Wishbones and Turkeys and the Spirit of Giving

It was my little kids’ turn to break the wishbone this Thanksgiving.  (In Canada, our Thanksgiving happens in mid October.)   This is a big event around here. With typically only two turkeys eaten in a year, the turkey wishbone is a coveted item.  Last time it was the big boys turn to battle it out with their pinkies.  The little ones only recently became players in the wishbone game, as their tiny fingers weren’t quite up to the task until just this past year.  And our youngest couldn’t be trusted to wait until the go signal before she pulled!

On the count of three, the kids flexed their mini finger muscles and we had a winner!  My five-year old son held the magic part of the bone.  He grinned.  My daughter looked sad.  And maybe slightly angry.  At least significantly peeved.   This was her second wishbone loss.  This is tough stuff when you are three.

My little guy looked at her, then closed his eyes to make his wish.  I expected him to say something like “I wish we could fly in a spaceship up to space after lunch,” or “I wish I could grow real finger spikes like Wolverine”.

Here is what he said:

“I wish to give my wish to Zoe.  And then I wish that her fingers get really strong so that she can win next time.”

Zoe looked up from the tops of her sock feet.  Her furrowed brow relaxed and her eyes softened.  In an instant she went from looking like a vengeful she-monster to a sweet little angel.  (Perhaps these rapid transformations in mood and demeanor should concern me?! )  He opened his eyes and looked at her.  She reached out and put her arms around him and put her head on his shoulder.  He smiled the sweetest and most earnest smile you could ever imagine and hugged her back.  How amazing is that?  Can your heart melt and swell all at the same time?

Oh yes it can!

This Thanksgiving, I am so totally grateful for our sometimes crazy, often loud, always energetic and also clearly, incredibly loving and generous children.  They are my most precious gifts.

 

Dads Deal With a Lot of Crap

You can tell a seasoned Dad by how he deals with crap.  All crap.  I mean literal crap.  Some people handle certain crap before becoming a Dad without issue.  Dog poop, cat crap, these sorts of fecal experiences are just doing your pet ownerly duty and the job gets done as matter-of-factly as mowing the lawn.  But when baby boy blue comes along and something that resembles hot dog mustard is up this kid’s back, down his legs, and has you wondering why you ever put the diaper on in the first place, y0u my friend, have just launched into Dealing with Crap for Dads Boot camp – DAY 1.

From this point on, your life is ruled by sh*#t.  It completely revolves around it.  One day you look up from your sweet little bundle of joy, and realize you are out of food.  This means one thing.  You must leave the house!  How do you do this with a 12 pound crap machine in tow?  Do you have a panic attack and then decide to skip getting food because you needed to lose weight anyway?  Is the thought of public diapering is so unpleasant that you drive yourself to distraction trying to time these events around your baby’s uh-hem, schedule.

Oh no Brave One!  No!  You diaper on the go;  in the backseat of the van, in the disgusting grocery store washroom, wherever you need to.  Baby bum changing on a change-table in the comfort of your own home is one thing, but now in order to keep living your life with this baby on board, you have to locate appropriate change venues wherever you venture.  It’s just part of it.  There should be an app for that.

On Baby #1 journey you think that diapering baby will be your most intimate experience with your offspring’s crap in your life.  And you rationalize that it’s ok because this phase doesn’t last forever.  Or at least that is what your laughing parents tell you.  But then you realize as that baby becomes a pooping toddler, that in fact yes, the crap phase really does last forever.  Now the crap not only stinks, but there is more of it.  And you find yourself battling your own gag reflex with a clothes pin squeezing your nostrils shut 3 times a day.  (What can I say, he is a prolific kid.)  “When will this end?” you shout.  BTW, you are also still cleaning up the dog crap and the cat crap because that job didn’t ever got re-delegated.  You just got a bigger dog.  With bigger crap.

So now you and your wife, who appreciates, so she says, that she is not the only one changing the stinky diapers, are so used to crap all day long that you begin to make a game out of it.  What the hell else are you going to do?  She even delights so much in sharing this experience with someone who is at least half as obligated as she is to change it, that she makes a rock, paper scissors competition out of the event every time the kid poops his pants.  So now each time junior does a big ugly in his Diego Pamper’s Cruiser, you guys are doing best out of three to determine who gets THIS one.  Luckily for the winner, there is now another baby in the mix quite happy to even out the tally as he is filling his newborn size 1 with that same foul looking mess you became acquainted with only 18 short months ago.

Deciding this is clearly insane, you embark on potty training your number 1.  Your mom assures you it will only take 5 minutes to do this.  Her kids were trained almost with no effort at all at 15 months.  So, in a moment of rare optimism and confidence, you buy a potty, some tighty-whities, and show them to your totally unphased son.  You put them on, show him the potty, and then change his tiny little briefs 30 minutes later.  Because he doesn’t care where he poops.  Only that you change him.  So you do.  And then you begin the bleaching 18 month old underpants as well as running around trying to convince him that all the cool kids go on the potty, not in the diaper, nor the underwear.  No one ever told you that crapping toddlers are way harder than the perpetual pooping babies.  How did that rather significant tidbit of info get left out of the ‘Baby and Me’ class you went to?

