Tag Archives: Parenting

We Let Our Kids Grow… What About Each Other?

Recently, my partner and I got into a spat. It seemed to rise out of nowhere, was emotionally intense for about five minutes, and then ended up being almost laughably frustrating because, at the core, we struggled to identify what exactly was the sticking point of the argument. When we stepped back, it seemed we were perhaps mainly griping out of habit, based on particularly trivial triggers. (I take great comfort in the fact that the longer we are together – and it’s been a loooong time – the fewer, farther apart, and shorter our arguments seem to get for the most part.) This particular disagreement got me thinking about the stories I tell myself about my partner, the assumptions I make about him, and the way I treat him accordingly.

When partnerships last for a long time, we really get to know each other, and it’s easy for us to think we have our partner “figured out”: we know what they do, why they do it, and how it fits predictably into the well-worn pattern of our relationship (“I knew it!” “You always…” “You’re just saying that because…” Insert-your-own-key-phrase-here). I think this dynamic of assumptions is likely true of most long-term relationships, whether they involve friends, lovers, or family.

Parenting my two young children gives me a different experience of being in a relationship with another person. Instead of taking this same approach, I find myself allowing a great deal of breathing room to just watch them develop, and I’m more generous in my assumptions about why they may or may not be doing what they’re doing or not doing. I can be enormously patient (not all the time, but I can be) with my kids because I acknowledge that they are simply not ‘done’ yet. They are working so hard to master new skills, dealing with high emotional reactions, trying to communicate and not having the vocabulary to articulate all they would like, getting overstimulated by much of the world around them, and learning a bajillion new things every day. I accept that life is likely overwhelming to them, and I try to support them through this experience – to share in their joys, notice their efforts, and empathize with them when it’s hard. And it feels like a no-brainer that I do these things – after all, I love them fiercely.

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…Which begs the question – don’t I also love my partner fiercely?

When we’ve been with someone for so long, it can be easy to take for granted their familiarity, our own knowledge of them. The way I approach and interact with my children is, in one way, so much slower, requiring so much more patience and energy on my part. I have to pay attention. I have to read the cues and behaviour they display now, and hear the words and beliefs about the world they express now, not what they displayed or said six months or two years ago. I have to be constantly attuned to their development as people – their changing capabilities, stressors, desires, and viewpoints. That is what it means for me to connect with them as individuals.

Yet I don’t always extend this same attention to my partner, my beloved, the one I’m committed to loving through thick and thin. I don’t necessarily allow the same grace and breathing room for his development, though I certainly would like to have this from him, when I think about it. After all, I’ve changed a lot over the years, re-assessing my priorities, values, and understandings of the world, myself, and my relationships. I hope that my partner and others in my life can allow me the space to continue to develop as a person, instead of assuming I’m stuck in whatever ways they found me when we met.

Yet in those conflicts, quite often, it seems we don’t deal with each other as we are now – it’s far too easy to let our assumptions of what we think we know about this partner of ours dictate how we react to them. It’s easy to cast each other in the same roles we played in the early days of our relationship, though likely they don’t fit so well anymore. It’s easy to project the values, opinions, and behaviours of years gone by onto the tensions of today, but it doesn’t provide much opportunity to acknowledge growth.

Of all the things parenting tiny people has taught me about myself, a major lesson is that I don’t know it all. I don’t always know where the life path is leading, the best way to get to a goal, or the true desires of those closest to me. Yet despite this lesson, I still sometimes fall victim to the ignorance of thinking I have my partner completely figured out.

Perhaps we need to more often treat one another like we treat our children – with that kindness and that acceptance of being a “work in progress”. Because we most certainly are works in progress, every one of us. And if we can love each other as such, hopefully we can model the kind of love we want our children to find throughout their lives, too.

 

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Kudos to the Pre-Tech Moms

Much is made of the negative sides of the internet and smartphones in the parenting world. Mothers of previous generations have consistently told me they do not at all envy us younger women when it comes to figuring out how to do this parenting gig. They look at all the information that we have available to us on the web, and surmise that it’s no wonder we are so stressed about getting things”right.” They express gratitude that all they had to deal with was the sometimes conflicting advice of their immediate circle of family and friends, as well as a few parenting books, instead of the opinions of the global population of the interwebs. They shake their heads at the high expectations arising alongside social media imagery that tells us we can, and therefore should, be able to attain perfection as mother, crafter, party-thrower, cook, housekeeper, organizer, and professional.

