Crafts for Kids: Go Big, Go Sensory

We do a lot of art in our house.

Isabel, my 3.5 year old extrovert, thrives when she’s doing something social, something with me. I can only play so much hide-and-seek, I can only stand so much, “You be the daddy and I’ll be the baby”, I can only order so many cups of pretend coffee from her kitchen cafe before I start to go a little squirrelly with the boredom of repetition. So, we paint.

Mark brought home a huge roll of paper from his office recently, so one day, after nap time, I grabbed the opportunity to pull out our paints and dive in. Like, really dive in.

Arts and crafts in general are fabulous activities for kids and their skill development, including early literacy development, which happens to be my specialty. It gives them a chance to stretch their creative muscles, helps with with hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills (crucial for holding a pencil to write their names once they hit kindergarten!), and develops their language and recall skills as they talk about what they’re doing, both during the activity and after.

But, what about finger paints? We got this set almost a year and a half ago as a gift for Christmas, so I was ready to pretty much use them up. Finger paints encourage another aspect of early development. As they paint, kids feel the squishiness of it beneath their fingers, recognize the difference between painted and dry paper, and, inevitably, experience the smear of paint on skin that isn’t their fingers. Sensory experiences help kids learn about their world.

Isabel got right into the activity with her feet. I pushed her to try stepping into the paint and then walking up and down over the paper. Eventually, she scooped a paint brush and moved on to painting – or having me help paint – the bottom (and tops!) of her feet. Eden moved between paint brush and fingers, trying to pinch the paint up between index finger and thumb. Eventually, she discovered great joy in smearing as many colours over her legs as possible – there was a reason I made sure she was only wearing a diaper!

In the end, not only did the kids have fun (Isabel tried to convince me we should do it again immediately after the bath that washed all the paint off them!), but we’ve got a huge piece of artwork for which I’ve got a couple display ideas. We’ll see if I ever actually get it up on one (or three!) of our walls.

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On Becoming a Mommy Blogger and Sharing My Kids

The term “mommy blogger” sits uneasily on me.

From the early days of this blog, I promised myself that I would never become one of those moms, shilling their kids on social media for the sake of free stuff and paid sponsorships.* I would never expect them to live their life online and would always respect their individuality and right to privacy. I swore up and down that I would never be a mommy blogger.

* (I am still not receiving any free stuff or paid sponsorships, but this post isn’t about that.)

I was kind of like one of those people who knows all about raising children while having none of their own. Before I had children, I was the perfect blogger with children.

And then I had children. What actually happened is that my blog died a slow, dragged-out death. Or, at least, a very prolonged illness. Rather than becoming a mommy blogger, a title that makes me feel so uncomfortable, I just stopped writing. (There are other reasons I stopped writing. Any parent can tell you that it’s a crazy, sleepless, difficult time. Women who can maintain a blog while keeping brand new humans alive have all my love and respect.) My blog descended into the banality of monthly updates; posts became even fewer and further between as Isabel got busier and Eden’s arrival loomed imminent.

These days, as I attempt to relaunch something on this platform that I loved for so many years before I had children, I’ve discovered that I’m a new person. Sure, I’ve got all sorts of things to write about. But those girls? They’re my life. They’re my every waking moment, whether I’m with them or not. They’re my purpose – or at least the largest part of it. If I am going to create a blog space that is true to me and my voice, I can’t exclude them.

Last week, an old blogging friend of mine, Jen from Rambling Renovators, and Erin from DIY Passion Blog took to their blogging podcast, In The Storyhouse to talk about the issue of parents over-sharing their children’s lives on social media and the question of how those children will react to their well-developed social media presence as they get older and enter adulthood.Will they be embarrassed by every moment of their growing up being easily accessible online? Do we share too much?

Jen says, “At some point those kids grow up. And you think, hey maybe I haven’t taken into account their need for privacy, right? Do they want to have their life exposed on the internet? There’s the chance that you might feel you’ve exploited them in many ways.” These worries resonate with me: can I write about my family, about my children, and still honour their needs as humans growing up in a social media world? Or do I really just need to put this blog to bed and take a gigantic step back from social media myself for their sake?

