Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This day...

I don't know how it happened.  It wasn't slotted to be a good day.  What, with Girlio up seven or more times last night, and the fact that Boy-o has been a walking emotional hurricane for days, I was stealing myself for another day of clutching desparately to whatever shreds of patience I could find in the cupboards (being totally without any myself). 

And out of nowhere, beyond any logic or reason, I find myself in the midst of the most perfect and delightful morning with my children.  It is probably the sort of morning people imagine when they picture the life of a stay-at-home mom...but truthfully, of course, they are a rarer bird than that.

There have been no power struggles, no tantrums, no shrieking.  In its place has been only games of "airport," watching Girlio trying to crawl and bum scootch across the house, and Boy-o making me endless variations of dubiously edible concoctions of food in his play kitchen.   I have been peppered in smooches and snuggles and flying leaps of gangly-legged preschooler love (okay, a little warning that the flying leaps were coming might have been useful, but beggars can't be choosers here folks). 

Boy-o wanted to bake for real and we scraped together the most delightful version of  "kitchen sink" muffins with carrots and apples and lightly toasted remnants of trailmix and oats - during which he laughed and followed instructions (mostly).  We watched them bake in the oven and they turned out beautifully - healthy enough to be relatively guilt-free, but not enough to be, you know, inedible.  And just because even though this goes against all the rules - we ate them for lunch (and Boy-o had two). 

Then Girlio fell asleep so sweetly, with her mouth curved into a smile around my nipple, still dedicatedly trying to eating in her sleep, but hindered both by sleeping and grinning.  And then Boy-o contentedly had 40 minutes of quiet time listening to Jamie Lee Curtis stories on cd.

There are so many things that need to be done.  Groceries to buy, cleaning to finish, dinner to make.  But I am not a foolish woman.  Mornings like these don't come around every day; they are not to be squandered with "shoulds" and "ought to's".  After days of darkness and being pushed to the limits, I will not let this collective good mood go to waste.  So now we are off on an adventure to the the museum, and wherever else this gift of a day takes us. 


Friday, March 19, 2010

quiet time

My boy-o is nearly three and a half, and lately, it's been a real struggle to get him to fall asleep at a normal time of the evening (ie. before 9 p.m.!).  So, I've been struggling and wrestling and wrestling and struggling with the idea of stopping the midday nap.  Because I LOVE the midday nap.  It is my only me-time.  I guard it selfishly, refusing to use it to tidy or do laundry or dishes or anything else resembling work.  It is the only time in the day that is mine and mine alone.  L. leaves for work at 7:15 a.m.-ish every morning.  She gets home at 5:45 p.m.-ish everyday.  It is then time for supper and dishes and bathtime and storytime and cuddle time etc., until about 9 p.m.-ish.   Then I talk to L. about her day and vice versa.  Then I drop to sleep by about 10 p.m.-ish, and will wake with one kid or the other up an average of 3 or 4 times per night.  So you see - I NEED that time.  NEED it.  Really, really NEED it.   Without it I might shrivel up and die.  Or get arrested for homicide.  You get the picture.

I know that other parents of non-nappers have instituted what's known as the midday "quiet time," where their wee beloveds are deposited in their rooms to quietly occupy theirselves.  I have my reservations about the feasibility of this option for my wee beloved, given his disdain for all things involving quiet and self-occupation - but I decide to try it anyways. 

The following is a play-by-play of today's "quiet time":

12:30 p.m. - I deposit Oliver in his room with a load of books and small toys and let him know that I am going to put his sister down for a nap and then come back to check on him.  I let him know that he needs to be resting and playing quietly.

12:33 p.m. - I've finished feeding Lucy and am rocking her to sleep.  "Mama!"  "Mama!"  "Mama!"  Oliver shouts to me from his bedroom.  "Mama!"  "Are you done yet?!"    I try ignoring him and hoping he'll go away.  I should know better.  The little voice gets less and less little as the minutes drag by. 

12:35 p.m. Since Lucy is clearly not going to sleep in the midst of her brother's cacophony, I put her down in the crib (wailing commences) and run to tend to her brother.  I let him know that it is not time to chat with Mama, nor will I be coming back to check on him again.  "It is time to play quietly, ON YOUR OWN."  I tell him sternly.