But I’d like to throw my own head shake, along with some hefty kudos, back to my foremothers today. Because for all the bad rap that technology gets for its dominance over our lives, it is also sometimes my savior of a day.

Kudos to the moms who did this without cell phones. What did you do when you were, as I assume everybody has been since the invention of clocks, running really late with an infant to meet a friend who also had a baby? Did they just wait around forever, or did you finally show up at your agreed-upon place only to discover your friend had, quite reasonably, left an hour before? (I refuse to believe that you were just always on time.)

Kudos to the moms who did this without Netflix or podcasts. Being able to tune into an episode of One Bad Mother, or binge-watch West Wing or The Crown, have been key to my sanity while in a stretch of waking up at 5 a.m. every morning with a tiny baby who thinks that’s an appropriate time to start the day. I think I would have gone crazy if I was left with only the entertainment TV and radio stations deemed fit for air at that hour.

Most importantly, kudos to the moms who did this without having friends in a little box in their back pocket. I don’t know what I would do without having my friends accessible at the touch of a button, even in the midst of winter when none of us want to go out of the house, even while a little one is too sick and we don’t want to risk passing the germs around, even in the middle of the night when I’ve felt frustrated and ineffectual. Many instances of loneliness and self-doubt have been alleviated by an encouraging text, a humourous retort to my baby’s inconvenient behaviour, a photo that confirms no one else really has it all together either, or even just a string of messages with content that doesn’t seem in the least bit important. On some days, those “insignificant” conversations have been essential for keeping this mom grounded in the world outside her house.

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I love knowing what these women get up to during 3am wakings

I know, I know, if we lived in a time before these technologies, we would be able to do without them as well. But this is neither here nor there. Today, I want to give kudos to my heroines of the past, who did all we do, and sometimes a hell of a lot more, without these little electronic boxes that connect me to my village.

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.

Everyone Needs a Little F*** Off Time

We’re trying something new in our house: Fuck Off Time. (Granted, we have to avoid saying its name it front of our toddler, who has dropped a couple of proper-context F-bombs in the last week or so. Oops. Cue the judgment here, I guess).

I mentioned in a recent post that my partner and I both feel every day like we’re “on duty” from the minute we wake up until the minute the kids are in bed. Yes, he gets the ride to and from work by himself, plus his break at work, and I get the time when our baby is napping ‘to myself’. But we both know, as workers, that a commute doesn’t really count as “off” time, and we know as parents that neither does a child’s nap, since it can end at any moment and you’re still “on duty.” No, we were both craving some true off duty time. Time when we were not in charge of anyone and had no obligations. In short, time when we could Fuck Off and do what we wanted. Essentially, the kind of time we used to have in abundance (but which we never truly appreciated!) before we had kids.

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

We took a look at our daily routine and determined there was only one time where it would really even be possible for one of us to Fuck Off: dinner prep time. This would mean that one person would have to handle double-kid-duty and dinner prep each night so the other person could Fuck Off, and we would alternate. As parents who had fallen generally into a 1:1 parent-to-kid system of childcare since our second son was born, this seemed pretty ambitious. I should mention that of late, dinner prep time often coincides with a feeding for R and whining/tantrumming from A. We decided to try it for a week and see if it was possible, or if it was just too much.

The rules of Fuck Off Time are simple:

  • One person makes dinner and cares for both kids at the same time.
  • The other person Fucks Off and has zero obligation to get anything productive done, but they can if they want to (like actually want to – note the italicized, bolded bits there).
  • If someone (ie: me) has to feed R during her Fuck Off time, she can do so in the basement watching something on Netflix, and then return R to Dad.
  • If we eat somewhere else or if Fuck Off time is not possible on a given day, we simply pause the alternating and pick up the next day where we left off.

