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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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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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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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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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On Turning Life Upside Down

It has now been just over a year since my husband and I made the decision to uproot our little family and move out of the big city and into a smaller one. A lot has happened in that year: Mark’s partnership with his brother; Eden’s birth; my new job. Big, stressful things. Sometimes, it feels a little bit like we’re still uprooted.

We recently welcomed friends from our old life into our new home. They miss us. I miss them. And yet, it threw me off just a little bit when they asked, “Do you want to come back? Or are you here forever?”

The question was phrased differently than I’ve heard it before. “Do you want to come back?” is not the same question as, “Do you like it here?” It’s not the same as “Are you happy here?” It’s not the same as, “Do you miss Toronto?” It’s just not the same. I was shocked to realize that my gut reaction was a resounding, “Yes!” Looking at my friend, a friend I hadn’t seen except through the glossy screens of social media for nearly six months, for the first time, I thought, “Yes, I want to come back!”

Except, I don’t. Not really. I do like it here. I am happy here. I really have no desire to leave this little city we have decided to call home.

But, at the same time, I do miss Toronto.

I miss the hum that I didn’t notice was there until we moved here. I miss the proximity, everyone going through life side by side. I miss the parks, filled to the brim with children and their caregivers, the streets vibrant with foot traffic at all hours of the day, the subways rumbling beneath our feet. I miss street after street of houses, none the same, each filled with their own small drama. I miss the people, the faces that didn’t look anything like my own, the chatter of language I didn’t understand, the comfortable anonymity of crowds.

Isabel’s first word was “bus”. Eden? I don’t even know when her first ride will be.

Toronto was so good to us. We built a life there, content in the little world we created for our family. We had a church. We had a neighbourhood. We had friends. It took six years to build, and yes, some days, I crave stepping back into it. Rebuilding in a new place is hard.

And yet… Do I really want to go back?

No.

No. No. No.

I won’t say never, because I can’t say where life is going to take us. But this year has been so good to us, that even on the bad days, I know this place is home. Here, there is quiet – most of the time. (We do have a few unruly neighbours, but they tend to quiet down before 11pm rolls around.) Occasionally, late at night, I can hear the train rumbling through town down by the bay, and I think of standing by the park fence with Isabel in awe, watching the very same train pass in the middle of the day. Downtown is not nearly so vibrant, but it is close, and it is growing, sprouting friendly coffee shops, farmers markets, and some of the best thrift and vintage stores I’ve ever seen. The library is a 5 minute walk, and my doctor’s office right next to it. There may not be as many parks as what I was used to, but the ones we have are good, well-built and fun for my high energy three year old. I don’t get to make use of them much anymore, now that I’m working, but we’ve got drop-in centres and kids programs galore.

And, most importantly, perhaps, we have space.

This perk goes beyond our house, though I won’t lie – this massive Victorian duplex has gone a long way to help make me feel at home. We have spare rooms, and rooms we can use just for storage, and maybe we don’t need all this space, but I love it nonetheless.

Sure, we have a spacious house, but our world, in general, feels more spacious. Here, the country is a mere 5 minute drive. It’s easy to find miles of fields, or a place to hike through the bush. Back roads bring you through beautiful countrysides, and into tiny towns of people who meet your eyes as you pass. When the road ends, you find water and beach and nature. When we first moved to Toronto, losing this sense of connection to a country landscape was the hardest adjustment I went through. Now that I have it back, I never want to lose it again.

Toronto holds friendships, connections that can never be replaced. Here, we are building new ones. It will take us time – that’s just our personalities – but one day, I know my gut reaction to Toronto will be merely nostalgia and love for a city I used to call my own.

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Hello Barbie

I bought my daughter her first Barbie entirely unexpectedly.

It was a rainy, grey Monday. As usual, once she tired of her 15 minutes of iPad time, Isabel asked her daily question, “Where we going? I wanna go somewhere!” She’s an active, social kid and we rarely get through the day without a trip, well… somewhere.

The night before, I had begun making plans in my head. The conservation area. We would bring the net friends had just given Isabel for a birthday gift and go catch (and release) frogs and tadpoles. We would collect smooth stones into piles of dark and light. We would wander the trails, our eyes out for fresh raspberries growing wild. We would spend the morning outside.

When the day dawned cool and grey, I knew those plans were not going to pan out. I turned to my next favourite thing to do with my toddler: painting. But, our supplies were low, and she always likes a good trip to the dollar store, so, off we went.

