It’s my blogiversary this weekend! Technically yesterday – November 3rd – it was nine whole years since my first blog post ever. About which I said nothing to anyone. I barely knew what a blog was, but I was inspired by my sister blogging about her experiences in Europe, and had also read some blog posts by another friend who wrote about random things, very briefly, and made blogging seem so… feasible.
Man, things were really different back then. Sean’s and my marriage was only four years old, and my teaching career barely older. I had one wee babe. We had a little house on the opposite side of town (and had barely even thought about school catchment areas). Emi and our friend K still lived with us. My whole world was my baby and family at that point. And it was such a joy to spend basically all of my time and brain power on one tiny, squishy-cheeked human that I loved unimaginably – who also happened to be a pretty easy customer.
I remember how much I wanted to get parenting right (LOL!), and how everything my son did was special and amazing. I also remember that my first several blog posts were written sitting in the glider in E’s room, just being near him as he slept.
I had no inkling, while writing those first blog posts, that this blog would still be alive nine years later – because of you. If you hadn’t been reading, imparting legitimacy to my words, it would have been hard to justify this therapeutic but self-indulgent hobby all this time. Thank goodness you were there. I could not have predicted that blogging, through your compassionate readership, would become a lifeline of solace when Sebastian died. Nor did I imagine that I would one day write a post that would be viewed over 50,000 times in a week, or that I would have readers who would insist to me that my blog was important – to folks other than me.
These days, I sometimes wrestle with myself about what to write. Not for a lack of ideas, but for a lack of clarity. Part of me feels that I should go back to my origins of writing whatever I feel like, whenever, even if it’s insignificant and random… Because that’s how this all started – as an excuse to write stuff. “Just write… and see what happens.” The other part of me feels like I should only write when I have something truly meaningful to say, and time to polish it properly, out of respect for you. I mean, what right have I to assume that you want to read my arbitrary woolgathering? There are already plenty of bloggers – and commenters, and tweeters, and Facebookers, etc. – out there who blather.
The truth is that this blog’s steady readership of lovelies is not large. It’s not like I’m proclaiming to the masses. I would love to know what you feel is worth reading in an age of overwhelming internet noise. So if you’re reading right now, please feel free to weigh in about… well, anything you want. (Requests?… Pet peeves?… Guest posts??) I am very, very grateful to you for reading, and it seems only fair that you should have some input. If you want it. I’ll accommodate it as best I can (in my inconsistent fashion).
Anyway. Thank you, as always, for being here. Thanks for reading, and nudging, and commenting, and sharing, and being part of this li’l community with me. I will always be grateful for you. [Insert whole rainbow of heart emojis.]
Recently, I had the chance to catch up with an old friend whose family was expecting their third child: a daughter, after two sons. [Actually, I started this post more than a month ago, and as it happens, said daughter was born TODAY, early this morning! So read on, in honour of wee baby EC’s birth day.] This friend is from a two-son, no-daughter family himself. He said, “I should pick your brain sometime about how to raise a girl. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing.”
I’d like to say that I have all the answers, since a) I am a daughter and b) I have a daughter I’ve managed to get to age 5 relatively unscathed.
Always wipe front to back
Don’t over-clean and irritate those girl parts
Keep a close eye on her interactions with her big brothers, because it’s easy for big brothers to abuse their power without realizing it.
Annnnd… that’s about the only straightforward advice I have. As soon as you’re past the diaper stage – and sometimes while you’re still in it – other things that differentiate raising a girl from raising a boy get sticky and complicated.
Once upon a time, I was a girl. (Still am, in some ways.) I was always happy and proud to be one, and never wished I were a boy – girls are the best! I was fortunate to have many strong, wise, smart female role models in my life, including my mom, my aunts, and my grandmothers. Also, I grew up between two sisters (with a brother as well), and my best friends were all girls (past about age 5).
Now I’m a grown-up woman, and I still wouldn’t trade that for anything. There are lots of awesome and basically magical things about being a female human. That being said, I have come to understand a lot more about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the status of womanhood today, and the breadth of the progress we have yet to make. I’ve thought and read and discussed a lot about what feminism means to me now, as a mother and as a teacher. Often, the process makes me mad, and always, it makes me feel fiercely protective of my little girl.
Obviously, girls, like all children, are individuals. The main things you can justifiably say about “Girls” as a group are not about their personalities, hobbies, habits, or tendencies. They are about the ways society sees and treats them. In my career I have taught literally hundreds of girls between the ages of three and eighteen, observing and getting to know them in many different contexts.
Here are a few thoughts that I hope will be helpful – or they may just confuse things worse than ever. But I think they’re important.
Pretty is as pretty does
The wish to be physically appealing is extremely powerful. I believe that this is partly instinctive, but mightily reinforced by the media. Society teaches girls and women that making themselves pretty should be their top priority.
Not too long ago, it was our duty to be pretty for men. Nowadays, it’s ostensibly for “us” – the company line is that it’s empowering to feel beautiful. Frankly, this is often true. Most women I know do feel most confident when they know they look good. I’m sure most men are the same.
Where the empowerment argument falls down is that the standards for women are flat-out ridiculous. As in, the consumer engine is all up in our appearances, down to Every. Single. Detail. Not just the quality of our hair and the state of our toenails, but everything in between, including the consistency of our breasts and the look of our vulvas. (And when I mention hair, I mean ALL the hair, in EVERY place.) There is no part of the external female anatomy that is exempt from society’s opinion.