12:38  p.m.  Lucy wails herself to sleep in my arms and I put her down in her crib.  Walking past Oliver's room, I hear: "Mama?  Is quiet time over yet?"  I sit down at the kitchen table with my netbook (which I am currently typing to you all on), and let him know that I'm done talking with him and that I will come and get him when quiet time is over.

12:40 p.m.  "Mama!"  "Mama!"  "MAMA!!!!"   "I'm ALL ALONE!"   His voice is starting to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.  How can I get it to stop? 

12:43 p.m.  "Mama?"  The voice is little and mournful now.  "Mama - Can I come out now?"

12:45 p.m.  "Mama?  I have to pee!"

12:47 p.m. (post pee break) "All done quiet time?" 

12:50 p.m. "Mama!"  "Mama!"  "I need SNUGGLE PUPPY!" 


12:55 p.m.  "Mama.  I'm very quiet.  Let's stop being quiet now!"

12:59 p.m.  The bedroom door starts swinging open and shut, my wee beloved hanging off of the knob.  I finally lose what was left of my frayed and tattered patience and use my homicidal voice.

1:05 p.m.   Clearly, my homicidal voice does not appropriately convey the depth of my murderousness.  The bedroom door starts swinging open and shut once again, my little dude now making silly faces and noises at me.   I have to laugh because if I didn't, I would be knee-deep in a puddle of frustrated tears.  Laugh so hard I feel like I'm going to throw up.

1:07 p.m.  "Mama - I don't like being alone."

1:09 p.m.  "Pssst!"  "Pssst!"  "Mama - I'm making the cat go away."  "Psssssssssssttt!"    I mentally make plans to buy an absurdly large bottle of wine later. 

1:10 p.m.  "Mama!  Mama!  I found a cookbook!  I know.  I've got a great idea.  Let's COOK SOMETHING!" 

1: 11 p.m. - "Can I come out now?!"

1:14 p.m.  I can't do quiet time anymore.  Quiet time is yucky, homicidal, badness.   Spring the child, while mentally counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until L. returns home from work.  Utter a small prayer to the gods of patience that I do not off the little sucker (aka my wee beloved). 

Oh naptime.  Why have you forsaken me? 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MamaLit Book Review #2 - Sleep is for the Weak

Arens, Rita (ed.)  Sleep is for the Weak: The Best of Mommy Bloggers including Amalah, Finslippy, Fussy, Would Coulda Shoulda, Mom-101, and more.   Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2008.

1.  Do not read this book, until after you pee, if like me, your post-baby bladder is less than, um, reliable.
2.  Do not read this book with beverages of any kind in your mouth.
3.  Do not read this book with a sleeping baby in your lap. 

I ask you, what better way to start a book review than to announce to the world that said book made you pee yourself, send an entire mouthful of coffee spraying in all directions and that your body was quaking so hard from silent laughter that it caused a premature end to your daughter's nap?  If that doesn't grab ya, nothing will! 

Rita Arens, mama and blogger author of Surrender Dorothy, has pulled together a collection of blogs about parenthood that range from heartbreaking - to thought provoking - to uproariously funny. The titles alone are enough to make me groan or crack a smile. ("Visiting My House? Bring Your Own Autoclave," "Vacationing with Childless People," and "Mama, Who Invented the Speculum?" come to mind here). 

The collection is full of bite-sized goodies that you can read on the go, (or on the john, or before you drop dead of exhaustion at night) - a perfect fit for those of us with anklebiters who would much prefer we spend our time reading them The Very Hungry Caterpillar again and again (and again!), than spending any time with reading of the grown-up variety.      

I would describe this read as 'bloggy goodness.'  All of the entries are informally written and deeply personal, but because these writers are all really talented bloggers, you never feel like a voyeur here.  The book is infinitely relatable.   If you have children (hell, even if ya don't) I guarantee that you will find yourself giggling and groaning and maybe even getting a little teary whilst perusing this collection.

