When the going gets tough, the tough need go-to cookie recipes

The past couple of months have been busy times of transition for both of us mamas here at Raise A Mother. Earlier this week, Lindsay shared her challenges in trying to find a work-life balance when both parents work. Meanwhile, almost immediately after returning from maternity leave, I have found myself working in the longest election campaign in Canadian history.

Like many people (and furry blue Sesame Street characters) I know, I find that times of stress bring on cravings for sweet treats. And while this is definitely not the healthiest coping mechanism in the world, it is certainly not the worst. I have accepted the fact that a little bit of cookie goes a long way in improving my mood. There’s also something about baking that makes me feel connected to my home and family.

As a fun post today, I thought I’d share a few of my go-to cookie recipes — ones I’ve made over and over. They are all easy, relatively fast, and always yield delicious results!

I’d love to have you share your go-to cookies too. With everything so busy, I think a virtual cookie swap is exactly what we need!

— Shannon

Peanut Butter Banana CookiesGo-To Healthy CookieGluten-Free Vegan Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies by Two Peas & Their Pod

First of all, if you haven’t yet discovered Two Peas & Their Pod, let me be the person to introduce you. I’ve yet to find one of their recipes that wasn’t just flat out delicious, and the instructions are always solid.

These are probably my most-often made cookies. They are a great option for every day baking in general, but especially if you’re dealing with family or friends with dietary restrictions. You can make these slightly less healthy by adding extra chocolate chips, but they are plenty good without them as well.

Honourable Mention: Chocolate Raspberry Cookies from “Veganomicon” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Coconut oil chocolate cookieGo-To Chocolate Chip Cookie: Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies by Gimme Some Oven

My ideal chocolate chip cookie is soft and chewy, and that’s exactly what this recipe delivers. My husband is not a big sweets guy, but these disappear super quickly in our house. The recipe takes slightly longer than some because you have to chill the dough (the same is true of the Honourable Mention recipe), but it turns out that this makes all the difference. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect these would make fantastic ice cream sandwiches.

Honourable Mention: Chocolate Chip Cookies from “Cooking With Mickey, Vol. 2”

peanut butter cookieGo-To Peanut Butter Cookie: Old-Fashioned Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies by Une Gamine Dans La Cuisine

These are the peanut butter cookies that look and taste just like the ones you remember from childhood. I made them without espresso, and with milk instead of cream, and they were still delectable.

Caramel cookieGo-To Showstopper Cookie: Chocolate Caramel Cookies with Sea Salt by Two Peas & Their Pod

And we’re back to Maria and Josh at Two Peas. It may seem unfair to include two cookie recipes from the same source, but here’s the thing: these are just incredible. For the past five years, I have hosted a Christmas-time cookie swap with my girlfriends. I made these cookies the second year, and they are still the ones my family talks about. A quick note: the first time I made them, I couldn’t find caramels, so I used squares from a Caramilk bar instead, and they worked just as well.

Pity Party For One…

This week, stay-at-home parenting seems like the only reasonable solution for life.

I’m hoping this will sound familiar to someone else:

We eat out an unreasonable number of times due to a lack of groceries, and of time to get any. I manage to stay on top of a few loads of laundry and a bit of tidying only by getting up early enough in the morning to be ready for work 20 minutes before I have to head out the door. I’m in desperate need of some girlfriend time, but already feel like teaching dance for an hour and maybe going to yoga once a week is the limit of time I can be away from contributing at home without feeling guilty. Our evenings entertaining friends (and I’m not ambitious here, just another couple sitting on the couch eating popcorn and chatting would be amazing) seem few and far between, almost a thing of the past. My partner and I both feel like we wake up, are in ‘go’ mode all day at work, come home to dinner/bath/bedtime for the baby, and finally plop down for a a brief period of half-focused-doing-nothing in the same room before collapsing into bed, knowing in several hours the cycle starts all over again.

I get it now. I get why for generations, and in many cultures still, the norm was/is to have one stay-at-home-parent: this whole two-working-parents standard we have is just unsustainable. A colleague who’s a grandmother says, “I don’t know how you’re making it work.” I say, “Well, you did it with your three kids,” eagerly hoping for some tips, to which she replies, “Yes, but I stayed home!” Another colleague says she only got through this stage by hiring someone full time to care for her daughters, cook, clean and bake while she was at work.

