Happy (Stressless) Halloween, Mamas!

Hope everyone is having a happy Halloween today, but mostly, hoping that your evening with your kiddos is a fun, relaxing time. I hope you spend the day enjoying the love your kids have of dressing up and playing pretend, the excitement they feel at the prospect of showing off their costumes to friends and neighbours, and indulging with them in some yummy treats without worrying too much about their sugar intake levels. If it takes longer than you anticipated to get them into their costumes, so what? If you don’t get to all the houses you planned to trick-or-treating, no big deal. If your kids are up later than you had hoped, well… It’s Daylight Savings tomorrow anyway, so hopefully that’ll just get them some extra snoozing in the morning!

Lastly, about costumes: it doesn’t matter whether you made, bought, borrowed, or scrounged for your kid’s (or your own!). There’s a lot of pressure out there in the online world to feel a little sheepish about how much effort and skill we mothers do or do not put into our kids’ costumes. But as I’m paraphrasing from a colleague who reassured me about Arlos’ birthday party last year: “They don’t give prizes for kids’ Halloween costumes.” (Well, maybe some people do, but not ‘they’ in the sense of the world at large.) Whatever you have the time/inclination for is just fine. And what you have the time/inclination for may well change from year to year. Last year, this was my family:

With John as C3PO

With John as C3PO

Arlo and I as an Ewok and Endor-Moon-Leia

Arlo and I as an Ewok and Endor-Moon-Leia

There was weeks of planning involved – the transformation of a crash-test-dummies suit into a C3PO costume, the gathering of sticks and buttons for the decorations on Arlo’s Ewok headdress, and trips to various fabric, thrift, and costume stores for bits and pieces we’d need.

This year, John and I aren’t dressing up, and Arlo is wearing a one-piece, fuzzy Winnie-the-Pooh suit my mom’s had in her basement pantry since 1999 when my brother wore it. I haven’t put one bit of thought or effort into this Halloween. And you know what? Arlo’s going to have just as much fun as he did last year, and so am I.

So I hope you enjoy this Halloween holiday – because it’s certainly a time for being silly, but not for being stressed about silly things.

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Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect

I seem to see a LOT in the media these days about sex and consent – specifically, about teaching boys about consent as a way to reduce/prevent instances of sexual assault and rape. I work in a university, and there’s a LOT of news in our field about various institutions constantly upgrading and re-visioning their approaches to sexual assault – everything from peer education programs and helplines to better processes for reporting assaults and supporting survivors.

More attention to sexual assault and efforts to prevent it are GOOD. There’s no doubt about it. And as a mom with a son (even though he doesn’t understand such topics yet), I’m grateful that this push is happening.

At the same time, I can’t ever escape the feeling that no matter how many articles are published about the importance of teaching boys consent, no matter how many clever cartoons or YouTube videos go viral for explaining why the issue of consent should be a no-brainer, no matter how many universities, school boards, and public health organizations ramp up their efforts to address this issue… we still have a rampant rate of sexual assault and rape in our society. And that’s just CANADA. NORTH AMERICA. Places that are (supposedly) ‘advanced’ and ‘civilized,’ with ‘equal rights’ for men and women, where the work of feminism has already brought us to ‘the good life.’

Unfortunately, I don’t think all of these efforts are tackling the real root of the problem. Because the real root of the problem is not that many men think they are entitled to women’s bodies. The real root of the problem is not that women have been shamed for centuries anytime we express sexuality outside of a very narrow (yet precarious and shifting) set of boundaries that we are always in danger of transgressing. The real root of the problem is that our culture as a whole has never really been willing to address or challenge the core belief that ‘men are better than women‘. That masculinity is superior to femininity. That the traits commonly associated with men – rationality, physical strength, self-assertion, and self-preservation – are somehow inherently more valuable than those assumed to be their opposites (and therefore associated with women) – emotionality, physical nurturing, cooperation, and vulnerability. And worst of all, that this value system actually does mean, even to people who don’t want to admit it, that those who possess the former have more ‘right’ than those who possess the latter. (Sure, there’s a lot of talk around increasing the value of typically feminine traits, but I feel this is usually framed with an attitude that feminine traits are a nice, politically-correct side dish to the main course of masculinity, which just needs a little tweaking, rather than a full overhaul.)

So we need to address this problem, at its root. As a mother, this means teaching my son that cooperation is just as valuable as self-assertion – and that a balance is the best route to leadership. Teaching him that emotional understanding is just as valuable as rational thought – and that a balance will allow him to make sense of his experiences in a fulfilling way. Teaching him that vulnerability is just as valuable as self-preservation – and that a balance is necessary for successful relationships.

In a more tangible sense, it means never reinforcing for him (even indirectly) that it’s reasonable to write women’s feelings or perspectives off as ‘crazy.’ Never modeling for him that it’s ‘funny’ (even by remaining silent) to demean a male by calling him a female. Always encouraging him to see the value in other people’s perspectives – especially those that tend toward the feminine (after all, he’s going to get reinforcement of the value of masculinity from everywhere else). I will also have to talk to him about consent, sexual assault, and feminism. But those talks will make a lot more sense to him if he doesn’t have the subconscious belief that really, he is better than his female peers (for all the reasons above).

Only when we actually don’t believe in this binary hierarchy of values anymore – deep down in our collective, human, subconscious, most secret don’t-want-to-admit-it heart-of-hearts – will we be able to make a meaningful impact on issues like sexual violence, consent, and respect.

“A New Normal”: At Once Scary and Comforting

In the midst of a painful transition, an overwhelming change, or a period of limbo – all situations where what has been “normal” either has suddenly vanished or seems to be slipping from our grasp – loved ones will often try to ease the difficulty by telling us we’ll find a “new normal.”

I’ve heard this more than once in the past few weeks, as I confided to close friends, family, and finally, the general populace of the internet through this blog, that I’ve been going through an overwhelming transition of my own. So I’ve been thinking about this idea of a “new normal” a lot lately. Sometimes the notion is a comforting one: eventually I won’t feel like this anymore, and things will be familiar again. At other times, though, this same thought can be terrifying: this painful period IS the new normal, and eventually I’ll just become resigned to this discomfort/sorrow/stress/fatigue/insert-your-own-unpleasantness-here.

My sister recently told me about a friend of hers, who was going through a particularly agonizing professional schedule and complete absence of “work-life balance.” What helped was someone gently suggesting that perhaps this person had forgotten that this period of heightened stress wasn’t, in fact, “her normal,” reassuring her that it was simply temporary.

This simple wisdom brings to mind one of my favourite thoughts from Jeanette Winterson (and as I’ve loved several of her novels, this is saying something):

JW Quote better

It’s easy to forget, especially when we’re in the depths of our uncertainty, anxiety, or just complete weariness, that “this too shall pass,” that the difficult moment itself isn’t the new normal that we’ll find. Time, and life, march on, and if we can see our discomfort for what it is – a natural symptom of change – then maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so scary.

Now, parenthood may not be precisely like some other common hurdles, in that it appears (at least in my limited experience so far) to stretch out as a never-ending parade of transitions. Once we wrap our heads around toddler-tantrums, it’ll be time for starting school. The awkward transition of pre-adolescence will be closely followed by the quest for independence.

In this way it’s more on the scary side: how will I ever find that new normal if the parenting game just changes all the time? But I still have hope, too, hope that with each transition, I’ll become better at this process of change: my perspective to see it for what it is will quicken, my resilience to laugh through it will strengthen, and my ability to be kind to myself as I face it will grow.

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

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