If you follow me on any platform, you know I share my girls. About 90% of the pictures I post on Instagram are Isabel and Eden. Almost everything I’ve written on this blog in the past 4 years has been pregnancy, baby, toddler, and motherhood related. I share share share and I have to admit, I really don’t want to stop. So many good things come from sharing our day-to-days: connection, community, creativity. I’ve met people on social media, I’ve gotten advice about how to handle situations with the girls, I’ve developed a few photography skills and found an outlet for my writing and creativity. I’ve chased away feelings of isolation with honesty and authenticity. Despite its problems, I like social media.

But, I do believe we have to be careful. We don’t know how our children are going to feel about their social media presence as they grow up. Will they be embarrassed by their mom and her preference for uncomfortable honesty about her experience with motherhood? I hope not. Will they be angry that their early years were put out into the world for random strangers to follow? I don’t know. But I do have to think about it.

So, I’ve thought about it, I still want to share because I enjoy so much of participating in social media, and I’m hopeful that there’s some sort of balance that I can find to make sure I don’t ruin my kids lives – or at least their reputations and online presence. A few ideas:

  • Seek consent. I ask Isabel every time I pull out my camera if I can take some pictures. If she says no? I honour that. This teaches her that she has a right to her photograph, a right to step out from in front of the camera. At 3.5, she’s started saying yes more often than she says no, and loves to check out the shots with me after I’ve taken them. A year or so ago, I wasn’t so good at being consistent about this, and it quickly became clear that she hated it when I pulled out the camera, purely because I didn’t give her a choice in the matter. And what about Eden, at 15 months? Even at that age, it’s easy to tell when she’s not in the mood for pictures. And even at that age, it’s important to honour her wishes.
  • Seek consent times two. It’s important to ask permission for the picture, but what about posting it on social media? This is something I’ve just started to do with Isabel – and, admittedly, am not very good at yet. When I take a particularly cute picture, I try to ask her if I can post it and share it with “mommy’s internet friends”. More often than not, it’s a yes. Occasionally, she has disagreed that it’s a cute picture and has said no. Once again, it’s important to honour that request.
  • Treat them like people. If they were an adult, what would you post? Obviously, this sounds simple, but can be a little bit more difficult to navigate than you might expect. Should we not share things about diapering, and potty training, and temper tantrums because, from an adult perspective, these things could be embarrassing? No! Sometimes, parents just really need help with some of these things and sharing can be an avenue towards not feeling so alone in the struggles of motherhood. But, if we think about our kids as individual people – and not merely an extension of ourselves – maybe we can find a way to talk about these things in a more respectful way.
  • Focus on yourself. My story might feel so entangled in my children’s stories: that’s the nature of parenthood. But, if I focus on my story rather than theirs, turn the spotlight onto me, rather than on them, maybe I can find the allusive balance between sharing and oversharing, honouring and dishonouring my children.

I recently read an article about providing children the opportunity to erase themselves from the Internet, to edit the online reputation that their parents created for them. It is my hope that what my children see here won’t embarrass them, that they won’t have a desire to delete my social media presence from theirs.

But if they do? They won’t need to hire a lawyer to make it happen: We’ll do it together, me and them, scrubbing my accounts clean from what they don’t want the world to see.

~*~

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My Notice to Stay-At-Home Motherhood

I am not a natural stay-at-home mom.

I’m not saying I’m not a good stay-at-home mom; actually, I think I’m a pretty kick-ass stay-at-home mom. Every day, I wake up with the goal of making the girls’ day good and most days, I succeed. I have no problem saying that I am the best mom they have and spending all day, every day with me is good for them.

But, I’m not sure how good it is for me.

I’m not a particularly domestic person. Generally, Mark and I have a very equal relationship when it comes to managing the household. Over the past month, since I’ve been home, I’ve taken on the majority of the cleaning: the laundry, the dishes, the bathroom scrubbing, the sweeping, the tidying, the sorting, the organizing. And then there’s the meal planning, the groceries, the cooking, the getting dinner on the table before everyone melts down. With me home full-time, so much more gets done – the house is cleaner, our food is healthier, our household is running more smoothly.