Fast forward for a second and a few more kids later, you are now the proud parent of a couple of young school aged boys who almost eat as much as you do at the young ages of 6 and 7.  They have the to power to clog a toilet like a man as well.  Guess who gets that excellent job?

You betcha.  ‘Cause you Da Man.  The Crap Man.  Now you have earned the title of expert.  Your wife doesn’t even touch that task.  She just turns her back, shaking her head and scrinching her nose.  And then she asks you to deal with the toilet.

“Why not me?” you ask no one in particular.  “Why the hell not?”  As you furiously plunge the disgusting downstairs toilet, your four year old starts yelling from the upstairs bathroom “DAAADDDD!  I pooooped!  Can you come and wipe my bum?  And check out how huuuuuge it is Dad!  It is EPIC!”

That weekend your house gets new heavy-duty high-efficiency toilets which could flush a basketball.  And you feel like the crap battle might almost be won.  You are getting smarter at this.  And by god you have earned the fancy new toilet.

Life is looking easier.  Increasingly now your kids’ toilet habits are usually not your problem.  Oliver mostly can reliably wipe his own backside, and your wife manages the exceptions most days.  So you get your kids some ferrets.  Because you think the kids need more exposure to little creatures and they will be fun.  And they are litter trained when you buy them.  This should be a crap-neutral experience.  “What is another litter box?” you think to yourself.

And then the morning after you get them, your boys run upstairs out of breath to your side of the bed.  “Dad”, they pant.  “Dad!  The ferrets…….the ferrets have pooped all over the wall!!”

That’s right.  They call YOU.  Why?  Because no one deals with crap the way a Dad does.  That honour is fully yours to enjoy.

Happy Father’s Day guys.  Thanks for taking so much, well, crap.

We love you for it.

This time will be different

“You said this time will be different!” he said indignantly.  Maybe even self-righteously.

“How?  How will having another baby this time be any different?  I just saw you at your wit’s end, yelling at the kids!   How would having another baby have made today BETTER?  We have our hands full enough as it is!”

The words stung.

But there was truth to them.  The question was legitimate.

A new baby wouldn’t have.  It wouldn’t have made. Today. Better.

I would have been more tired.  (Is that possible?)  I would have had less free hands to do more things.  And there would have been another really good reason to tell kids to bring the noise level down. “The baby is sleeping!” I would have been pleading.

So what is the difference now?  Now meaning, since Samuel died.  Does the very rational reason that we have our hands full enough as it is mean I can simply stop wanting another child?  It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to my desire to try for another baby.  The practical limitations of having more kids did have an effect on our family feeling complete after our fourth.  So why isn’t this sense of pragmatism having a significant impact now?

Maybe I am just different.  Certainly, my expectations are different.

I know now that it was actually never possible to do this, meaning have a larger family and maintain some semblance of balance and harmony, without outside help.  And that is what we had been doing.  We had help from our parents who each took the kids once a week when I went to work, but otherwise, this ship was powered exclusively by yours truly and my husband.  When I say “outside help”, I mean someone you hire; a cleaning lady or grocery delivery, or a nanny; whatever the current situation calls for.  It means paying a guy to paint the window trim, or cut the grass on occasion.  It means finding resources which help take the pressure off, allowing you to relax a bit and actually enjoy the life you have spent so much time creating.  

We have never embraced this idea as a couple.  We actually (mostly) enjoy our DIY approach.  However, when we were expecting Samuel, our fifth child under age 8, we sponsored a nanny to come from the Philippines to help us.  This idea of a live-in nanny had never ever appealed before.  We had never been prepared to make the adjustments required to make it work.  And the truth is, I kind of felt like for us, having a nanny would be cheating.  We signed up for lots of kids after all.  Being time and energy challenged was just part of the deal. 

Oh how I think differently now!!

Once I got pregnant with Samuel, I knew that unless I suddenly became capable of bi-location, or auto-cloning, I would need another set of full-time hands around here.   Suddenly, hiring a nanny seemed not only justifiable, but necessary.  There was only so much that caffeine and extreme organization could accomplish.  I finally had admitted my limit.  

And that changed everything.

Claire’s presence in our lives was undeniably positive.  We embraced her as family, and hoped to sponsor her child to come to Canada as soon as she have us the green light.  She gave me the gift of time so that I could heal my heart.  There were challenges to our arrangement, but they seemed very manageable….. to me.  I had begun to feel balanced, and had started to make future plans for this first time since our baby died.

Last week, quite out of the blue, our nanny quit.  It shocked us and has thrown us sideways a little.  But not completely.  (Most things don’t seem to be a crisis now, unless they really are.)

This was simply a momentary set-back.  Yet once again, I found myself adjusting to change and re-assessing every facet of my life.  But this change in circumstance has not change my desire for another child, nor has it made me want to abandon my other new-found goals.  What has changed is who is going to be the person we hire to help us, not if someone is.