There are far too many good ones to mention, so I'll just mention my top 5 here:

1.  The one that made me pee my pants - (in my defense - it was only a little, and I really had to pee and I was pushing it because I figured if I moved, one or the other of my children would arise from their slumber and steal away my "me-time".  Turns out I shoulda taken that chance.  And ironically, this essay is about PEE! Anyhoo...).  "Visiting My House?  Your Own Autoclave" by Sheryl Naimark, author of blog Paper Napkin.  Naimark's exploration of her daughter's ability of outpee any diaper or pull-up is freaking hilarious (Though maybe only because potty humour seems to have made a come-back on my humour radar since becoming a mama!  I'll be interested to know what other readers think.)

2.  The one that made me spit out my coffee:  "Vacationing with Childless People" by editor Rita Arens.  This is a witty look at expectations of childless vs. children people whilst vacationing.  And it's just good.

3.  The one that made me wake my baby because I was a big ball of barely held-in laughter:  "Are You There, God?  It's Me, Risa," by Risa Green of Mommy Track'd.  I loved this one.  This essay coulda been written by me.  I don't mean to imply that I'm that good of a writer.  What I mean is, I felt like Green could have been channeling my innermost thoughts and then twisting them to mould them into something adorably charming and witty.

4.  Sweetney blogger Tracey Gaughran-Perez' "Notes for Amelioration" made me cry.  It's a tiny snippet of a blog about the experience of one's child telling you that they don't love you (which, if you have ever endured said trauma, you will know that this is the emotional equivalent of being stabbed in the heart with a fork.  I have been stabbed with said fork, and I cried then too).  Gaughran-Perez documents this experience with excruciating honesty - bless her poor fork-stabbed heart.

5.   Susan Wagner's (Friday Playdate) entry "Be Careful What You Wish For" is an insightful and thought-provoking look at ability, disability and the practice of comparing our children to other children.  The message that we need to love, respect and honour our kids for who they are and where they are at is loud and clear.

The only real criticism I can level at this book is that of the 54 blog entries featured, there are only 24 writers.  Though to be sure, this is a wonderful collection, I can't quite believe that there are only 24 mommy-bloggers out there whose work is stellar enough to be featured in such an edition.  A good excuse for a second volume, I suppose!  The book still gets a solid A from me, so I can't be that annoyed about it.

I regret that I took this book out of the library instead of buying it.  (And not just because of the giant coffee stains on pages 11-13).  I'm going to rectify the situation by going out and buying myself a copy.  Because I might need to read it again.  And again.  And again.  Look out Very Hungry Caterpillar - you've got competition.

And the added bonus of reading this book?  The ability to find and follow your new favourite mommy bloggers.  Read this one.  I'm quite sure you won't regret it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The stay-at-homer uniform

I think us stay-at-homers need a uniform.

Now hear me out on this - I'm not advocating for a death of individualism a la fashion expression. I like fashion (at least I liked fashion back when I could afford it, and had a hope in hell of keeping it semi-clean for more than 50 seconds at a time).

You might be protesting - my clothes say something about who I am as a person. Sure they do, in your off time. But the clothes we wear to work more likely say something about the work we do than the person we are. For instance, you might be a free-lovin', artist/hippy type who happens to also be a lawyer. You still gotta rock the stuffy suits for court - even though you hate 'em. Case closed.

No matter who I am in my off-time (whatever that is), my work involves a lot of jam, peanut butter, paint, dirt and snot. I'd like to have something to wear (without feeling like a total loser for wearing the sweats...again) that allows for stainage, wear and tear, grimey fingers, baby barf and toddler nose rubs.

I also think the uniform might serve a purpose in the quest for respect for the working lives of stay-at-homers. People with uniforms have jobs.  You know, work-y sort of jobs.  Jobs and work that their uniforms help make recognizable. Perhaps having a uniform will make the jobs of stay-at-homers somehow more visible as actual work.

The third purpose of the uniform is, of course, as an equalizer among stay-at-homers, thus allowing us to avoid the judgement that can come of who is wearing what clothes, what brand, how much it cost and how many days in a row it's been worn, and so on and so forth. We can be united through what we have in common (namely jobs that leave us full of snot, kiddie tears, bubble bath and paint stains), instead of divided by our income levels and fashion sense (or lack therof).