Of course, there’s more to stay-at-home motherhood than never ending piles of laundry, but for me, it is that domesticity that I get lost in. It is that that makes every day feels like a slog and I am regularly searching for something more.

This is why this blog has become active again over the past few weeks. Spending hour after hour worried only with the welfare of my children and my family makes me feel a little lost. I need something else to think about, a project, a blog post on the go, a photography technique to practice, a book to read, something that has nothing to do with my children.

I expected this stay-at-home mom thing would last for approximately 6 months. Daycare is expensive and somewhat difficult to find for Eden who still qualifies as an infant at 15 months. When I left my position at one of the local libraries at the end of December, I applied for a couple positions that seemed perfect for me, but decided not to pursue much for now, planning a re-entry into something in September when Isabel goes to school. When I hadn’t heard anything about those application by the middle of January, I assumed that was how things were going to work out.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I was wrong. Over the past two weeks I have interviewed for and been offered two positions in school libraries. I went through a stressful couple days as I made a decision between the two roles and now, here I am: a week and a half away from the end of my stint as a stay-at-home mom.

It’s bittersweet.

On one hand, I’m excited to start a new chapter. School librarianship is a whole new aspect of the library world that I can’t wait to learn more about and gain some new experiences. I can make a difference in that world – I still have fond memories of my elementary school librarian and hope that I can play an important, formative, positive role in a bunch of kid’s lives. And there are so many perks – every holiday, PA day, March Break, Christmas, and SUMMERS off. This will be so good for us.

But. I feel like I had only just begun settling into this role as a stay-at-home parent. There was so much to heal between me and my children after a year of not spending time with them while I gained experience in a public library setting. There was so much yet for me to figure out and master as the girls and I navigated each day. I have been falling in love with my girls all over, watching them learn and grow with unexpected fascination.

I am going to miss them.

I know that, this time around it will be better. We will have proper weekends together, plenty of opportunity for that sense of unexpected fascination. And we will be back to developing as individuals again, Isabel at preschool, with all her school friends, Eden in daycare with her favourite providers, me at work, with my challenges and opportunities for professional growth. This time, it will be good.

(I do hope that, while I’ll be back to work more-or-less full-time, I will still find energy and inspiration in the evenings to sit down with this little blog and share snippets of my life. I have really loved getting back into it over these past few weeks. But, I make no guarantees, especially as we transition and settle into yet another new normal.)

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Bullet Journaling for Stay-At-Home Parents

I learned about bullet journaling while I was in the depths of studying library and information science, over two years ago now. Keeping track of my life digitally wasn’t working; I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a planner I wasn’t going to use well; I needed a new notebook anyway. And then, I discovered this beautifully magical system that literally just used to-do lists peppered in among spreads that tracked whatever bit of life I wanted. It was so versatile, so scattered, so organized, so creative, so perfectly me.

(Unfamiliar? Check out the bullet journal website for a fantastic overview.)

I’ve used the system on and off with some success and some failures ever since. I’m pretty free with my use of the system – I’ll add in a spread here and there, throw in a random to-do list, scribble a bunch of notes from a meeting without worrying about what came before and what came after. My journal is a fluid thing.

At the beginning of this year, I had been a good four months without a bullet journal. After it failed me once over the summer, I had purchased a proper planner and was giving it a valiant try, by as per usual, more often than not, it was merely a weight that I carried back and forth to work and never actually removed from my bag. I was itching for a little bit more, so I snagged a cheap notebook and started browsing all the bullet journal Pinterest boards and Facebook pages once again.

This time around, I knew two things: as a newly minted stay-at-home mother, some traditional aspects of bullet journaling wouldn’t work for me at all: for example, weekly and daily spreads were just going to remind me that most of my days and weeks were just like every other, and writing out the day’s to-do list would be an exercise in tedium.

Secondly, I knew I wanted to embrace some of the creative aspects of bullet journaling. Some people turn their bullet journals into a world of art contained between two covers. I have no delusions that I can create so beautifully, but I do want my journal to help me develop and sustain some aspects of creativity in my life.

So, this is my bullet journaling: a focus on spreads to track the priorities, successes, events, projects and achievements of my life, created intentionally with as much focus on creativity as possibly within each page.