I’m happy to report it has been two weeks and so far it is the Best. Thing. We. Have. Done. At least in a while. Here are a few reasons why it is awesome:

1. It teaches our kids about daily life and getting things done.

With our usual 1:1 approach, there’s almost always a parent available to play. With Fuck Off Time, our kiddos have to entertain themselves a bit more. Our toddler, A, can choose to play by himself or help with dinner. I’ve been impressed with how helpful a two-year-old can be in the kitchen, and when he plays by himself, I love listening to his dramatically narrated stories about train crashes and “Who can help?!”, especially when he makes the trains say “Thank you” to each other (I’m hoping this unprompted politeness balances out those F-bombs?). 20170116_172726-1

9-month-old R is making friends with his pack ‘n play (I only recently discovered that parents of yore used this invention for, you know, PLAY, and not just sleeping away from home). He simultaneously learns to be okay with being alone for a short time, and also gets an opportunity to play with his toys without A taking them away when they look like too much fun.

I want my kids to learn that everyone – even mom and dad! – needs time to do what they like, and that sometimes, they have to be okay with not being the centre of attention because shit just needs to get done. I feel like Fuck Off Time gives them a little, manageable dose of that every day.

2. My on-duty time gets a fresh sense of purpose.

Dinner prep used to be one of my least favourite times of day. I’d procrastinate, avoid thinking about it, and way too often, I’d get to 5pm and go, “oh, crap! what’s for dinner?” It was rushed, haphazard, and just generally sucked. Now I know when “my day” is on, and I get kind of pumped about planning what we’ll have (with a picky eater, a toddler, a vegetarian, and allergies to nuts, dairy, and various fruits/veggies at our table, it’s sometimes a fair challenge to be varied enough for interest and make sure there’s something on the table everyone can/will eat). Sometimes I do some prep in the afternoon, and I try to think of a fun activity A hasn’t gotten out in awhile to suggest for him for while I’m cooking.

I get to feel a bit like super-mom every other day for successfully taking care of two kids and cooking at the same time (I know, I don’t have super high standards, but the kitchen isn’t my forte, okay?).

3. My partner and I each get to give each other a much-needed gift a few times a week.

The On Duty person gets to give their partner the gift of the ultimate luxury: saying,”I got this; you can go Fuck Off,” with a big smile. Fuck Off Time all to oneself… seriously, is there anything more romantic one parent can give the other? The lucky parent then gets to return from this blissful time to a thoughtfully-made meal (and some days, copious amounts of hummus, cheese, fresh veggies, and bread totally counts as a meal, by the way, at least in my house).

The Fucking Off partner gets to give the gift of true appreciation for what their co-parent is doing. It’s harder to see the work your partner’s doing when you both feel like it’s all-hands-on-deck and you’re both run down. The sincerely grateful “thanks for making dinner, honey; this looks great!” that now gets offered on a daily basis in our house is completely lovely.

4. I sometimes CHOOSE productivity, and am TRULY happy about it!

In the last two weeks, I finally bought clear plastic bins to put excess toys in, I reorganized our toy room and reduced the number of toys that are out at a time, decluttered our bathroom, stacked firewood in our backyard, and drove around delivering some things we’re done with to friends who want them next.

The biggest difference in how I felt during these tasks was that I didn’t feel rushed or tense through them: the time was actually MINE, and I didn’t have any of my usual mom-guilt about not being “on duty,” because I wasn’t supposed to be. Fuck Off Time = relaxing, even if I’m doing something productive.

5. I get to feel glamourous and/or lazy in the middle of the day!

Watching Netflix and browsing rugs on Pinterest while someone else makes my dinner? Reading my book and drinking hot chocolate while someone else handles that whining? Showering at my own pace AND drying my hair right afterward? Luxury, I tell you! There are all sorts of possibilities for this time… colouring, yoga, working out, writing… and when the weather gets nice again??? A short bike ride, a walk, napping in my backyard under the leafy maples, going to my friend’s house for a quick dip in her new pool (*wink wink, you know who you are, nudge nudge*)… My dreams are endless and the future is bright.

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6. Fucking Off makes us better parents when we come back.

Instead of being simply worn down by the time we get to bath/bed, at least one of us is always a little refreshed. We have a renewed patience, interest, and calm to share with our kids as we play, sing, read stories, and get ready for sleep, and I think they can sense the reduced stress in the air at this time, which makes everyone happier.

