Friday, July 4, 2014

Reversing the fairy tale

The other day when my daughter told me that we live in a great big house I was a little shocked.

"We do?" I asked.

Then I thought about it for a minute and realized the right thing was to agree with her, because what we've unknowingly been trying to instill in her is actually working.

Back before we had children, I went through a rough time. I was nearing 30, and despite my education I was still just getting by on temp jobs in the struggling economy. I lived in a nice apartment with my now husband and we had a lovely life together, but I just couldn't let go of the bitterness and disappointment about where I 'should' be financially at that point in my life. I had envisioned a house, a car, a cottage, and fancy vacations. What I had was an apartment, camping and public transit.

Then one bitterly cold January night we met some friends downtown for dinner after work. Leaving the warm restaurant into the horrible cold we braced ourselves and ran to the bus shelter, cursing and laughing and picturing the relief that was soon coming. As we sprinted into the wind one of my friends suddenly said:

"It would be terrible to be homeless on a night like tonight."

Moments later we were sitting comfortably on a warm bus, heading toward our respective warm apartments. With a belly full of delicious food, I crawled under a warm duvet in a soft bed beside the man I loved. I had never felt more rich.

The next year our job situation had improved and we were on our honeymoon, cruising through Italy, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. On a tour bus heading to Cairo it wasn't the pyramids that blew us away, but the living conditions we saw out the window. Countless families living on the side of the road, toddlers playing in piles of garbage next to the on ramp, the mud huts that people called their homes. After seeing that I could never go back to complaining about how 'poor' we were.

Nine months later our daughter was born, and without really meaning to we filled her head not with stories of princesses in castles full of riches we will never know, but a reverse sort of fairy tale of the millions of people around the world living without houses, food or indoor plumbing. 'Aren't we lucky?' we tell her, 'that we have a house with TWO toilets? A fridge full of food? A bed to sleep in? Toys to play with?' We've let her know from the start that WE are the rich ones. Comparison can steal so much joy, but done right, it can also bring gratitude, and a desire to help others. There are always those who will have more, and if you focus on that you'll always be miserable, but when you have all you truly need, you have to realize that you really are wealthy in the grand scheme of things.

As our girls get older, I know they will encounter friends who appear to have more and feel a little envious. Perhaps they will realize that our little semi detached is not the castle they originally saw it as. When that happens I hope to be able to give them the same reality check that I was given- through travel, volunteer work or just frank discussion. Until then we remain happy in our 'great big house' full of food, warm beds and love.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

7 reasons why women with young children are pissed off at their husbands

I saw a lot of disgruntled and disappointed day-after-mother's-day posts in my Facebook feed yesterday. Women who were just hoping for a little break, some hard earned recognition or for just one day to have their wishes come before the matriarch who just won't step down. I wasn't one of these women yesterday, but I still understand what they were feeling.

Husband bashing is a common sport among women with young children. It ranges from harmless joking between close friends to venomous public shaming over social media. These women feel frustrated and unheard and need to get it off their chest somewhere. When it falls on deaf ears at home it's going to come out elsewhere, depending on the severity of the situation.

Most of these women aren't even married to useless, deadbeat fathers. Their husbands are loving men who work hard at their jobs, spend time with their kids and at least attempt to pull their weight in household duties. Then why is it such a problem?

1. Men put on their oxygen masks first before assisting others.

Most fathers seem to have no trouble meeting the basic needs of life, even when they have young children. They manage to eat, sleep, dress, use the washroom and groom themselves on a regular basis. Unless it's a life threatening situation, they will tend to these things when needed and don't understand the big deal their wives make when they try to. Men are surprised when met with dirty looks when they attempt to make their 3rd trip to the bathroom in one morning or take their second shower in one day.

Meanwhile many women hold their pee for hours, miss meals, only poop in the middle of the night and forget the last time they washed their hair because they only make it priority to meet these needs when everyone else is fed and dry and clean and happy. Which rarely happens all at once.

It would be better for everyone involved if women acted more like men in this regard. I know it seems like a great decadence to spend 5 minutes sitting down to eat your breakfast or to empty your bursting bladder BEFORE tending to a crying child, but we're of more use when we're physically comfortable and certainly have a better attitude, which children pick up on.