Still not convinced? Wait 'til you hear my prototype:

Heres my pitch for the stay-at-homer uniform:

I'm picturing kind of like a mechanics uniform... except, well, less baggy, shapeless and far, far less navy blue. A hot pink jumpsuit (for the pink-collar-ghetto**baby!) that will repel stains (even blood, snot and breast milk) and do a good job of concealing the ones that can't be repelled.

And like the lovely jeans in the Sisterhood of Travelling Pants (you can feel free to pretend you didn't watch it, but I know better), our hot pink jumpsuit will make magically make everyone's butt look fabulous, no matter the size, shape or gender of the wearer. (I'm negotiable on the pink for the butch or male stay-at-homers who may not feel like rockin' their inner pink... I just really like the witty link to the pink-collar-ghetto, and, well, I happen to look smokin' in hot pink).

Like a mechanic, we will have a name patch on the left chest, but instead of reading "Larry" or "Joe," our patch will display our working names, in my case: "Oliver and Lucy's Mama" - thus staving off the necessity of repeating daily, "Hi, I'm Oliver and Lucy's mom," or "Yes, I'm Oliver and Lucy's mama" etc. etc. etc.

Lest we feel like we are losing our identity, as you know, people, our very own names will be displayed on the jumpsuit's back, jersey style. (Because motherhood is a contact sport as well as an occupation and labour of love). Maybe we should consider using numbers too, and then when a particularly awesome stay-at-homer goes back to the paid workforce, we can retire their jumpsuit with a jumpsuit raising ceremony at the local playground or community centre.  We wouldn't do this for everyone, mind you - just the great ones

The uniform will also come equipped with several pockets (for kleenex, wipes, and band-aids) and a tool belt with room for personalized tricks of the trade. Mine would hold a cell phone, spare soothers, teething rings, tylenol, Mr. Snuggle Puppy, Ms. Bunny, a flashlight and some kind of contraption that magically drowned out the sound of thunder. A set of housekeys might be good too. And a flask.  And possibly a nice mild sedative (for me - not the children, folks). And a whomping stick. (For the children, not me, folks).   These tools are dependent upon the needs and neediness of the employer(s), naturally.

Feel free to add your ideas below - what is our uniform missing??

**The pink collar ghetto is used to describe the fact that women repeatedly and historically have been concentrated into low wage, underpaid jobs.

Friday, March 5, 2010

mama book review # 1 - Finding Your Inner Mama

Steinberg, Eden. (Ed).  Finding Your Inner Mama: Women Reflect on the Challenges and Rewards of Motherhood.  Shambhala Publications: New York, 2007. 

I seem to have developed a bit of an addiction.  Mama lit.  I love it.  Devour it.  Can't get enough of it.  I don't mean advice books, or how-to-be-a-better-mama books,  which can be found in an annoying abundance in any bookstore.   I have no desire whatsoever to read these, which will only tell me (yet again) that I am not good enough, not loving enough or too loving, or that my-children-will-turn-out-badly-if-I don't-subscribe-to-some-theory-of-parenting.   Meh to them.  I mean books that talk, in some kind of real way about the good, the bad and the ugly of parenting, and of mothering in particular. 

Currently on the bedside table is Finding Your Inner Mama, an collection of essays put together by Eden Steinberg.  I got it from my own mama this year for Christmas, and had actually avoided picking it up for a few months because of the emphasis of one of the sections of the book on religion, spirituality and parenting (most notably Buddhism - the book is put out by a Buddhist publisher - but other avenues of spirituality are also touched upon).  This bent is, well, not my gig. You will have to trust me when I tell you that I am the least zen-like person you will ever meet; and titles like "Children as Spiritual Teachers," "Parenting with Mindful Awareness,"  "The Sacred Chaos of Parenthood" and "Recognizing our Hidden Wounds" make me want to, well, hurl.  A litte bit of earnest I can deal with.  A little bit of earnest is even good every now and again.  A lot a bit of earnest?  Hidden wounds and mindful awareness?  Not really my cuppa tea.  (I think this may be a remnant of being raised by hippy social workers ;-)

Urge to toss my cookies notwithstanding, I did pick up the book and start reading.  It was the right choice.  I was nodding and amen-ing by the time I read Steinberg's well-crafted introduction.  Here's one example:   "I realized that if I was going to survive this thing, I was going to have to grow and change. . . I also saw that I was ultimately going to have to let go of my very self-concept, my idea of motherhood, and my expectations of my child. All of it had to go. . . . I thought that as a mother I would carefully mold and shape my children. If I did my job right, my children would turn out to be well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting people. As it turns out, motherhood is molding and shaping me. At the end of all this, I am the one who could end up well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting." (Steinberg, xv).  Indeed.