One month into this year, I thought I’d show you the spreads I came up with for the month of January. I have some new ideas for February, and I’m excited to get working on setting it up for the new month. But, let’s review first.

Yearly Spreads

Books

This seems like a no-brainer. I’m a librarian: I need a spread for books. I found a good quote to pair with it and set my tracker up as a bookshelf. I’ve set myself a goal of 50 books this year. Unfortunately, I couldn’t squeeze quite that many spaces onto my shelf and, now that January’s over and I’ve only finished two books, I’m wondering if that goal might be a little high.

Cleaning

I’m not exactly the best housekeeper, but one of my goals for this year is to try to improve and practice cleanliness. I feel like this is especially important for my mental health in this season of stay-at-home motherhood. When the house gets messy, I feel messy and crowded. Our days go so much better when there’s space to move and live around here. This spread includes the tasks I aim to complete daily, but this yearly spread is really focused on the weekly and monthly tasks. (It looks like I better get on those monthly tasks for January! Time is running out.)

Knitting and Crocheting

Another hobby tracker! On this page, I draw a little doodle of the projects I’m working on and track their progress by colouring the doodle in. I’ve barely started both of these projects, but the idea is that, as time goes on, they’ll eventually get completely coloured in.

So far, that’s it for my yearly spreads. However, I have left a few pages blank before starting into January in case I think of anything else I would like to track over the year.

Monthly Spreads

Month At-A-Glance

I realized early on, after booking an optometry appointment for Isabel, that I was going to need a proper calendar of some sort in this notebook of mine. We maybe don’t have a lot of appointments, but we do have a few here and there and I would need to write them down.

Goals

I also realized early on in the year that setting myself some goals was going to be important if I was going to find a sense of purpose in my life as a stay-at-home parent. My goals at the beginning of the year were pretty half-baked and they changed a lot between the time I made them and the end of the month. In fact – maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this – I didn’t meet any of those goals. But just making them gave me the motivation I needed to come halfway, to find a sense of focus and vocation.

Habits

The traditional habit tracker is the bullet journal spread that had me hooked on the system, so I use it every time I set up a new month. I incorporate all the daily cleaning tasks into it in order to make sure I’m tracking those and add in all the things I want to do like reading, intentional creative practice, exercising, etc. There’s something about colouring in the little box after I’ve hit a habit that gives me a little buzz, a reward without actually being a reward.

You might notice this habit tracker is only half done. I’d like to say that’s because I took this picture on the 18th or 19th but no… I think I need a line item in my habit tracker for filling out my habit tracker.

Good morning

Going into stay-at-home parenthood, I knew that mornings would be crucial. Problem? I really suck at mornings. Like, really, really suck at mornings. I’m the kind of person who stereotypically grunts a greeting when I come down the stairs, who can barely keep her eyes open for the first twenty minutes after dragging herself out from under the sheet. Mornings are hard. So, I created this spread. It’s essentially a habit tracker, but with a slightly different format, focused on the first couple of hours of the day, with a colour for each item. Do the item? Put a coloured dot on the date. Again, I haven’t been consistent with this one, and, for February, I think my habits will change, but I will come back to this spread.

21-Day-Fix

This spread is pretty self-explanatory. I copied the exercise calendar for Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix workout program into my journal so I could track my workouts. After every workout, I got that little rush of reward as I crossed off the workout in pink. I fell off the bandwagon this too, obviously – but 8 days of exercise is always better than 0 days of exercise.

Meal Planning

Turns out, meal planning in bullet journal format really works for me. I set the spread up for the whole month, but only plan week to week. And, I only focus on dinner. We tend to scrounge and/or eat a lot of kraft dinner for our lunches, so I don’t bother making a plan for it. That helps me keep this spread delightfully simple. You’ll see that I have no qualms about scratching out plans and rework the week when something doesn’t work for our day.

Budget

This spread came into play a little late in the month, and we had already blown well past the budget we had decided on. I hope to be a little more successful with it in February. I don’t put all our expenses here, but I do track the ones I know I can control, things like groceries, hygiene, clothing, coffees, etc. etc.

And that’s it for January!

