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Happy Birthday, Three-Year-Old!

Dear Baby AB,

It has already been two weeks since your birthday! I know you’re not a baby. You are THREE. That is BIG. But of course, you’ll always be my baby, so I reserve the right to call you that.

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I just want you to know, belated or not, that we’re all besotted by you, despite your status as one of the most sporadically aggravating humans on the planet.

Right now, as you turn three, you are the driver of an emotional rollercoaster your whole family rides on. You feel entitled to fly into a fury if someone helps you with something you’ve decided you must do yourself. (And your fury often includes kicking and hitting along with the screaming, even though those things never get you what you want.) You will randomly make up rules on the spot and vehemently scold the person unwittingly breaking them. You utterly refuse to be hurried when it comes to choosing your wardrobe for the day. You seem to get a kick out of insisting that you DON’T NEED TO PEE until the last possible second (or sometimes, unfortunately, later). You will cut right into someone else’s conversation and then get all mad that they’re interrupting you, shouting, “SHUSHH!!!

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During the first few weeks of school, you decided you no longer liked our daycare provider, who has been taking care of you and your brother since the beginning. You said she was mean to you, and you even tried to convince us that she punched you. (Someday you’ll understand how funny that sounded.) [Lovely di-hards, in case you’re worried, we would consider the possible veracity of these allegations if we had any doubt at all that they’re false. But we don’t.] You told poor M that you didn’t like her and didn’t want to be there, right to her face. There was clinging and sobbing at drop-off time. Poor M was wondering if you might actually need a new daycare provider. (We are gradually getting past this, though, with a bribe-y sticker chart and lots of reminders that we love you SO MUCH, even when we are apart, and that M loves you too.)

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On the morning you turned three, I asked you if you felt different, and you said yes – you felt three. Then, when Auntie Beth came up to wish you a happy birthday, you told her that “three is cooperating.” There was, according to you, going to be a whole new level of cooperation going on in your three-year-old world.

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This has not really panned out. That very evening, you were violently uncooperative about bedtime, and it was actually rather awful. We are still trying to figure out the best ways to deal with these moments.

But then. You’re also the most adorable sweetness-pie in the world. When you’re not angry, you’re wonderful.

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You dance like a princess and a rocker and a belly dancer – all with equal fervency. You love to do gymnastic poses, inspired by the aerialists you saw last summer. You read new improved versions of our storybooks to yourself for long periods of time (even the names are changed – you are great at making up names. Your current favourite is Golla). You sing often, in your own language, whether or not you have an audience. You are full of ideas, brimming with imagination and leadership, and you’d be boss of the whole world, if the world would let you.

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You and your brother have lots of arguments that involve the above-mentioned fury… but then again, your relationship is also full of sweetness. You make up games no adult could possibly invent, and play them happily. E is often content to acquiesce to your imperious commands, with an affectionate chuckle at how cute you can be when you’re ordering people around. When you’re peaceful together, it’s a blessing to watch and listen.

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And you’re full of love. You give amazing big squeezy hugs, and tell your people that you love them on a regular basis. There is nothing in life as awesome as feeling your little arms around my neck and hearing, “I love you, Mama.” And then there was that time the other week, when I was about to leave for dance class, and you grabbed my hand in both your little ones, and held it to your soft baby cheek, looked at me with your big oceanic eyes, and said, “I love you the whole time you’re gone, okay?” My heart almost burst.

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Sometimes, you’re so beautiful in your you-ness, I can hardly stand it.

Here’s a little video I started making many days ago, to celebrate your third year. I love you always, the whole time, and I hope I always remember exactly how saucy, smart, tender, fiery, and special you are at this moment.

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A Very Special One-Year-Old and His Mom

One year ago yesterday, a cherished and unusual little person named Kieran was born.

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His mom, my friend Skye, already knew he would be born with a cleft lip and palate. It was a tough time when she found out about it, because there are a lot of challenges that go with having a cleft – for the child and the parents. And although she is a brave, dedicated, smart, and pragmatic mom, she is also a single one, and she already had a toddler at home.

So she researched the heck out of cleft lip and palate issues, and prepared herself as best she could. She went on lots of forums to read about real people’s experiences. She knew she would need special bottles for him, and a breast pump – because as much as she would have loved to nurse Kieran as she had her first son Grayson, she had found out in her research that the attempts of a cleft-palate baby to breastfeed often actually use up more energy than they provide.

She also knew he would need multiples surgeries, two of them within the first year.

Skye gave birth to Kieran the hard way; she had been given an epidural that came unseated, and you can’t get always get a visit from the anesthesiologist when you need one. (The nurse didn’t figure out the problem until afterwards – and even if she had, she’s not allowed to replace the needle.) I had the privilege of being present for the birth, and I wish I’d had the confidence to go harass somebody about it.

In spite of the severe pain, however, things did go well. Skye was a trouper. Kieran was born healthy and precious, and was immediately cuddled by his smitten mama. Thanks to her thorough preparation, they had everything they needed ready to go.

Skye and Kieran had lots of visits to McMaster Children’s Hospital throughout his first year, with a team of professionals (a plastic surgeon, an ENT doctor, a pediatric dentist, and a developmental pediatrician, to start with) checking on him and getting him ready for his operations. When I would visit them in those newborn days, he wore tape on his lip and a hook in one nostril, to stretch his face gradually to the shape it would take after surgery.