An important note on comparison: Don’t! I believe this is absolutely essential for Fuck Off Time. And it’s pretty easy to be tempted. Like on Friday, when I’d spent the day with little R and some fellow mom friends while my husband had a grinding day at work, but it was my turn to Fuck Off (yes, it was the BEST day). Or on Saturday when I’d been woken up by babes many times the night before, but my husband got to go for a relaxing RMT appointment in the afternoon, and it was still my night on duty. The Fuck Off time can’t be in any way conditional on “who got what” already today, or yesterday, or last week. It’s either a free gift to each other or it isn’t. If it comes with strings attached or any guilt at all, it’s no good.

I also have to make a huge disclaimer and acknowledgment here that I know I am supremely lucky. My partner and I are in a position right now where we’re both usually home before dinner prep time even starts; I know many parents don’t have this luxury. People work night shifts or irregular shifts or long hours. They have other commitments that keep them busy or away from the home. They have kids with unique needs or situations where independent play without adult assistance is much harder to achieve. And I know that my own luck won’t last forever. Pretty soon, I’ll be heading back to work and things will change in a big way. R might not tolerate being away from me for even a second when I get home from work at, the earliest, 5pm. I simply won’t be able to do any prep for dinner in the afternoons, and will have to think of things further in advance. There will certainly be a lot of house tasks that just haven’t gotten done during the day, which will be nagging for my attention and pushing my buttons. As our kids get older, there will be after-school lessons, carpooling, and homework to juggle, too.

But I hope knowing how good this has been, we’ll continue to find space somewhere in our lives for Fucking Off. Even if it’s only once a week, or a few times a month. Because it’s just too good to not try for.

GUEST POST: How community helped during the hardest time of our lives

This month, we are pleased to welcome Kristi Sterry to the Raise a Mother village. Kristi is the mom of two little boys.  She works in cancer research, and enjoys travel, hiking, and trail running. You can find her blog at lovelearnrunblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @krististerry. Welcome, Kristi!

bio-picOur youngest son, James, was born with a serious medical issue.  Hours after his birth, we discovered that his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, his trachea was underdeveloped, and had a fistula.  This condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, or EA/TEF.

Our world changed overnight. Instead of the sleepless nights, baby cuddles, and diapers we expected, we found ourselves navigating major surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and an uncertain future.

Our friends and family shared our heartache and our hope for this sweet new baby. Everyone we knew offered to help.  And honestly, they made all the difference in the world.  Here’s how:

Help with the older kids

My water broke at 5:45am, and we left for the hospital by 7am.  My older son, Thomas, awoke to the news that he had a new baby brother.  Before Thomas even met his brother, James had to be life-flighted to a larger hospital 2.5 hours away.  I followed as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.

I was terrified for my new baby, but my heart broke for my firstborn.  I knew he was confused and sad and missed his family.

During this time, our friends and family took care of Thomas, helped him FaceTime with us, took him on play dates, and brought him over the mountain pass to visit us.  Knowing that he was being loved and cared for brought this mama tremendous peace of mind.

Meals

After we got home, friends showed up with meals every day for 2 months.  It was such a tremendous help to have that off our plate so we could just focus on our family.  And many of my friends don’t cook (like me!), so they chipped in on gift cards.

Reach Out

Those long days at the hospital were really lonely, especially since we were hours away from home.  My best friends texted constantly.  My sister and mom e-mailed me encouraging quotes and verses late every night, since they knew I would be up pumping.  One sweet friend sent her friend who lived locally to deliver a care package.  It was so nice to connect with another mom.  Honestly, the love and support we received during that time still brings tears to my eyes.  Not everyone knew what to say, but just knowing they were thinking of us meant the world.

Keep offering to help

This is the big one. Once the baby comes home from the hospital, it seems like the medical crisis is over. But for many families, it is harder, lonelier, and scarier once they leave the support of the hospital. Our friends and family keep checking in with us.  They pray alongside us when James is sick.  And they celebrate every milestone as he continues to grow and thrive.

Watching your child suffer through a major medical issue is not something I would wish upon anyone.  But I wouldn’t trade our journey with James for the world.  He has taught us many things, not least of which is what a wonderful community surrounds our family.