In moments of bleakness, my husband will often shake his head or dejectedly sigh and say, “Cycle of productivity.” This week, I really feel the weight of that. The crazy thing is, I don’t feel like I’m that productive, not in a creative/achieving sense. Busy, sure, and productive at work, yes, but what is this garden-variety productivity really worth if you don’t feel you have time to appreciate or savour your life as a whole?

I want to live in the moment with my son when we are home together. I want more than an hour at home with him per day that’s not swallowed up by the evening ‘schedule.’ I want to feel like I have more time for relaxing in the calm space of my home than it takes to get that home to a state of calm. I want my husband and I to have the energy to really be involved with and invested in one other after our kid’s in bed, not just find comfort in our solidarity through the slog.

I’m sure there are lots of things we could do to work towards these goals, but in moments of bleakness, those solutions just seem like something else I don’t have the time or energy for. Maybe it’s also okay, though, to spend a little bit of time having a pity party every once in a while. I know the cloud will lift eventually, and when it does, I’ll be eagerly hoping for tips again, so leave ’em in the comments, dear readers.

Our Bellies, Ourselves

A couple of weeks ago, I got on the bus for my morning commute. It was crowded and I was carrying a large bag, so I was pumped when a woman got up to give me her seat. I was less pumped a few minutes later when a couple of kids got on the bus and the same woman insisted that I remain seated because I was pregnant.

The thing is, I’m not pregnant. I was pregnant a year-and-a-half ago, but I’m not anymore.

I didn’t know what to say to the woman, so I said nothing at all, and just stayed in my seat. I figured that correcting her would only serve to make both she and I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable — and the kids had already found other seats anyway. Still, the experience stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.

When I was pregnant, I was thrilled when people noticed. I loved getting seats on the bus and using the “Expectant Mothers Only” parking spaces at the grocery store. It was one of the only times in my life when I truly embraced my body in all its forms. It was remarkable to me, then, how bothered I was when someone thought I was pregnant now. Why did that assumption suddenly make me feel so bad about myself, when it used to give such joy?

When I told a colleague what had happened, she gave me a hug and said, “That’s just the worst. Because that person is really just saying that there’s something wrong with your body“. Lindsay concurred: “People just don’t recognize that there are many different, normal body shapes,” she said.

And they were right. What I was most bothered by was a stranger making any sort of presumption about the state of my body and feeling comfortable enough to comment on it.

This annoyed me when I was pregnant as well. My husband was shocked when I told him about complete strangers touching my swollen belly, or sharing unsolicited advice about pregnancy, birth, my health, or that of the baby. But other mamas and mamas-to-be I talked to had all experienced the same thing.

The truth of the matter is that even a slight indication that a woman might be pregnant seems to suddenly turn her body into a public object that all are entitled to judge and comment upon. And whether or not the woman is actually pregnant, these judgments can cause her to feel quite insecure.

Last year, Jennifer Garner made headlines when she told Ellen DeGeneres that she did indeed have a baby bump — one named after her three children — and that everyone (including the tabloids) would just have to get used to it. Women cheered. Because whether my rounded tummy is the result of a bun in the oven, or a cinnamon bun for second breakfast, it shouldn’t be up for public comment.

Aside from the fact that it is generally much safer not to comment on someone’s pregnancy until there can be no doubt that there actually is one, I appreciate that this woman was only trying to give up her seat on a bus to someone she perceived as needing it. But even if I was pregnant, I would be perfectly capable of deciding to give up my seat for someone else.

Because it’s my baby bump after all.

~ Shannon

When Returning to Work Doesn’t Break Your Heart

I had to go back to work early after the birth of my son, by the standards of most people in my life. Not early compared to my yoga-teacher friend who had six weeks off, or my friend whose mat leave living overseas was only two months, but I went back at six months, which is early to many. Having talked with other moms, I know I was in a great position to return to work – I got to start back at only three-and-a-half days a week, and our parents were willing to do the needed child care until my husband could get pat leave (I know – lucky!) when I started full-time hours.

