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.


Gift Worthy Storytime Titles

Reading stories when you can still both fit on one chair and curl up in a blanket is one of my favourite parts about being a Mom.  Nothing beats it.  I loved story time as a child. I still have many of my favourite books stored in a treasured antique bookcase; titles from Richard Scary to Laura Ingles Wilder.  I read them to my kids, telling them about how their Grandma used to read them to me.  I love sharing my favourites with them.

In our attempts to make these little kids become avid and independent readers, sadly as they grow up, story time suddenly shifts to reading time, which is often a solo pursuit.  I miss those cozy bedtime stories with my big kids.  And it wasn’t really that long ago that they were the ones cuddled up with me reading Goodnight Moon and The Cat in the Hat.  The nice thing about having more children is that you really know how fleeting these cherished moments like story time are before they pass you by.  You relish in them even a bit more with that truth in your back pocket.  In our house, bedtime stories are an essential part of the bedtime routine, not just a really nice and preferable option.  Often now our big kids just happen to show up at story time with the Littles.  They crowd in around the old favourite book and relish in its memories for them.  I love when they do that.  So do their little brother and sister.

It is amazing to me that no matter how many times I read a particular book to one of my kids, that they will notice something new or have a different question about the characters or the story or the pictures than they did just a week before.  It is completely fascinating to me.  I honestly never tire of reading, or reciting, the same words over and over again.  This is what happens when you have tons of children.  You really do recite words by heart and do so often with the lights off, after a middle of the night waking requires a story to get back to sleep.

Here are some of our favourites; the ones you have to have in your collection as a new Mom.  Or the ones you need to replace if you are an experienced Mom like me and the spines are coming unglued with so much wear and tear.

These are the ones to give as gifts.  They are keepers.  I really tried to do a top 10.  I had massive protest from the kids.  They prohibited me from eliminating any of these.   So here is the complete and unabridged list.

Best Story Time Reads for the Wee Little Kids

  1. Goodnight Moon
  2. The Big Red Barn
  3. Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball
  4. Birthday Monsters
  5. Hello Baby
  6. But Not the Hippopotamus
  7. Where the Wild Things Are
  8. Time for Bed
  9. Someday (This one gets me all teary eyed.  I’m not gonna lie….)
  10. Spot Loves His Mommy
  11. Where’s Spot – a peek-a-boo book my kids love
  12. Dr Seuss titles – The Cat in the Hat / Green Eggs and Ham / Oh the Places You’ll Go/ Hand Hand Fingers Thumb
  13. Mommy’s Best Kisses

Fave Book Titles for the Not Quite as Wee Preschoolers…and well beyond

  1. Widget
  2. Sadie and the Snowman
  3. Don’t Forget to Come Back
  4. Farley Follows his Nose
  5. Officer Buckle and Gloria
  6. Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type
  7. How Does a Dinosaur series:  How Does a Dinosaur Say Goodnight? /Say I Love you? / Eat his Food
  8. The Kissing Hand
  9. I Love you Forever – Robert Munsch *This book was written for Munsch’s stillborn child.  I loved it before, but even moreso now.
  10. The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein
  11. Corduroy
  12. The Pokey Little Puppy
  13. The Boy and the Tiger
  14. Don’t Forget to Come Back
  15. Charlie’s Superhero Underpants – one of our all time top faves
  16. Slinky Malinky
  17. Bark George
  18. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share
  19. The Story of Dog – great bold illustrations and delightful concept
  20. Two Little Pirates
  21. Some Dads
  22. You are Special – Max Lucado (A favourite of ours to give for a christening or baptism gift)
  23. Charlie Anderson – great one about a well loved cat which gently introduces different family configurations
  24. I Love You Little Monkey
  25. I Love You Stinky Face
  26. Little Owl
  27. The Biggest Thing in the Ocean
  28. The Boy Who Loved Bananas
  29. The Velveteen Rabbit
  30. my old worn copy of Tibor Gergely’s Great Big Book of Bedtime Stories

Now I read bedtime stories to my little ones, and after they are settled, I climb into bed with my big boys and read to them from a chapter book we chose together.  We finished Stuart Little and are now reading Freaky Friday.  What a blast from the past!  I think the Hobbit might be voted in next.

I guess I just can’t let story time go yet, no matter what the ages of my kids.

Feel free to add your favourite titles in the comments section.  I am always looking for new stories to add to our collection!