So how do I think this time will still be different?”

It will be different because  I will not pretend that we can easily accomplish the goal of another baby or any of our other goals for that matter, without a few critical people on the payroll.  No way.  Just because that nanny decided to jump ship, doesn’t mean that having her hadn’t been helpful.

The fact that I get that is what is different.

The answer to that other largely rhetorical question, “How would having another baby have made today better?”  is this.

A new baby wouldn’t have.  Made. Today. Better.  Having extra help would have made today better.  Baby or no baby.  And if we are blessed with one more bundle of joy, (insert hopeful prayer) without question, we will also hire another nanny.  Sure, there is risk that she too might come and go, but in the end, there is always someone else willing to fill those shoes.

And now, I am happy to let them.

Sweet Success

I sit here in the afterglow of a perfect Friday night supper, the taste of grilled sirloin and sweet summer salad of nectarines and avocado still lingering in my mouth.  It is a moment of spontaneous peace; husband and eldest out for a bike ride, my second boy Jacob off to a sleepover and the Littles finally asleep.

Today was a good day.

All four kids were out of the house by 8 this am, dishes done, beds made, and everyone clothed and fed without any drama or fuss.  I didn’t even get kicked in the face while putting my wee one in her car seat, nor did I have to count to 1, 2 or 3 for my four year old to get into his booster and do up his seatbelt.  I did the school bus drop, the dayhome drop and the before care preschool drop then made it to work on time.  No road rage.  Whoop!

Work was work, but I squeezed in a workout that counted, as in not the just the going through the motions kind, before picking up the big boys from the school bus. Got home, made a cappo, prepared snacks for the boys, then managed to do a load of laundry and vacuum before whipping up a quick supper.  Ok, nothing gourmet tonight, just scrambled eggs and veggie sticks, but still, healthy and fast.  High five!

Today was successful.

I consider the irony of that assessment however, given that not more than an hour ago my oldest son lost his temper in a remarkable meltdown during which he called me a couple of choice names and after which I resorted to wrestling him out of the back door to “provide” him with some cool down time.  My mother in law witnessed the entire display.  She was almost lost for words!  (My mother in law is rarely if ever lost for words.  She is a language scholar.  Appropriate and grammatically correct wordsmithing is her thing.)

My son is a really lovely kid but his occasional Jekyll and Hyde transformation involving temper, outbursts of graphic disrespect and defiance leave their mark.  They threaten to throw the most even keeled of parents off their centre. But I handled it.  Quite calmly in fact.  When I say calmly, I mean that I didn’t strangle him or even shout much at all. Now that IS something.  (Confession:  I can be a bit of a shouter.)  I managed to talk him down get him back into the green zone.

When my hubby arrived home from a really long week at work, he handled the news of this conflict like a pro.  We ended the day helping our temperamental but sweet, loving kid edit an incredible story he wrote about dragons and wizards, sharing a Q Kola, then shooing him and his dad out the door for a bike ride.

Success to some is doing million dollar deals or saving lives.  Those successes are self evident.

My gold medal moment is what happeneded today.

Today I managed to do my daily round with ease and connect with my kid through conflict, without losing my centre or expending my last shred of energy doing so.

This is my success.  It sure tastes sweet.

Top Three Things Which are Impossible to Teach Kids

A few things must be noted before I go on.

1)  I confess that this list is biased based upon some of my own recent frustrations.

2)  This is not a complete list by any stretch.  These are just a few little things which make the day to day round exponentially harder or easier depending on;

     a) How many of the things on the list you are attempting to accomplish and,

     b)  How many small ones you have currently battling to learn any of the items listed.

The Top Three Things Which are Impossible to Teach Kids:

1.  Putting on mittens.  (This could also be on Top Three Most Frustrating Things to Teach Kids list)

Gloves are even worse.  I have collapsed, close to tears on many a walking path in winter trying to get a glove on my baby/toddler/preschooler for the umpteenth time.    You just get each tiny little finger lined up with each finger in the glove, and push…….the thumb never seems to make it! You’d think I’d have figured out a foolproof system for this, given the number of kids I have.  But nope!  No system here.  I have no advice for new parents on this front.  But I have become a master at cursing imperceptibly through pursed lips while putting on said gloves/mittens.  I could offer excellent lessons in the art of that!

My big boys were five before this task became somewhat less painful.  My youngest could do it when she was two years old.  Yet, I did nothing different. They get it when they get it.

2.  Blowing their nose.

This one is impossible to teach I have decided.  I have tried demonstrating the in vs. out technique, prompted them to “blow out like an elephant,” which has obvious associated risks for the young observer, and even cued them to “Sniff like you are smelling a flower, and oops you sniffed up a bee!  Now snort it out.”  Nothing. They sniff it up or blow out with their mouths. (Although, how cute is that?) The snot battle wages on.

They just get it when they get it.  One day, suddenly instead of wiping endless snot all over their faces and the backs of their hands, they are blowing it into a tissue.