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He would drink from his special bottles and burp like a teenage boy. It took him a while to gain weight, but it wasn’t long before he learned to smile and interact, and although he did not look like a typical infant, he was incredibly cute.

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During Cleft Awareness Week (in May), Skye shared these thoughts:

When I first saw pictures of babies with a cleft lip, it was hard to look. Before Kieran came, I didn’t know what to expect with respect to his appearance. But really, who knows what to expect! 

I have since read some things online about parents who are nervous to put their child’s picture online (or even take a picture) or even take their child in public, for fear of reactions. My heart breaks for those parents, and those children. It never crossed my mind to hide Kieran, only to show him off. Looking back, maybe he has helped someone else be more comfortable with some kind of difference, but that is not why I did it. I did it because how could I not? He is (and was) adorable!

I never had one, even slightly, negative reaction to the way Kieran looks. I feel like the world proved its kindness, which I usually believe in anyway.

The first two weeks following the three-month lip surgery would test the mettle of any parent. Suddenly Kieran could not use his soother, had a little cone (“trumpet”) in his nose to shape it, had splints (called “no-nos”) on his arms to prevent him from touching his stitches, and was dealing with painkillers – and a mouth that was whole new shape. As you can imagine, there was a lot of crying and soothing and difficulty sleeping during that time. Skye had wisely pre-arranged for Grayson to spend big chunks of that time with grandparents and friends to ease the situation.

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As mentioned, though, Skye is brave and dedicated – and, as you’ve no doubt gathered, really tough. The rest of us were not surprised, but definitely awed, at how graciously she managed – and how she always seems to manage in general, despite how hard things can get.

As Kieran’s face healed, I missed his wide-open smile, but it was amazing to see how suddenly obvious was his resemblance to his brother Grayson.

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The surgery on the palate itself is supposed to happen around the one-year mark for babies with clefts. Thankfully, Kieran got his about seven weeks before that, so they had some recovery time before his birthday, and before September when Skye goes back to work.

For Skye, the two weeks after the second surgery were both harder and easier than the first time: Kieran still had to wear no-nos, could only have pureed food, and was unfortunately adamant about not drinking from a cup (and therefore not drinking at all – stressful for mama!). He was more distractable, but less soothable. She went on lots of walks with him, because it seemed to help.

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Since his palate has healed, he has finally learned to suck normally for the first time. It’s frankly amazing what the specialists – and a caring family – can accomplish.

Now, somehow, Kieran is one whole year old. He is very charming and handsome, and very strong-willed (some might say stubborn); he feeds himself enthusiastically, and recently started crawling; he smiles a lot and shows off his three teeth; and he is loved by a whole lot of people. He will probably need help with learning to speak, and he may need more surgeries later in life. He will get to some of his milestones in different ways and at different times from other kids.

He, and his family, are really special and awesome.

From the grit he is already showing, I have a feeling Kieran is going to be just as tough and brave as his mama, so I know they will get through it all together.

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There’s lots of information on cleft lip and palate at Cleftsmile.org.

A site specifically for moms of babies with cleft lip and palate is Cleftopedia.com.

To donate to surgeries for babies with cleft lip and palate worldwide, please visit Operation Smile.

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One Decade of Marriage

Dear Sean,

It’s hard to believe that it has been ten whole years since the day we pledged ourselves to each other as husband and wife. A decade sounds long, but feels short these days.

On the other hand, ten years is short, in a way, since our story began long before that.

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It has been almost twenty-four years since we shared a Grade 9 Enhanced Math class, in which you were gregarious and funny and cocky, and I was quiet and cerebral and nerdy, and you volunteered to run our Christmas gift drive, and I noticed when you were writing on the blackboard that you had a cute butt.

It has been twenty-two years, give or take, since we spent enough time in our mutual group of friends for me to know that, in addition to your class-clown side, you also had a quiet, cerebral, nerdy side, and a philosophical, argumentative side. It was a mysterious and interesting combination.

It has been nineteen years since the high-school graduation breakfast where you made everyone at our very long restaurant table laugh so hard we practically choked on our pancakes.

It has been close to fifteen years since we both prepared to leave our hometown on long-term journeys, and you suggested unexpectedly that we should write letters to each other – letters that would become highlights of my challenging, exciting, homesick, turbulent, emotional, unforgettable European odyssey.

It has been thirteen-and-a-half years since the Christmas when you thought you’d lost your chance, and wrote me a story to win me over – not realizing I was already yours.

It has been twelve years since we euphorically painted the walls of our first shared apartment in our new city, so broke we could only afford to rent kids’ movies at the video store a block away.

It has been almost eleven years since the Tuesday night in October when you proposed to me, in our bedroom, with me in pjs and my hair a mess – partly to cheer me up after a bad day, and partly because you simply couldn’t wait for the weekend and the official proposal plan. I was struck speechless by the beautiful ring you had chosen. (To this day, you can’t sit on a secret gift very long.)

On that beautiful wedding day ten years ago, I promised that for the rest of our lives, I would laugh with you, play with you, challenge you and protect you; that I would not hide from you, but would confide in you and be true to both of us; that I would be your comfort, your friend, your lover, and your partner in times of joy and of pain; and that above all, I would love you. And of course, you promised the same to me.