2. Men are blind to the minutia

When it comes to the basic details our husbands generally get it. The kids need to eat, bathe, wear clean clothes and go to the doctor when they get sick. They either help with, or are at least AWARE that these things need to be done. But what about the rest? Do they buy a birthday present and card to bring to the party their child is invited to? Do they dig out the clothes from storage when the seasons change or a size is outgrown to swap them out? Do they fill out the forms that come home from school and send money for special events? Do they book dentist appointments or return library books or mend torn clothing? Not usually. Do they even have any idea that their wife is doing these 85 extra child related tasks per week on TOP of all the other basic duties that they are also sharing? Not likely.

Women tend to keep track of and deal with a whole host of tiny details that while invisible to the naked eye are essential to things running smoothly for the children. It's not even that we expect or even want our husbands to deal with these things (because our multitasking minds have it all covered), it's that want want them to NOTICE that we're doing them.

I remember one Saturday long ago when my husband was complaining that he had SO MUCH to get done one weekend. I asked him to write down everything he had to do and I would do the same. He had 3 items. I had 17. He was a little shocked.

3. Women want it done THEIR way.

We really wouldn't have to much to do if we learned to delegate and trust a little more. It drives me nuts when my husband just throws all the cutlery in the drawer willy nilly, but the fact that he's washing and putting away the dishes still saves me a lot of time and effort. I trust him to safely parent both our children so I've learned to just back off and let him do his thing. I let him dress the kids in whatever mismatched combinations he comes up with and feed them whatever random stuff he can find in the fridge for lunch and save my effort for the things that I just can't let go of (like the laundry, due to all the gorgeous outfits that have been ruined from his complete disregard for stain remover).

4. They seem to have all the fun and take all the glory.

After spending a long day putting out fires and trying but failing to get 'anything done' your husband finally gets home and takes them off your hands so you can just freaking cook dinner in peace. After a few minutes you hear hysterical laughter coming from the next room and your heart both glows and sinks at the same time as you realize that you've been with your children the entire day and not once did you hear them laugh like that. Suddenly you feel like Cinderella slaving over a hot stove with a scowl on your face while he gets to swoop in and be the 'fun' parent.

I only work part time, so I'm home with the kids most of the time, yet I often feel like I spend less time actually WITH them than he does. When you're the stay at home parent responsible for most of the housework it's easy to get caught up in the endless battle of what needs to get done and lose sight of what matters. I now prioritize my 'to-do list' to include 'enjoy my children' up at the very top above everything else. I find when I'm more flexible that so many wonderful, fun moments with my children creep into our day in between all the grunt work. When I've already shared a lot of laughs with my kids I no longer feel regret and resentment when it's 'his turn', I only feel happy that they have such a wonderful bond with their father.

5. We make them incompetent right from the start.

When a new baby is born it's such an exhilarating feeling that we throw ourselves into that mother baby cocoon without a complaint. When my girls were very little I couldn't stand to be apart with them at all, so I pretty much took over everything and fought when he tried to take them away to 'give me a break'. When I was their only food source something deep inside me couldn't be apart from them longer than it took to run to the store, and my husband got used to that. Eventually his cure for everything became 'she needs a boob', even long after this was no longer true. As time went on and I really did need a break it had already become the norm for me to be the 'default' parent in everything.

What changed things is the fact that he took paternity leave when our second daughter was born so I could continue to work part time. When he became the 'default parent' to our oldest daughter and in charge of both the few times I went to work he learned to master the tiny details that alluded him when we only had one child. He used to sit around or play guitar while I got her ready to go out, which drove me insane. Now when we have to go somewhere it's unspoken that he gets our oldest daughter dressed and packed while I do the same for the younger one and nobody but the cat sits around being useless.

6. We're jealous of them.

When the going gets rough, the grass gets greener. When you're sleep deprived and touched out, what's on their plate looks oh so tempting. We picture the luxury of sleeping all night, of sitting down and eating a sandwich all in one go, of peeing without anyone screaming and of listening to the radio all the way to work! Oh the decadence! They never have to suffer through morning sickness or painful contractions or tearing. Their bodies remain unmarked and unchanged and while they get to enjoy the love and joy and fun of being a parent, their lives are much less changed than ours are.

What helps is looking carefully at what's on my own side of the fence. I think of the things I would never trade in a million years. The feeling of a little person wiggling and kicking inside me, pressing her tiny feet up against the inside of my tummy. The blissful feeling of a milk drugged infant curled at your breast, filling your body with endorphins and your heart with peace. The times I get to take a nap in the early afternoon when the baby is sleeping, or the sunny days I'm at the pool with the kids instead of in a cubicle. We pay different dues and get different rewards, but it all evens out in the wash. I would never, ever actually want to trade places.

