Asking for Less ‘Stuff’ without Seeming Like a Grinch

Hello, dear villagers!

I am a winter holiday kind of person. I want to start listening to my favourite jingly, ho-ho-ho-ing tunes the day after Halloween. The only thing that keeps me from putting up a tree mid-November is the fact that the grocery store near our house doesn’t sell them until now. First weekend of December, my house looks like this:

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Singing carols makes me happy. My favourite holiday movies make me sigh, weep, and giggle with nostalgia. Twinkly lights on houses all over town, reminding us that there is cozy, hopeful goodness shining through at the darkest time of the year, is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.

And yet this year, I got a little anxious at the thought: Christmas is coming.

Because I have two small kids.

And I spent 2018 trying to get through Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (I still haven’t made it to every category yet, but I will, even if it takes me twice as long as she said it would!)

The thought of not even being finished purging my home of extra stuff once and suddenly getting bags and boxes of lovely gifts made me feel – I’m sad to say – defeated.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles at this time of year at the intersection of seeking a less cluttered, more minimal home environment and loving the excitement, festivity, and participation of the BIG. FAMILY. CHRISTMAS. WITH. KIDS.

So I decided to write a letter to my family and friends, asking for their help. I posted it as a Facebook Note on October 1st titled, “A Humble Holiday Ask.” I wanted to share it here too, in case you or anyone you know is going through the same thing and wondering, How on earth do I SAY this stuff without coming off like a big ol’ GRINCH??

Here’s what I wrote (insert your own favourite local shops/haunts/etc):

Dear family members, friends, and loved ones who thrive with gift-giving,

 

I have a request this upcoming holiday season. I’m hoping you can help me with something I’ve been working on this year and that I’m really happy with. I’m writing this early because I know that unlike me, many of you are way more on-the-ball, early-bird-gets-the-worm types. (I admire and envy you for that!)

 

For the past year, I’ve been working hard to purge our house of extra stuff. I’m still not quite done, but almost there, and the results have been good for me. Having less stuff gives me more physical space to move around, more metaphorical space to think, more time to enjoy my family, and an increased sense of calm. (Some people thrive in cozy spaces full of souvenirs of treasured places – turns out I thrive with nearly blank walls and shelves, lol.)

 

So I humbly ask for your support in this process, which I know can seem at odds with our holiday culture. In return, I also want to support your preferences and wishes at holiday time, and don’t want to dismiss the joy any of you get from gift giving.
  • If you prefer not exchanging gifts and instead all you want for the holidays is to spend some time together, let’s make plans!
  • If you prefer to give gifts, but are okay with the less tangible kind, here are some things I/we would be ever so grateful for:
    • Gift cards for consumable treats – Fireroasted Coffee, Black Walnut, Plant Matter Kitchen/Bistro, Starbucks, Tim’s, Swiss Chalet, Five Guys, LCBO, etc…
    • Passes for things to do in our area – Storybook Gardens, Play Away, Junction Rock Climbing, movies, Clovermead, Port Stanley train events, Spectrum activities, etc…
    • Experiences you want to invite the kids to – it’s a double gift: fun and time spent with you!
    • Gift cards to stores we use regularly – CostCo, Once Upon a Child, Superstore, Ellen’s Children’s Shoes, Mastermind Toys, Plato’s Closet, Curiosities, Quartermaster, MEC, Farmboy, HomeSense, Home Hardware, Indigo/Chapters…
    • Contributions to the kids’ RESPs (we can never have too much invested for their futures!)
    • Charitable donations in our names to organizations that warm your heart and ours.
  • If you get joy and cheer from giving presents wrapped up with a bow, I appreciate that and would never want to take that from you! If you’d like to help me with my goal of a less-stuff-life while doing that…
    • Feel free to ask me what types of clothing the kids currently need if you’re thinking of clothes for them (often we’ll have way too many of one type, but be desperate for another by laundry day)
    • Know that an in-home children’s library is the ONE collection of items that can never be too big for me!
    • Consider multi- and longer-use kids toys – many toys spark in-the-moment joy but then are forgotten a few days or a week later
    • Aim for kids’ items that encourage imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and confidence
    • Remember that our little guys are spoiled in the best sense of the word – they are surrounded by so many people who love them, and the smaller the overall collection of new items is, the more attention they can pay and the more appreciation they can have for each gift they receive
    • Check out this registry I’ve started for the family, if you want more ideas (we’ll add to it whenever we think of something we need/would love): link here to an Amazon wishlist
Many thanks for ‘hearing’ me out. If you have questions or concerns, I’m always happy to talk. And if you think I’m being ridiculous and want to ignore me, you have that right, too!
Love,
Lindsay

I was scared to write this, but I actually got a huge amount of support from my near and dear ones. Which, in retrospect, I’m not sure why I ever doubted – I have awesome people in my village!