We’ve done, and still do, all of those things. In these ten years, we’ve had the joy and the pain. We’ve both changed workplaces more than once. We bought our first house. We conceived four children, birthed three, and were blessed to keep two.

We have struggled with work and stress, sleep and health, time and money, and finding those often-delicate lines of communication between openness and injury. We have been stretched by the delights and demands of parenting our dazzling, frustrating, wonderful kids.

Despite three very close calls that almost ended our relationship in the first two years, and many experiences to test us since then… I’ve never doubted the strength of our promises. We are a great team, and I feel so lucky to know it.

I love parenting with you, knowing we have each other’s backs, and knowing that if I’m not at my best on a particular day, you will summon your extra patience and balance things out.

I love that we laugh at the same things and enjoy the same forms of entertainment, especially the games we geek out on (Settlers, Yahtzee, Cribbage, Gin, all forms of Trivia…).

I love that we can have a difficult argument but still manage to listen to each other; that we can make our way through thorny topics, and still hug at the end – and mean it.

I love that I’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve rescued me, in both big and small ways, and always without complaint.

I love it when I make you laugh unexpectedly, and you hug me and say, “I knew I married you for a reason!”

And I love the moments when the reasons I married you are so clear, too. When we’re snuggling – still one of my favourite activities in the world – and we get the giggles, and then the kids pile on top, and there’s tickling and limbs in faces, and it’s the best.

When you’re telling me about something you’ve been learning about, and your curiosity and passion remind me of the importance of wonder in life.

When I’m fretting for some reason, and you make the kind of frank-but-insightful comment that cuts through my overthinking, and brings the issue down to its essence.

When our children do something cute or astonishing or both, and we look at each other incredulously: how did we ever make those??

When we suddenly find ourselves in a moment too steamy to blog about.

When you know the answer to that question I’ve been wondering about, or know how to fix that thing that’s not working right.

When you squeeze my hand because you know we’re thinking the same thing.

When I can hear you reading stories to the kids, and you’re so tender and great with them.

When we’re singing together in the kitchen or in the car.

When we make a new plan for our life together, and I am buoyed by your optimism.

In just a few weeks, we will move to the next chapter of our lives, in our new house. I can hardly wait to see what the next decade will bring to the little family we’ve made.

Love you jillions, for always,

Di

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A Message to the Daddies on Mother’s Day, or “How (Not) to Incur Mama’s Wrath”

This post is dedicated to all the fathers and fathers-to-be out there, with love – especially if this is your first Mother’s Day. I hope some of these words can be useful to you, or to someone you know.

(If you are an equal-time, full-time, or single dad, then you can stop reading now… Welcome to the Mama Club.)

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I know some truly great fathers. My own father, my husband, and many of my friends are modern, enlightened dads, thoroughly invested in their children’s lives, who demonstrate their love and care in all kinds of ways. They’re “father figures” in the best sense of the word.

It’s not easy, taking on the Daddy role. Becoming a father is huge; it changes everything. Life becomes a balancing act, a dichotomy, with societal expectations for fathers having done an about-face in half a century. It’s beautiful, too – I’ve seen guys morph from macho to mushball, and there’s nothing more wonderful. When they’re with their children, they are better people, opened up in new ways. But it’s still tough: how do you be your old self as well as your new father-self?

That is a question only the fathers can answer. But I do have some insight into another, perhaps even more tricky, question… How do you keep your relationship with your Baby Mama healthy?

It’s tough, watching her go through wicked hormones, sleep deprivation, pain in various lady parts, shrinkage of social life, etc., and not knowing how to help. Especially in the beginning, she might even seem like a different person, and you’re not sure how to react.

Did anybody warn you about how hard that would be, for both of you? For lots of couples, it’s quite a curve ball.

I remember, when I was pregnant with my first child, a friend warned me: “No matter how good your marriage is now, having a baby will strain it.”

Another friend said, “Just be prepared – if you disagree about parenting, you will always feel that you’re right, because you’re the mom. And you pretty much always will be right.”

Since then, I’ve been in many more conversations with mothers about their parenting partners, and certain themes are unmistakable. The issues that make a mom say, “I freaked out on my husband the other day…” or “Last night I finally snapped when he…” are the same ones, over and over, across all kinds of families – even the ones you have always assumed are perfect.

Our family is no different. My husband and I have had our share of issues, and our combined wisdom on this topic is hard-won – genuine communication is often painful, but absolutely worthwhile. It took a lot of frank talking, and even more listening.

Let me be clear: my husband is a fantastic life-mate, and I love him to pieces. I got one of the very best ones. He was a brick through my three labours and deliveries; he has changed his share of diapers, and dealt stoically with countless other icky messes. He does all the best Daddy things with his living son and daughter, and keeps his stillborn son close to his heart. He is thoughtful and loving and firm and really fun.

It’s just that these great qualities – especially at the beginning – couldn’t exempt him from the basic truth, the one I hear repeated constantly by moms: it’s extremely hard for Dads to really get it, to understand what we go through.

This may sound cry-me-a-river-ish. After all, most of us get into the procreation gig because we want to, right? And women are the ones biologically designed to gestate babies, give birth, breastfeed, and fiercely invest, mama-bear-style, in the welfare of their children.

So where’s the issue?

If motherhood is such a joy, why do I know so many healthy, well-adjusted moms who have become enraged (some on a regular basis) at their baby daddies, whom they have previously loved with ease? Why are dads flabbergasted to find themselves abruptly on the receiving end of moms’ wrath, when they know they’re doing a good job?