7. Women complain and men take.

The peak of marital discord occurred in our house when our oldest daughter was about a year and a half. For months she had been getting up for the day at 430 am, which meant that I was getting up for the day at 430 am and was a ragged mess of sleep deprivation and bitterness. One Saturday morning my husband sauntered out of bed at 9 am, went for a leisurely jog, took a long shower and then wanted to sit downstairs and eat a relaxing breakfast in front of the tv, making him 'available for duty' right in time for our daughter's nap. I detonated like a nuclear missile and while it got ugly for a minute there, it cleared the air in a remarkable way.

When you're exhausted from motherhood and left with nothing for yourself, you start to keep score of everything. The extra sleep he's getting, the exercise, the time for hobbies or outings with his friends. I remember him proudly showing me his latest painting and being unable to compliment it because I was so bitter that he had time to paint in the first place. The problem is, we don't know what to DO about it except complain about it, and men hate to listen to complaining.

After that day when I lost my shit, I learned to stop complaining and take action. I scheduled time with my friends to shop or go out to eat. I started going swimming or to movies by myself, taking long walks alone or asking him to take them out for a few hours so I could just have some quiet time at home. When I stopped complaining about all HE got to do and started explaining what I WANTED to do instead he was very happy to oblige. Men respond well to specific requests if they know it will make us happy. Now we discuss and divy free time depending on what we both want to do without ever having to fight about it.

Most of our husbands are good men. They want to help out. They want to make us happy. They want us to just stop complaining and tell them exactly what we want. We just need to figure out exactly what that is and how to say it and then everything is great.

(PS the reason my mother's day wasn't a let down is I told him exactly what to buy me and what I wanted to do. And guess what? It happened).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Barf-O-Rama: How to cope when a stomach virus hits your house

On Sunday night we were up all night with a vomiting toddler. Tis the season. Aside from pregnancy, dealing with stomach bugs has always been my least favorite part of parenting. I've suffered from emetophobia (a phobia vomiting) all my life and having kids certainly exposes me to that fear on a regular basis!

My biggest fear these days isn't dealing with a sick child in itself, but the idea of myself, my other child and my husband all catching it and being ill at the same time with nobody to help out. I've seen it happen to other families countless times, so I do everything in my power to prevent it from spreading once it's in the house. Here is how I cope...

While they are still getting sick

For a baby/toddler I lay a large towel across the crib. Every time they throw up I toss the messy towel into the laundry and lay down a clean one. This is much easier than constantly changing the sheets (or worse, running out of clean ones).

Keeping a toddler in a crib or playpen keeps them from wandering around the house wiping germs on everything, or from touching their healthy siblings. I do this until I'm sure they are done vomiting. For my older child I lay her in bed or on the couch with a bucket lined with a plastic bag. Every time she gets sick I just replace the bag.

After handling vomit I wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water AND sanitize using a foaming hand sanitizer containing benzalkonium chloride in concentrations of 0.13% or more. Wet ones also contain this concentration. Alcohol based hand sanitizers DO NOT KILL norovirus, the virus responsible for most stomach bugs.

Please don't tell yourself 'I don't have to worry, I got the flu shot'. The flu shot does NOT protect against stomach viruses. The flu is a respiratory virus (influenza) causing fever, aches, headache and cough and the 'stomach flu' is caused by norovirus, which is a completely different illness that does not currently have a vaccine. It's massively contagious and has an incubation period of 36 hours. That means most people tend to get sick a day and a half after being exposed.

It hasn't been proven, but drinking large amounts of grape juice around the time of exposure can cut down on the risk of catching it. But if it doesn't work it would be horrible to barf back up all that purple liquid!

Once they have stopped vomiting for good

Wash your child! Get them in the tub and wash their hair, hands, face and body with a good soap. Scrub their hands well! Once you drain the water rinse out the tub with the shower to make sure all of the germs are washed down.

Mop any hard floors they have been sick on with bleach. Make sure you use a new bottle, an opened bottle isn't as effective. If they have thrown up on carpet make sure you steam clean it or scrub it with bleach solution. Norovirus can live for up to 2 weeks in carpet.

In any room that someone has thrown up in, wipe down the walls, surfaces, crib slats, etc. with lysol wipes. Projectile vomit sprays invisible droplets up to 15 feet and remains living and contagious on hard surfaces for days sometimes.