Hallelujah!!

3.  Toilet training

Currently, I am sitting in my bathroom, barricading my little one in here with me and giving her the perceived “choice” of potty or toilet.  I have told her we are not leaving until she makes a decent effort to be productive on either one.  We have been here for 15 minutes and counting.

My second child was fully capable of toileting at 16 months.  I’m serious.  I did nothing special to achieve this.  He was ready and so he did it.  With this little monkey, I have bribed – no, ‘provided incentives’, from Dairy Milk Chocolate Buttons and Smarties, to coveted comfort items, etc. etc., but she is my most resistant yet.  She has switched between the potty and toilet now 5 times, and nothing.  Arrrgggh.  So much for the whole “girls are easier than boys to toilet train” theory.

And yes, yes I have read THAT book with the title which promises your child will be trained in a weekend.  Oh yes, and the other one which promises five days until certain victory.  Got them all right here.

If there is anything that having kids teaches you, is that there is not one formula that works for every child, and that is isn’t always about you being an ineffective parent or not having availed yourself of the ample resources about any number of pressing parenting concerns which come with the turf.  The more kids we have, the more I know this is an absolute truth.

Certain milestones are just difficult until suddenly, they aren’t.  That is just the nature of these little beasts.  And just when you think you have figured that one key thing out, and assume with oh-so-much confidence, that you will be ever-so-prepared for the next child you take through that particular stage of development, they play with your mind.  That next child has no trouble with that particular skill, the same one you went to painstaking efforts to teach the previous kid.  It will be a different task that they just won’t be able to do as easily as the other child.

Case in point:  I am still with my daughter in the bathroom.  We are now on minute twenty………

It’s a good thing I love chocolate buttons.

In Search of Lightness and Belonging

I see Moms at the preschool my little boy attends, standing at the entrance, laughing and chatting, their toddlers jostling around at their feet.  There is an easiness  to their interactions and lightness in their demeanor.

I used to join them.  Now, I do not.

Now, I stand just outside the group, busily checking my phone or studying the notice board.  I avoid the opportunity to engage at all costs, avoiding eye contact, and purposefully excluding myself from conversations.

I used to be at the centre of the group chat, rallying back and forth with the other parents, encouraging and humouring.  Our momentary interactions seemed to spur us on to make it through one more menial challenge, and collectively celebrating the small victories of parenting young children.  It was as if this camaraderie carried us forward to the next part of our daily round.  I loved these shared moments with other mothers.  Our animated discussions were for me, an outward celebration of doing this “Mom thing” in a community of people I respect just because they show up everyday and put their best foot forward.  I felt inherently connected to these women simply because we were all doing the same thing; being Moms.   I am fierecly proud of being a member of this club. But now I just don’t  feel like I completely belong.

Why is it different now?  I am still a Mom.  I am a mother to my four children here, and to my angel Samuel.  Losing my fifth child should not change how I connect to other mothers.  I have been a mother for 9 years, and still am.  So why has losing my baby changed how I identify with this group?  

Somehow it has, and I hate it.  I don’t understand this change.  I suppose I resist connecting with these women because these mothers, whom I now watch from a distance, all seem to have their bubble of innocence still well in tact.  They haven’t touched this part of motherhood; the part where you have to let go of your baby with no say in the matter.  The part where you did everything right, and still things went completely wrong.  I envy the innocence of this perspective, because I used to have it.  God how I miss it!  I miss the optimism.  I miss the “everything generally works out just fine” viewpoint.  I even miss thinking that small problems were bigger that they actually were.  Part of me yearns to find that again, to let myself be tricked into believing that everything is ok, and that it is ok to let go and let the light in.  I crave to be able to chat with other parents about the menial aspects of life and parenting without wanting to shout, “This doesn’t matter!  It doesn’t matter that you are tired because you are up all night with your baby, or that the hardest part of your day is trying to manage a playdate with school pickups and going to Costco!”  Because of course it matters!  The day to day round is what being a mom and a parent is all about.  I just can’t seem to let go so that I can converse with others about the smaller aspects of the everyday.

Will I ever see things without this filter of fragility and powerlessness?  I wonder if I will ever feel it is worth my energy to connect with my community of Moms unless I know them well.  I really want to feel inclined to try.  But  I just can’t summon the courage to engage with others the way I used to.  I guess I want them, those “other mothers,”  to know this thing about me.  The thing that happened to me that explains the cautiousness that veils my eyes and the wariness in my smile.  If I could just announce the news first, maybe it would feel easier to be amongst them.  If I were to stand up initially and say, “Hi, I am so and so, and I lost my baby boy 10  months ago.”  In other words,   “Treat me tenderly. I don’t know how to relate to you without you knowing this about me.  Help me find my way back to belonging.  And yes, please, please ask about him.  Please don’t avoid the topic.  That feels false and even more painful.  I want to share him and my experience just as you want to share your stories about your 10 month old.  Samuel would have been 10 months too.”  

I guess maybe that would feel just a tad awkward in a large group.

