Category Archives: motherhood

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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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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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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A Bittersweet Ode to a Nursing Bra

One week from my due date – now over a year ago – on one of my first days of my maternity leave, I slowly, slowly walked my larger self to the Danforth to go shopping. The walk should have taken me no more than 25, maybe 30 minutes, but since I was dealing with some pretty painful sciatica and sore hips, it took me at least an hour. But, this trip was important, something I needed to do before this baby came.

(Or, so I thought, anyway.)
I needed to buy some nursing bras.
I had read somewhere that it’s a good idea to go get fitted and try bras on in the last month of pregnancy. I didn’t want to leave it up to chance, so I headed to Evymama, a boutique store here on the east side of Toronto, assuming they would accurately fit me and give me a myriad of high quality options to choose from. But affordable, too, of course. The best of both worlds. I walked in, sweaty, gross, allowed the salesperson to take her measurements and slipped inside the change room with six bras, each one carrying a price tag that was heftier than I wanted to pay. I tried them all on, each one more disappointing than the last. 
But, I needed a nursing bra, right? How would I feed my daughter in the coming months if I walked out of that store empty handed? I picked two, doing my best to balance price with quality and comfort.

I lived in those nursing bras for months. They aren’t supportive. They aren’t pretty. One of them is the most uncomfortable thing I have ever worn. Now, over a year later, they’re misshapen, faded and floppy. They don’t fit anymore, despite the reassurances from the sales people that they would be able to handle the overflowing fistfuls of flesh and mammory glands that I was to expect right after birth as well as what came after, once milk production had settled down a little bit. They forgot to tell me that my breasts would become shapeless with the months of nursing, but these nursing bras wouldn’t help with the problem at all. I hate my nursing bras; I hate them so much. 
In fact, they no longer fit the breasts I have now at all. The bands don’t feel secure enough and the cups are saggy; I have not enough flesh to fill them. Isabel has sucked me dry. Maybe the ‘last month of pregnancy’ recommendation works for those first few weeks, maybe a couple months after she was born, but since they started to disappear already at 4 months, I wonder if someone is feeding us a line. Half the time, I reach for a sports bra these days instead, if my outfit choice allows for it. I’ve sacrificed a couple of my old bras to the cause, a touch to small, especially if Isabel has gone a few extra hours without nursing, stretching them slightly, but enjoying the comfort of them. I sometimes wonder if I should go buy new ones. I sometimes wonder if I should tell all my pregnant friends to forget about getting fitted until four months in, to make cheap box-store nursing bras and sports bras work until then. I sometimes wonder if no one really knows anything about how boobs change through pregnancy and breastfeeding or maybe I’m the only one with nursing bras that don’t fit anymore.

I have been lucky to breastfeed, and to breastfeed for as long as I have. As imperfect that they may be, those bras represent more than support and easy access. They represent quiet moments between Isabel and I, tucked in her nursery during the wee small hours, or taking a breather during a busy day of play. They represent some of my favourite moments of motherhood. It’s a beautiful thing watching her nurse. Despite longing for the comfort of a brand new bra, a bra that doesn’t unclasp just below my shoulders, I am in no hurry to pack my nursing bras away. They will become uglier. They will become more misshapen. I will continue to hate them. But I will continue to put them on most mornings until the day Isabel decides she doesn’t need me for nourishment anymore. 

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Musicking: Motherhood, Identity, and Holding On To Both

I have a new toy.

On Sunday, I left Mark and Isabel to fend for themselves for four hours in the evening. I drove myself up to our church in the north part of the city and participated in a couple hours of “musicking”, followed by dinner with a few of my musical friends. Part of this musicking involved learning three chords on my very own, brand new ukulele. It was challenging, especially as my fingers began to get a little tender. It was noisy, as 10 or so of us struggled through the beginning stages of learning something new. But, it was fun, envigorating, exciting. I didn’t want it to end.

I came home that night to a quiet house. Isabel was sleeping and Mark had just finished watching a movie on Netflix. I settled in and showed him my new instrument and played each of the new chords I had learned. As we talked, we realized this was the first thing I had done on my own in months.

Sure, I run. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been training for a half marathon on and off all summer. Often I run with the stroller and bring Isabel along, but I’m even more likely to wait until evening and after her bedtime to hit the pavement with my running shoes. I go for an hour or so, and those runs are a nice chance for me to refresh and recharge, but they’re not an escape from my every day.

At the end of the day on Sunday, I felt so much like myself again. I don’t mean to say that I am not myself when my days are consumed with Isabel. I don’t like that rhetoric, and I hope that I don’t set aside who I am for her. I don’t believe that’s good for either of us. However, I think allowing her world to become my world can sometimes be far too easy, especially during these months when I have no classes, no essays, no group projects that demand my attention. Those few hours on Sunday doing something I enjoy were important to remind myself to hold on to that identity and, in turn, share it with my daughter.

I want her to see who I am as more than her mother. I want her to know that I have a myriad of interests, many of which don’t centre around her, and that I’m not shy about continuing to pursue them even as my primary role remains her caregiver. I want her to know what I care about and, in doing so, encourage her to find her own things as she gets older.

We’ve had fun with the ukulele the past couple days it’s been in my hands. I’ve discovered that lullabies provide the perfect framework for learning new chords and transitions. Isabel loves to touch the instrument as I’m playing, and it’s a lot of fun watching her try to figure out exactly how I bring the sound out of the strings. The ukulele is becoming a place, a place in which my role as a mother and my self before Isabel arrived are coming together, melding into one. And that is the way I believe it should be.

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