Wash any soiled linens and clothing in hot water and dry on hot heat. Wipe out the inside of the laundry basket with a lysol wipe or solution to kill any germs that may have been on the linens before putting the clean clothes back in the basket. You don't want to contaminate the clothes you just washed!

For any stuffed animals that have been caught in the crossfire I put them in a mesh lingerie bag and throw them in the washing machine. If they are the singing kind full of wires and batteries I give them a sponge bath with dish soap, hot water, wash cloths and a toothbrush. I either put them in the dryer or hang them to dry. Any toys that aren't completely sterilized should be kept aside for a couple weeks so no living germs remain to infect other children in the house.

If an older child (or adult) has been sick in the actual bathroom MAKE SURE YOU CHANGE THE HAND TOWEL AND TOOTHBRUSHES IN THE BATHROOM. I actually keep my toothbrush in my bedroom to avoid this and keep my own hand towel in another room to dry my hands on.

Over the next week or two

Your child with still be shedding large amounts of the virus in their feces, so be extremely careful when changing diapers. Wash and sanitize your hands as thoroughly as possible after every change. This will be extremely challenging if the vomiting turns to diarrhea. I try to bathe them after a very messy change, but keep in mind that can just end up covering their entire body in germs. Make sure you clean their hands AFTER their bath.

Your child will be extremely contagious for 48 hours after recovering, very contagious for 5 days after and potentially or mildly contagious for up to 2 weeks after. Please don't be that asshole who brings your child to a birthday party or event the day after they've been sick because they are 'all better'. You're pretty much going to infect everyone there, and yes, people will blame their own miserable experience on you for the rest of their lives.

If you end up catching it too

Take the same sanitary precautions yourself, especially if other members of your family haven't been ill. Whatever you do, don't prepare food for people outside your family. This goes double for any uncooked foods such as salad or cake frosting. If you make a veggie platter for a school party or a batch of cupcakes for the school bake sale you are very likely to infect a large group of people. Most outbreaks of food poisoning are actually caused by someone who was recently sick handling large amounts of uncooked food. Once again, just don't be an asshole.

Hang in there, spring is coming soon.

Friday, February 21, 2014

That smells awful! 7 tips for cooking with morning sickness

During both my pregnancies the worst symptom by far was the smell aversions. It would kick in long before I even got a positive test, that unmistakable bionic nose that could smell someone smoking a mile away. It was awful.

While the smell of cleaning products and toiletries topped my list, I also had issues with food smells. During my first pregnancy it wasn't so much of a problem- I didn't feel much like eating in the early days and my husband could fend for himself. I gave him an earful the morning he decided to fry up a big batch of onions and eggs without telling me first, but otherwise we made do.

Second pregnancy... not so much. The second time around I was so much sicker, yet I had a small child to care for and feed, one with a big appetite. I had a husband who took over so many other household duties for me after work that he didn't have time to cook anymore, and I myself was still breastfeeding and needed to eat badly. Like it or not, I had to cook. Here are some tips I discovered on how to survive cooking for your family when the smell of everything is making you retch.

1. Get powdered.

The smell of garlic or onions frying is usually delicious, but when you're pregnant it's not only awful, it permeates the entire house for days. I discovered that while not exactly gourmet, that substituting with onion and garlic powder in recipes gave it similar flavor but created no extra smell.

2. You can cook outside the kitchen.

The kitchen is the hub of the house, and smells can travel everywhere from it. I started setting up my slow cooker in the basement to cook meals and the smells didn't reach the rest of the house. You can plug in a toaster oven or slow cooker, or use a camping stove in other parts of the house such as the basement, garage, back deck or even an out of the way bedroom.

3. Eat more meatless meals.

Meat is the biggest culprit when it comes to pregnancy smell aversions in the kitchen. Meatless meals not only smell less, they are also less expensive and often packed with fiber. I made a lot of bean burritos while pregnant.

4. Make your side dishes at home but outsource your meat.

We bought a lot of rotisserie chickens during my pregnancies. They are inexpensive and you can make a lot of things with the leftover meat. I had no trouble cooking the side dishes to go with them which kept costs down and was much cheaper (and healthier) than buying an entire take out meal.

5. Get grilling.

I was unfortunate to have my first trimesters in the winter (the only downside of having summer babies), but many friends who had morning sickness in the summer made the most of their BBQ to keep the smells outdoors.