This experience I have been through though is not mine alone.  Sadly there are so many who have walked this road.  Perhaps even in this community of mothers I belong to, there is a Mom who knows this same truth about life and loss. Maybe she will recognize this pained look right behind my strained smile.  Maybe she will reach through the invisible barrier, and help me re enter this world I know so well and miss so much.

I hope she sees me.  I hope she recognizes my discomfort, and gently helps me find my way back to belonging.

Does Kids’ Extracurricular Mean Sacrificing Personal Fitness?

How much time do you spend in a hockey arena, dance studio, or soccer pitch just waiting for your child?  I would estimate at least 60 minutes each.  Have you ever calculated how long it takes you to drive to each of these locations? Next add up the number of activities each child is involved in, then multiply this by the number of kids you have.

Now stop!

God knows, do not continue this calculation because you will lose your sanity when you realize how much time you spend each week sitting and waiting and driving. You are a parent after all, and this comes with the territory.  If you are like most parents, you even enjoy some of it.  You check in about the kids’ day at school during your drive and then enjoy seeing them learn new skills during their lesson. All good stuff. But the truth is, if you could have your kids participate in extracurricular while you did something of value for you at the same time other than catch up on texts, converse with other parents, or sit and drink an overpriced coffee, would you not chose to do so?

The thing I do least which I know I should do most, is exercise.  The thing I often lament while my children are off getting fit, having fun and honing new skills, is that I am not!  I crave even a fraction of the time I used to have to devote to my personal fitness and athletic interests.  Unfortunately in our our grown up lives involving children, a home, and a job, the time and energy we used to have in abundance for these worthy pursuits sadly gets whittled away.  Motivation and discipline are often less of the issue than the logistical juggling.  The truth is, if there were opportunities to exercise or take a class while my children were doing the same, I would jump at the chance!  I do enjoy watching the kids, but I would gladly work in some exercise too if the facilities existed.   We live in a cold and snowy winter climate 70% of the year, so going for a good sweat-worthy run or walk outside is often not possible. Dring the warmer months, frequently I and many other parents, bring our gear and hit the trails.  But why aren’t there other options that are not weather dependent and more widely appealing?  Not everyone is a runner after all.  

What if there was an area we could go, like a meeting room in an arena or a corner of the soccer centre, where we could spread out a few yoga mats and throw down some sun salutations or core exercises?  Maybe there could be a place we could hook up our TRX’s and do a nice little strength circuit?  With all of the boot camp providers out there I am surprised that none of them have tapped into this underserviced market!  Even some adult classes offered at the same times as the kids’ activities would be fun on occasion, although I realize that this solution requires more facility space than is readily available in the city I live in for sure.  I know I am not the only parent who wishes for this.  I frequently hear other parents express this same frustration as well. 

Perhaps the concept of family fitness, where family members of all ages can partipate at their individual level, should become the preferred format that is adopted by recreation providers.  Martial arts studios do a great job of this.  All family members can learn the martial art at the same time, and often these organizations even cap their fees after you pay for a family of four.  This is good value for those of us with larger families!  Of course, this idea only makes sense with some types of activities, but even offering the space for other family members to engage in independent exercise is making the most of what would have been largely wasted down time.  Let’s be honest, we could all a fewer excuses to be less active.  

Perhaps then, we as the parent consumers of these programs and masters of our schedules, should start asking for these provisions for exercise?  Maybe it is time to take back some control and get something out of the time we invest in our kids.  Rethinking the status quo would go a long way to improving quality of life for me and others in my parent peer group.  And it is saying something bigger too.  It is sending the message that yes, our kids are important, but so are our families.  That means the parents too.  Having our children see us prioritize our health this way will teach our children through our example.

Wouldn’t it be great if getting our kids involved in activities did not have to mean sacrificing our own fitness and wellbeing?

The “Why Have More Babies” Debate

This was the debate my hubby and I were having last night over a glass of wine.  Perhaps you can guess which side of the debate each of us were on?  I do, he doesn’t.  It is that simple.  And therefore it is so complicated.  It seems we cannot effectively have the conversation about another child without seriously reflecting on what it all means that our son died, what we have taken from this experience so far, and where we go from here.  We were “done” having children at four, and felt very pushed at the idea of five. Given our last pregnancy was a surprise and was a serious miracle at that, it seemed out of our hands and meant to be.  We were thrilled!  Our worlds both changed first because he lived, and then entirely because he died.  These changes have been uniquely profound for me, as the mother in the equation. Not that I believe my husband has not been changed.  He has, but our experience of this event has impacted us differently.

The physical and emotional connection I had with my baby was so immediate and tangible.  Nothing about Samuel was theoretical.  He was real time for me.  Every kick and turn and twitch I felt in my own body and heart all at the same time, and his health and safety was mine alone to ensure.  Or so I thought.  The loss of him did not protect me from all of the post partum experiences a mother of a new baby has.  I just didn’t get to have him to share them with.  My body had no outlet for the hormonal changes I was enduring.  It has been the single most painful thing I have ever gone through in my life.  And because of that, the lessons I am learning from this experience have been life altering.