I think it happens when fathers have not yet recognized this fundamental truth:

Motherhood is indeed awesome – AND, it’s really tough. A lot tougher than either of you first thought.

Birth and baby-bonding can be beautiful, transformative experiences. I know I’m not the only mama who has completely lost track of time, just staring at her newborn’s face. Breastfeeding, once mama and baby have mastered it, can be just as dazzling as they say. Where I live in Canada, maternity leaves are lengthy enough for new mothers to immerse themselves in their roles, and most moms I talk to wouldn’t have it any other way: they want to spend all that time with their babies, they want to be their child’s food source, and they want to be there for every tiny moment, every change and milestone. The rewards of new motherhood can be grand.

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How can we possibly complain?

Here are some of the reasons why it’s so tough, and why the frustration can build up into Wrath:

1. Transmogrification.

We’ve acknowledged that becoming a father is an enormous change – at least, it is if you’re doing it right. But for most mothers, having a child is beyond huge. It alters us from our foundations. Our lives as we know them completely unhinge, and re-attach to revolve around our babies. NOTHING stays the same for us. Not the shapes of our bodies, not our hormones, not our instincts, not our priorities, not our careers, not the functioning of our brains, and especially not our day-to-day activities. Intellectually, we know this is how it will be – but it’s still a giant, often overwhelming adjustment when it happens. (N.B.: For moms with postpartum depression/anxiety, PTSD, and/or colicky, high-needs, or non-sleeper babies, it is a different and exponentially harder story.)

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Be sensitive about whether you are both able to do things like take a shower whenever you want, eat hot meals with both hands free, have conversations with adults about grown-up topics, etc… or whether only one of you currently enjoys those luxuries.
  • Consider whether your golf/hockey/gaming/running/gym schedule is still intact. If you’ve just become a parent, your timetable should reflect that. What about her hobbies? Do they still exist?
  • Don’t be the guy who says, “You’re no fun anymore!” Outlandish as it sounds, I am NOT making this one up – it’s a direct quote. Dads who say this are putting themselves in the league of Fathers Who Become Ex-Husbands. (Not kidding.)
  • Also, if you have the urge to remark on the changes in her body, even as a joke… QUASH IT. I guarantee she will not find it funny. (Unless you want to tell her she’s gorgeous. Then go ahead.) So many moms torture themselves about their postpartum bodies – even if they’ve never mentioned it to you.
  • Along similar lines, please be patient when it comes to sex. If you are feeling any boob jealousy because Mama is breastfeeding… best to keep it to yourself. If you like breasts, just remember why they were put on earth (motorboating not being a biological imperative). If you are feeling sexually neglected, remember: between hormonal changes and physical pain (because no matter how well the birth went, there will be some), not to mention lack of sleep and postpartum body-image issues, it takes a while. It’s a rare couple who really gets it on within the first month… and depending on what happened to her girl parts, it’s often more like two or three… or six… (I know, sounds unimaginable. Welcome to parenthood.) But she’ll get there.

2. De-Expertization.

Committed parenting is an ocean of doubts and questions to which there are no single right answers.

Basically all moms, with all their hearts, want to do what is best for their children. A new mom spends all day every day with the baby, attempting to do just that, even though it’s a job that is impossible to do “perfectly.” When they encounter problems, or even uncertainties, they discuss them with other moms; they research on internet baby forums; they read baby books. It’s like a whole new career. (And for stay-at-home moms, it IS a whole new career. In the U.S. especially, where maternity leaves are brutally short, many moms choose to leave the workforce entirely – and motherhood is their new life’s work.)

For moms who, before motherhood, spent most of their time doing something they were good at, it is really challenging to suddenly be doing something so unmasterable, so uncontrollable, so guaranteed to maximize your insecurities.

When mothers run into parenting troubles, fathers often offer advice about how to solve baby problems, and they do so with the best of intentions. You want to help, to ease frustration, to be really involved. That, in itself, is great… you just need to tread carefully.

You may be passionately committed to fatherhood, but if you’re working full-time outside the home, it’s just different. You don’t have the same number of hours to get hands-on experience and bonding time with the baby, and it’s unlikely you have the same gut-level motivation to research whatever feeding or sleeping or other issues have cropped up.

Just imagine how you would feel if you were investing your whole self in a new calling, spending all your time and energy trying to get it right, and someone with far less experience blithely piped up, “Hey, have you tried this?”

You see what I mean.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • If you can find the time, read some parenting books and/or articles. There are lots written especially for dads, if you’re into that.
  • In particular, if mama and baby are trying to resolve a specific issue (that she is bearing the brunt of), do the reading necessary to be on the same page with what they’re trying.
  • If you don’t have time to do this… then don’t offer advice (as mentioned above). Give her credit for the nonstop on-the-job training she’s been doing. Be the one to listen, and ask what you can do to help.

3. Underestimation.

Ask any stay-at-home mom: people constantly trivialize the work you do when you’re “just” parenting. In fact, there’s a widespread fallacy that it’s not actually work. As in, “Oh, so you’re not working right now?”

Well. Is it something you would pay someone else to do? THEN IT’S WORK. (One could also mention things it has in common with jobs like teaching, waiting tables, mediating, housecleaning, coaching, and lifeguarding.) Babies can’t wait patiently for their needs to be met. Toddlers don’t understand the importance of a to-do list. Full-time parenting is exhausting. Hearing comments about how easy you must have it gets old real fast.