6. If you're TTC, consider getting a head start stocking your freezer.

As soon as we started trying for our second daughter I started cooking up huge batches of meat to freeze. I roasted chickens to pick apart the meat, fried up ground beef, grilled chicken breasts and then stored it all in the freezer to use when the morning sickness kicked in. If you get pregnant instantly like I did you're all set, if it takes you a few months well you've got lots of meat in there for quick and easy dinners!

7. Try poaching

If you find yourself pregnant and sick without any advanced warning you can always do what I did the first time around and poach your chicken, then add it to recipes after. This cuts down on the smell by a lot. Just boil the chicken until it's cooked and then chop it up and add it to whatever recipes call for chicken. I make so many things using chicken breasts!

Hang in there! The aversions won't last forever and soon you'll get to the fun part- the cravings!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Let's lay off the sugar already

Yesterday afternoon my 4 year old daughter came home from school with a paper bag full of Valentines. When we dumped out the bag on the living room floor to look at them I heard the familiar sickening thunk. It wasn't so much a pile of cards as it was a giant pile of candy.

I wasn't surprised in the least- this is the 3rd year in a row it's happened. At both preschool and daycare she also received a similar haul. Somehow it's not enough anymore for kids to just give cards, and adding a sticker no longer makes it special. Most boxed cards now come with an attachable lollipop, and most mothers also go the extra mile and stick a grab bag of candy to each card. What was once a simple holiday for exchanging cards is now another giant sugar fest. I wonder how every Hallmark holiday has become associated with candy? I guess it kind of just crept up on us.

I am not a stickler for perfect nutrition. Everything in moderation right? But it becomes a bigger problem when 'just a little treat' becomes so frequent and commonplace that it's not just a little treat, but hundreds of little treats trickling in at an alarming rate.

School is the worst culprit, and it's not just the goody bags going home on Valentine's day, Christmas, Halloween and Easter. Last year in preschool and this year in kindergarten they celebrated children's birthdays. In class sizes of 25-30 this has meant at least one birthday a week, complete with cupcakes slathered in frosting and topped with various candies. Her preschool was also very big on celebrating both traditional and made up holidays. They not only had parties (with cupcakes!) to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and St. Patrick's day, they also had days to celebrate all the colors (blue, green, yellow, brown, white, red, ect) complete with appropriately colored cupcakes and treats. When it was finally over? My heart sank when I watched a parent walk through the door carrying an enormous tray of multicolored cookies and cupcakes for 'rainbow day'.

I can always tell when they've been 'celebrating' at school. My daughter does not handle large amounts of sugar very well, and on those afternoons she's always very irritable, high strung and short tempered. It does not make for a fun evening.

Why are other parents doing this to the rest of us? Because some of them are really nice people who want to do something nice for the kids, or they don't want their child to be the only one left out on their birthday, or they think that it's expected of them and they don't want to look bad to everyone else. The expectations to attach sugar to every holiday have escalated and gathered with momentum to a point where people don't know how to stop it anymore.

Outside of school it's almost as bad. My daughter gets invited to a couple of birthday parties a month, complete with cake, treats and goody bags full of candy and toys at the end. After these events she melts down into a hysterical screaming monster. On Halloween they go trick or treating- sometimes twice- because there is now a daytime option at the mall and a night time option in the neighborhood. They go to the Santa claus parade where handfuls of candy are thrown at them from every float and organization passing by. My daughter threw up after this event.

Christmas isn't just celebrated as a single holiday anymore, it's now a 2 month season with constant parties with friends, family, neighbors, work, school and other places in the community. Every single one of these parties is packed to the hilt with candy and baked goods.

Then it trickles in from so many other sources- from her soccer class on the weekends, from her school bus drivers, from the bank, from stores at the mall, from restaurants, and even from visits to the doctor's office! There is a bowl of candy at the ready to hand to children at any given time in nearly every business place these days.

After all this, there is still our family. Because their Nana wants to take them out for an ice cream with her on the weekends. Because we celebrate birthdays within our extended family, so they get a slice of cake for every cousin, uncle, aunt, parent, sibling or close family friend and they get a dessert for every holiday we celebrate together with their cousins.

As their mother this makes me sad, because after all this sugar coming at them from the outside, when do I ever get the chance to bake with my daughters? To buy them a treat to give to them myself? To make them the special cookie recipe my own mother used to make for us growing up? Almost never. Someone else has already crowded me out.