She was thrilled to be there. As is our normal, I told her she could pick one treat, something small, candy or a toy, that she could have at the end of our shopping trip. Early on, she found a handful of suckers and held on to them pretty tightly. We made our way to the craft aisle. I lingered over decisions about paintbrushes, canvas, and sketchbooks. She took off down the aisle, as three year olds often do, and returned a moment later holding a familiar shaped box. Long. Kind of skinny. Very pink.

“Oh, Isabel,” I said. “Really?”

She held it out proudly toward me. Barbie. “I want this, Mumma!”

“Are you sure?” I said, leaving behind the sketchbooks. “I don’t know how I feel about that, Isabel.”

“Please, mum?” Isabel gets tense, her expression guarded, when she thinks she might not get something she wants. “Barbie! I want this!”

“Let’s go look,” I said, leading the way in the direction of the aisle she had plucked the toy from, hopeful that I might find something else to divert her affections. I suggested another doll, a baby, lacking the long legs and full bust that make Barbie so problematic. I even attempted to encourage the tiara and wand set her fingers lingered over briefly. But nothing else caught her eye so completely.

Over the past number of months, Isabel has become the girly girl I never expected to raise. Dolls. Dresses. All the toys from the pink aisle at Walmart. I know how this has happened; her daycare is all girls, and there, she’s being exposed to all the traditionally feminine toys, some of which, like Barbie, are just a touch above her age level. This is something I’m unwilling to change. Putting my daughter through a daycare transition because of my own prejudice against the gendered toys she plays with there seems unfair and maybe a little over-the-top.

So, my child’s life is, for three days a week, out of my control. But I do get to choose how I react to the change, and here I was, standing in a Dollar Tree toy aisle, wondering what the right way to deal with this was. There is no denying that Barbie is problematic. There’s the unnatural beauty standards, there’s the question of age-appropriateness.*

But, more importantly, I gave my daughter a choice. I had empowered her to look around the store, find something that she wanted, and walk out the doors with it. Taking back that freedom from her little three-year-old hands felt wrong. And what if I did say, “No, Isabel. Not this. Anything else, but not this”? What message would that give her?

Mom doesn’t keep her word.

Toys for girls aren’t as valuable, interesting, fun as other toys.

The toys I like aren’t as valuable, interesting, fun as other toys.

(I am not as valuable, interesting, fun.) 

Perhaps I’m overthinking this, giving a doll too much power, maybe, but I never want Isabel to think of herself, of girls, as lesser.

She made a choice. She made that choice entirely on her own. And sure, she’s three, and I’m the parent in this situation. But even three year olds should know that, when they’re told they get to make a choice, they actually get to make that choice. Standing in that aisle, I decided to put aside my discomfort with a toy that goes against so many of my principles as a parent and honour my daughter’s right to choose something she likes. I don’t know if it was the right decision. I don’t know if there actually is a right decision in this case. I do know it made her happy, so happy.

After we safely made it home and watching Isabel play with the doll for a while, a long-time Twitter and Instagram friend sent a little encouragement. Perhaps Barbie can open up some opportunities, rather than merely being the start of pushing Isabel into the box of beauty standards. Use Barbie to talk about different bodies. Give her a name and a career. Maybe this doll doesn’t have to have all the baggage that its inventors and the world have put on her. Can she be a positive influence? Can I turn her in to a good role model for my daughter?

 

I hope so. One way or another.

* There are also a ton of issues related to the sketchiness of Mattel’s business practices, but this was not a Barbie branded doll, so I feel some comfort that at least Isabel wasn’t begging me to support a seemingly corrupt company.

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Retreat

After we bought our little house in Toronto, I became the sort of homebody that didn’t even want to spend a short weekend away from her little house, the projects we had on the go, and the domesticity of home life. Home was a sanctuary, a place in which I wanted to spend as much time as possible. I resented the obligations that would occasionally take us away to other parts of the province for short amounts of time. For about a year, there was no where else I wanted to be.

Eventually, as we wrapped up our projects and got used to the fact that we actually owned property, our attachment to our little house leveled out and became a little healthier, but I have always preferred home to anywhere else. I tend to dread camping trips, holidays, and visits to distant family in the weeks preceding plans, no matter how much I know I’ll enjoy the trip. Even day-to-day, I relish the time spent at home, and constantly feel like I don’t get enough.

But, even a homebody needs to get away.