Yes, most of the moms who stay home with their kids – for any length of time – have chosen it, and love it overall. That doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk – mentally, physically, or emotionally. It’s like many of the most rewarding jobs: the more you care about it, the harder it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Try not to say this: “Wow, the house is a mess! What did you do all day?” It can be very tempting. Oftentimes the house IS a mess – but I highly recommend you refrain on this one. If the dishes didn’t get done, trust that there are reasons. Chances are, she would have liked to get more done – it’s hard for lots of moms, especially in the beginning, seeing their “productivity” take a nosedive – but baby needs come first.
  • Even if all the baby does is sleep and eat, those things can be a lot less straightforward than it seems like they should be. Especially now that Google is there to make us second-guess everything we do.

4. Default Parenting.

No matter how much each parent loves his or her children, there’s always a default parent. With new babies, it’s natural for that to be Mama, for reasons both biological and societal. However, in my experience, Mama remains the default for much longer and in more situations than necessary, because the precedent has been set. Even if she has gone back to work and has as demanding a schedule as Daddy, in many cases she is still automatically taking care of most meals, day care drop-offs and pick-ups, school communications, hand-me-downs, doctor’s appointments, etc.

In large gatherings, she is the one whose parental radar never turns off, even if both parents are there. It happens all the time: kids are playing, dads are socializing, moms are partly socializing, and partly checking if the kids need to pee or need snacks or band-aids or are getting up to mischief or going too close to the stairs/breakable things/sharp things. I don’t know why this dynamic is so common, in this day and age… but it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Avoid saying, “Oh man, I am SO TIRED.” I’m sure you are. Being a parent AND a person is tiring. But unless you are doing exactly as much nighttime baby-feeding, midnight potty trips, nightmare-soothing etc. as Mama, she is the wrong person to complain to about your fatigue. She is the one at whose expense you get your sleep (and keep in mind that if her body is a full-time milk factory, this actually uses even more energy than pregnancy). If you’re tired, she’s exhausted. Reserve the complaints for your guy friends.
  • Be present. When you are in the same building with your children, even if Mama is there, you’re automatically on duty too – unless you’ve specifically made other arrangements with your co-parent.
  • If you are one of the countless Dads who like to take leisurely bathroom breaks with their favourite book/magazine/handheld device, remember you’re on the clock. Those fifteen-minute intermissions are very noticeable to the mama who doesn’t even get to pee alone, never mind take more than ninety seconds at a time on the john.
  • If you wish you could reverse the roles (she probably does too, sometimes), please don’t assume that it would be the proverbial stroller-ride in the park if you did.

5. Bad Cop Syndrome

This follows on the heels of Default Parenting. There’s usually one parent who’s more strict than the other, and that’s normal too. But it’s funny: even though the phrase goes “Wait till your father gets home,” as if Daddy’s the one who draws the hard line, nowadays I’ve seen much more often that Daddy is the permissive one. He says yes more frequently to sugar and extra video game time and fun new toys. Daddies bend the rules way more often.

And it’s not that those things are awful. They’re fun. But if Mommy’s the one who sticks to the boundaries and Daddy’s the fun one, well… that makes Mommy the bad cop. Especially because now she’s now monitoring the kid(s) AND you. She did not sign up for that. It sucks to be the killjoy, even if you know it’s your job. The point is, it should be both of your job.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Don’t give credence to that harebrained dad from dumb commercials, the one who always screws up. People joke about how moms end up with one extra kid because dads are like big children; in reality, this is not funny at all. Perpetuating the perception of fathers as bumbling fools who can’t parent properly is insulting to you and your family, and it only takes society backwards.
  • Make sure you’ve talked about the limits the two of you, AS A TEAM, are setting for your children. Stick to them, unless you have a very good reason not to. (For the record, your child simply asking is not a very good reason.)
  • Attractive as it is sometimes to say things like “No dinner if you can’t cooperate!”, try not to make threats you can’t keep. Kids only take you seriously if you mean what you say – and you will soon pay for your wavering.

6. Interminability. This is probably the hardest thing about New Motherhood – and Motherhood in general: it is relentless. Even for mothers with dream babies who feed well and sleep lots, it’s still hard being the be-all and end-all of your child’s existence. Beautiful and rewarding, of course, but sometimes… damn hard.

Is there any other job where you are working or on-call literally 24/7, for months (or even years) in a row? Especially for a breastfeeding mama whose baby doesn’t bottle-feed, or one whose children are very mama-centric, or one whose baby daddy is mostly (or always) not home… Sometimes it feels like we just might not make it through with our sanity. (And remember, grasp on sanity weakens in proportion to the amount of time spent listening to crying/screaming.)

As I see it, the key thing is Me Time, or rather the lack thereof. I know “Me Time” is kind of an annoying, new-agey phrase that sounds like it belongs in a spa ad. But trust me, it’s a critical issue that goes unaddressed shockingly often. For a mother with a newborn, depending on the baby’s needs and personality, the simple ability to take a break can basically cease to exist. I remember, in the first few weeks of E’s life, fantasizing about folding a whole load of laundry uninterrupted or going grocery shopping alone – and those don’t even count as Me Time. Taking ten-minute Sitz-baths for my postpartum stitches felt like over-the-top luxury.

