Tag Archives: happiness

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.

 

 

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Another Birth Story

Hey Mamas! Long time, no see. This time, though, there’s a pretty good reason for my little hiatus: he’s here!

That’s right, our second son arrived 12 weeks ago, just over 38 weeks into my pregnancy. Little J is small – he was just over 6 pounds three weeks after birth and is still not on the growth chart – but he’s doing well. He’s cooing and smiling and doing all the things little nuggets his age tend to do.  And so, I have finally found the time to emerge from deep in the newborn forest to share my experience of his birth. Continue reading

Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

Why Sleep is the Best F**king Thing on the Planet

When you’re sleep deprived as the parent of a baby or young toddler, it can seem like the world is, well, basically, Mordor:

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…when it looks to everyone else like your life should be this scene from Marie Antoinette:

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In my experience, people are usually pretty nice to you about this plight, pretty sympathetic. But eventually, even some of the nicest people, with the best intentions, seem to get a little… shall we say… sick of your tiredness? Continue reading

When mental worlds collide

moms-to-do-list-no-do-listMamas, over the past while, I’ve really been in the weeds. At work, things have been busy and stressful. At home, we have been fighting colds while trying to keep up with our household tasks and our active toddler. And then, of course, I’m currently growing a human.

This week, after a particularly rough day at the office, I told my husband: “If I was served on your toast at a restaurant, you would complain that they stiffed you on the butter.” I am spread pretty thin at the moment, guys.

Of course, this feeling won’t come as news to my fellow working moms – or, frankly, to any mom out there. No matter what our circumstances, every mom I know has many, many balls in the air at any given time.

As a full-time working mom, most of my week is spent in the office. My mental energy has to be focused on the dynamics, challenges and giant, never-ending task list of my professional life. The nature of my job is such that I am the lead on, and need to be on top of, a large variety of projects on a continuous basis. I am the president of a lot of stuff.

Then I come home, and I want and need to be completely present and focused on my family life. There’s a giant, never-ending task list here too. To me, it’s even more important, and I want to give it the attention and energy it deserves. And because I only have a few hours each day with my son and husband, I want to make them count. I want to be the best possible mom and partner I can be. I’m just so tired.

Recently, it’s gotten me thinking about the work-life balance and personal/professional boundaries. In times like these, when I’m in the weeds, I feel like my worlds are colliding. They’re not balanced at all.

Try as I might, I’m not always able to leave my professional to-do list at the office. It still runs through my head, joined by the tasks from my home to-do list, until my brain becomes so full of worry about all the things I still need to do that I just want to take a nap. I feel as though I’m standing between two tall towers of paper, the weight causing them to lean perilously towards each other, ready to collapse and bury me at any moment.

I want my kids to remember me as a loving, joyful, playful, positive person in their lives – a person who made those few hours each day count – not as a person running around like a chicken with her head cut off.

As working moms, we’ve heard a lot about finding the work-life balance that works for us. But most of that discussion focuses on the number of hours in a day, on where and how we are physically spending our time.

What about our mental time? Even when we’re physically at home, how do we keep the stresses and pressures of the work day from infiltrating the emotional energy we are giving to our families?

I know this is not a question with an easy or fast answer. And like so many things in parenting, it has more to do with working on myself. But this is where I’m at this week, mamas. It’s real and it’s hard and I know it’s where many of you are too.

What happens when I DIY

IMG_20160618_172816A few weeks ago, Linds and I were thrilled to be interviewed on our favourite podcast, One Bad Mother. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the episode, you can check it out here.

Talking to friends and family afterwards, one of the main take-aways from the interview was our overall emphasis on accepting things as #GoodEnough. (Many thanks to everyone who participated in the #GoodEnough challenge — feel free to keep ’em coming!) In particular, people related to Lindsay’s experience of comparing her preparation for her son’s birthday party to my DIY prep for my son’s party a month earlier.

Since this experience has struck such a chord, we wanted to explore it further. Because here is something that is true for me, that is not necessarily true in the same way for my sister — or for many others scanning Pinterest with a mixture of anticipation, inspiration and guilt: my DIY-ing gives me a creative outlet that I’m otherwise missing in my daily life. It’s actually about me.

I am, and have always been, a creative person. Throughout elementary and high school, I steadily took almost every English, art, theatre and music course available (though not dance — I am not a graceful or coordinated person, just ask…anyone). Lindsay and I both participated in extra-curricular theatre groups as well as school shows. My first jobs as a teen were performing as a children’s entertainer (read, clown — don’t judge), and helping to run a kids’ theatre camp. Even on vacation, I would sit on the beach and sketch set and costume designs for hypothetical productions.

And then I went to university and became an adult and I no longer had the time or resources to spend on creative pursuits that were really just for me. Sometimes, I have grand plans for a creative project that’s just for my own enjoyment, but I never seem to prioritize actually making it happen. Case in point: since we moved into our house, I have planned to paint something for a giant wall in our living room. I can see the picture in my mind. In reality, it’s four years later and I haven’t even bought the canvas, let alone picked up a brush. The wall is still sitting blank because I keep insisting that I’m going to paint one of these days.

Here’s the thing, though — when I’m planning a DIY project that is ostensibly “for someone else”, it gets prioritized and I get to do something creative.

I’ve been like this since well before my son was born. I took up knitting six years ago, and in that time I have knit gifts for each of my five sisters, for each of my six nieces and nephews, for my parents, for my husband, for my son. I have knit a total of two things for myself — one of which was a Christmas stocking to match the stockings I had already made for Randy and Lucas.

