people know that there are huge benefits to scaling back: A cleaner and less cluttered home. Appreciation of the little things. More time and space to breathe, to be, to grow...

It sounds idyllic. Who wouldn't want to live that way? And yet, most of us don't. I am as guilty as the worst among us. In one breath, I profess love for simplicity, and in the next, I am adding detail after hopelessly complicated detail to my daily life. This seems most obvious now that Christmas is coming. Of course I want a family-friendly Christmas, centered on the true meaning of the season, with plenty of in-the-moment, unhurried quality time... But what about the Christmas cards with letters and photos, the gingerbread house from scratch, the real tree standing decorated in the living room, the pine garlands over the door and in the basement, the gifts for family, co-workers, neighbours, the new outfits for Christmas Day, the stocking stuffers, the advent calendar, the hamper contribution, the Christmas child shoebox, the church carol sing, the dinners, the parties, the baking... How do you know what to drop? How can you reasonably drop anything?

I wish I was like this only at Christmas, but my tendency to go overboard permeates most aspects of my life, and has been with me for a very long time. My figurine play as a young child involved the most elaborate set ups of most of the toys in the playroom. When my mom got after me to clean my room as a young teen, I would get quickly sidetracked organizing an overflowing 'junk' drawer, and after 30 minutes be sitting in a bigger mess than what I started with. Research projects and papers in high school and university always ended up taking over my life in the last week or two before the due date. At work, I volunteer for extra projects routinely. And, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I have become a voracious reader on all topics to do with children and parenting. As my mother has often said of me, I "don't do things by halves."

This characteristic is undoubtedly affecting my son. Baby Nik, thanks to second hand shopping and the generosity of family and friends, had just about every baby accessory they make. As a nearly three year old, he already has a ridiculous amount of toys. They may be neatly organized into designated spaces in nearly every room of the house, but put them all together and it would be an impressively overflowing pile. Books and clothing have also been obtained in abundance, and, while I try to resist overscheduling, in his first 3 years he has already been to story time, rhyme time, swim, rhythmic movement, yoga, and playgroup style classes. No music lessons yet, but I caught myself eyeballing an ad for them just the other day, and preschool registration has also been on my mind. An intervention may be in order.

I not concerned about having the time and space to do and have all of these things, because I know, through the powers of organization, you can fit impressive amounts into small space. I am worried though, about what effect this lifestyle will have on us, longterm. In his inspiring book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne writes about the effect of too many. He says, "Children given so very many choices learn to undervalue all, and hold out - always - for whatever elusive thing that is offered." Too many options for what to eat, amuse ourselves with, watch or wear... This is the typical lifestyle of our affluent culture, and we are marinating in it. How can it not cultivate an attitude of discontent?

2011 will be a year of adding a fourth to our family, and a subsequent break for me from my paid work. I would love for it also to be a year of scaling back, focusing on choosing mindfully instead of being swept away by a sea of too much and too many. Practically and spiritually, I think it would be at once extremely challenging and hugely beneficial.

Now, if only I can get my husband on board...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Geeks and misfits

Hello. My name is Lisa, and I'm not cool.

What is more, I have never been cool. Not in grade school, not in high school, not in university... Even now, as a married, mortgage-paying, career-holding mom, I am still not cool.

I come from a whole family of not cool, actually. Although I could never quite pin down the cool status of either of my parents, I have a pretty good handle on my siblings. My older sister leans toward the goody two-shoes bookworm type of not cool. My brother is classic computer geek not cool. My younger sister is adorable and likable... but still not cool. I think she lacks the mean girl gene. I am just plain old loud not cool. I think that might be the worst kind.

When I was growing up, I wanted desperately to be cool. Many tears were shed on the subject, and I also devoted quite a bit of energy to pretending I didn't care. Sometimes I felt like I was getting close to being cool, like the Christmas that I recieved a velcro-closure binder from my sister as a present. Everyone, it seemed, had a velcro-closure binder at school except for me. When I opened my new binder, it was full of lined paper. On the very first sheet, my sister had written something to the effect of "A binder for Lisa, so you can be just like everyone else," with a smiley face next to it. I took that binder to school proudly. Then I learned it was not a Note Tote, and that is what the cool kids had. That was in sixth grade, and the memory is still vibrant.

However, when I look at my twenties, and the people I am gravitating towards, 'cool' is not the word I would use to describe them. Do you know what l33t sp34k is? What about WOW? Have you played a MUD? Spend many hours of your teenage years in your basement? I think I like you. Do you read research for fun? Sit in the front row at lectures? Volunteer for extra work? You are my kind of people. Do you spend more money investing in some obscure hobby than in your personal appearance? Do you frequently forget to put on make-up, and yet still have a detailed memory for the last six books you've read? We need to get together some time.

In books and movies, I am increasing drawn to the misfit characters, rooting enthusiastically for the underdog. I love to hear about other people's weird parents, social blunders and obsessive interests. Tell me about your inept dealings with the opposite sex. Spare no detail of your less than perfect family holidays. And maybe it's petty, but if you sailed through the social scene in high school with a perfect manicure, I really do not want to know. Skip to the tough time you had adjusting to life past Grade 12.

When I meet people now that I did not know in my teens, I always feel more comfortable with them when I find out they were in choir, or the school band, or the chess club. I love to discover that she wanted to learn to play the bagpipes, or that he spent the better part of a year trying to design a working hovercraft.

As I find I am drawn more and more to the uncool, the cool people are accordingly becoming less and less attractive. People who have a huge inter-mingling group of friends, who always have plans, who spare no time in bringing up whatever expensive brand-name thing they just bought... They make me nervous. If your hair is always in place, and your life follows suit, or at least you put a lot of effort into making it look that way, I get downright uncomfortable. And if you are more proficient at making excuses for following the crowd than you are at sticking to your guns with tenacious integrity... That's a deal-breaker. I'm sorry, but this is just not going to work out.