Please note also that mom-dates, although they are fun and rejuvenating and do wonders for moms’ mental health, don’t count as Me Time either. Mom is still on-duty the whole time. Real, legitimate Me Time must remove her from the duties of motherhood, and remind her of who she is, as herself, in addition to being a mother.

If you still spend the majority of your time being yourself, doing things you used to do before becoming a father, then it’s hard to relate.

If it’s not possible for Mama to take breaks at the moment (which can happen, especially early on), examine the extent of your own Me Time, and how much of it is in her presence. The discrepancy between your Me Time and hers will likely be proportional to her level of aggravation.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Notice and appreciate when you have time to yourself – and this goes double for when you have the house to yourself. I have heard described SO MANY scenarios in which Mom has literally not had a moment of Me Time all day, and Dad comes home (or is already home) and puts his feet up, or takes a bike ride, or goes to putter in the garage, or picks up his iPad, without thinking about it. Trust me, this habit incurs the Wrath.
  • Enable her Me Time, if you can. Even a few minutes can make a big difference to a tired mama’s mental state.
  • Ask yourself this test question: How many times have I been on a real trip – out of town – without the kids? How many times has she? (If she goes on trips with the kids, it’s not the same at all.)
  • Remember that motherhood today is burdened with impossible standards. Between the contradictory wisdom of the Interwebs and the generations-old pressure to Take Care Of Everything, not to mention new expectations of scheduling kids to death and making life Pinterest-worthy… There’s just no way to ace it.
  • Don’t let her be a martyr to the work; take some of it off her plate. Don’t give her the chance to identify with that perfect-but-drudgey 1950s housewife who barely got to be a person. (That effing model housewife, whether she ever existed or not, looms in the maternal subconscious, judging us when we haven’t vacuumed.)

And there you have it! Those are the big Wrath-Incurring Issues. If my advice seems self-evident and way too easy, that’s great. You are ADVANCED. If it seems condescending, I apologize – I only wrote what the complaints called for. If it was overwhelming… feel free to re-read. 🙂

So. Are you all ready to celebrate Mother’s Day?

I know some say that it’s the kids who should be appreciating their mothers on Mother’s Day, and yes, they should, if they’re developmentally able. But if you are grateful to have progeny, your appreciation is just as important. And don’t forget to call your own mom, if you can.

All the information above might have given you ideas about how to show Mama you’re glad that you have kids with her. Just in case you’d like a recap:

1. Recognition. Be observant enough to see what she does, and what she gives up, on a daily basis.

2. Appreciation. I have seen these situations improve dramatically with a simple acknowledgement from Dad: I know you work hard, and even though we are a team, I know that when it comes to the kids, YOU DO MORE, and I appreciate it. Nobody wants to work thanklessly, especially when it’s work they pour their passion into.

3. Facilitation. Help her get those breaks that remind her who she is, and what she’s good at (besides being the best baby mama in the world).

4. Recalibration. As your child(ren)’s age permits, especially if Mom goes back to work, swing the balance back. Take honest stock of who’s doing the non-negotiable child-care things that have to happen each day, and try to even things out. You will reap the rewards; if you ever felt the pang of your child rejecting you in favour of Mommy, this is the time when the tables can turn.

5. Libation. Just a couple of wee bonus tips: if you have a newborn and you’re around when Mama is breastfeeding the baby, get her something to drink. It’s a small gesture that makes a big difference to a mother possessed by the nursing thirst. On similar lines, if you ever have chances to pay her back for the alcohol-free time she’s done by being the DD, take them.

And if you want to do more for Mother’s Day… you might ask her what would make her happiest.

Thanks for reading, Daddies (and Daddies-to-be). I hope it has been worthwhile, and that if you make a loving effort to understand her experience, she will be able to do the same for you.

Happy parenting, and good luck.

***


 

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8 Unromantic-Sounding Ways I Know We Will Last

two hearts making an effort

“How’s your relationship these days?” is not a question most of us ever ask people. I’ve probably only ever asked it of newlyweds (where it’s more like “How’s married life?” nudge-nudge) or of very close friends with whom I have a precedent of relationship discussions.

It is a bit odd, though. Among parents, there are the constant “how are your kids” conversations, and it’s expected that you’ll dish on the hard parts as well as the fun parts. But for some reason, even though Sean and I are at the age where the majority of our friends are in committed relationships, we rarely discuss that very important aspect of daily life. Somehow, it feels rude or intrusive to ask, even though we certainly care about the answer.

One result of this is that when friends have major relationship troubles or break up, it’s often a complete shock – sometimes even to close friends. You think, But they always seemed fine!

Obviously, the reasons to break up are as diverse and numerous as the couples who do it. For the couples who stay together, there are myriad reasons for that, too. Presumably, though, most couples who’ve had a long-term relationship – whatever its future – had a period of awesomeness at some point. A chapter, of whatever length, where the connection was uplifting and the chemistry was wild and both parties thought, “This could be IT!”

Setting aside the Big Bad Wolves of Relationship Destruction (infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc.), how else do those paths diverge, such that some couples stay together and some split up?

I can only speak for myself in this, of course. I’m no expert. If someone asked me, “How can you be sure you’ll be together forever?” I’d say, “I’m not. It’s impossible to be a hundred percent sure. But I am supremely confident.”