Let's also take into account something far more serious than temper tantrums and upset tummies. Half of all children born these days will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives, a totally preventable yet terrible disease. I am doing everything I can in my own home to make sure my daughters are not part of that horrible statistic. I prepare them fresh healthy meals and snacks and send my daughter to school with healthy lunches. I'm not happy that despite my efforts, society begins to shovel sugar down their throats before they are even out of diapers. After the age of 1, any child appears to be fair game, in 'moderation'.

Well moderation no longer exists. Our children live in a culture so saturated with sugar that most people don't even notice how bad it is. But many of us do, and we feel powerless to stop it. We've tried talking to the schools, but the teachers don't want to upset the other parents. We've tried talking to the other parents, but they get hurt and defensive because they were only trying to be nice. We try hiding it from our kids, but it feels dishonest. We try talking them out of it, but their biology screams at them to want it and it's hard to have someone else outright give it to them in the first place and then take it away.

I deal with it by making sure that everything I give them is real and whole and packed with nutrition. I try to give them healthy attitudes and habits toward food in hopes that they will learn more from me than from the outside world. I keep searching for other answers, for other mothers who feel the same way and I keep holding out in hope that something will change. But I know that it will probably only get worse.

I'm begging you, please stop feeding so much sugar to my children.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

7 things I really miss about life before kids

We're in the midst of one of THOSE weeks. The kind full of fevers and crying and waking up 10 times a night to tend to sick children. The kind where you completely run on empty. It's at these times when I remember the way things were 'before' and really REALLY miss some things. Especially...

1. Sick days.

There is NOTHING I miss more about life before having kids than this. Before kids when I would wake up with a nasty cold or flu I would call in sick, get back in bed and sleep all day. The only times I would get up would be to use the washroom or perhaps make some soup or tea.

Now? Tough luck. You can't tell your children 'Hey, I seemed to have picked up a bug, but don't worry, I'll try to make it in tomorrow if I can'. You HAVE to get up. You have to deal. You feed, and change and chase them around all day.

I've nursed a baby and held a plastic bag while I had food poisoning. I've nursed a toddler after vomiting all night with the stomach flu, feeling myself dehydrate to the point of pain. I cradled a newborn around my IV line when I was hospitalized with bacterial meningitis so I could feed her protective antibodies. Even if your job forces you to come in sick, you can always go home and sleep it off overnight. But for me there is no night anymore. That feverish crying baby needs me and she doesn't know that I'm sick too.

The cruelest part is that while having kids takes away sick days, you end up getting sick more than you ever have in your life. They bring home every germ, infecting the whole family with things you didn't even know existed before. Having more than one child makes it worse- my oldest daughter gets it first from school, then infects her sister, father and I all at the same time. So we end up with one healthy child running wild, a sick baby to tend to and 2 useless parents.

2. The deep end.

I love swimming. We live across the road from a public pool and I try to go there with the kids as often as I can in the summer. It's fun, but it's just NOT the same. I always have someone in my arms. I'm constantly on high alert making sure nobody runs off and falls in. I'm always making sure nobody has just pooped or vomited in the pool (my kids in case we need to make a run for it, or someone else's so I can make sure my kids don't ingest it.)

I often stare longingly at the deep end in the pool. I remember what it's like to jump off the diving board, to go underwater, to float aimlessly, to lay on a towel and read, feeling the breeze on my back. It's been a long time since swimming has included any of those things.

3. Eating junk food during the day.

We want our kids to grow up eating healthy foods, so this is what we try to eat to set a good example:

It's not that we don't love these foods, and feel great eating them. But still, we get hungry. And the second the kids are in bed we want this:

Back when we could eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted to, we ate a lot less junk. But now when evening rolls around we JUST CANT HELP IT! Forbidden fruit (or in our case cupcakes) are always more tempting.

4. Weekends.

I've never been a huge party animal, but I always enjoyed my weekends. Before kids my husband and I went to a lot of restaurants with friends, to movies, on long bike rides. We went on day trips and overnights to other cities, we hosted food themed parties for all our friends. Every second of the weekend was OURS and we could do whatever we wanted. We try to do as much of that as we can with the kids in tow, but obviously it isn't the same. We have minimal babysitting options so we manage to make it out alone together about twice a YEAR, instead of twice a week.