As much as I love the geeks and misfits of the world, though, I still have trouble loving the uncool in myself. I still catch myself chasing the cool. I am a little too proud of my lululemon yoga pants. I get too much satisfaction when the popular girl at work laughs at one of my jokes. I still feel unpretty when I walk past the trendy salon in the mall.

I am trying to let go of it. I want to be a genuine, driven, mindful, conscientious person. I want to be known for my intelligence, passion and integrity. These are things not so compatible with cool. And they aren't worth sacrificing.

But I'm keeping the yoga pants.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The tyranny of the should

There is something about the fall that always causes time to move faster for me. Maybe it is because the days get shorter, or because all the summer vacation days are officially behind us. When I was younger, I thought it was because school was starting up again, and things really were busier, with new teachers or professors to get used to, and homework taking up the evening hours again. This year, I suppose I could blame in on pregnancy hormones, or Nik dropping his nap completely, or taking on too many projects at work. Whatever it may be, as the winter approaches, and I invariably find myself falling behind once again, I feel myself more and more under the tyranny of the should.

I am sure I am not alone in this habit of particularly pessimistic form of self-commentary. Looking at the glass as perpetually half-empty, when the days fly by and the list of things I haven't done gets longer, it is so easy to berate myself for all the things I should have done:

I should vacuum. I should dust. I should work on that knit blanket I said I would make for the new baby. I should bake. I should clear off my scrapbooking desk, and use some of that mountain of supplies I have amassed over the years. Come to think of it, I haven't printed any pictures in such a long time, I really should get on that, too. Oh, and make an appointment for formal portraits for the family, or at least for Nik, before it is time to send out the Christmas cards. And my Christmas card list needs updating. I should get to that one of these days...

And on and on it goes.

I could fill hundreds of lines with "should" statements, and I am still not convinced I would come to an end. The goals might get loftier than those of housework (I should make more time for charity, or some such), but I don't think I would run out of things to put down. And that is even before I start into the "should have"s and the "should not"s. There is always ample opportunity for me to 'should all over myself'.

Over the years, I have learned strategies to break free from this depressing thought pattern, and the change always begins with recognizing that I have fallen victim to the tyranny yet again. If you, too, have gotten stuck there in your own life, I wanted to share five techniques that have brought me the most relief; those things I should do more often. ;-)

Make a "Done" list - This is one of the most practical pick-me-ups that I have turned to when I realize I am exhausted at the end of yet another day, and am silently berating myself for the things I failed to get to. For one full day, write down everything you accomplished. This includes taking a shower, unloading the dishwasher, and making the bed. Write down how many stories you read to a child, how many loads of laundry were washed and dried (maybe even folded and put away), and how many phone calls you answered. If you start in the morning, and keep track all day, you will be surprised at how much you really are accomplishing. It is no wonder you are having trouble getting to that filing, or whatever task is not getting done in your life. Give yourself a break!

A helping of humility - Sometimes the reason we are so aggravated with ourselves at the end of the day is because we are trying to reach some unreachable standard. You may think it is an admirable behaviour to try to be the perfect parent, perfect spouse or perfect employee, but believing that it is even possible for you to reach some perfect standard at anything is the classic pride that goes before a fall. Realize that you are not perfect, and that you cannot become so even with vast amounts of effort. An attitude born from humility will help you take setbacks in stride, accept compliments without becoming conceited, and remind you to cut others some slack, too.

Ask for assistance - Sometimes we forget that we are not the only ones out there. Family members, friends and co-workers often are able and willing to help out, but in our rush to get things done, we forget to let them know that we are struggling. Humility can help here again, because it frees us of the belief that only we can do it 'right'. Whether the help given is in practical contributions, helping us to plan our priorities, or just reassurance that we are doing fine, the support of others makes it much easier to leave the "should" cycle behind.

Take time out - I know it seems counter-intuitive, but when we have really gotten caught up in our own little hamster wheels, sometimes the best thing to do is to just stop. Stop trying to catch up, stop obsessing, stop doing that 'just one more thing', stop adding things to your list of shoulds... and just take a breath. Whether with prayer, meditation, deep breathing or just a cup a tea, even five minutes of time out can recharge you for the work ahead, and give you perspective on what is most important.

Put it in perspective - Ah, yes, that elusive perspective. It is hard to see the big picture when we are caught in a day to day cycle of the details. If you are having a hard time letting anything go item on your list go unfinished, ask yourself two questions: What needs to be done today, and what will matter next year? We need to eat, we need clean clothes to wear. Likewise, our loved ones need to know they are loved, and we all need fond memories to look back on. But the dusting? It can really wait.

I expect that I will never be completely free of the tyranny of the should. Bad habits die hard, after all. But I am getting better at recognizing when I have moved there, and quicker to give myself permission to leave. I wish the same for you, especially as we move into the business of the pre-holiday season.

Friday, September 10, 2010

10 things

When Nik was born, I had no identity as a mother. I had parenting ideas, sure, but they were untested, and mostly revolved around teaching good behaviour. When it came to nurturing, nutrition, activity, sleep... I had no philosophies or ideals. I really didn't know what we believed when it came to raising children.

I am still far from having all the answers, but I believe I have made a solid beginning. When we welcome our second child, I will already know at least some of what is important to us, and what kind of parents we want to be.

So here is my list of ten. Ten things I've learned, ten pieces of advice for the me of almost 3 years ago, ten rules for a new mom... Everyone has their own ten, and my ten may be different a year from today, as I am sure it would have been different a year ago.

My Ten:
  1. Do all you can to be able to breastfeed your baby.
  2. Food from scratch is better than food from a box.
  3. Anything you can reuse is better than something you throw away.
  4. The best toys don't need batteries.
  5. At night, do whatever helps everyone get the most sleep, with the least amount of tears.
  6. Say 'yes' when you can, and say 'no' when you need to.
  7. Yelling is never as satisfying as you expect it to be.
  8. Example is worth far more than words.
  9. Let them be little.
  10. There's always time for a hug.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Milestones after loss are never easy. For friends who have lost loved ones in recent years, I know it was hard to pass Christmas, Mother's Day, Father's Day, the anniversary of the death... Special days. We have recently passed a milestone, too. Yesterday was my due date for the pregnancy that we lost.