Amoung the stand-outs for me was poet Lousie Erdich's "Writings from a Birth Year," the collection's very first essay.  Erdich's writing is so lyrical and yet not overly sentimental.  She made me cry, and this is no small feat.  I'm not generally a weepy Hallmark commercial kind of girl.  It is at once celebratory and gut wrenching - she has deftly woven snippets of being a mother and of being a daughter in an immediate, visceral way.  I particularly enjoyed Erdich's description of the necessity of community with other mothers:  "In talking to other mothers over years, I begin to absorb them somehow, as if we're all permeable.  Some days I'm made up of a thousand mothers who have given one ironic look, one laugh at the right moment, one exasperated wave, one acknowledgement.  Mothering is a subtle art, whose rhythm we collect and learn, as much from one another as by instinct" (9).  This part reminded me how important communities like Offbeat Mama are, how important parenting communities in general are, how amazing it is to be able to tell the truth about our realities with those around us who are able and willing to listen.      

Ariel Gore's "The Way I Dreamed It" relays the drama-dy of  a feminist, savvy (and dare I say 'hip') mama who envisaged her daughter's teenage years far differently than they occured.  She writes:  "I taught her my politics, my values, my fashion sense. . . We went to protests together.  We travelled the world.   We thought the same things were beautiful, the same things were scary.  I was a zine-ster, she was a zine-ster.  I was a writer, she was an artist.  I wore black, she wore black. . . . And then one day she woke up, put on a pink shirt, and announced her plan to try out for the cheerleading team" (Gore, 44).   I laughed and cringed all the way along with Gore, as she very wittily described her experiences with her teenager; bursting my bubble about what teenage years with laid-back, open-minded, sex-positive parents will be like with each passing paragraph.  It was a great read about growing up, moving along, and learning to change along with your kids and I loved it (even though it sort of dashed my own hopes of being able to retain some vestiges of parental cool-ness!)

"The New Momism" excerpted from The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Undermines Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels (Free Press, 2004), is a funny and insicive critique of cultural imagery and expectations of mothers.   The authors write:  "If you're like us - mothers with an attitude problem - you may already be getting increasingly irritable about this chasm between the ridiculous, honey-hued ideals of perfect motherhood in the mass media and the reality of mothers' everyday lives.  And you may also be worn down by the media images that suggest that however much you do for and love your kids, it is never enough (Douglas and Michaels, 159).  Attitude problem?  (Who, ME?), irritated?  Worn down by impossible to achieve ideals?  Um, check, check and check.  I haven't read the authors' aforementioned book yet, but you can be sure that after reading this essay, it's on my ever-growing to-read list!

A few other standouts picks include:  Andrea Buchanon's "Giving Birth to Ambivalence" - a brave and raw look at the dark side of becoming a mother, complete with post-partum baby resentment and some despair thrown in for good measure;  Muffy Mead-Ferraro's critique of motherhood and consumerism in "Goodbye Herd"; and Anne Roiphe's aptly titled "Guilt -- What it does to us." 

I'm not going to lie and say that the book was my favourite ever.  As with any collection of essays, some were stellar and lots were on the banal, irritating and/or annoying side.  And the whole of Part 2: The Inner Work of Motherhood is probably best skipped if you, like me, aren't so much into the spiritual life bit.   Because I'm an academic at heart, I'm going to give the book a grade - let's say it's a solid B, even a B+.  Due to the fact that I only really loved about 1/3 of the book in it's entirety, I wouldn't recommend rushing out and buy it from the bookstore (even though on my rather limited budget I'm still the kinda girl who sees book-buying as a necessity of life).  I certainly would say the good bits are worth putting a hold on it at your local library and then settling in for a nice wine drinking, essay reading bath night.