But in the weeks leading up to my return date, I was a wreck: I was jealous of my mom-and-baby-group friends, looking ahead to a time when they would continue to have play dates with their babes while I sat at a desk wondering what my kid was doing all day (turns out he was still at mom-and-baby group, just with Dad). I was embarrassed about handing my son off for care without a regular nap schedule, as if that would somehow signal incompetence in that I’d had him for six months and still didn’t know what I was doing. I was anxious that my absence would somehow weaken our bond – or, as my sister put it, I “kind of did” want him to stay a bit of a mama’s boy even though I knew meaningful relationships with other caregivers were important and good, and would make my life a hell of a lot easier in the long run.

The moms in my village gave me great support, encouraging me that John could help with the household duties more so I could spend more time with Arlo when I was home, assuring me that all mothers felt this way when they went back to work, and even telling me it was okay if I just cried all day in the bathroom for the first day back.

So imagine my shock when I had (dare I say it?) a wonderful day. Everyone asking about the baby and wanting to see pictures, getting to see friends I hadn’t seen much since Arlo’s birth, wearing grown-up clothes with no chance of food smears or drool? Of course I had a great first day.

But then the guilt-inducing thing was, I kept having great days. I like my job. I like my colleagues. I like walks at lunch by the river behind my building, bike rides with friends to work in the morning, and drinking a whole cup of tea while it’s still hot. Best of all, every day when I came home, Arlo was limbs-flailing, goo-goo-ga-ga ecstatic to see me (a reaction that had largely been reserved for working-Daddy or post-babysitter greetings until that point).

This is where assumptions about motherhood paint us all into corners. Here I was, with all the support in the world (online and in-person) to get me through a shit time, but I was actually having an okay time, and the fact that I wasn’t falling apart made me question a) whether I was a good mother, and b) whether I would still have the support of the mama-world or be marked as a deviant of the tribe. I haven’t really tested this theory in the online world (and I’m a little scared of the reaction I could get here, to be honest).  Among my friends and family, though, I was relieved to find that my unusual (or perhaps just less-oft-voiced) experience of being, in some ways, liberated by a return to work, hasn’t reduced the support I’ve felt at all.

We’re all going to have awful times as mamas – hair-tearing, heart-draining, insanity-inducing moments. But we’re also going to have hurdles that end up not being as bad as we thought they might be. For some of us, going back to work is in column A, and for others, in column B. Where we end up probably depends on a wide range of factors. But wherever you fall when you go back to work, it’s okay.

~ Lindsay

Pieces of me

In our house we have recently boarded the emotional roller coaster that is the end of maternity leave and the beginning of day care.

To be clear, the emotional roller coaster part has so far mainly applied to me, and much less to my one-year-old son. Like so many parts of my parenting experience, parenting my way through this transition seems to be about managing my own emotions and behaviour as much, or more, than it is about helping my son with his.

For his part, my son seems to have adjusted remarkably well. One week after beginning day care, our drop-off involved no tears whatsoever. He even willingly went to our day care provider when she reached out for him. In my head, ecstatic. In my heart, dagger.

I want my son to be a confident, well-adjusted kid. I want him to know absolutely that I am always there for him and to feel loved unconditionally — while also being able to trust and build relationships with others. I don’t want him to be the stereotypical “mama’s boy”… and yet, I kind of do. Not really, not truly, of course, but there is a very visceral part of my heart that just wants him to stay my sweet little baby forever, cuddled close to my chest.

A friend of mine recently told me that scientists have discovered that, after birth, some of a baby’s cells may stay inside his or her mother for months or even years or decades afterwards. This makes perfect sense to me. I have found myself explaining to my husband that separation from our son is difficult for me in part because our little buddy has been inside or attached to me for the better part of two years. That’s a hard connection to shake, even without accounting for any cells of his which might still be floating around inside my body.

Another friend told me that her transition back to work after the birth of her son was one of the most traumatizing times of her life. I am beginning to understand why.

Until these past few weeks, I don’t think I truly understood the saying that being a mother is like having a piece of your heart living outside of your body. I always thought, “That’s a nice, sentimental idea”. What I didn’t understand is that watching my son grow into his independence would be at once exhilarating and terrifying, fascinating and devastating. My heart fills as I watch him make new friends, and breaks when he falls. That’s one hell of a ride for we mamas to contend with.

All the more so because I want my son to be blissfully unaware of the turmoil of my inner struggle so that he can carry on with the business of growing up. I don’t want to make him anxious. I don’t want to hold him back. Ultimately, what I want is to watch that little piece of my heart skipping joyfully away from me, ready to take on the world. No matter how hard it is to watch.