On the one hand, I am grateful that my belly is once again swelling with life, and that the date did not find me empty. I know it would have been much more painful to face the day if we still were not expecting. But it was still something. A twinge. A disappointment. An ordinary day where there would have been an exciting one. An unbirthday.

After our miscarriage, I read up a lot on how other couples, and other mothers in particular, find some closure after a miscarriage. There is no funeral, no burial, no memorial service to help you grieve, to commemorate or acknowledge your loss. There is no obituary or eulogy to write. So what did people do? I read a number of lovely ideas. Name a star. Plant a rosebush. Write a poem and frame it.

Then, I found the idea for us. A piece of memorial jewelry. A lot of women opted for necklaces with a symbol of an rosebud, a rose that never bloomed. But I knew what I wanted. A ring with a peridot, the August birthstone. Our neverbirth stone.

The miscarriage happened over late January, early February, so we bought the ring as a Valentine's Day gift. We found the perfect one - a small peridot flanked by two inset tiny diamonds, the birthstones of both my husband and myself. It is a pinky ring, on my right hand, to be worn one day next to a family ring I would like to get for my right ring finger. A family ring I will get when everyone is here. But Baby Never-was gets to go straight to the front of the line, already proudly represented on that same right hand.

Never was. Never forgotten.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beautiful day

I put my all into my work. If I am signing my name to it, I want it to be good. And, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Because of funding restrictions, I eventually have to say goodbye to the clients I work with in the public autism therapy program where I am employed.

I get it. I do. The budget has to balance, and the money has to come from somewhere. Resources are limited. Clients can get up to six years of funding, and six years is not nothing.

But I forget that I understand when I have to say my goodbyes. Leaving a family who is losing access to services before they feel ready is a heartbreaking experience. I do everything I can, leave them with everything I can, and put on my Everything-will-be-okay face, but when I see the worry in mom's eyes, and the tears she is holding back, I can't just walk away. Instead, I hear myself switching into major pep talk mode, and let the overtime minutes overflow as I tell her, "You can do it. Believe in yourself. Never give up." Eventually, I have said all I know to say, and there is nothing left but to wish her well, and walk to my waiting car.

Today was a goodbye day. Goodbye, Mama-Warrior. Good luck.

The client I left today is far from my home, and I welcomed the drive back to the city. Prairie driving is deliciously mindless. The roads are flat and straight, and today was a clear day with little traffic. With the cruise control on, the car feels like it is practically driving itself. I have the freedom to let my mind wander.

Today, I leave the major highway for the tailgaters and semis, and find solice on the less traveled provincial road. I watch as a thousand tiny white butterflies dart in and out of the Manitoba wildflowers along the shoulder. I pass a few iconic green and yellow tractors, and watch the harvesters flip as they pull in the grain. There are cows and horses in pens to the right, with telephone poles zipping rhythmically past on my left.

The colours are too beautiful. Kelly green grass, golden field, blue sky stretching out to the level horizon... Glorious rolling clouds in the Land of the Big Sky. Bon Jovi sings me home.

I am sad. Sad for the family I left. Sad for the difficulties this thing called autism has brought to their life. Sad for how draining advocacy can be, for how hard it is too fight for your child, to get people to understand.

And then I feel a very faint and familiar wiggle in my middle. I know immediately that it is my baby, and I am feeling it move for the first time. On my own, on this sad and beautiful prairie drive, I focus on every flip and squirm. Thinking ahead, this child, too, will bring may difficult days. But today was beautiful.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The money diet

I am one of those hateful individuals that has never had a weight problem. I don't crave desserts or sweets, I eat when I get hungry, I eat until I'm full, and my weight stays within a stable 5 pound range with no real effort at all. I even lost all the weight from my first pregnancy in a little over one year, without trying. I was wondering when all that would return to bite me in the butt...

The concepts of nutrition and weight gain have always seemed simple to me. People gain weight because they are consuming more calories than their body burns. If you want to stop gaining weight, you need to consume the same number of calories you burn. If you want to lose weight, you need to consume less calories than you burn, a strategy often referred to as 'dieting'.

While these concepts have seemed obvious to me when it came to eating, I can now see how I was totally oblivious to their application in the financial realm. We were gaining debt because we were spending more dollars than we had. To stop gaining debt, we have to spend the same amount of money that we have. And to lose that debt, we have to spend less than we make. We need to go on a money diet.

To bring the comparison further, it seems like there are basically two ways to lose weight: reduce the amount you eat, or increase the amount you move. Apply that thinking to finances, and you can see that there are two basic ways to eliminate debt, as well: reduce the amount you spend, or increase the amount you make. Suddenly, I have far more compassion for people who struggle with there weight. In theory, the strategies sound easy. In practice, they are hard. No wonder everyone is looking for a quick fix gimmick.

Increasing the amount we make is tricky, much like adding more exercise to someone's already busy schedule. We have found a few ways. My husband got a small salary increase at work, and has brought in some extra sales commissions. I worked a few extra hours at my job over the summer, as the opportunity came up.

But the real doable thing for us is decreasing the amount we spend, the dieting. The same willpower, the same feelings of deprivation affect us as any other dieter, as we try to cut back. Let me share my diet-inspired strategies with you.

Custom weight plan: Friends of mine have done WeightWatchers, and told me that the first thing you do upon joining is meet with the staff to determine your 'points'. You have a set number of points you can spend everyday, and you can't go over, just like a budget. To create our budget, we sat down, looked at all of our expenses, and set spending limits in each area, keeping the total of all the spending under the amount we take in every month.

Cut out junk: High calorie foods --> high interest loans. We traded in our credit card debt, with an annual interest rate of nearly 20% for a personal loan with a rate of 3.75%. It is like switching from sugar cookies to whole grain bread, only you feel liberated, instead of deprived.