How about you?

Have you struggled with this? Have you successfully made the kind of thoughtful asks you want to so that you don’t feel torn at holiday time and can just enjoy the spirit of the season?

How to Get Authentic Authority?

Have you, like me, sometimes wondered if authentic authority is even possible? This idea’s been at the pinnacle of my #parentinggoals since before my first child was born, and a recurring struggle. Continue reading

Daring Greatly: All We All Really Want

Hello, lovely villagers!

This blog has been oh-so-sporadic in recent months, but I couldn’t not share this. I’ve just finished what is perhaps one of my favourite books of all time (how often does a non-fiction make me tear up with joy??), and certainly my favourite book related to parenting.

Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. Continue reading

On Love Day, Love Yourself, Too

Valentines’ Day, or as I prefer to call it, Love Day, is upon us. Absolutely, it is a contrived, silly, excessively-commercialized “holiday” that often causes more sadness and distress than happiness and contentment.

However, it seems to be here to stay, and now that I’m a mom, it’s harder to ignore. I almost never do anything out of the ordinary for Feb 14, but this year, with A being three and in a childcare center for part-time care, it’s different. He received a story book called “Franklin’s Valentines” and has asked to have it read repeatedly in the last couple of weeks. His childcare teachers provided a list of all the kids’ names, when one parent asked specifically for the occasion. Valentine’s Day is creeping into his consciousness, so I can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist anymore.

I’ve put it out there to my social media circles in past years that on Love Day, we can expand our understanding love beyond romance. I know (and I’m glad!) that I’m not the only person doing this re-framing – just think of the popularity of Galentine’s Day, for a start!

Yet one type of love that stands out to me as particularly absent in Love Day discussions is self-love. I’m not talking about cliched notions of “self-care” (read: “me time” of the bubble bath/wine night/spa date variety, though these are lovely!). I’m not talking about selfies on social media proclaiming to other people that we love ourselves/aren’t ashamed of our stretch marks, under-eye circles and less-than-taut bellies post-motherhood.

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I’m talking about real, deep, feel it in your belly self-love.

I’m talking about staring yourself in the eyes in a mirror and knowing that you truly love the person you’re facing, in the same way you love your best friend, your sister, or your partner.

I’m talking about hugging yourself and feeling sincere, not silly.

I’m talking about laughing with tears in your eyes that you still have so much love to give yourself, even when you think you’ve given all you can to your partner, your children, your friends.

I’m talking about knowing that love is infinite, even when time and attention and patience aren’t, and that you radiate love all the time, even when you’re mad (sometimes especially when you’re mad).

I’m talking about seeing the beauty in yourself that the ones closest to you see, and more – not in a vain way, but in an honest way.

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If you’ve never thought about self-love this way or felt it so deeply, don’t worry – our culture doesn’t teach us to, as women or as mothers. This is an inside job, and it’s one we have to do on our own, because the world at large isn’t always telling us we’re worth it.

But we are. We so are.

Happy Love Day, you beautiful, wonderful, radiant mama, you.

 

 

SPOTLIGHT ON: Sarah Kowalski – Motherhood Reimagined

Sarah Kowalski is a fertility doula, life coach, and author of the recently published memoir, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned, which chronicles her journey to motherhood when she realized at almost-forty that she actually did want a child – but she still didn’t have the partner or the white-picket-fence life she’d always pictured. Now, Single Mom By Choice and raising her beloved son, Sarah’s making it her mission to reach out to other women looking down the same poorly-lit path she embarked upon – and hoping to shed some light based on her experience.

I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of Sarah’s book, and to chat with her about her quest, life as a Single Mom By Choice, and the guilt and self-care struggles so many moms face, partnered or not. Sarah’s book is personal, fascinating, heart-wrenching, funny, and oh-so-relatable – even though I got knocked up the old fashioned way and am raising kids with a partner. Continue reading

GUEST POST: On Having More Kids

Laura Marquis is back at Raise A Mother – and this time, she’s contemplating a question that looms in many, many parents’ minds. Laura lives in St. Augustine, Florida with her husband Jeremy, her son Will, her daughter Caroline, and her dog, Lucy.  She works part time and enjoys reading, painting, writing, swimming, and pilates.

My best friend just had a baby, and my youngest just turned two.  This is a classic formula for baby fever, I know, but I have been debating a third child since my daughter was a week old.  She is hearty, feisty, and beautiful, and I remember thinking to myself during one of her loudly demanded nursing sessions that she would be a perfect middle child, because from day one she has been one who will not be overlooked.