In Our House, Barbie Plays with Batman

In our house toys are toys.  We have consciously attempted to avoid labelling things as boys’ or girls’ toys and have encouraged exploration outside of what conventional marketing would dictate.

My nine year old son just finished playing Calico Critters animal doll set with his 3 year old sister and 4 year old brother.

Earlier today my daughter came in from outside, upset that her brother didn’t want her to play the make believe soldier game.

When my big boys were younger, I bought them a toy kitchen. (Gasp!) They loved it.  They also had a grocery cart, toy food, a cash register.

There are all sorts of costumes in the kids’ tickle trunk; superhero costumes, wigs, funny glasses, animal costumes, old skirts of mine and funky hats.  The skirts were in the tickle trunk long before my daughter was even a glimmer.  My boys use it for capes and wear it as a skirt when their creative play requires a femme fatale.

These same boys have watched the Little Mermaid movie over and over.  Currently, my daughter’s favourite move is “Zoro”.  Clearly, our children do not realize that they are breaking all of the gender limitations on toys and play.  What rebels!

We have embraced the idea that all toys are for all kids,   no matter their colour or target market audience. Imaginative play should be just that, imaginative.  The whole point is that kids can be any character and wear any costume, no matter the gender.

A few years ago my mom brought over my old worn out Barbie dolls from my childhood.  The boys played superheroes and civilians with them.  One afternoon my oldest sons had two of their friends over.  The Barbies were in a pile with the “guys” a.k.a the superhero figures.  These two boys laughed.  They asked my big kids why they played with ‘girls’ toys.”  The question was asked with a distinctive mocking tone of voice.  Not one that was lost on my sons either.   My children were surprised.  It hadn’t occurred to them that these were girls’ toys.  They had always just been…….toys.  Sadly, then my boys felt embarrassed.  I could see it on their faces.

My boys came to me confused and upset that their friends were making fun of their toys.  I approached the kids and explained that in our house, toys are toys and colours are colours.  There is no such thing as toys only boys or girls can play with and enjoy, or colours that only boys or girls can wear or call their favourite.  These boys looked shocked.  This idea was completely out of their frame of reference. They had never heard of such an insane idea!

“Now,” I said to them, “imagine the possibilities.  There is a world of toys out there that you didn’t even know you were allowed to enjoy!  Have fun!”  Then I left the room.

Upon returning, worn out Barbie was battling Batman in an epic save the world battle.  And all of the boys were playing.


In Praise of Hope

Hope revealed her twinkling self to me yesterday.  She kind of snuck up on me out of the blue.  Suddenly I realized that while I was driving and listening to music just a little too loudly, I was anticipating.  I was looking forward to things.  It doesn’t even matter what it was exactly that I was looking forward to.  The point is that hope, that elusive little thing which I had taken for granted until we lost our baby boy, was a regular part of my life.  Hope was the thing which kept me motivated, kept me dreaming, kept me driving forward.  The promise of something fun or new, of creating something meaningful, or better, was the fuel and the spark which has always lifted me out of the average day to day.  Not that the average is bad.  But familiarity, although stabilizing, often brings along blinders which makes seeing the forest for the trees difficult, and potential, invisible.

Hope thrives on potential. She lives in your heart.  But when your heart is broken, Hope has a hard time thriving.  You soon learn though that she is tough.  She is resilient.  She is the weaver which is at least partly responsible for bringing those broken pieces back together to heal. Helping one foot march in front of the other, she brings you to the light.  Before you know it, your face is turning towards that light.  The warmth that Hope sends forth is melting away fragments of sadness and shadow.  In her light, all of the beauty and love that you have to offer and share sparkles once again.  And finally you see it.  And then a new phase of living begins.

Thank you Hope. I have missed you.

My Very Own Midlife Crisis

Last year marked the start of my very own midlife crisis.  It started, as I describe in my post, http://fiveunder8.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-big-birthday/ on the cusp of the big scary birthday.  I was 38 going on 100 weeks pregnant, as sick as a dog, out of breath and very overwhelmed.

I was expecting my fifth child, and about to embark on another leave of absence from my job which, I was reminded by a senior colleague, was going to have a pretty negative impact on my team. In other words, support for my impending maternity leave was reluctant.  My manager had been given the orders to juggle my clinical duties to exclude my research project, meaning I would have to pursue that endeavour on my own time; clearly a sub optimal arrangement for my work-life balance.  Basically, my career at my current workplace was taking a turn in a direction I didn’t like at all.