Counting calories: We track all of our spending now. One spiral bound notebook for each of us, plus one for the car, were all we needed to invest in. We also added envelopes to the front of the notebooks to store receipts for the things we buy, allowing us to take a closer look at how we are spending our money at grocery and department stores.

Weighing in: Saturday mornings are finances time now. Our budget is in a computer spreadsheet, and we enter all of our actual spending once a week, and compare it to our limits in each area. We have split our budget limits into half-month periods, so we can see if we have spent most of a limit in the first week, there is not much left for the second one, and we adjust accordingly.

Plan ahead: People seem to eat the worst food when they are under-prepared and on the run, and that is when our worst spending happened, as well. Now, we are planning meals for a whole week, and going to the grocery store once to get what we need for them. We also leave enough time in our morning routines to put together take along lunches and snacks. If we go to a restaurant now, it is because we planned to and budgeted for it, not because there was nothing to eat, or we were too exhausted to figure out what to make for supper. We also pack snacks, drinks and toys whenever we go out, so that we are prepared for the day, and don't need to make any convenience purchases.

Avoid temptation: Successful dieters don't hang out in bakeries and fast food restaurants. We are avoiding stores when we can, shopping with lists when we can't, and leaving our credit cards at home. These strategies are adding up to far less impulse shopping, the donuts of the finance world.

Like extra pounds, the debt we have racked up is unattractive, and makes it harder for us to do the things we want to do in our lives. And, along with all the other committed dieters out there, we are looking forward to our 'After' photo.

Everything we need for a Saturday morning 'weigh in'

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Knitting again

*This is a follow-up post to Knit together*

As anyone who has experienced it can attest to, the time between miscarriage and next conception passes painfully slowly. At it's worst, sex changes from a leisure activity to a science experiment, and every subsequent period feels like another miscarriage. You don't just want to be pregnant. You want to STILL be pregnant. Each day that passes brings your original due date closer, and on the darkest days you feel like you will never be pregnant again.

And then one day, you are.

We got that coveted positive result one Saturday afternoon, and my spirit soared. My hands were shaking, I couldn't stop smiling, and my husband was thrilled. We called a babysitter and went out to dinner and a movie. I happily ordered a non-alchoholic drink. But I didn't start knitting again.

I made my first doctor's appointment. I told my family. I started taking prenatal vitamins. But I didn't start knitting again. And then, about 7 weeks in, I started bleeding again.

It was a Thursday afternoon. I was home with Nik, and my husband was at work. Nik went down for a nap, and I laid down for a little while, too. When I got up, I had to go to the bathroom. When I looked into the toilet, it was full of blood.

I was frozen. I just stared at the red water, not believing what I was seeing. We hadn't even talked about the possibility of it happening again. I walked out of the bathroom, in a cloud of numbness. I went to the phone, and called my husband, my mother, and told them what I knew. I called the local health line, who told me to call my doctor. I got an appointment for the next day, and he told me to rest, and wait and see. My husband called his parents. I called my workplace. Everyone was quiet. Everyone wished us the best. Everyone knew there was nothing they could do.

I didn't cry.

I bled for 3 and a half days. It went from red to brown and stopped. I couldn't believe it stopped. My doctor said it was a good sign and scheduled an ultrasound. I went back to working, with strict instructions not to do any lifting, to take it easy. After a week back at work, I got my ultrasound, and my husband and I got to see our baby's heart beating on June 18th, 2010. But I didn't start knitting again.

Something about being let down leaves a scar, like losing a kind of innocence. I married the first man I loved. I never had to go through a heartbreak in my courtship years. I know what is it to have my heart broken now.

I didn't really talk about the way that I was feeling. I didn't even really FEEL the way I was feeling. But I could see it in the things that weren't there. No pregnancy books by the bed. No talk to Nik about the coming baby. No browsing in the baby section of stores. No knitting.

As my waistband got tighter, things started to slowly change. I dug my maternity clothes out of storage, washed them, and hung them in the closet. I dusted off the pregnancy books on my bookshelf, and put some new ones on hold at the library. We started to talk to Nik about the baby that was coming after Christmas. And, finally, I took out my knitting, and added on just a few cautious rows.

Baby steps, right?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Eek! Ack! or I hate money.

So, we finally asked for professional help with our whole debt and spending problem, and got the cold shower version of a reality check. I guess when you keep telling yourself it can't be that bad, it stings all the more when a stranger has to come out and say, "Yeah, it's that bad."

My husband and I are the clear product of disconnection from money. I don't have money, I have numbers. You can spend all the money you have, and then keep spending numbers, thanks (or no thanks) to credit cards, lines of credit and overdraft so-called protection at the bank. And we have spent numbers we don't have, more numbers than we bring in combined in a month, and that excludes respectable debts like car loans and our mortgage.

Ick. My parents are good with money. My siblings are all single, and doing well. Couples that I know who I am sure bring in less money per month than my husband and I do are replacing their fences and having laser eye surgery. We feel like the only ones trapped in the spiraling quicksand of debt.

Something has to change drastically if we hope to get out of this situation. In three years, my husband hopes to buy the business he is working in now, and we hope to get into a bigger, single family home. If we keep living the way we have been living, our reality-check professional told us that we will be lucky to keep the home we have, nevermind upgrade. Ouch.

I know that she's right. I hate that she's right. I was brought up with all the right rules: Pay off your credit cards every month. Count your pennies and your dollars will look after themselves. Money can only be spent once. I know these things are true, and that frugal is the way to go, but something gets lost in translation. And when you've moved to Spending-Justification-Land, it is really hard to muster up your courage and return to Reality-land. Consider it mustered.

Goodbye credit cards. Hello tight budget. I am looking to make good friends with meal planning, and to break off connections with the pizza delivery guy. We'll cancel our cable, and make better use of our movie collection. And I am making a long list of all the fun things we can do for free. With summer coming, the list should get pretty long without too much effort. Hooray for hiking, wading pools and the beach! Hooray for the library, and gift museum memberships! Hooray for a house already full of video games, craft supplies, movies and toys!

