Monthly Archives: January 2018

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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