My son was having a terrible year at school. Watching him struggle but still put on a brave face each morning and muscle his way through the day, was really tough.  He wasn’t sleeping, had developed anxiety and said that he felt stupid every single day.  His confidence was in the toilet.  We picked up the pieces every day when he returned from school, doing the dance between psychologist and cheerleader, trying to reinforce that he was bright and capable, offer some coping strategies and then help him get through his homework.  Between this dance, parenting other children at the same time, and managing the situation with the school for countless hours each week, I was very stressed and exhausted.

I didn’t feel like celebrating much as I turned the big 4-0. We decided to wait to plan a big to-do until later.  Later meant after the baby came and I felt more human.  In 2 weeks, I would be receiving the very best birthday gift in the whole world anyway.  I had been anticipating that gift for 9 months!  No birthday party could beat that!  The pregnancy had been hard the whole way through.  I had been sick and unwell the whole time.  I often said that I felt like I had been working really hard for this baby.

So at 40 weeks, I asked my doctors to induce.  I might have even begged.  I told them something seemed unusually hard and that I had never felt this way before.  I needed the baby out and I needed it to do it quickly.  They calmly reminded me that there was no clinical reason to induce me.  Being exhausted was just the way it was and that given the number of kids I was already parenting, as much could be expected.  I insisted that I needed to get on with it.  Then my physician looked at my chart, and exclaimed, “Ah!  You just had a birthday!  Normally we wouldn’t induce you as you are only just past 40 weeks pregnant, but you are 40 now.  The risk of stillbirth goes up significantly at that age.  Now we have a reason to induce.”

Now that’s foreshadowing.  They scheduled the induction for 24 hours later.

Then it happened; the sucker punch out of nowhere.    The day before I was going to be induced, Samuel’s heart stopped beating.

My baby boy dying was simply the final straw.  I am quite sure that some type of midlife crisis was already well underway, but the death of my beautiful baby boy really was like gasoline to fire.  I hated 40 more than I have ever hated a birthday or an age ever.   The entire past year, I have turned down every offer from everyone to celebrate it belatedly, over and over again.  “I don’t want to celebrate this stupid birthday.” I have said each time.  “There is nothing about 40 that is worth celebrating.” “I hate 40.” So we didn’t do anything.

But over the past week, I have suddenly felt like I should have done something.  After all, you only turn 40 once!  I started to regret that I let the whole year go by without doing any particular thing which would mark the occasion with some significance.  In the twilight of this milestone year, I realized that what had most certainly started out as the year I thought I would never survive, the year I have hated the most out of any other of my life thus far, and had become the year that I survived.

 I survived.

I made it through. I am still standing!  And I think maybe I am even standing straighter and taller and with more grace and faith than ever before.  All of the challenges, the stress, the grief, and the heart crushing pain were superseded.  They were transformed by strength and love, support and friendship and lots of prayer, reconstituting the rubble that I stood in the midst of into a brand new version of me. This rendition looks much different than last year’s version.

There is an obvious scar that I don’t hide.  I let it show.    And I give the cause of that scar a voice.  The silence of stillbirth makes me crazy. So I am not silent.

I am fiercely proud of my family.  My children are quite simply the light of my life.  And though no one will ever know my Samuel like I did, they will know his name, and his story. It is my story!  It is our family’s story.  And I am unfazed by those for whom this is uncomfortable.  Their discomfort may have given me pause before.  Now it gives me the words I write here.  My creativity has seen its rebirth because of them.

In this new version of me, I am clearer about what I want and what I don’t.  Much of this is different than it was before.  I don’t apologize for that.  I would have done before.

I experienced other unexpected losses this year in addition to my son.  Certain relationships ended because I finally stopped fighting for them. They were unhealthy and just didn’t work.  I have completely let them go, without reserving hope for their future.  I don’t hold onto “maybe one day…..” anymore.  Enough is enough. This has been a difficult and painful process, but it has been necessary.   I feel free and more peaceful since.

I am kinder to myself and more protective. Sometimes that means I am less kind to others, and less open.  I am less forgiving in some ways, but more tolerant.  I am indifferent to more things which don’t concern me, as my energy is more focused on what does.  I am still courageous and as always a fighter, but now I pick my fights more judiciously.  But may the good Lord help you if I bring that fight to your door.