Maybe this massive cut back will help me realize how rich we are, instead of how poor. At the very least, it will adjust my perspective to living a way we can actually afford to live. Wish us luck! I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Out with the old - Manitoba Children's Museum

Living in a city with some 6 months of winter (more some years), some of the greatest treasures are indoor locations for kids. The primary one in Winnipeg has been for years the Manitoba Children's Museum, which first opened it's doors in 1986. When I was a kid, the Museum was located in an old warehouse in the Exchange District, and I will always remember the old blue locomotive, the grain elevator, and the wheelchairs you could race around in. Today, the Children's Museum has none of those things, but it does have a real diesel engine, a giant tree and nature area, and a cool construction exhibit with trucks, gravel and spraying water.

The Children's Musuem opened up in it's current location in 1994, located in an old train repair building at The Forks Historic Site. It's main, and most impressive, exhibit is a 1952 diesel train engine and a 1910 Pullman coach car. Consequently, this is the only exhibit destined to survive the Children's Museum's huge renovation and update planned for this fall. Because the Manitoba Children's Museum won't be around much longer as we know it, I wanted to make it the subject of the first of my "Love my Winnipeg" postings.

So what is there to love at the current Museum? First up, a great mix of gross motor and fine motor play areas, with lots of adaptability for different age levels, and many benches for moms and dads to hang out on. Great bathrooms complete with kid sized toilets and kid height sinks. A coat area with hooks, hangers, or pay-to-lock lockers. Lots of snack tables, chairs and high chairs, and it is fine to bring your snacks from home. That is one of my favourite things about MCM. It is not a money grab. There are some vending machines and a gift shop, but they are both slightly off the beaten path, so you don't feel like you need to spend more than the admission cost to get in. What is more, memberships are really reasonable, so if you think your family may be a frequent visitor, that is definitely the way to go.

The Manitoba Children's Museum also has classrooms/event rooms that are used for field trips and birthday parties, and sometimes house temporary exhibits like the one about bugs showcased below, where I have fallen victim to the world's largest tick.

At this particular exhibit, sitting down causing the tick to inflate, as if it is filling up with blood. I know you're thinking, "yuck", but 9 year old boys everywhere will think it is awesome.

Visiting the Children's Museum gives me the opportunity to expose my son to a lot of different subjects, and see what he gravitates towards. We can sort of test drive materials, to see what may be a good investment for our own home. We don't have a piano, but the Museum does. They also have a fish tank, a train table, piles of costumes and a felt board. There is chalk and chalk boards, Duplo tables, big wooden blocks and many types of art supplies to experiment with. My son can have all these things without my having to buy all of Toys R Us and move it into my house.

Of course, the best things at the Museum are the ones that no one has at home, like the giant tree slide, the TV studio, the train, and the traffic light. With so much to explore, it is no wonder that Nik suggests most mornings, "Let's go to the museum!"

If you are interested in checking out the Museum yourself, you better get there before doors close for renovations this coming September. Visit their website for more information.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Love me, Love my Winnipeg

Portage Avenue

This is where I was born and raised. This is where I went to school and to University. Here I had my first job, my first love, my first child. This is where I was married, and it is where I hope to be buried. This, my friends, is home.

I have read that at some point in your growing up years, you look around at what you see, and that is what you love for the rest of your life. This must be the case with me. Raised on the flat, flat prairie, next to a dirty river, in middle class neighbourhoods in gritty city bursting with culture, history and character, that is what I know, and that it what I love.

I have been other places. One summer we took 3 trips out to the Fraser Vallery area of British Columbia, an area that my fellow Winnipeggers talk about wistfully, far more glamourous than our home. Full of tall, lush evergreens, rolling hills and mountain ranges... I missed the sun. Even on days when was not raining the sky there seemed smaller. They took me to the ocean. Twice. Both times I could see land on the other side of the water - Vancouver Island. I missed Lake Winnipeg at home, where you can look out over the blue-green water, and see dots of green islands, canoes, loons, and the flat watery horizon. I like flat.

Prairie land is the way everyone wants their land, you know, even if they don't realize it themselves. Even if they deny it with their dying breath! When you build a house, or a store, or even a parking lot, what do you do to the land, to the floors? Level. Even. Flat. As people build their hallways, so we build our roads on the prairies. As people build their rooms, so we build our pasturelands.

Now, of course, I never grew up out on the prairie land myself, but flat landers in the city have advantages, too. Cycling is much easier without the pesky up and down that other communities have to deal with. And on a clear day, you can see from the edges of the city, straight to the skyscrapers downtown, with nothing to obstruct your view. Seeing the buildings rise up out of the earth like that is like looking at the Emerald City, without the sparkle. We in Winnipeg have very little sparkle.

And that is another thing about home. I am an oddity in Winnipeg in that I love this place, and want to tell other people how great it is. Most people from Winnipeg are quiet about their city. There is no arrogance here, no bragging about our origins when we are in other North American cities or abroad. When people from exotic locales move here, we are always surprised. When young people pack their bags for Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver, we are not. We are not the jet set here. Fast-paced, glittery, brand-name lives await you in a city other than this.

In Winnipeg, most of us are content to just live out our lives, working for a living, keeping in touch with old friends, maybe raising a little family. We bundle up in the winter and go camping in the summer. We coupon clip and go out for dinner once and a while and try to make ends meet. When we can afford it, we get out to the festivals, and concerts and performances nearby and sing and laugh and drink with friends. We extend a hand to our neighbour when he needs it. We talk about the weather.

We are ordinary people in an ordinary place. But don't be fooled. There are treasures here and around this place, and although they may attract little more than a handful of tourists, they are an enrichment to those of us who live here. I look forward to sharing many of them with you in upcoming posts. Because I love this place. It is part of me. Love me, love my Winnipeg.