When I reflect back on the loss of our little one, I can tell you that I had a sneaking suspicion, a funny sense, something that didn’t feel right, throughout my pregnancy.  Only in retrospect does it all fit together and I now recognize that this unsettled feeling foreshadowed that Samuel was not going to be with us in the end.  None of my gut feelings really served to change the outcome or prevent what happened to our baby, because his death wasn’t predictable or preventable.  This is the medically validated truth.  I am at peace with this fact now most of the time. Yet I am told by an experienced obstetrician that 99% of the mothers in his practice who have had still born babies subsequent to other live births, say that they too just didn’t feel right. They had a funny feeling, but they just didn’t know what it was.  Something felt distinctly different. Only later can we know what to attribute that feeling to.  

Because of this experience, I have resolved to reconnect with my gut feeling in a very intimate way.  I am purposely tuning into this intuition every day and giving it more airtime when I am trying to make decisions, big or small.  It is like Samuel is telling me “Mommy, listen to your heart.  Trust your instincts about every single thing.  Know that your mind cannot make sense of all of what you feel in a place that is deeper than your thoughts can reach.  Be in synch with your intuition and faith and follow it where it takes you.  Even if it doesn’t make sense.”  I imagine this is his voice speaking, because this is the most life changing and profound lesson my baby boy gave to me.  This was his gift.

So now my gut feeling is strongly telling me to go forth and make a baby!  The trouble is, my husband has to agree with my gut feeling’s advice.  That’s the tough part.  For him another child doesn’t “make sense.”  My gut feeling doesn’t care.  But as a responsible adult, I know that I must put a gag order on Mr Gut Feeling for a moment, and try to assess the idea of another baby from a pragmatic standpoint.  Husband is worried that I want a baby to replace the one we lost.  This seems a reasonable and even necessary thing to suggest, I am sure.  It must even seem like  a responsible question to ask.  But it makes me want to shout, “If it were only that simple, it would be done already!”  I swear with my right hand on the Bible, I am fully aware that replacing Samuel is not possible.  We are not talking about say, the dead cactus in the living room.  You pop it out of a pot, toss it, and in goes the new cactus.

Nope, this is not the same thing.  

However, losing a baby for whom you have prepared and made space, does leave a void in your life.  That space is his alone and it will always be there.  Protecting that space is your job as your child’s parent.  You say his name, show his picture, honour his memory and talk about him freely.  In doing so, the space continues to exist and remains only his forever.  But losing your baby also opens up the idea that there is room.  Maybe even room you didn’t think you had before, and now you know you do.  You hold the space in your life for a while and try to imagine different things that might fit there.  For me, the space is there for a new baby.  Nothing else fits like that does.  And nothing about that is pragmatic.  That is my loud mouthed gut feeling weighing in. I try to ignore it for a moment, so that I can think logically.  I ask myself, “If Samuel was here today, would we try to have another child?”  The answer is no.  “Did we ever plan for five?”  No.  “Would having another baby facilitate more life balance?”  Unequivocally no.  “Would having five be financially beneficial?”  Duh?  HELL no.  You don’t have kids because they make sense financially, ever.  “Can we afford one more?”  Probably, unless something went totally wrong, but the tally sheet is still in favour of the status quo. So why in the world are we even having this discussion?

Because it is a deep and unrelenting desire.    I feel it past the tips of my toes down to the depth of my soul.   And from there I feel peaceful and things feel right.  It is that simple.  There are practical disadvantages to having another baby in the short term for sure. But I also feel more willing and able to problem solve some inconveniences.  In our case these concerns are not remotely insurmountable.

So that is it.  I want another baby.  He is not convinced.  Now what? It is now just hubby and me and the bottle of wine.  We still aren’t on the same page.  Let’s hope we can both find some way to come together in a way that respects both of our hearts’ desires.

Wish us luck.

 

Making Peace with Anger

“Why is she so………..angry????”  Yup, you guessed it.  The “She” referred to in that question was Yours Truly.  It was posed to my husband after I had a rather memorable meltdown prior to the commencement of a small family reunion being held at our cabin during our summer vacation, only five short months since my sweet Samuel had died and then was born.  Thankfully, I was out of ear shot at the time, as I am fairly certain that my response would not have been very constructive.

I had been quite wound up preparing for the trip and  getting ready to host relatives coming to visit from overseas. The packing up had started at 7 am on the Wednesday and continued non stop until Saturday night at 11pm.  We and our four children, our dog, our minivan with roof box and silver equipment trailer stuffed to the brim, left the following Sunday morning at 4 am.  Yes, you read that right, 4 am.  We traveled as non stop as one can with four kids, our youngest with us now being all of two years old, and arrived at our cabin at 11 pm Sunday night.  “Epic” is the only word I have which effectively describes that effort.  To say that I was exhausted seems obvious.  We were all exhausted but we felt excited too.  We were finally on holidays!