I have allowed myself to become important to me again.  I learned how to let myself weigh back into the equation of my life.  I had been last on my own priority list for so long, I had fallen off of the bottom.  Sadly, this didn’t even bother me that much!  Now, I have a workout appointment almost every day with myself.  I don’t cancel.  I get more sleep.  I remember to take a snack for me, not just my kids.  I go out more with my friends, and I have hobbies that I actually pursue, not just remember pursuing.

Thank you little miss 40.  I am not scared of you anymore.  I don’t hate you anymore.  The journey of discovery I took along your road has been affirming. You marked the launching of a new part of my life in a new version of me, whom I am still just getting to know.  Sometimes living within this new skin feels uncomfortable, like a pair of new shoes which have not been completely broken in, but it is who I am now.  And the evolution is worth celebrating.


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.


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.

No guilt for new shoes!

What is it about new shoes that make you feel so damned good?   Paolo Nutini sings about it in his jaunty and rather optimistic tune “Brand New Shoes.” Arnold Churgin advertises about it; “Life is short!  Buy the Shoes!”  (Or boots as was my recent indulgence.)  But either way, a sassy new pair of anything on your feet has power that no other article of clothing has.  Arnold and his marketing mavens have me sold.  I couldn’t agree more!  Every pair of tights, straight leg or skinny jeans I own, breathed new life when I introduced them to my new off-grey chunky heeled boots.  New foot apparel is the king of the closet!  One pair of anything sexy ramps up even the most tired skirt and blouse combo, and suddenly you have a bit more swing in your step, a tad more sway in your swagger, than you did just moments before.

Listen, I am the queen of comfort for the most part.  I am an offender of the Mom uniform at least a couple of times a week.  This is the commonly seen white t-shirt and yoga pants with the somewhat coordinated hoodie.  But even this oft criticised fashion faux pas can get the stamp of approval with a snappy pair of brightly coloured sneakers.  “Avid indulgers of retail therapy have known this for decades,” you say?  “Where have you been?”

Truthfully, shopping for emotional benefit has never been my main motivator.  I am more of a practical purchaser.  My motto is “Know what you are looking for, find it and get the heck outa there.”  This evolved from hard earned experience.  Any chance of getting enjoyment from shopping gets killed when you are trying to find your size of anything at all while your baby screams and your rambunctious toddler plays hide-and-go-seek in other people’s change rooms.  While I am beyond that stage with my kids for the moment, the philosophy stuck and my closet reflects this rather pragmatic viewpoint.

My recent purchase of leather heaven though, certainly didn’t fall neatly into the necessities category.  That was a firmly planted want, not need. I indulged in some well thought out retail therapy and enjoyed every second of it.  No guilt at all.  All Hail, King of the Closet!  I think from now on I will pay homage to you more often!

Paolo agrees.  Have a listen.

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.

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.

“So…..are you back at work?” and other comments which drive me crazy

I swore I wouldn’t publish a rant post.  Really, I did.  Yet the material is just so abundant, that I am giving in to the familiar urge to just “get it out on paper”.  I need to release it – the rant – from its confines in my brain where is only serving to pollute my usually positive and glass half full, (albeit battered at the moment) self.  Perhaps this little commentary on things one should not say, will serve to gently educate the usually well-meaning general public, friends and family about what  grieving parents often experience in the aftermath of the loss of their child.  Ok, yes,  I am totally justifying my rant post as educational.  So, as long as I might be doing a bit of public good…….here I go!!

1.  “So………..are you back at work?”

This question drives me crazy.  I have been asked this question about 8 times over the span of a few days recently, which makes me realize that I have now passed a  certain undetermined milestone in the eyes of many which leads them to believe that this question is natural and not offensive.  The trouble is, when the onslaught of this question started, I re-engaged in a long series of sleepless nights again, just considering that this is what I “should” be doing.  I love my work and am quite grateful to have a career that gives me a sense of accomplishment in addition to a decent paycheck.  But right now, I absolutely have no desire to be there.  I don’t care about work, and unequivocally do not want to be there.  I just don’t have the energy or focus or concentration.  In a word, I am not ready to go back yet.