St. Boniface Hospital by the Red River on a cold, cold night.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring treasure hunt

Ever heard the saying, "Take only pictures, leave only footprints"? Nik and I put that into action today, on our first nice weather morning in weeks. Rather than going out to pick flowers, we just took the camera along, to capture every beauty of Spring in a photo, to save and share. See our treasured finds below!

It was good to see green back on the trees.

And there are so many blossoms to be seen in the neighbourhood.

These seeds will turn tan and flutter like helicopters before long, but they were a gorgeous red today!

Beautiful bulb plants have pushed into view...

We also saw a few Spring critters...

And what would a spring photos post be without a robin? We finally spotted one when we were almost home.
Wishing you wonderful spring walks in the days to come. Don't forget your camera!

Monday, May 10, 2010


Drizzling rain, croaking frogs, the call of birds... I am in bed early tonight with my bedroom window open, letting in the smell of freshly fallen rain, and all the backyard music.

Ours is not a spacious country home, just a small half-a-duplex in one of the decidedly less cool neighbourhoods in the city, but we are fortunate to live on the edge of a development, with ditch and dirt path and grassland just beyond our backyard fence. It is land owned by the hydroelectric company, and they have built their towers all along it, holding up long stretches of electric cable, and as a result, I know it is in no danger of being developed into the newest suburb. A funny way to get a nature preserve, I guess, but when I hear the frogs and watch the red-winged blackbirds dart in front of the setting sun, I feel lucky to live just in this humble spot.

My favourite kind of meditation is just mindful awareness of sound. I remember doing it for the first time in sixth grade, with the classroom windows open, everyone listening for as many different sounds as they could. I feel my ears stretch into the distance, searching for every pin drop of a sound, and my mind clears of everything else.

Tonight, the frogs are stealing the show, but the symphony coming in my bedroom window is varied and rich for anyone with ears to hear. There is the hum of the far off industrial plant. Also, the roar of a distant train, punctuated by the whistle blow now, and again. These are the only sounds the survive even in the dead of winter, my constant companions. Now, in full spring, I also hear birds, many kinds of birds, but my uneducated ear does not know how to name them. A hawk is there, I think, and a robin... A Canada goose... Many others call, and while I do not know their names, my ear remembers their songs, heard many evenings before this one.

Dripping water hits the fence, leaking from the eavestroughs, long overdue for a cleaning. A squirrel screeches, a cat meows, and I hear the frogs, the frogs, the constant frogs... Only in springtime are they as loud as this.

As I listen, my breathing slows without effort. My mind feels emptied, opened up by the evening air. I wonder why I don't do this all the time. I know why.

I know how prone I am to rushing, to busyness, to always finding one more thing I should be doing, until I collapse into bed, exhausted by the activities of another day, making mental lists of everything I want to accomplish tomorrow. Moving through life at this pace hardly leaves room for these sacred moments. It hardly leaves room to breathe.

Tonight, I took the time to breathe, to listen. And I hear just one more sound: the small voice of my still-awake son, quietly singing to himself in the moments before sleep. A reminder of how to slow down, and why, and for whom. It is not just about me, anymore.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Melancholy mama

I am approaching Mother's Day with a heavy heart this year. It is hard for me to put aside the fact that, without our loss earlier this year, I would've been 24 weeks pregnant this Sunday. Additionally, many friends of mine have also lost pregnancies in the past year, and earlier this week, I witnessed a very old friend standing at the graveside of his first son, barely one week old. With so much loss, it is hard to be excited about gifts and cards in celebration of motherhood.

It is not like me to focus on what's missing, and yet, this year, those missing things seem too significant to overlook. The missing pink line on a pregnancy test. The missing bump in my middle. The missing baby from my friend's newborn-ready apartment.

Opening the door to parenthood makes you vulnerable to measureless heartache. Loved ones all around me have had their hearts put through the wringer while trying to conceive, or after a pregancy was lost, or a baby died. Even if your child is born healthy and grows to adulthood, you aren't immune to heartache. Your child could still hurt you, leave you, pass away. Whether you lose a child at 6 weeks pregnant, 6 weeks old, 6 years old or 60 years old, there seems to be no loss quite so tender.

When I was working in a personal care home during my university years, one of the residents lost her daughter, Joy. Joy would have been a senior citizen herself, I think, or at least very close to it, but the pain her mother experienced at her passing was overwhelming and difficult to witness. I sat with her for hours that first weekend, watching television, and holding her hand, and hearing her cry and softly sing, "I've got Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, down in my heart." I learned the depth of a mother's heart from her.

This week, I saw the strength of a mother's heart when I saw a young mother turn, and walk away from the grave of her only baby, as a whole crowd of mourners watched. Back at the church, when I held her hand, I glanced at her belly, still swollen from pregnancy and said, "I'm sorry for your loss." Words seem meaningless next to a loss of such magnitude. And yet, she was standing, and looked at me with the tired eyes of a mother, and thanked me.

This Mother's Day, my thoughts will be with all those families who have lost a child, and also with those who are deperately trying to conceive one. And if any of my readers are standing in that particular crowd, I wanted to share this:

It's worth it. Every penny, every sleepless night, every teardrop. Loving a child, even one not yet conceived, may open you up to no end of heartache, but there are moments with no end of joy, too. I wish for you all, Joy, down in your hearts.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Time for two

Sometimes I feel like "hurry up" is my new mantra.

I am naturally a goal-oriented and details-oriented person. That is a lofty way of saying that if I make a To Do list, it is long, specific, and I desperately want to get everything done. This characteristic served me very well when I was planning my wedding. It meant I thought of everything, weighed the pros and cons of every decision, and my wedding day was just what we hoped for and disaster-free. When it comes to mothering, however, that drive and determination serves me less well.

Because I work part-time, I usually have high hopes for the days I spend at home. Do the groceries! Prepare nutritious meals and snacks! Do the laundry and put it away! Create a clean and peaceful home! Make time to be creative! Plan and orchestrate enriching activities for my 2 year old son! Oh wait, that's right... I have a 2 year old son.