Upon arriving, we started the grand unpack.  The kids needed some time to adjust to the new surroundings, and we began setting up our place to host the other families joining us.  I should preface this story with the admission that I am a bit of a neat freak, and really wanted to make a good impression on the extended family visiting for the first time in 15 years.   So, true to form,  I was cleaning like a maniac.  I can also be honest and say that my patience and tolerance for normal but annoying kid behaviour was waning as the day progressed.  Ok, maybe it had waned.  By mid afternoon I felt like I was living my own version of the movie “Groundhog Day”, doing the same series of mind numbing tasks over and over again.  I had become a dirt fighting Tasmanian devil, whirling around with vacuum in one hand and wet mop in the other, ranting at full volume as I went. But I didn’t really think that my fairly long-winded grown-up Mommy tantrum about the kids tracking dirt through the house, on the brand new couch and across the throw rug all afternoon was that difficult to understand.  When my four-year old reported to me that my two-year old had “done art” with felt marker on the couch upstairs, that was it.  I blew a gasket!

Now it is one thing to blow a gasket.  It is quite another to do so with witnesses, especially when the witnesses are your in-laws.  It is probably fair to say that anyone would have had a hissy fit in the same set of circumstances, except for maybe Mother Theresa herself, and that even others there found the situation quite challenging.  Unfortunately though, my rant went on and on………..and ON.  My husband rather exasperatedly “invited” me to take a walk for as long as I needed, to pull myself together.  Clearly the display was too much for him to mitigate as well.

As I walked along the beach, I reflected on what it was that was driving my intensity and marveled at why my family just didn’t seem to be very sympathetic.  It seemed so obvious to me!  Granted, I was upset and annoyed at the kids for constantly tracking dirt in the house, for their choice of art canvas, and most infuriating of all, their failure to listen to me.  But it was more than that.  I was driven to distraction, because while everyone else seemed happy and relaxed, I just wasn’t.  No amount of cleaning and preparing for company would make things seem quite right.  Because for me, the only thing that could really make me feel relaxed was impossible; my baby being physically there with me.  It was the most frustrating, infuriating experience ever.  That day, the dirt all over the floors and the felt marker on the couch gave me an outlet for that.  But no one else saw it that way.  It would have helped if I could have stepped outside of my overwhelming tirade for a moment, and been able explain that to them.  I am sure they would have understood.  But this is the other part of the grief journey that is really inconvenient.  When you are grieving, communicating about your grief is just really difficult to do.

Most people can list all stages of grief published by Kubler-Ross, and acknowledge that these experiences are both normal and predictable.  It is fascinating though how certain of those emotions are really more “acceptable”  when it comes down to it, and these feelings are released from their cages for all to see.     My experience demonstrates that truth; that sadness is by far the more popular of these two fraternal emotional twins spawned by grief.  I am not sure why,  although there is little doubt that witnessing an angry display can certainly feel like more of an affront.  I am sure my family could attest to that.  Maybe a grieving person seems more accessible if sad than when angry.  Perhaps the vulnerability of a sad individual is compelling.  Possibly people feel as though they can do something about the sad aspect of their experience,  although they can’t.  The sad feeling cannot be removed or changed or altered by anyone.  Oddly, it can coexist with other feelings, side by side, even with happiness.  I found this discovery very strange.  And sometimes sadness can be distracted from for a little while.  This gives the grieving person a momentary break from this emotion which makes taking in a full breath physically painful at times.  But no, nobody can really take the sadness away.  Yet somehow those who surround the aggrieved seem to feel more inclined to try to connect to the sad aspect of the grief experience than the angry one.  Even my husband admitted this. He said, “You know, if you were curled up in a corner, crying, they all would understand and sympathize.  But you aren’t.  You are really, really angry.  And it makes people uncomfortable.”

He was right.  Sadness is the most comfortable emotion.  It is more acceptable,  even to me.  Dealing with this part doesn’t require much thought.  I am sad, so I cry.  When I am desperate, I sob.  (And by sob I mean a big horrid messy ugly cry that even your closest friend couldn’t bear to witness without shock and horror.)  But this doesn’t surprise me.  I have accepted that doing so is the way to deal with my sadness.  When anger jumps into the picture, there is a whole different reaction.  Even those close to the one experiencing profound loss seem to understand that anger has a place in this whole unfortunate experience.  It seems most often however, they are even less equipped to accept this or to know how to deal with it than the person going through it.   Let me tell you, I didn’t want to feel the anger.  Not one bit.  I rejected it as long as I could.  I wanted peace, and acceptance.  I’d have even chosen the desperate pain of sadness before I wanted the anger.  It just seemed so negative.  But guess what?  The anger showed up anyway.  I tried all of the constructive methods I could think of to deal with the anger. I went to spin classes, ran, locked myself in the garage and screamed my brains out.  Then I went to counselling.  It all  helped, but certainly didn’t prevent the feeling from encroaching.  And it still doesn’t.  It didn’t prevent my all out display in front of my family either.  I guess that is because anger is supposed to be there.  It has a purpose in this whole experience too.  And I guess I am coming to realize that maybe anger’s role isn’t so negative after all.