A few spreads I thought of doing and didn’t get around to this month, but might make use of in the future:

  • Naptime hussle: track the things I want to accomplish during the 15 minutes to 2.5 hours I have during naptime. Habit tracker style.
  • Mood tracker: for me, but even better, for the girls. I’ve seen some gorgeous colourful ones, even ones that have you recording the colour coded mood in the petal of a flower.
  • Sleep tracker: for Eden. This one might be a little too depressing though. I do I really want to track how many times she wakes up in a night?
  • Daily review: my grandmother used to write a couple lines every day in a journal about what she did that day. I wonder if that might be a good practice to start.
  • Daily reflection: beyond documentation of the day’s activities, reflection might also be a good practice, to put into writing just a few thoughts about the day, what was good, what could be better.

~*~

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On Parenting In The Winter (When You Hate The Cold)

We suck at getting outside in the winter.

I don’t mean getting out of the house. We’re fabulous at that. I’m an introvert raising at least one extrovert: I lean heavily on local playgroups and library programs. Isabel wakes up in the morning asking where we’re going that day. Rather, I mean getting all our winter clothes on and getting our butts out into the back yard, or down the street to the snowy park, or even just into the stroller or wagon for an outside walk. If more layers are needed than a sweater or a pair of shoes, we just… don’t.

But, here’s the thing: there is no denying that getting your kids outside is second only to reading to them when it comes to early child development and education, even when the weather turns cold and frigid. It’s good for their mood, their health, and their energy levels. And, they learn so much when given the opportunity to explore, observe, and question their surroundings. Get my girls outside and you can almost see the synapses firing in their brains.

The summer we moved out of Toronto, I was home full-time with Isabel, waiting patiently for our second baby to join our family. Early on, I learned about an outdoor playgroup that Family Space, the local government-funded child and family support organization, hosted at one of the nearby conservation areas every Friday. Thrilled, I happily loaded a 2 year old Isabel up nearly every week and dragged her around the trails, feeding the birds, making stone soup, catching bugs, baking mud muffins.

I loved Fridays and she loved them too.

Obviously, all that ended when I found a job, but now that I’m home again with my little people for a while, I’ve been itching to get back to the playgroup. The only problem? Winter. I’m not a winter person. I never will be. It doesn’t help that, for years, I’ve muddled by with a coat that is one layer shy of being warm enough and boots that turn my feet to frozen bricks almost the second I step outside. Why should I need anything better when I’m just going from house to car, from car to destination, and back again? This winter has been particularly cold and has provided me plenty of excuses to stick to nice warm, inside locations.

This past week gave us temperatures that were just a little warmer. It even rained, melting all but the biggest banks and hills of snow. Friday was chilly, but I was certain we could handle it. But here’s something that happens when you avoid dragging your kids outside during the winter: they pick up on your distaste for the cold and wet. They don’t really want to go either. So, once again, we ended up at one of our regular playgroups instead, bouncing between the dollhouse and the craft table and the big plastic slide in the two, temperature controlled playrooms.

Thankfully, we didn’t miss our chance. Once a month, Family Space runs their outdoor playgroup on a Saturday as well as on the Friday. This past weekend just happened to be the weekend and, without telling Isabel too much about where we were going, Mark and I loaded up both girls with all their warm outside gear and headed to the conservation area.

Oh, it felt so good to be outside. We sprinkled bird seed for the chickadees, made our way through a story walk (a book, deconstructed and set up along a path), spent time in the mud kitchen, and finished the morning by making “fairy fires”, and roasting apples over a full-sized fire. We left with rosy cheeks and frozen toes and the sort of pleasant fatigue that can only be experienced after hours spent in the crisp cold of a winter day.

As I put the girls to bed later that night, I wondered if this is the element our days have been missing. Will the girls be happier, sleep better, communicate more, get sick less, run faster, learn their alphabets, get the order of numbers right, tantrum less, be perfect children if we just get outside more? Will our days suddenly go more smoothly? Would I be happier with a regular dose of forest bathing?

It seems so simple. As long as the weather holds, it will be an easy thing to incorporate into our life. But, there are two long months remaining of cold, and snow; it’s not going to be easy. So. Those of you who get outside every day, or even just every week, help me out! How do I manage this in the winter months? Can I foster a love for winter in my children when I dislike so much about it myself? Share all the tips and advice you’ve got: I’m going to need it!