The thing with my son’s birthday parties is the same. Look, mamas, we all know full well that 1) they don’t give out prizes for children’s birthday parties, and 2) my child will be happy and feel loved on his birthday regardless of whether or not there are themed decorations. We also all know that there are plenty of things out there that just make us feel bad about ourselves, that are in no way real measures of how we’re doing as parents.

Geeking out on thinking up theme-y puns for the punch label and Pinning inspiration for a sea turtle cake doesn’t make me a good Mom. It’s not actually about my kid. In my case, doing these things makes me me.

What happens when I DIY is that I give myself permission to spend time doing something creative that makes me feel good. It’s sneaky self-care. It keeps me in touch with a part of myself that was there long before motherhood, and will be there long after my kids are grown and have kids of their own. For me, DIY-ing is not about trying to be something or someone that I’m not. It’s about getting in touch with who I am.

I think what makes any of us a good Mom is being ourselves, and showing that person to our kids.  So, you do you, mamas! The best Moms are the ones who do.

Lucas' Birthday 2016 2

Bonding – a Whole Approach to Life

I recently read this beautiful essay on how human connection – not sobriety – is the remedy for addiction. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but if you aren’t going to, I’ll try to snapshot the key points that have sparked my thinking here:

The author, Johann Hari, explains two separate addiction experiments done with rats, the long and short of which is that the rats who were kept in isolated, un-stimulating environments were exceptionally prone to drug addiction, but those who lived in ‘Rat Park,’ a healthy, happy environment for rats, were not. Moreover, once rats who had been conditioned to addiction in the isolated cages were allowed to live in Rat Park (“a lush cage” with “colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends”), they quickly returned to a life free of drug use. He goes on to make comparisons to human examples of Vietnam-war veterans and those prescribed heavily-addictive drugs in hospital settings, which are quite interesting.

But my thought-train here has really nothing to do with addiction per se, or with rats, or with the ethics of animal experimentation. Rather, one of Hari’s passages struck me particularly:

“Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. […] But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet.”

His argument is about addiction as a clinical condition, but I think his assessment of human beings is something we can all reflect on and learn from.

While not in as dire circumstances as many people, there are many of us living what appear on the surface, or from the outside, to be ‘full’ and ‘happy’ lives… or at least what ‘should’ be so. In truth, many of us live in self-constructed cages of isolation. Even if we’re not facing depression or constant physical isolation, we’re often more isolated than we would like to be. Why is that, especially if we are lucky enough to in fact have the means, the people nearby, and the opportunities, to be more connected, more bonded with our village?

Too often it seems we feel we don’t have the time to connect with our people, our friends and family; this is the most common cause I hear. But what are we doing instead? The usual culprits seem to be working, getting chores done, driving around to do errands, with the awful end result that when one does have some ‘free’ time, it needs to be ‘me’ time (read: a chance to collapse from exhaustion, to sleep or zombify in front of a screen).

But I think in these cases we need to question the importance of the things we’re using our time for instead of connecting – because at the end of the day, we are choosing to do so, and only by acknowledging our own agency can we start to either change it or become okay with it.

Do our living spaces really need to be tidy in order to enjoy our home with those we love? Does our time need to be ‘free’ of obligations or to-do lists before we can engage with our people? Or would it be better if we did more things communally – buying food, cooking, folding laundry – embracing that we’re all going through this together, rather than feeling we need to ‘get our shit together’ before we can enjoy one another’s company? Do we really need to ‘unwind’ at the end of a long day by scrolling through a social media feed that only gives us that ‘parody’ of bonding? We could instead be actually connecting with the people and activities that bring us joy, or indulging in that ‘me’ time by having a bath, walking outside, or doing an activity that engages our bodies and minds rather than just collapsing from exhaustion, often in front of a screen?

We have created a culture, as Hari says, “that cuts us off from connection.” The expectation is that we will all live in our own little kingdoms, whatever your particular box of living space looks like, and that our first responsibility is to keep our own kingdom in order. If we are good at keeping this order – bringing in the right amount of money for our lifestyle, tidying and cleaning, having the ‘right’ groceries in our cupboards with our near-future meal plans settled, having at least some plans in the works for how we’ll change our kingdom/life, and maintaining whatever image we’ve created of our lives in our online worlds – then we can occasionally, when it’s a ‘good’ time, invite others into our kingdom to enjoy the space we’ve cultivated, or allow ourselves some time away from our boxes to enjoy someone else’s kingdom… provided they have kept their kingdom in order, of course.

Perhaps we need to start living with each other, instead of alongside one other with the occasional meeting in the same space.

The people we wish we bonded more with might live in the same space as us, our spouses or children; they may live down the street or across town or across the country or the world, and technology may be a necessary tool for allowing us to simulate face-to-face interactions with some of them. We may wish to bond more with ourselves, to connect with our interests, and hobbies, those experiences that allow us to feel more alive, more engaged and joyful.

The point is not how we connect but whether the connection, the bonding, is a real bond or a parody. Even more so, the point is accepting our own agency (should we be so fortunate as to have some, as there are many in the world who truly don’t), so that when we feel we’re living in a cage, we can look around and determine honestly if the bars are real, or if we’ve given them form and weight with our own perceptions.

“Bonding” in this broader sense doesn’t seem to be something that can be done or felt effectively if only allotted in rare, discrete blocks of time; such a model means there will also be set times of isolation, boredom, or loneliness. It would be idealistic to think all of life will be continuous bonding and connection, but it also seems sad and unnecessary to resign ourselves to a life plan where bonding and connection are rare ‘treats’ if we’ve been ‘good.’ I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it’s worth some serious consideration, and I hope some of you will leave your thoughtful comments below!

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