 

We have just returned from two weeks of camping* in Prince Edward County. I spent the two weeks with my feet up, reading to my heart’s content, watching my children entertain themselves in a way they are incapable of at home. We left many of our worries at home – housekeeping, diets, the constant hum of social media. We turned off our phones, shifted our focus, re-centred, and recharged.

Retreat does not go naturally with motherhood. It is the sort of work one cannot easily retreat from, especially when one’s children are present. They still wanted to be with us, wanted to include us in their play, in their friendships, in their every small, volatile emotion. Isabel still had her days. Eden still needed diaper changes and help to sleep. More than one night, I found myself stepping away from the campfire at 8pm, called into the trailer by a squalling baby, and not emerging until morning. My girls still needed me; from them, I could not retreat.

And yet, the time out of our regular routines was invaluable. They found new, wonderful ways to occupy themselves, and I found myself with plenty of time for myself, which made me more willing, more content to be present with them when they needed or wanted me. I zipped through book after book. I pushed Isabel on the swing. I introduced Eden to the beach. I sat around the fire with Mark, chatting late into the night. By the second or third day, it was easy for us to recognize that we need aspects of retreat in our everyday lives.

For a part of the week, we wandered the park – it was a private trailer park, at which some friends and family own trailers – debating the possibility of joining the ranks of permanent summer campers. Would we enjoy this, having a place to call our weekend summer home, able to drop the world at a moment’s notice and drive ourselves to our own little space in the country? On one hand, our finances are already tight. On the other, we can easily recognize the ways in which retreat is good for us.

In the end, practicality won out and we shelved the idea for another year. Perhaps next year will be different. But for this year, we instead agreed that, rather than spending some money on creating a retreat away from home, we would do our best to cultivate the elements of retreat in our day-to-day, at least for the remainder of the summer.

What does this mean?

On one hand, for us, it may mean spending a little money to make some changes to our backyard and porch space to make them places in which we want to spend time. We’ve already begun this process to some extent, and I write this from our porch, watching the sky turn pale and dark on a Monday evening. Over the summer, we will work on this space to make it not just useable, but enjoyable, comfortable, beautiful even.

But, retreat is not just about place. It’s also about mindset. It’s that feeling you get when you arrive at your destination, a destination that is not home, where everything is different, and you feel, in some ways, like a new person. It’s as if being in that new place gives you permission to grab hold of the things you want out of life – deep conversation and connection, true leisure. Why else do writers and artists feel the need to escape their lives in order to find creativity? We hope to recreate that feeling, without ever leaving our pretty porch.

For me, this means less social media and more reading, writing, art, and creativity. It means less scrolling through a Facebook feed and more being present and focused. For Mark, it means less TV and more activity – more gardening, more building, more fitness, more reading, more conversation. For both of us, it means staying off the Internet, shedding the sort of distraction that allows the evening to pass in a blur of nothing.

I hope we will be able to hold onto this lesson, this reminder. I hope that we will be able to find retreat at home. If not, if, in a year, we found ourselves back into old habits, perhaps it will be time to invest in that place of retreat.

* I say camping, but only for a lack of a better word. Trailer camping is not really camping, especially when said trailer is hooked up to electrical and water. This is how some people live year-round, and quite comfortably. It’s not camping.

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One Week With Eden

One week ago, Eden came into the world. Her birth was one part beautiful, two parts surreal, one part gory, two parts traumatic, and, best of all, all parts fully in the past. I am grateful she is here and I am grateful for how she came into the world – at home, in the comfort of my own bedrooom – but I am also grateful that it is over. And now, we’re one week in to settling in, now a little family of four.

So far, that settling seems too be going fairly well, depending on your definition of success. We are sleeping ok, surprisingly. Isabel decided now was a great time to start sleeping through the night again, and Eden sleeps as well as any baby should, waking to eat two or three times between 7:30pm and 6:30am. She’s a noisy sleeper though, grunting and squealing through the night; it’s taking some getting used to, but one week in, I’m finally starting to sleep through her night time serenading.

Isabel seems pretty taken with Eden. Every morning, while she watches her cartoons, we let her hold her little sister, propping Eden’s head up on a pillow, her little sleepy body draped over Isabel’s lap. Big sister is not always the most gentle, and we sit close to make sure she doesn’t shove Eden off her lap in a toddler fit.
But is she adjusting? I’m not sure yet. She’s getting more screen time than I’m entirely comfortable with, screen time that has expanded from Netflix cartoons to iPad games and YouTube Kids. She’s enjoying the increased control she has over her media consumption; I worry about how much she’s consuming, and the quality of it. What is this period of adjusting our family going to do to our toddler’s brain?
But today, we finally managed to get out for a bit. I took Isabel to a nearby playgroup and sat back and watched with Eden tucked into a ring sling as she ran around the large gymnasium, fully in her element among dozens of other toddlers and toys. Today reassured me that we will get back to normal, even if that normal looks a little different than it did before.
So far, so good.