This is what Saturday night looks like in our house now:

5. Looking out for #1.

I remember when I only had to worry about feeding and clothing myself. It took so little time! I would cook something that lasted for days, wash a few dishes, do a load of laundry maybe once a week. Once I met my husband it didn't change- I cooked for both of us, he did dishes and his own laundry. It was SO easy. Now? I do laundry every day. I am constantly washing dishes and preparing food. But the hardest part is constantly cleaning up this:

and this:

and this:

Some days I feel like I spend ALL my time cleaning up after other people. I'll be cleaning up one mess and they will be making another one faster than I can keep up.

6. Doing things without asking permission.

Before kids: Take a shower. End of story.

After kids: 'Sweeeeetie??'


'Can I take a shower?'


'I really smell.'

'But you just went to the grocery store by yourself. I need to go do my laundry and then mow the lawn.'


'Ok, but only if you let me have 20 minutes to eat lunch by myself later.'


Before having kids I had NO idea the kind of fierce negotiations involved with your partner in EVERYTHING you want and need to do. Time alone is rare currency that needs to be well spent. Using it to do necessary chores offers some leverage but still counts against you. I never, ever in a million years ever thought I would ever need to ask my husband permission to poop. But here we are.

7. Running to the store.

Before I had kids and I ran out of something, I could just zip out the door quickly and run to the store. If I had a craving for a slice of pizza I could wander down the road and grab one from the pizzeria. I could even take my sweet time. Now I have to be VERY careful that our house is well stocked. You can't ever leave your kids home alone, you have to drag them with you. But even then they might be sleeping, or sick, or require many many articles of clothing just to leave the house. It will take you 10 times longer to walk or drive there. Most of the time it's just not worth the effort.

The funny thing is that despite how much I miss these things, the reason I usually think about them isn't because I'm miserable, but because the opposite is true. I remind myself of the things I will have to look forward to again in a few years not in envy of my past self, but as a consolation prize for my future self for when these current days are over. Because as much as I loved the freedoms of life before kids, I know I'll never miss any of those things half as much as I'm going to miss the the things like this:

Or this:

Or how sad I'll be when something as simple as this isn't the most exciting thing in their world.

It will break our hearts when hanging out with us is no longer their favorite thing to do, because we're not longer the coolest people in the universe anymore.

So yeah, someday I'll once again be able to enjoy a sick day in bed, a solitary swim and a movie or dinner with my husband whenever I want. I'll have an easy to clean house, the ability to go to the store whenever I want. I'll be able to sit down in the middle of the day and eat a cookie in plain sight. I won't have to beg permission to take a shower as if it were a week in Vegas. Things will get easy again all too fast, and that makes me very sad. I know it has to come some day, but I'm just not ready for it yet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For the introverted mother

Last year when I was really struggling just to make it through each day, I was comparing myself to too many other mothers around me without realizing that their circumstances were different. Recently I realized it went beyond a lack of extended family help, or the use of a car during the day or many of the other obstacles I work with. I think the biggest challenge I face is that I am an introvert.

Introversion isn't simply about being shy- many introverts, myself included, aren't shy at all. I enjoy social events and the company of other people, just as extroverts enjoy quiet time alone. The difference is in how we're wired to recharge our batteries. An extrovert feels refreshed after spending time interacting socially with others, while an introvert needs solitude to fill themselves back up again.

When I first became a mother, it was still easy to meet all my introverted needs. In the beginning, the symbiosis between mother and baby is so great that being around them feels like being alone. They are simply an extension of yourself. They don't talk, they sleep a great deal of the time and they can be put in a stroller or carrier for long walks whenever you feel like it. It becomes harder when they start walking and talking, but even then the afternoon nap is sufficient to get that time you need.

My oldest daughter stopped napping altogether when she was 2 1/2. I was 6 months pregnant at the time. I managed to make things work for the next year with a combination of 'quiet time' in her room and part time preschool, but things started to unravel when my daughter decided to fight quiet time with everything she had. I was already physically exhausted, but it was the mental exhaustion that was really killing me. I was giving and giving all day every day, but without any peace and quiet I had nothing to fill me back up.

My extroverted friends joke about needing 'me' time, but for them it means a girls night out, a trip to the spa, or a glass of wine and trashy tv after the kids are in bed. I have a very supportive husband who would be more than willing to help me out with any of those things, but what an introvert needs is something that is incredibly hard to provide to a mother of very young kids on a regular basis. I need complete and utter silence, and I need it every single day. Otherwise, I completely go to pieces.