Since losing my baby boy, I have felt innumerable emotions.  I know I am not alone in this experience.  Desperation, heartbreak, frustration and hopelessness carry you on an emotional roller coaster which changes trajectory every other moment.  But which feelings are really responsible for this upheaval?  Sadness and anger are.  The act of grieving seems to involve going through every variation and permutation of these two emotions over and over again.  They are at the root of every twist and turn.  And what I have come to accept, is that they both have a crucial and healing role in grief.   Sadness and I are on good terms.  We always were I guess.  But finally I think I have learned to allow a place for anger as well.  I have discovered that anger provides the energy which helps me to get up and keep fighting to live each day to its fullest, despite the loss I am enduring.  It is the part of the process that seems to help keep me moving forward.  Anger even has helped me to choose to see the good and the beauty, as it refuses to let the sadness take the limelight every moment of my day.  Letting anger out is like releasing the pressure valve that seems to get installed as soon as you lose your precious loved one.   Allowing a place for the anger to exist with my experience of grief has also helped me channel it in a less, shall we say, imposing way on those who surround and support me.  Anger has in the end, helped me find a way back to moments of peace and surrender.  How ironic is that?

By all accounts, the family reunion was a great success and the holiday was tons of fun.  Eventually I was able to let go a little, and relaxed into vacation mode surrounded by wonderful people, our crazy kids and the beautiful island paradise where we are so fortunate to spend time together.  Thankfully the effects of my outburst had limited impact in that regard.   To be honest,  I am not even completely sure how my husband answered the fated question in the end.  I didn’t ask.  I am sure he handled it graciously and with kindness.  He probably said something simple and to the point.

Because the perfect answer to the question “Why is she so……. angry?” is actually very simple.  It is, “She is grieving.  It is just part of it.”

Kudos to you, fellow Moms in Action!

It is the beginning of October.  This means September has come and gone in a flash, and I think I am not alone when I say I am now just stopping to catch my breath.  It is almost a miracle that I am able to keep track of where everyone needs to be and at what time, never mind juggling dinner, laundry, tidying up and groceries to boot.  Throw in working outside the home, and you have, ladies and gentleman, a modern day miracle.  I know I am not the only one to stand back, breathless, and wonder how it is that all the moving parts in our lives managed to coordinate and not collide!  My dear friend recently emailed me with some kudos.  She hailed me as a “warrior woman” whom she admires for doing this juggle everyday.  It felt so delightful to have received this intentional shout-out from my friend and fellow Mom in Action.  Moms everywhere do these very things daily.  I am not singing a new song when I recount my daily round.  But to stop for a minute and say to another who is slogging it out in the trenches of motherhood, “Hey there!  I see you!  You are doing a great job!  You GO!”, is a gift to the one we acknowledge and to ourselves all at the same time.  We are all women warriors doing our very best everyday.  Being proud of this role and supporting each other in it, is paramount to our success as mothers and as a community.

The trouble is, that I don’t think we often view our roles as moms as requiring skills and expertise.  We take them for granted.  I think we just go out the business of momming without realizing or remembering the learning and evolution it took to get here.  What if we stopped for a minute to consider the value we bring to our role as mothers in the same way we might examine the value we bring to our workplace or business? Have you ever stopped to ponder the skills you have learned and honed from your role as a mom? Have you ever stopped to really consider what value you bring to your little enterprise of Joe S. Family?  I wonder, what if moms everywhere, and by that I mean ALL moms; full-time stay at home moms, part-time working moms and full-time working-outside-of-the-home-career moms, were to examine for a moment our roles in the home?  Would we fully appreciate what we learn from this role and what we contribute to it? Would we pat ourselves on the back more often than criticizing our lack of perfection?  Would doing so change the satisfaction we might derive from our role as mothers and keepers of the home front?

The truth is, the “job” of being a mom is a series of more or less mundane tasks which we do over and over AND OVER again in an effort to care for and nurture children, run an efficient home, and hopefully facilitate the development of happy, healthy, productive adults.  That is our goal.  We of course willingly (mostly) take on the extras as well, the enrichment aspects of this chosen position;  the epic party/ play-date/ event planner, the team manager, the chef and chauffeur, nurse and first responder, the expert Lego engineer.  Often times we experience many of these roles all within mere seconds of each other, changing hats and personas like a Mrs Potato Head extravaganza.  These are skills, each and every one of them. So why is it then, that if you ask a mom who is at home with her kids for a period of time, or has chosen not to work outside the home at all, “What she DOES?”,  this mother will say, somewhat sheepishly or dismissively, “Oh I’m just at home with my kids.”  Why is it that there is an element of apology behind this admission? I wonder how warrior women, aka mothers, everywhere would perceive ourselves, if we were to look at our role and life at home as a career? What if we were to list our skills and deliverables as we would in a resume?  I think we would be incredibly impressed at what we could actually write, if we gave ourselves the chance.

Kudos Moms!  Keep up the great work.