~*~

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Dear Mom Whose Baby Won’t Sleep

You are not alone.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and maybe you even believed it once. But then all your mom friends started sending you excited early morning text messages that their baby has slept through the night and yours hasn’t, yours seems like she never will, and you haven’t slept more than 2 hours in a row a night and you’re exhausted and you just don’t know what to do.

But believe me: you are not alone. I’m there too.

At the moment, my baby is upstairs in her room, screaming her head off while her father tries to convince her to fall asleep. At 15 months old, Eden has never slept more than 2 hours.

We are exhausted.

This is what happens on an average night: she falls asleep at 6:30, generally fairly easily, usually nursed to sleep, but she’ll go down with a bottle and a cuddle from Mark as an alternative. By 9:30, she’s awake again, but now she’s looking for something specific: me. If Mark dares show his face at her bedside, her anger ramps up and she flails and screams and lashes out like she’s being tortured. And so, eventually, I’ll give in and give her what she wants – a breast and mommy cuddles – and the cycle repeats itself, approximately every two hours, often with a playtime around 3, or an early wake-up around 5.

Isabel was 17 months before she slept through the night. It lasted two weeks and her sleep patterns have been up and down since. These days, at 3.5, they’re down – she hasn’t slept through the night in months.

But, as bad as Isabel was, Eden is worse. So many assured me that sleep with the second would be better; after all, I know more about infant sleep, about how to encourage healthy sleep habits, about helping our baby fall and stay asleep. But Eden is so different from Isabel. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult she would be in the sleep department. Not only has Eden never slept through the night, she refused to sleep while not in contact with me for a good six months. She never slept in her crib. Early on, we swapped out the beautiful Jenny Lind crib that I painted mint green out of her room in favour of a floor bed, allowing us to snuggle and me to side-nurse until she slept.

Eden has zero healthy sleep habits.

I’m not writing this to make you feel sorry for me – I’m doing a decent enough job of that myself. But, I’ll take some encouragement, and, if you’re in the same place, perhaps I can encourage you. The sleep thing is hard. So, so hard.

It doesn’t help that, in a minefield of sensitive topics, baby sleep is one of the most sensitive of all. First time moms especially face a myriad of voices telling them how their baby should be sleeping. There are the voices who say that babies should be sleeping through the night by six months and if they’re not, it’s time to sleep train, it’s time to let them fuss and cry so they can learn how to self-soothe and find dreamland on their own. And there are the equally loud voices insisting that babies aren’t meant to sleep through the night, not now, and there’s nothing to be done to help them sleep besides consistent routines and, in fact, allowing your baby to cry on her own in her room is harmful to baby and a mother’s bond.

When Isabel was a baby, these voices pulled at me. I got a little worked up over what I believed and what I believed for other parents. This time around, I haven’t heard those voices nearly as much; rather, I’ve been focusing on learning to listen to my own. I know how long I can stand to listen to my baby cry (not long) and I know when I’ve run out of energy to give her (my reserves run deep).

And herein lies my advice, the only advice I have to give you: trust yourself. You know yourself; you know your baby. If you need to set her in her crib, close the door, and let her cry for a while for your own mental health, do it. You will be a better mother for it. If you can’t stand to hear her cry, and the way she looks at you during a midnight wake-up breaks your heart and nursing or cuddling or giving her whatever she’s asking for is what you need for your own mental health, do it. You will be a better mother for it.

And one day, whether your baby cries to sleep, or drifts off using you as a pacifier, she will sleep through the night. It may be years away, but you will sleep again.

I promise.

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On Marriage and Kids: Or, Why You Need A Break From Being Parents

It’s hard being married with children.

Mark and I have an easy relationship. Neither of us are particularly passionate people, so we don’t fight a lot. I found a man who is willing to take on his share – or more – of the household maintenance. Even in parenthood, we share similar values about life. Being married to Mark is easy, comforting, safe, right.

But still, throw children into our life, and marriage is hard.