I totally get the question though.  It is a signal that the person asking it likely does not realize the length of time a mother losing her baby may need to fully recover.  They couldn’t possibly understand the roller coaster process of grief that you are trying to allow for whilst being a parent too.  They have no idea that although from the outside, your life looks exactly like it did before your baby died, that in reality your life has changed profoundly.  In fact, YOU have changed profoundly.   And while you are busy trying to just put the pieces back together, you are also trying to redefine what those pieces even ARE.  Counsellors call this “finding your new normal”.  The less offensive question or comment regarding work could just simply be “How are you doing?  It is good that you are able to take some time off from work to heal.”

One aspect of finding your new normal is redefining your family.  One assumes that this would be easy in our case.  We planned to have four children close together.  Then we had four children close together.  Then we were done having kids.  Everyone knew it.  I unabashedly gave away clothes and baby things, happy to pass them on to those friends of mine entering this delicious but exhausting stage of life.  I was sad to be finished having babies, but knew we were ready to move forward from this time of our life.

Then we got pregnant with our little Samuel.  He took us by surprise, completely.  He was a miracle, even breaking through all contraceptive barriers and showing us that our lives weren’t really totally in our control.  From the start, he showed us how to surrender to that fact and embrace the bend in our road with gratitude.  So we did.  Joyfully.  We were delighted that a new baby would join us, but after this I felt we couldn’t continue to risk having more kids.  My body had been through so much in 8 years with 5 pregnancies and an early miscarriage as well.  I was physically exhausted.  In January, my hubby booked the procedure.  I was relieved.  After our bonus baby came, we would be DONE….again.

Then, a week before my husband was scheduled for the vasectomy, I had a really random thought.  “Maybe we shouldn’t do it.  What if something happens?” The thought hit me like it wasn’t mine…..like it just landed in my mind and kind of smacked me sideways a bit.  I was alarmed by it.  I quickly dismissed it as weird but maybe normal.  My husband, begrudgingly, had the procedure. Then my due date came and went.  My body did not seem to want to go into labour despite two cervical rimmings and as much activity as I could manage.  I felt so depleted.  I didn’t feel the way I did close to my other deliveries.  I told my husband that I was worried because it felt like the baby didn’t want to come.  Something just felt different.  Everything looked normal, nothing was clinically a red flag, but the truth is, I felt different.

Then Samuel died.  Our worlds came crashing down with his loss.  This was like the sucker punch in a boxing match of a lifetime; the KO that you don’t see coming.  This one did it.  This has been the only time in my entire life that I thought I might not make it through something.  How does anyone make it through this? Somehow though, we are making it through, bit by painful bit.  The roller coaster of redefining our family over and over was about to hit a new low.  What now?

Well, now I don’t feel DONE anymore.  I would love to have another child.  I will wait for a few more months to see if I still feel the same as time moves along and as I work through my grief.  But it is complicated now for a number of reasons.

1. My husband is happy to be finished having babies, although to his total credit, he is willing to discuss it.

2.  I am now 40.  This is not the age at which I would have thought that I would want to have another baby much less be seriously considering it.

3.  Having another baby would mean another surgery, one which costs money even here in Canada.  It is not like they tell you this when they give you the snip, but that is a whole other rant!  This leads me to the next comment that I despise with everything in me.

2.  “You know, having another baby will not bring Samuel back……”

This is likely the stupidest thing anyone could ever think would be helpful.

“Nooooooo Wayyyyyy!!!!!!?”   I want to say.  “You are KIDDING!??  Here the whole time I have just thought I could just get pregnant, and he would just jump right back in there.  I am so totally grateful that you have enlightened me to how this works.”

This is of course my internal monologue.  I respond in a kinder and much more appropriate way, but sometimes I wonder why I have spared this person the truth of knowing how this suggestion affects me and likely most other women wrestling with the same question.  Having a rainbow baby as they are called; that is a baby born after a loss, can be a very healing and hopeful experience.  The urge to create new life is quite a natural and positive one in many cases.  It is also a very personal decision, and one that no one, no matter how close they are to the grieving mother, should adjudicate at all.  Ask questions, yes.  Be there to listen, yes.  Say comment #2,  never.

So there it is, my educational rant.  Ahhhhhh.  I feel much better having written that off my chest.  I hope that this post might provide some insight into why it is my cheeks and ears sometimes flush in frustration at certain well intended and seemingly benign comments, and why at times, I seem to shift into a darker mood quite abruptly.  Perhaps I have  written the words that others in similar shoes might be experiencing too.  Regardless, I know that I feel better just getting it out there.

Thank you for listening.