~ Shannon

Alternate Lullabies?

For a fun post today, thought I’d offer a list of some songs I like to sing to my wee guy; I wanted to expand our repertoire beyond rock-a-bye-baby and you-are-my-sunshine pretty quickly. Some of these I just love for the melody that lulls him to a drowsy state, and others because the words of certain love songs almost seem like they should  have been written about the love of a parent for their child, rather than romantic love.

(Please note songs are listed in no particular order with the source of the version I have in my head when I sing them, not necessarily by the original artist or songwriter.)

“At Last,” Etta James
“The Book of Love,” Magnetic Fields
“The Nearness of You,” Norah Jones
“To Meet You,” Teitur
“At Last I See the Light,” from the movie Tangled
“Asleep at Last,” the Wailin’ Jennys
“Absence of Fear,” Jewel
“Love,” from the movie Robin Hood (Disney)
“Feelin’ Good,” Michael Buble

I’d love more suggestions for tunes I could add to the mental library, so let me know what you sing to your wee one in the comments!

~ Lindsay

The Importance of My Village

I came across an article at work the other day noting a recent study concluding that ‘less happy’ new parents are more likely to have smaller families. While this doesn’t seem all that surprising, the general modal number of originally “desired children” is two. This already seems like a ‘small’ family relatively speaking, so it is interesting to try to find out why, comparative to the earlier desired number, many people end up having only one kid.

What the study found was that over 70% of new parents experienced a decline in overall happiness in the first year after the birth of their first child.  Of course, as the authors acknowledged, “it is taboo for new parents to acknowledge feelings of unhappiness about childbearing;” there’s a lot of pressure for new moms (and dads) to feel happier, and to project that happiness to the world, which can only exacerbate negative feelings like depression, failure, and worry.

It’s difficult to acknowledge feelings of unhappiness post-birth even to ourselves, because at the same time as life is unbelievably challenging in ways we couldn’t have imagined, there have also been, or at least there were for me, moments of unbelievable joy and love that I never knew before my son was born. There can be a pressure to focus on only the happy side, the wonderful side, and tell ourselves to ‘suck it up’ when the unhappiness rears its ugly head, because after all, this is what we signed up for and we know we should be grateful for all the blissful bits.

I’m personally still in the ‘two desired children’ camp, but when I look back on this first year, I know I’m probably only here because of my village. My village of people, mainly women, but with some pretty fantastic men in there, too, who sometimes felt like the only thing holding me together – like a trellis keeping a fragile, ragged vine from withering.

My village kept me sane. My mom and mother-in-law taking my babe for naps in his stroller or just holding him in the living room for an hour so that I could have a shower or a sleep. My husband telling me (even when he had to repeat himself and raise his voice to get me to believe it) that it really was okay if I just needed to leave the house and go for a walk; he had things covered. My sister talking to me every day, also on her mat leave, and being my daily contact with another grown up on days when I didn’t make it out of the house.

My village kept me safe. The mothers of a previous generation who were living proof that things really would be alright, but who still listened with sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. The few courageous friends who shared with me the details of their own dark, twisty motherhood times as well as their moments of light, letting me know that the roller coaster I was on didn’t make me a bad mom, but was just part of my ride. My husband who, even on the really, really, REALLY awful days, the kind when we were both at our worst and it was hard to even look at each other, was always there bringing water while I breastfed, making dinner, or calling me from work to see how my day at home was going.

My village kept me connected to who I had always been long before I became a mother. Friends came to dance class, encouraging me to get out and shake it off even on nights when I was tired or overwhelmed. Non-parent friends listened about the trials of birth and mothering the way they would have talked to me about any other topic before my life changed, even when I gave gory details they probably didn’t want to know. One particular non-parent friend called on me for urgent love and support when she was in her own dark place, giving me the gift of still feeling that I had something to offer my friends in return, that someone other than my baby still needed me, too.

Being a new parent can be really, really, fucking hard. It’s often said that we mothers have an inner strength that gets us through anything with a newborn because we simply have to, and I suppose this could be true, but for me, my village has been the difference between coming through able to believe I can thrive again, instead of just barely holding my head up.

~ Lindsay

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