I’m sure every parent has experienced this: our days quickly fill with the needs of our children, and our work. Morning to night, we’re focused elsewhere. Feeding and clothing the girls, walking the dogs, household chores, the work that brings in money, entertaining and teaching our little people, providing them with physical and emotional safety – all these things take time, energy, and mental focus. At the end of the day, there’s not a lot of energy left for ourselves, let alone for each other.

And so, we drift.

It starts small. Sitting on the couch in the evenings, barely talking because we’re physically and mentally wiped out. We add in a few extracurriculars in an attempt at self care and finding a place in our community. And then we realize we’re not even sleeping in the same bed at night because our children won’t sleep by themselves in theirs. The ways in which distance grows are so innocent.

But, you know what? This thing between us, between him and I, it is so vitally important. He gives me strength, encouragement, and appreciation when I feel like I’ve reached the end of that which I am capable. He recognizes when I need a break from everything and takes over what and when he can. He pushes me to be better, a better friend, a better mother, a better citizen, a stronger woman of convictions and faith and love. I don’t want to do life without him.

So, this weekend, we did something about that distance. We asked for help, and dropped the girls off at Mark’s parents place, knowing full well that we were setting them up for a long sleepless night (especially with Eden, who hasn’t slept for more than 2 hours at a time in her whole 15 months). We didn’t plan anything spectacular. We went for lunch, spent the afternoon wandering through thrift shops, went for dinner, and came home to watch a couple movies, before settling in to sleep through the night, blissfully, together in our own bed.

We didn’t need much to bring us back together.

It’s almost time to go pick up the girls again and I am ready. Twenty-four hours apart and I miss them so badly. But this was nice, this was needed. Reconnected, he and I will be better spouses and better parents and we’ll all be happier for it.

(Photos courtesy Sarah Markus Photography)

 

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A Day In The Life: January

Morning.

Hope desperately that Mark will wake up first and be willing to take both girls downstairs and feed them breakfast so I can sleep for an extra hour. Failing that, hope desperately that Eden sleeps ’til 8. Ok, 7:30. Fine, 7 will suffice. Please please please not 6.

Dammit. 4:30.

Cry. Breastfeed in the desperate hope that she’ll go back to sleep. Beg. Fight with a restless 15 month old for an hour and half. Give up at 6.

Go downstairs. Throw blueberries and yogurt at the 15 month old. Contemplate how comfortable the floor might be.

Make coffee.

Plan for something. Play date. Drop-in centre. Library program. Grocery shopping. Anything, anything at all to get out of the house, because you know that staying at home is a recipe for disaster, a recipe for cabin fever, for a bored toddler and a baby that only wants to nurse and snack and throw crayons everywhere all morning. Somehow manage to get said toddler and said baby dressed and torn away from the iPad and boob respectively long enough to get out the door and in the car.

Mornings are easy if we plan something.

Then, home. Lunch, and quiet time and the nap time hustle; the 15 minutes to 2.5 hours in which I try to cram in a workout, clean the breakfast and lunch dishes, tidy the toys, sweep the floors, fold a load of laundry and maybe, if I’m lucky, read or knit or nap or watch a show for 10 measly minutes.

Girls awake again. Snack time and cuddle time. Play time. Painting time, maybe, if the toddler remembers that she asked to paint last night.

4pm. My buckets of patience run out, and I get snappy and unkind, and I just want them off me. So, iPad time. Masha and the Bear, or Word Party or Pocoyo time. And kitchen time for me, dinner to make, a few more dishes to do, another load of laundry to move from the washer to the dryer. On to 5pm and I feel myself fading, but there’s still the dinner struggle ahead and then bed time, and then a night of frequent wake-ups and then 4am, or 6am, or 8am and it starts all over again.

One day at a time, one moment at a time; some days good, some days a struggle.

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Friday, Friyay; or, How I Survived a Week of Stay-At-Home Motherhood

In December, I quit my job.

There’s so much more to say about it than that. Those of you who know me in real life know that is wasn’t an easy decision. I walked through the Christmas season in a bit of a funk, part bitterness at a world that can’t seem to figure out how to keep women in the workforce, part a deep sense of loss for what I had begun to build in the year I spent working in a library, part wonder if I’d made the right decision at all. I worked my way through it all, allowing myself to feel everything I was feeling.