January is EA/TEF Awareness Month.  Each year, 1 out of every 4,500 babies is born with EA/TEF.  Even after their repair, many of these children battle a long list of chronic issues.  On this official awareness month, we spread the word about this unknown condition and celebrate modern medicine gifting our children with life.

My One Parenting Resolution for 2017

As I’ve written before, I’m not generally a person who does New Year’s Resolutions. But I am a fan of using the new year to reflect upon what I want my future to look like. My New Year’s List tends to be a vague collection of activities I enjoy that I’d like to choose more often, or intentions I’d like to follow as guiding principles in my everyday life. One of the intentions I have this year is definitely applicable to my broader life, but especially relevant to my parenting.

When I look back on my last twelve months of mothering, one thing stands out to me that I believe has made the difference between moments of stress and moments of calm. Between horribly frustrating battles with my two year old and problems we solve together, often with a sniffly, weepy snuggle. Between sobbing my eyes out during a night full of infant wakings and not sobbing my eyes out through those nights. Between feeling like a parenting failure and feeling like I got this. And at its core, it can be summed up in one word: Continue reading

Mom Stuff I Learned at Work #1: Celebrate the Small Victories

We’ve written here before about how our professional lives shape and impact our parenting lives. Usually, these reflections have been about the challenges we face as working parents, trying to find a balance for all the demands on our physical and emotional time and energy. I’m sure we’ll have plenty more to say on that theme in the future, but lately I’ve also been thinking about ways in which my work life has helped to prepare me for the marathon that is parenthood.

I am trained as a social worker, and my degree had a focus in social justice advocacy. For the better part of the past six years, I have worked in politics for a party that is known as a perpetual underdog. Let’s just say, I am familiar with an uphill battle.

And in both my professional training and work experiences, I have learned that the ability to do two things can be the difference between keeping motivated and dragging through your days: 1. the ability to re-define a “win”, and 2. the ability to recognize and celebrate the small victories.

At first glance, these skills might seem like another version of #GoodEnough, one of our favourite self-care reminders here at Raise a Mother. They’re related, but they’re also more than that.

Telling yourself something is #GoodEnough is about setting realistic expectations. It’s about not holding yourself to the standard of the “perfect Mom” who doesn’t exist. It is, to some extent, about letting yourself off the guilt-hook. It’s about allowing yourself to believe that you are doing a good job.

Redefining a win and celebrating small victories are a little different. These are about the big jobs, the ones that are going to take a while. They are about breaking down a seemingly impossible task into manageable chunks and giving yourself kudos when you deal with one of those chunks.

And while #GoodEnough is often about recognizing that a particular task is not actually important in the grand scheme of things, celebrating a small victory is about recognizing when a particular task is an important step on the road to achieving a larger important goal.

I’ve gotten fairly good at redefining a win and celebrating a small victory at work. When you’re trying to advocate for changes in public policy, things do not move quickly. There are many, many steps on the road to success. Sometimes your bigger goal is something that you know full well will be years, decades – or even generations – down the road. If you don’t take the time to claim some of the small accomplishments as wins, the challenging days start to take a much tougher toll.

Let’s be honest: parenting is no different. The ultimate goal is to raise a good human being. Talk about something that will be decades in the making. Even some of the shorter-term large tasks of parenting, (getting them potty trained/ getting them sleeping or eating well/ getting through toddler tantrums or puberty), can feel like endless hills to climb. And at the same time, you have the giant goal of becoming the parent you want to be – definitely a long-term project.

I’m not yet as good at celebrating a small victory at home as I am at work, but I’m working on it. This weekend, I watched calmly as my two-year-old coloured all over a Christmas list I was working on. For most people, this is probably nothing to note, but I was proud of myself. People who know me know that I have slightly anal-retentive tendencies when it comes to organizing and list-making. I get an abnormal amount of joy out of colour-coding. My little guy’s artistic expression rendered my list almost illegible and the colour-coding basically disappeared.

My pre-kid self (even my early Mom self) would have been annoyed and resigned myself to starting a new, clean list. But this weekend, I didn’t freak out; I didn’t get annoyed or make a new list. I just accepted that this year’s list is decorated by my budding artiste and I gave myself a mental high five. On the really, really long path to getting to the non-control freak Mom I want to be, I took a little step forward. On to the next…

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