People who don't understand what it's like to be an introvert think we're being dramatic, or wimpy, or selfish. They don't understand that some people are wired in a way that makes them need silence almost as much as they need air, water, warmth or food. They don't understand how much we struggle to function when we don't get it. After a couple days without time alone, I start to get irritable. If it goes on for an extended period of time I start suffering from feelings of extreme exhaustion and anxiety. I start having panic attacks both during the day and in the middle of the night. The longer I go without it the more it takes to even me back out again. A small daily dose of quiet is much more effective than a huge chunk after things have gone too far. Prevention is always better than trying to fix it after the fact.

My oldest daughter goes to school full time now, and my youngest is a great napper. When that daily dose of silence was added back into my life I felt an incredible surge of energy, happiness and well being. Because I am able to get that time during the day again, I'm spending much more time with my husband in the evenings instead of hiding with a book in another room. I'm more patient with him and the kids because my own needs are finally being met.

Small children are demanding and they are loud. When you've spent the entire day giving and giving and are drained to the last drop, it's hard to be there for your spouse as well, but it's also important that you are. As an introverted mother you need to learn how to get what you need so you can still be there for (and enjoy) everyone else. Here are the things I've picked up along the way.

1. Get your 'stuff' done while the kids are awake.

In the early days I used to spend nap time or time when my husband took the baby out to cook and clean and do laundry and then wonder why I felt so exhausted and miserable about it. Now unless I have a burning desire to do housework (which almost NEVER happens), I make sure I get things done when the kids are present. I get them to 'help', I speed clean the kitchen while they sit eating their afternoon snacks or breakfast, I run and throw in a load of laundry when they are mesmerized by a toy. The second they are asleep or not home I am OFF duty and I am only allowed to do something I find relaxing, which in my case is usually reading a book.

2. Leave if you have to.

Sometimes it's easier to leave the house for silence than to kick everyone else out. Instead of getting my husband to watch the kids so I can go out for drinks with friends, I go for long walks alone, swim laps at the pool, run errands or even see movies by myself.

3. Divide and conquer.

We often each take a kid. If I need some quiet I take the baby for a long walk in the jogging stroller or he takes the 4 year old out to visit family and friends while the baby naps.

4. Realize you don't need to be there for everything.

Like most introverts, I'm married to an extrovert. Every weekend, if we don't have plans, he's running through his phone book looking for people to get together with. I used to think I had to do everything, now I pick and choose. He often takes the kids out to brunch with his family and I stay home and rest. I'm there for all the many holidays and celebrations with them, which I enjoy, but I no longer feel the need to show up every time they want to go out for pancakes.

5. Be clear about what you need and negotiate.

My husband now understands that while he wants to spend his free time playing music or soccer with his friends, I want him to take the kids out for the afternoon so I can have a totally silent house. You have to let the people in your life know what you need the most and work out exactly how and when you can get it.

6. Make the most of quiet time.

My oldest daughter is in full time school, but that still means she's off on holidays for the whole summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, spring break, PD days and various other holidays. I make quiet time work by saving certain things to be ONLY for the times when her sister is napping. I make special snacks in advance, bring out toys with small pieces that are off limits when her sister is awake, give her sheets of stickers from the dollar store, make popcorn and put on a movie, ect. It's not as relaxing as being home alone with a napping baby, but it does allow me to catch small doses of quiet in between her demands and questions.

7. Think twice about spacing.

If you're an introvert then having several children back to back is probably a terrible idea. Even if all of them continue to nap right up until they start school, getting them all to sleep at the SAME time is supposedly quite a feat. Having one at home and one in school is ideal, but also having them close enough in age to play together is very useful as they get older. I did a 3 year gap, which seemed to be the best possible balance between those two factors, even if I had to go through a VERY rough patch to get to this point.

I often miss adult interaction and time with friends as well, which are very hard to come by when you're a mother with young kids. I can't imagine how hard it would be to NEED those things in the same way an extrovert does. I think the important thing is to realize that mothers have different needs, and instead looking down on those differences we should recognize that neither type is being selfish, that the main reason we're trying to recharge our own batteries in the most effective way is so that we can continue to be there for our families. We fill ourselves up so that we can fully be there to give ourselves to them, to enjoy them, to be present in the fleeting moments we have with our small children. If I am a better mother if I can live a part of each day in silence then I don't see anything wrong with trying to make that happen.