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Unsettled

Yesterday morning, I went to Coffee Break.

(Coffee Break is a Bible study for women that is pretty universal across the Christian Reformed Church, which is the denomination Mark and I both grew up in. We have yet to settle on a church here in our new city, but we still have strong ties to more than one CRC in the area, so I happily accepted an invitation to join the group. An hour and a half to be something other than a mother every Wednesday morning? I’ll take it!)
As I sipped my coffee after sending Isabel off to nursery, someone sat beside me and asked the question I’ve been getting whenever we see one of our friends, family, or acquaintances: are we settled?
The answer is difficult. Technically, I suppose we are. the boxes are all unpacked. We’ve bought ourselves a new couch. We’ve tried out different furniture arrangements in our living room and master bedroom. We’ve hosted a few guests. We’ve painted a room. We’ve even done some of the expensive, necessary, but not glamourous maintenance and renovation jobs – knob and tube replacement, fixing some plumbing. Our house has become comfortable, and the more time I spend in it, the more I fall in love with it, the more it feels like home. 
Yes, I told her. More or less, we are settled. 
Our new town is even starting to feel like home. Isabel and I have found some fun playgroups and have settled into a routine that gets us out of the house and around other caregivers and kids. Our neighbours are all friendly – yes, all – and many have gone out of their way to welcome us to the street and the city itself. They’ve gifted us homemade bread, 15 year old, mint condition, hand-me-down toys, and pitch forks. They’ve helped us clear out the intense amount of shrubbery that overwhelmed our house when we first moved in. They’ve brought our dogs back when they’ve gone wandering – twice now – exploring the neighbourhood without a leash. Our neighbourhood feels safe and with each wave and pleasant exchange, it feels just a little more like home. 
It’s different than Toronto, but yes, I suppose we”re settled.
Except, I don’t feel settled yet. 
I expect it’s obvious why. Today, I am 37 weeks. “Full term”, far enough along that Baby Girl can come any time she wants, though not yet far enough along that she’s likely too. I still have a list of things to get ready, not the least of which is my own mental preparedness. I have spent so much time and energy over the past few months getting settled in this new place and so little time on working through what it will look like to bring another life into our family that I feel like the whole event is working on creeping up on me unexpectedly. 40 weeks is not enough time to get ready for this. 
Did I feel this way when Isabel was born? I expect I did, but I remember very little about the last couple weeks of waiting for her. I remember knitting contentedly on the front porch. I remember reading – though I couldn’t tell you what book. Instagram or this very blog might be able to fill in some of those holes, and if it can, I imagine the life I lived in those three weeks following the start of my maternity leave and before Isabel’s arrival looked very different than the way I’ll spend my next few weeks. I imagine it will look far more settled, even if I didn’t feel like it was so. 
Perhaps, in hindsight, I felt more confident bringing Isabel into the world.
Perhaps, more naive.
I don’t know when this baby will join us. Any time now! So they say. And even more unsettling, I don’t know how I’m going to fit her into our life. I know we will figure it out, and we’ll figure it out with the same level of confidence and certainty with which we fit Isabel into our life over two years ago – we will do what we have to do. But, until I am in the depths of motherhood times two, I know this unsettled feeling with follow me.
Not long now. 
Three more weeks.
Or five.
Or tomorrow.

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35 Weeks

Today, I am 35 weeks into my second pregnancy.