If you have any experience at all with 2 year olds, you will already know that their priorities and agendas are not the same as, say, the adult's in their lives. They aren't concerned with schedules or with being anywhere on time. They only have one thing on their To Do list, and it whatever they are doing right now.

And so, as I try to get through the day to day with a toddler in tow, I hear myself:
"Hurry up Nik, we have to get to Grandma's now"
"Hurry up and finish your snack, so we can go get Daddy from work."
"Come on, we need to clean up these toys. It is time for supper right away."
"Hurry and get your shoes on so we can go. Come on, Nik!"

Mornings are the worst, but anytime that we need to make a transition can bring trouble, and the "H" word. And while I am hurrying, and thinking about what we need to do next, and where we need to be, do you know what Nik is doing? Living blissfully in the moment. I am hurrying to get to work, and he is noticing the shadows on the floor. I am hurrying to get to the car, and he is picking up rocks. I want him to hurry up and eat, and he is methodically dropping fish crackers through the space between the table and the wall.

On my worst days, I get angry. Clearly, he is just being this way to drive me crazy. He knows I need to get to the next thing on my list! He is being slow, making messes, running in the opposite direction JUST to be contrary.

But, on my good days, when I am blessed with a little clarity and perspective, I realize that I have the power to give him the gift of time. Time to look at the rocks in the driveway. Time to stamp in the too-deep puddle on the way to Grandma's. Time to be two.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Homeschooling myself

Wikipedia describes Leonardo da Vinci as "a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer". I have heard it said that he was the last person to really know everything that was known, and that after that, humankind simply had more knowledge than any one person could learn in a lifetime. I wonder if that's true.

I was really lucky to grow up with a good education. I got all the regular preschool to Grade 12 stuff, and then went on to get my university degree. I also took gymnastics, karate, CPR, learned to play the saxophone, got a lead role in a school play and was on class council and student councils. I was a good student, always putting an uncool amount of effort into everything I did.

When Nik was born, a sort of unconscious shift occurred. It isn't that I gave up the uncool amount of effort. That is too deeply ingrained. I just started to direct all that effort toward Project Nik. I was so baby-busy, I felt like I had no time for any of the things I did before he was born. I still made some time for reading and taking classes... But I read parenting books, and took "Mom 'n Me" classes. By the time that Nik was about 6 months old, I was focusing so completely on his development, that it had totally eclipsed my own.

Someone handed me a baby, and I lost my balance. I thought that being a good mom was abandoning myself, and pouring all of myself into my child, and I'm slowly realizing that lack of wisdom in that. If Nik had been my second child, I would not have abandoned the first to take care of him. I would have found a balance between the needs of the two. Why should it be any different if my first "child" is myself? My own growth is still worthwhile.

Additionally, putting all my effort into my child at the expense of myself not only devalues me, it devalues the contributions of all the people who have put effort into me in the past, like my teachers and parents. It also places an insane amount of pressure on my two year old to perform, to "turn out". I am, after all, putting all of my proverbial eggs in one basket.

As part of my parenting reading, I've learned about homeschooling, and felt the attraction. I have also seen that it is not confined to the traditional grades of K to 12. Some people talk about homeschooling their toddlers, for example. One day, I thought: "Is there any reason I couldn't homeschool myself?"

Think about it. Who says education past the age of 18 has to occur within the walls of a college or university? Why couldn't I design my own emergent curriculum, based on my interests, and make it a priority?

I struggle with feeling like the things I do for myself are frivolous, and only deserve to be indulged in when everything else is finished. Thinking about it as homeschooling validates the effort I put into my own development, and encourages me to create a balanced curriculum.

What subjects would you be sure to include? I am thinking of yoga for my first Phys. Ed. unit, creative writing for English, maybe collage for Art... I'd like to learn to get my finances under control for Math, learn the chemistry behind vegetable gardening for Science, and begin to make sense of nutrition as part of Health.

I am not planning on adding cartography or engineering just yet, but even da Vinci had to start somewhere.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That glorious glo-worm

We are nuts into 'In the Night Garden' over here. I thought it was ironic that my non-sleeper has gotten so into a preschool show focused on bedtime, until I saw how every show ends. The British narrator says, after the majority of the characters have gone to sleep:

Go to sleep, everybody.
Wait a minute... Somebody's not it bed!
Who's not in bed?
Igglepiggle's not in bed!

This character is probably Nik's hero. How lucky I am to have my own personal Igglepiggle.

I never knew there would come a time in my life where I would read about sleep, think about sleep, have discussions about sleep, formulate opinions about sleep, and otherwise obsess about sleep. That time has come, and it is called motherhood.

Sleeping through the night, or STTN as it is referred to on many online parenting message boards, seems to be regarded as the holy grail of young parenthood, a highly valued and possibly mythical thing. What is more, your child ability to fall and stay asleep with minimal fuss can be treated as some sort of litmus test for good parenting by some people. Annoying people. People I have not felt like talking to for some time. Or at least being honest with.

Don't get me wrong, now. Nik's sleeping has improved most mightily from the days of nine-months old and waking up every 2 hours or less. He usually wakes only once a night now, and sleeps right until morning once a week or so. I tend to start every conversation about Nik's sleep habits with these two facts. Let's focus on how far we've come! Let's not talk about how bedtimes are still a battle, or how he goes to bed later than those annoying people think he should. And I really don't want to talk about the four cavities he has from nursing to sleep and night-nursing... Let me tell you, I felt like a stellar mom after that dentist visit. But when it is a choice between nurse and sleep, or refuse to nurse and listen to screaming... Which would you choose at 2 in the morning?


Ahem... *regaining composure* So, yes, sleep. It is a hot topic around here.

Now, Nik is a nursing toddler, and mostly nurses at times related to being asleep. We stopped nursing in public around 15 months, and dropped all daytime nursings between 18 and 20 months, but the nursings around naps and bedtimes? My husband and I were afraid to touch them. If we drop those nursings, he may NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. And then we will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. We have had enough truly miserable nights to consider those things real possibilities. But I also don't see myself nursing a nine year old, so it was clearly a problem we were going to have to tackle eventually. After Nik's second birthday, we figured, "Here goes..."