But this was the week to pull myself out of it. This was the first week at home, the first week being the girl’s main person again. So, pull myself out, I did.

We went somewhere every morning. Monday, the library, Tuesday, errands, Wednesday, playgroup, Thursday, the library again, Friday, my parents’. Every afternoon, Isabel had quiet time, Eden napped, I exercised. Every day, I did dishes, laundry, swept the floors, picked up toys, fluffed couch pillows, cooked dinner, did more dishes. I kept my hands busy and the girls occupied and somehow, the week passed easily with more sweet moments than difficult, more hugs and cuddles than tantrums, more fun and giggles than bare survival.

We did well for a first week together, me and the girls.

I am optimistic that I’ll be able to keep it up, but I know I’ll need more soon. I love how clean my house is at the moment, but how long before the domesticity wears on me? I need goals, something to work towards. I just haven’t quite figured out what those goals should be. Should I attempt to write a novel? Is it time for a new blog project of some kind? Maybe there’s a new skill it’s time to learn? Should I try to find a way to make money from home – writing, or knitting, or sewing, or some other skill I might already have?

I haven’t figured it out yet.

(It doesn’t help, that, with a few resumes floating around out there, it feels like I’m holding my breath, waiting for the chance that something new is right around the corner. I’m hesitant to start any new projects or find a new focus if it’s going to be interrupted by an interview and a job offer.)

So, how do I do this? What do I need to remind myself of on a daily basis as a stay-at-home parent? How do I survive, day by day? Fellow stay-at-home parents, throw all your advice at me.

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Eden is one

Eden turned one.

It has been a hard day.

She is such a beautiful baby. She is so curious about her whole world, so easily made content by simple things. She is smart, quick to repeat sounds and gestures, pushing herself to explore new spaces, new toys, new skills. She is the perfect normal baby.

Every day, I miss her.

***

Three years ago, I chose librarianship. I had a myriad of reasons to do so. I believe in the power of libraries to change lives, to change whole communities. Libraries are community spaces, safe places for the homeless to access services, for new moms to find friends, for retirees to keep up with ever changing technologies. Kids learn to read inside library walls. They learn about what they’re capable of, what possibilities around there in the world for them.

Three year ago, I believed libraries would give me purpose. I want to make a difference in the world. Libraries make a difference. I wanted to be a part of that.

***

Three years ago, I had one baby. Isabel was so much like Eden. Beautiful, and curious, and perfectly normal. When I went back to school, she was two months old and I felt like she and I were in it together. I didn’t go so far as to take her to class – I was never brave enough for that – but she and I read together, researched together, wrote papers together, found a way to navigate this weird, unsettled life I had chosen for myself. For two years, she and I did school.

***

We didn’t spend much time apart for those two years. During my first semester, it was just one day a week, plus two evenings when Mark would rock her while she cried until she slept. My second semester, our time apart extended to two days a week, but no evenings. Occasionally, I took an extra day, pounding out essays in a local coffee shop on my own.

For the most part, Isabel and I were together.

***

Librarianship is one of those over-saturated, under-funded job markets. There was a general understanding among my classmates upon graduation that finding a job would not be easy. When we picked up and moved out of Toronto, I expected that I was making it ten times harder for myself.

And, of course, I was pregnant.

But, there it was, 2 months after Eden was born; a job.

***

It felt like now or never.

***

But, here I am, almost one year later.

I have missed so much.

I don’t mean things like crawling. I don’t mean first steps, or first words. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on those. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on getting to know her. Even though I drop her off every day for someone else to care for her, I am still the person who knows her best.

But I have missed out on time. I’ve missed out on savouring each one of her stages, watching her learn each one of her new skills. I’ve missed out on the closeness that I feel can only come from spending all day, and all night, and then all the next day too.

***

On one hand, my job is almost everything I thought it would be.

On the other hand, I regret not spending the first year with my baby.

I can’t bring that first year back. And so. Her birthday was hard.

***

I have faith that the next year will be better. I have faith that I am where I am meant to be. I have faith that I am making a difference in the world. I have faith that I will make the decisions I need to make.

Her birthday was hard. But. Tomorrow is a new day.

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