Continue reading

Sometimes I Pretend My Kids Aren’t Mine…

We’re on the way home from the store. R, at seventeen months, is adamant that he can pull a wagon full of groceries by himself, and stubbornly asserts his independence with loud growls whenever we try to assist him, even though he simply doesn’t have the strength for this task to be smooth or anywhere close to efficient. A, at three, is getting cranky just ahead of lunch time, and is behaving as such – there’s a good deal of whining and impatience when our full attention is not his, and he can’t seem to decide whether he wants to race us down the sidewalk or be carried. I can hear the strain in my husband’s voice as he cajoles R to stay on the sidewalk with his heavy load, and the sharpness rising in my own as I tell A to stop cutting me off and nearly tripping me as an effort to win the newest race he hasn’t told me we’re having.

I feel so defeated in moments like these. It seems we can be going along, having a great time as a family, gathering produce in the store, talking to fellow passerby on the street, laughing and talking about things we see, my partner and I marvelling at our lovely kiddos, and then, suddenly, it’s like a switch is flipped. We’re abrupt, impatient, and short. Where once we saw charm and adorableness, we now feel irritation and helplessness to just fucking get a move on already.

Well, I came across a new trick this particular morning, and it’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. I picked Arlo up out of frustration, but as soon as I started carrying him, I started thinking of him as someone else’s kid. Not a stranger, but a tiny person I know and love who just isn’t… well, mine. I imagined how differently I would react to his whining, his incessant attention-seeking, and his fatigue if he were my little nephew, or my friend’s daughter, or any of the other littles I’ve welcomed into my home on numerous playdates, and whom I love interacting with.

Suddenly, I had more patience for my own sons, when I realized I would treat my friends’ children differently in the same situation. I kept trying to view my boys in this light for the rest of that day, whenever I felt myself getting irked with them. And it WORKED. I didn’t capitulate to whining, or change my decisions, but I was somehow more patient, a little softer, and more resourceful in seeing things from their perspective and offering distraction, instead of just feeling like I had to put my foot DOWN because it’s time to do WHAT I SAID, DAMMIT!

In some ways, the fact that this trick works really bothers me. Shouldn’t I be MORE patient, kind, and loving with my own children than with anyone else?? I love them more than I thought possible, so shouldn’t my behaviour reflect that?? There’s a little twinge of mom-guilt there, that presumes I have to pretend my kids are someone else’s in order for me to be on my ‘good behaviour’ with them… and that feels rather shitty.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just a normal sign that we are really becoming solidified as a family – kids included. It seems pretty common for human beings to ‘let themselves go’ with those they are closest to, to allow only their very inner circle to witness their moments of weakness, their cracks and flaws, and rely on their goodwill and unconditional love to help fill those cracks in again when they’ve broken. I’m not saying this is a good dynamic to be in with my kids, but maybe my ‘lesser’ behaviour, my moments of weakness and crankiness and sharpness, stem from feeling close to them, rather than not loving them enough.

Wherever it comes from, though, I’m just happy I’ve found something that can help jump-start me out of a grump with my kiddos, ’cause those funks can be really tough to get out of. I want to be a good mom to them more than I want most things in life, so even if it takes pretending from time to time that they’re not mine, I’ll do it. I just won’t let them know that’s the reason 😉

Question into the Abyss: Can We Call A Parent Out Without Judgment?

This morning, one of my mom friends sent me a little internet story called, A Clown Shares What Face Painting Taught Her About Male Violence in an Alarming Twitter Thread. It’s super short, so click on it if you want the full story. The gist is that when the clown was face painting at a party, a mother stepped in to stop her four-year-old son from getting the adornment he requested on his cheek (a blue butterfly) and insisted the face painter instead decorate him with something “for boys” (he ended up with a skull and crossbones).

Yep.

I felt anger bubbling up as I read this story, and tears welling as I thought of this little boy, walking around with a symbol of violence and death on his cheek, confronted with the idea that this is what he should present to the world, rather than the beauty and transformation he hoped to present.

Shannon and I created this blog as a place of non-judgment, as a village where its members and visitors treat fellow mothers and parents with grace, giving the benefit of the doubt that we are all just doing our best, that we all want the same good things for our kids – love, acceptance, and for them to grow up being a decent human being.

But guys, I’m really struggling to maintain this sense toward this mother.

I want to step in and paint a hundred blue butterflies on that boy’s cheek, if that’s what he wants.