On Monday, I realized that not only did I have no idea where our crib hardware was, I also had no idea where to even look since our move. All the major parts are leaning up against the wall of the nursery, but the hardware to put it all together was not with it and I couldn’t remember seeing that little baggy of bolts and washers during the packing or unpacking process. Ultimately, this was a small problem: the base of the crib had a whole list of the hardware that we needed stuck to it. We could have solved our problem with a trip to Home Depot. Failing that, we could think of at least two people who might have a crib we could borrow for a while, and failing that, IKEA sells a decent crib for $100. Failing that, I have a perfectly good play pen with a bassinet sitting in the baby’s closet that would work just fine in a pinch.
Losing our crib hardware was really not that big of a problem.
But, panic set in a little bit this week anyway. It wasn’t just about the crib, I know. It was all my anxieties about this baby, about adding a second child to our life, about change on top of change coming to the surface. As our life flipped upside down with our move, I’ve found myself with barely any time to think about the baby’s arrival as it creeps ever closer. People ask me how far along I am and I draw a blank, sometimes even finding the question odd. I’m pregnant? Oh yeah. I guess I am. 
When Isabel was born I was deep in baby mode. I feel like I thought about it every day. As soon as I started showing, I never missed a week of taking my picture in front of my office’s mirror, almost always making sure the overflowing garbage was shoved out of the way. I spent hours researching things – cloth diapers, baby carriers, cribs, baby registeries, breast pumps. I had opinions on everything. Breastfeeding, home birth, epidurals, hypnobirthing, soothers, placenta encapsulation, deli meats, sushi, stretch marks. I felt so ready for our new baby. I was going to be Invinsible Mom.
You might think that I’m now going to tell you how much of a reality check I got when Isabel was actually born but I’m not. For the first six months of Isabel’s life, I was so relaxed. She and I spent hours lounging on the couch, cuddling skin to skin, blissfully breastfeeding, or walking – and eventually running – for hours along the trails close to our house. I was lucky to have a baby that napped well, that nursed well, that adjusted to life on the outside well. We hit a few hiccups along the way, but for the most part, Isabel was easy, and I just went with her flow for the first 18 months of her life.
But now, we’re firmly entrenched in toddlerhood, and I am firmly installed at home full-time, at least for the next six months or so, since no public libraries in the area seem at all interested in hiring a newly-graduated-but-pregnant librarian. And toddlerhood? It’s not nearly as easy. I have all the normal complaints: I never get to pee alone anymore unless I wait until nap time; reading the same book over and over and over again has me bored out of my mind; the playroom is always a disaster and she never wants to help me pick up her toys; going anywhere has become a huge task; and really, I just want 30 minutes without my little ankle biter so I can make dinner in peace. 
And then, there’s the anxieties that almost every mother seems to have, but that most don’t necessarily talk about outside the circle of motherhood. Is she talking enough? Does she have enough words? Is she actually acquiring language, or should we get her some early intervention like, yesterday? Is she getting too much screen time? Am I on my phone too much when I’m with her? Is she playing appropriately, learning how to play independently? And socially? Am I getting her out around other children enough? Has she eaten enough today? Were those chicken nuggets healthy enough, because they’re the only thing she’ll eat a sufficient amount of and she already seems to so thin? Have I put enough sunscreen on her legs? Is SPF 30 ok, because that’s what I bought accidentally last time and I can’t find the SPF 60 and is that a freckle is she going to have skin cancer when she grows up now and on and on and on.
I actually manage all these questions and anxieties pretty well. We have hard, long days some days, but I’m with her nearly 24/7 and it’s manageable working through them on a day-to-day basis and feeling confident in my ability to mother my daughter.
But now, with only 5 weeks to my due date, I’m starting to think about how those early years will go for my second daughter. I’m worried, worried in a way that I was never worried with Isabel. I fear that she will find herself neglected, tucked into a baby carrier and nursed and changed as needed, but not nurtured in the same way Isabel was. Will I sing to her? Will I lie down with her under a play mat and read her Dr. Seuss? Will I stare at her, unable to take my eyes off of the beautiful creature we created and brought into this world? 
I know my relationship to my second daughter will be different. I don’t believe there’s any way to avoid that. In fact, I think it’s important that my relationship with her is different; it is one of the things that will make her different from Isabel, unique in her own way. And, I know that she and I and Mark and Isabel will figure all of this out together when the time comes, that I will continue to go with the flow rather than letting my anxieties get the best of me. But, as the time gets closer, and I begin to face how different her start of life will be from the life I provided for Isabel, I can’t help but think and worry and panic over crib hardware.
I found the crib hardware on Wednesday, after two days of worrying about where it might be. It was one of those epiphany moments as I swept around a little IKEA entryway table by our front door. We had never actually unpacked it’s little drawer in the move, just loaded the whole piece onto the truck and, sure enough, as I slid open the drawer on a hunch, there was the little baggy, each bolt and washer still safely inside. This weekend Mark and I are having a date day and night, and together, we’ll put the crib together, and then maybe go out and pick up some artwork for the baby’s room. I will continue to worry, but we will be ready, or at least as ready as one can be for a new life.

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