How, you ask, can I be supremely confident without blind faith? What’s the secret? And could it be helpful to anyone else?

Well, shucks, that’s why I’m writing this. So that you can all SOAK UP MY GLORIOUS WISDOMAlors, voilà: here is my carefully crafted counsel, based on my own untrained and entirely non-objective experience of thirteen years with the same person (9.5 of them married).

1. Let Your Inner Grub Out.

If you’re gonna be with someone for the long haul, they need to see the real you, and your real habits. Not dressed up, not scrubbed down. When Sean and I moved in together, cohabitation was our way to make sure that neither of us had habits that would be deal-breakers for the other. We are lucky to have very similar scores on the slob-to-neat-freak scale. If I forget to put the CDs back in their cases (yes, we’re sooo retro, we still have CDs), or if he forgets to put his nasal rinse packet in the garbage, we know we’re about even. We have also found we’re able to handle each other’s dirty laundry and live with each other’s stinkier sides, and we like each other even in comfy pants and scruffy hoodies.

2. Get Used To Non-Perfection.

Speaking of grubs, your personality-related grubbiness is gonna need airing out too. We all have our flaws. We all have at least one side that’s lazy or naggy or procrastinatey or judgey or grumpy or insensitive or whatever. (Fun game: guess which ones are mine!!) And if you join yourself with a person, you join yourself with their flaws. Those flaws are not going anywhere. And Sean and I are well aware of the less awesome parts of each other – and ourselves. Sometimes we drive each other a little bit bonkers with that. But even though we know we can’t change each other, we do support each other’s quests for self-improvement, which are constantly evolving.

3. Forget Sweet Talk. Try Straight Talk.

Speaking of imperfections, it’s good to know we can live with each other’s, but sometimes discussion is necessary. It’s amazing how easy it is to find yourself playing games, manipulating, expecting someone to read your mind if you’re feeling pouty. But that’s lame. If my husband is driving me bonkers in some way, and I never articulate it to him, then what chance is there to improve things? If he’s upset with me for something, I want him to tell me – even when it hurts to hear. (Contrary to some beliefs, it is NOT more respectful to say nothing in an attempt to spare someone’s feelings.) It usually hurts, although we also take pains to word things as plainly-but-tactfully as possible. Those moments are really hard, but bearable – and worth it – if they come from a place of caring. Leaving those unsaid things to fester, on the other hand, is a great way to drive spikes into the potential cracks in a relationship. (We consider that, true to our marriage vows, being irresponsible with spikes is not an option. We have invested; what we have is not disposable or replaceable; therefore, proper maintenance is necessary.)

4. Learn To Mess Up Properly.

Speaking of upsetting each other, Sean and I have learned, many times, that if you handle mistakes with honesty and sincerity, it works way better than denying or deflecting blame. THIS IS HARD, too. Admitting you’re wrong… I honestly think everyone struggles with it. True apology feels deeply vulnerable. But it’s also humbling, illuminating, disarming, and endearing. It allows a couple to be a team, with both members party to the resolution. And I’ve noticed that when a person can be candid about mistakes, those aforementioned flaws and foibles can sometimes even be… kinda cute.

5. Never Mind About That Honeymoon Phase.

Speaking of admitting things, let’s be frank: the exorbitant new-relationship ecstasy does not last forever. Sometimes Sean and I look back on how snuggly-wuggly and cutesie-wootsie we once were, and we think, Yeesh. Our friends must have been nauseated. That swooning stage is not sustainable, long-term. And to be even franker, in a long relationship, there are sometimes downright cool periods – times when you feel distant or annoyed or just not that attracted to each other, or even disconnected.

N.B.: DON’T PANIC. It doesn’t mean the spark is gone forever.

For me, those are usually the times when I’m feeling deflated about life in general. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to put stock in those times. I know that that’s just how I feel if I’m short on sleep, or not eating right, or stressed out about certain things. I wait it out. I know it will pass. It always does. If it needs a little nudge, some of that straight talk (see #3) comes in very handy. Invariably, the moment comes when I look at my husband and feel the affection/happiness/spark surge back in.

It’s also worth mentioning that, in my experience, the settled, solid, non-swooning phase is, in many ways, more sublime than its predecessor. And it still includes kisses that make me weak in the knees.

6. Go Ahead And Take Love For Granted.

Speaking of sometimes-latent affection, one of the perks of being in a committed relationship is getting to take love for granted – in a way. It’s not that I take love in general for granted; it took me ages (years, even) to tell my high school/university boyfriend that I loved him, because I wanted to be absolutely sure I knew what I meant, and meant it well. But once you’ve taken that leap and decided that yes, this is love!, it’s your right – and responsibility – to trust that it’s there… even at times (see #5) when you feel crotchety and not-so-loving. My Hubbibi and I always end phone and text conversations with “I love you.” Especially if we’ve been exasperated with each other, or having a difficult conversation, we both know that by saying “I love you,” we’re affirming that we don’t take challenging moments as bad signs, that we both trust in the proof of our history. Unless one of us were to go through a fundamental change, we know: I’m me, and you’re you, and we love each other.