I can easily come up with the relativistic, supportive things I could say in reaction to this story: I’m hearing this second-hand from the face painter… who knows what else that mother was going through that day… maybe she wasn’t at her best self… maybe she regrets it and won’t ever do it again… we all make mistakes… maybe she really thinks she is protecting her son from being made fun of…

But honestly, I’m mad at this mother (or, at least, at the version of her presented to me). I wholeheartedly disagree with her decision to step in and control her son’s self-expression to keep him in line with stereotypical masculinity. If this incident is truly indicative of her behaviour with her son, then frankly I think she’s fucking up the possibilities for who he could be, and contributing to a terrible system that tries to limit every single person in a binary prison of bullshit.

This is hard for me to admit on this blog. I’m supposed to be leading the safe space for non-judgment. How do I reconcile these two things?

I want to trust that she’s doing her best, and at the same time, I want to shake her by the shoulders and say, “How could you?!”

I want to respect her way of doing things as a fellow parent, and at the same time, I want to step in and paint a hundred blue butterflies on that boy’s cheek, if that’s what he wants.

I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and reassure her that we all make mistakes, but I also feel so strongly this is not an innocent mistake, and that it’s one she can’t afford to make too many times without causing lasting damage.

Help! I need some insight from my village… 

Can I reconcile non-judgment and anger? Or are there, eventually, just lines in the sand that we have to choose or risk having no principles at all?

An Amendment to F**k-Off Time: How About Smoke Breaks… for Non-Smokers?

I wrote a few months ago about how my partner and I had designed a new plan for better life balance: daily Fuck Off Time gave us each regular periods almost an hour long completely free of responsibility in the late afternoon, and it was glorious. I knew even then, however, that this luxurious pattern would likely have to be altered when I returned to work at the end of mat leave, and indeed, it has. It just hasn’t been practical or sustainable now that neither of us is home during the day, and as soon as I get home at 5, it’s time to feed little R while my husband finishes making supper – c’est la vie, for now.

I’ve often thought enviously of colleagues of mine who smoke at various workplaces. From my grass-is-greener vantage point it seems like those extra breaks are quite the luxury. Taking five to ten minutes to remove oneself from all the tasks at hand, sit quietly, consume something pleasurable, and take in fresh air and sunlight? Delightful. (I know, I know, this is totally a non-smoker’s view of what a smoke break entails.)

I was thinking of this when last week, after the dishes were done and it was time for the boys’ baths, I said casually to my husband, “Is now a good time for me to have a smoke break?” No, I didn’t actually take up cigarettes to get this time. But I did go pour myself a glass of wine, put on my coat, and head out to the backyard. I spent a leisurely ten minutes loitering around my property while sipping a little Pinot Grigio – checking out the early spring growth of plants I hadn’t noticed returning in the garden, plucking a few dead heads that survived the winter off a flowering bush, siting on the step of the back porch and watching the early evening light through the semi-cover of the maple leaves overhead. The fresh air was rejuvenating. The quiet gave me a moment to appreciate the home I love. The wine felt luxuriously self-indulgent. It was an excellent ten minutes, and when I returned inside, I felt relaxed and ready to embrace the rest of the bath and bedtime routine with ease and joy.

I think more “smoke breaks” of this sort are in order, for me and likely, for parents everywhere. I wish there was something healthy that could be inhaled, as I find the physical action of smoking fairly relaxing. But as I don’t want to take it up, nor do I really want to get into the habit of taking a glass of wine outside with me every evening, I’m trying to think of what else might do the trick… perhaps a square of dark chocolate, slowly savoured? Perhaps some of the Kombucha my friends keep raving about, mixed with soda water to make it feel like a cocktail? I’m looking for more ideas here, so let me know what you would suggest!

I wish you all ten minutes of relaxing, self-indulgent, break time every day.

Sometimes Others See the Gifts You Don’t

I’ve said more than once to my husband or a close friend that I don’t have many skills that would be useful in an apocalyptic situation. I’m not particularly creative with foodstuffs, I don’t know how to repair things, and I’m certainly not equipped for any sort of hunting/security needs. My skills, such as I have, seem pretty well geared toward a luxurious state of peacetime. I think I rock at my job of helping undergraduate students sort out some of their problems. (How many people are going to be in university when the zombies rise?) I’m confident in my writing skills. (Maybe I can help write the manifesto of the underground rebellion…) I’ve been told that I give pretty incredible hugs. (I’m not naive enough to think this could solve many dystopic conflicts.)

Sometimes this questioning of my “valuable” skills trickles down into the level of my friendships. I have friends who are amazing bakers, generous chauffeurs, thoughtful gift-for-no-reason givers, crafty geniuses, or handy repair people. When they share these talents in a way that benefits me, my family, and my home, sometimes I hear a quiet inner voice asking, so what do I contribute to this friendship? have they not realized yet that I don’t bring anything tangible to this table? Continue reading

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