Following the example of a LLL friend, we started shortening nursings. Nik would usually fall asleep in my arms after 30 minutes of nursing, so our first target was 25 minutes. Then Andrew would come and get him, and try to put him to sleep anyway he could, as long as it didn't include nursing. The things we tried included, but were not limited to:
  • Talking to him
  • Not talking to him
  • Touching him
  • Not touching him
  • Holding him
  • Rocking him
  • Leaving him in his crib
  • Singing to him
  • Humming to him
  • Playing him music
  • Rubbing his back
  • Leaving him to cry for a few minutes *cringe*
  • Leaving him to cry for longer than a few minutes *double cringe*
  • And finally, some nights, giving up and nursing a frantic, exhausted child just to get this night over with already.
I hate sleep.

But then, one day, we tried giving him that glorious glo-worm.

My mom had bought the glo-worm as a present for Nik just before we took a long plane ride to California when he was a baby. He was never very interested in it, and it had wound up buried in the basement toy box. One day, when I was cleaning up, I came across it again, and Andrew suggested we try it.

That first night that Nik had the glo-worm, he stopped crying and calling for us after less than 10 minutes, and played with it until he fell asleep. After 4-5 days, there was no crying, and just a protest as you walked out the door. After another week, our little "I-hate-to-go-to-bed" boy called out, "Goo-nigh Dad!" as Andrew left the room.

Dear Playskool people,

You rock.

Still, it has not been a cure-all miracle. This last week, Nik has been a little sick, and kicking up more of a fuss when it is time for bed than he was before. And he has also gotten to the point where it seems like he doesn't need a nap everyday anymore, so we are trying to figure out some new schedule around that.

Oh, well. Solve one problem, two more crop up. To borrow a phrase from "Night Garden": Tombliboo, ombliboo, that's how it goes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Eggs of life

My father's family is Ukrainian in background, and even though my father and his siblings are second generation Canadians, their Ukrainian heritage shows through, especially around the holidays. After all, the number one way we stay in touch with the Ukrainian in us is by eating, and there is no better way to celebrate. Cabbage rolls and borscht, dill buns and perogies, creamy mushroom gravy and the best quality kolbasa... Dinner time is a good time to be Ukrainian.

When Andrew and I were dating, the first holiday I spent with his family was Easter. As his parents live a good 14 hour drive from us, I knew that if we spent Easter with them, it would mean missing my family Easter dinner back home. Missing dinner represented missing my check in with my Ukrainian side, so I devised a way to take Ukrainian Easter with us. Before we left home, we stopped by Oseredok, the Ukrainian cultural centre here in Winnipeg. I went in search of a Ukrainian Easter egg to bring to Andrew's parents as a gift, but though the cultural centre was lovely in many respects, it was completely free of real Psyanky. They only had the painted wooden eggs, which is as much Psyanky as margarine is butter.

Not knowing where else to look, I called my former employer at Sevala's Ukrainian Deli. I had worked as a dishwasher at their Ukrainian buffet when I was in high school, and I knew that he had his finger on the pulse of all things Ukrainian in Winnipeg. "Where can I find a real Ukrainian Easter egg?" I asked him. "Todaschuk Sisters," he confidently replied. Um, who?

I found them in the phone book, and called for the store hours. "What time are you open?" I asked, when a women answered the phone. "When are you coming?" was the unexpected answer. Feeling a little on the spot, I suggested a time later that day, and Andrew and off drove off in search of Todaschuk Sisters' Ukrainian Boutique.

Located in an old part of town, the boutique is delightfully unusual. An awning stretches the length of the store front, above the windows. The store itself is tiny, just a squarish room with a display case on one side serving as the cash desk. There aren't really any shelves, no traditional store displays of any kind. Instead, there is a Christmas tree in the middle of the room, hung with ornaments for sale, and lengths of traditional red beads. There is another display case on the wall adjacent to the front window, filled and piled high with candles, dishes, embroidered tea towels, floral wreaths, candy dishes. More goods are in piles everywhere you turn, and there is really only enough room to circle the tree single file as you shop. Here is a photo of the Pope, there is a fridge magnet, here a display of postcards, there a teapot.

In the back of the shop you see a sewing machine, and rolls and rolls of woven trims for making traditional Ukrainian costumes. There is also a hairdresser's chair, and the faint smell of permanent solution fills the air. Then you notice the stairs. They lead upstairs, to where the shop owner lives with her husband. And now let us talk of Sylvia Todaschuk, the wonderful lady who finally had my authentic Ukrainian egg.

Standing behind her overflowing display case, this smiling women peers over her glasses at us. An egg? Of course, she has them. She reaches into the depths of her case, and resurfaces with a basket full of eggs. I pick one up, and it is heavy in my hand. They aren't blown, or boiled, she explains to me. Eggs are left just as they are found, because an egg is life, and if you destroy the life, the symbolism is lost. Cash or cheque, there is no automated debit or credit card machine here.

Sylvia stands and talks to us in the unhurried manner of an old friend. She is not worried about getting back to anything, and doesn't pressure us to buy anything other than our one humble egg, but I pick up a postcard anyway. We thank her and head on our way, and the egg survives its 14 hour drive to Calgary a few days later.

On Thursday, Andrew, Nik and I went to again to buy this year's pysanky. We have bought one for every Easter we've been married. This year brought our fifth egg, and we talked with Sylvia as Nik ran around the tree in the center of the shop. "He's being so good," she crooned, and ran upstairs to get him a treat.

They are moving their store soon, she told us, to a new location downtown. They will no longer live in the room above the shop. The end of an era, I think. But we will find her in her new store next year, anyway, because we know she will always have our pysanky, our eggs of life.

Thanks to my brother, Darryl, for these fantastic photos of my eggs.
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