Furthermore, I really believe that the out-loud declaration of “I love you” is, for lack of a better analogy, like a valve that opens to let the love flow. The absence of “I love you,” on the other hand, is not just a silent moment; it’s a gaping hole through which the love can gradually – and painfully – drain out. I know couples have very different outlooks on when to say it, how often to say it, not wanting it to “mean nothing” if said too often. I see where they’re coming from, but I don’t think saving I love yous for special occasions makes sense. Love, with your life partner, is a gift – but not the diamond-bracelet kind of gift. It must be a practical, everyday gift, like a high-quality glue that can get kinda grungy but does not let go. Even if you say it dozens of times a day, it still means everything.

7. Love Is Not All You Need.

Speaking of love, it’s not the last word. It’s also really important to like each other. If you don’t enjoy each other’s company, all the good chemistry in the world won’t make up for it. I always smile when I see that quote on someone’s wedding program, “This day I will marry my best friend,” etc., because I think that’s the dream. What more could you want? Permanent sleepovers with your best friend! Always coming home to your favourite person! Once you cohabit, and more so once you have kids, it won’t always be “quality” time. There will be many humdrum household activities to share. Once in a while you might think, “Remember when we used to do FUN stuff together??” And you will again. But in the meantime, even if you don’t spend lots of time together (couples on opposite shifts, or with very different hobbies, for example), just sharing those run-of-the-mill activities can be lovely with a cherished friend.

8. Smarten Up And Be Grateful.

There are lots of couples out there who make their marriages function even though they’re not particularly happy or compatible together. Sean and I are fortunate in lots of ways some couples aren’t: we have very well-matched senses of humour; we enjoy the same simple ways to spend time together; we like the same music; we have similar nerdy and/or intellectual tendencies; we have harmonious politics; we genuinely love each other’s families.

We do, however, have differences that can be difficult. We aren’t passionate about all the same things; we don’t have the same style of communication; we have different instincts on a lot of minor issues; but all those things are surmountable with some conscious effort. And with the time we’ve already spent together, we owe each other that conscious effort. Who are we to let small things mess up our relationship when other couples have such larger hurdles?

Ignoring my good fortune seems spoiled to me – like living in such abundance that you feel entitled to waste perfectly good food – and I HATE wasting food. I’ve made a habit of intentionally appreciating the good things, so that when things don’t seem super-rosy, I never forget that I’m still an extremely lucky gal.

One more thing… A Note About Mental Illness.

As many of you know, my beloved Hubbibi is subject to chemical depression sometimes. It took a long time for both of us to understand that while depression can be triggered or catalyzed by circumstances, at its foundation it has nothing to do with how many things are good in one’s life. I have had to pull myself back from feeling like my failings were directly contributing to his depression.

The thing is, before our marriage, we did almost break up – several times – and I mostly blame the depression. It’s an illness that steals your mojo, takes the glow out of even your favourite people and things, makes you feel like stuff isn’t worth doing, saps your motivation to do even the things you know are good for you.

So again, speaking just from my own perspective… If your relationship seems lacklustre despite solid history, consider that mental health (or lack of it) could be an issue. Because there are ways to deal with that. We would never have gotten through those almost-breakups, not to mention having children, not to mention losing one child, without confronting those issues head-on. Being open about this, and being a united team where mental health is concerned, has saved us multiple times.

Just sayin’.

So, to sum up:

If someone were to ask me, “How did you know that Sean was THE ONE?” I’d say, “I didn’t. But I knew he was a super-special-awesome one.”

If someone were to ask me, “How do you know Sean IS the one?” I’d say something annoying like, “He is… because he is.”

I don’t necessarily believe there’s only one human in the world I could possibly make a life with. But Sean is the person I’ve chosen, who has also chosen me, with whom to build something special and interesting and beautiful. He is the only person with whom I can have THIS life, and this life is the one I want.

***

P.S.: To read more about mental health struggles and successes, please click here.


 

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100 Happy Days – Day 29: Love Art

E was inspired to pull up his li’l stool and draw this on our white board today.

IMG_7478

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Happy Second Birthday, Rainbow Baby

AB's second birthday

Dear Delicious Little Girl,

Two years ago yesterday, you came peacefully into the world, and immediately began howling. It was a day joyous beyond description for the people who love you.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot about you. Some things we learned right away:

  • You like to be snuggled – but not every second.
  • You are unafraid to use your voice to express yourself and your needs.
  • You have a strong set of pipes.
  • Your beautiful eyes can break hearts.

Other things it has been our privilege to watch developing:

  • You love music and dancing.
  • Your smile and your excitement are infectious.
  • You are really into books and stories.
  • You learn fast – when it comes to things you care about.
  • Your verbal skills are, quite literally, off the charts.
  • Your dramatic skills are also pretty stellar, especially the trembling pouty lip + tragic wilting combo.
  • You know exactly what you want (even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted three seconds ago), and you will furiously stand up for it.
  • You will try any new food that’s going – in fact, you insist upon it.
  • You are independent such that if we weren’t watching, you would just wander right off without us.
  • You are determined, and you really, really, really want to do it yourself.
  • You are very observant of people, and somehow, you already understand how to be compassionate.
  • You adore your big brother and want to do everything he does.
  • Your cheeks are so kissable, we can hardly stand it.
  • You give wonderful hugs.

There are many moments every day when I just marvel at the fact that we are the family who gets to take care of you.

Here is a little video to celebrate you. It includes many of the people who love you – but I wish it could show all of us who know the heartrending gratification of loving your adorable little self, and watching you grow. So fast.

Happy birthday, Sweetie. You’re the best.

***


 

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