And the expectation is perfection, literally. Women’s products are designed to minimize or conceal “imperfections” – or even “correct” them, as though every unique quirk of our bodies is a MISTAKE. I feel the outrageousness of this as I write it, but sadly, it’s no exaggeration. Society’s collective sense of entitlement to judge female people on and by their looks is inescapable and crushing. The engine never stops, because there are people making obscene amounts of money off of women feeling bad about themselves.
Tiny girls are able to love themselves and their appearances naturally and abundantly. Sean was worried at one point because AB loves to admire herself in the mirror, strike cool poses and so on – is she too focused on her looks? Will she grow up vain?
But this time of a little girl being able to enjoy her reflection without self-judgment and criticism is fleeting. Due to the above phenomenon, a girl’s self-esteem is often extremely fragile. I was already worrying about whether my body was good enough by the time I was nine (ballet class did not help in that regard, even though I adored ballet) and I fretted about my crooked teeth as soon as I got them, which was even earlier. Every insecurity a girl can have is promptly and thoroughly validated by the media. I watch my daughter enjoying her beauty, and it squeezes my heart. I know all too well the self-consciousness that creeps in, so soon, on young girls.
So here’s a quandary: do I tell my daughter she’s beautiful to reinforce her confidence, or treat appearance as unimportant so that she will focus on her character and skills? (The internet is all over both sides of this argument, BTW. It’s no help.) Personally, I try to do both. I tell her she’s beautiful often, because I can’t pretend that Beauty isn’t an issue. She IS beautiful, and she will need this knowledge-ammo to fight off the counter-messages. Plus… we all know it feels good to hear that. (She tells me I’m beautiful too, with sincerity and delight, usually when I wear a skirt or something pink – or any outfit she chose for me.)
[Here is a wonderful blog post about a mom who learned, for her daughters’ sake, to agree with them that she was beautiful. This had a big impact on me when I first read it, back when my own daughter was baby. Since then, I try very hard not to be self-critical in front of my kids. And in general (though that’s harder).]
We also talk about her character on a regular basis, discussing almost every day what makes a good friend, how much we learn from hard work, what courage looks like, and other traits we want to foster. I only use the word ugly when we’re talking about certain behaviours (which could be another whole post). I want her to know deep down, as she grows, that in real life, inner beauty is the greatest determining factor of overall beauty.
Nurturing is for everybody
Society may have been telling girls that we want to play with dolls for generations, but it’s not out of the blue. The nurturing tendency among girls is not solely a learned thing. As my daughter already knows, girls are born with all their eggs already in place in their bodies (in fact, AB seems quite proud of this). It makes sense that certain instincts come with them. Even in families trying hard to avoid gender-norming their kids, you often have tiny toddler girls pretending to be mamas (and tiny toddler boys who freak out with excitement around construction equipment). Many’s the kindergarten girl I’ve seen taking a random object – like a block or a chalkboard eraser – and mothering it.
I guess it’s not surprising that so many of the vocations dominated by women – child care, education, nursing, veterinary medicine, home health care, social work, not to mention parenting – are those in which the nurturing instincts are an asset. I am proud of the skills and accomplishments of these women, as well as those of the women who pioneer in male-dominated fields, who deal with chauvinism every day in order to pound their boots on that glass ceiling.
At some point, my daughter will have to contend with all this. Particularly divisive are the many perceptions that complicate a woman’s choice to mother – or not. “Parenting isn’t real work”… “Working mothers can’t fully succeed in their careers”… “A woman isn’t a real woman until she’s a mother” … and many more, often in conflict with each other. For now, though, I encourage my daughter to nurture (as well as to build things, play with trucks, and so on) – and I encourage the caring tendency in my son, too. We all need comfort and care, at every age. The world needs more nurturing, always, from everyone.
Pink is STUPID… Or AWESOME
I looooved pink when I was little girl. Then, around age 12, I went off it and didn’t start to enjoy it again until I was an adult. That’s partly because I came of age in the 90s – grunge and pink didn’t mix well – but partly because I saw it as a dumb, girly colour. Which is awful. I hate that I internalized that message for so long. Pink is fun. It’s happy.
It might also be a little bit of a trap. When my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to feel like she had to choose pink as the be-all and end-all of everything. But of course, people love to buy cute pink clothes for girl babies (and they areadorable). Although I dressed her in all the colours, as soon as she began choosing for herself, she overwhelmingly chose pink. These days, purple and turquoise (thanks, Frozen) are also really popular, and she loves multicoloured things… But nothing can sway her love of pink.
The part that makes a protective parent mad is when you go to the toy section of a department store and find your totally-pink aisle and your zero-pink aisle. As though there’s no middle ground, for anyone. Really?? In the 21st century?
Here’s a question I can’t answer: is it good that they’ve started making “girl” Lego? Because it seems like you shouldn’t have to – Lego is for everyone (with strong and able fingers). But then… I’ll be honest. I probably would have done lots more fine-motor play-building if I’d had more colours and shapes to work with. When we gave AB a Lego set with all sorts of colours (including pink and purple and turquoise) and lots of random wheels and windows and funny parts, BOTH kids got really excited and built like crazy. More variety = MORE FUN.
[On the topic of pink, dolls, and many other very pertinent things, I highly recommend “Cinderella Ate My Daughter“, by Peggy Orenstein, to be read by EVERYONE with girls in their lives.]
No means No. Except when it doesn’t.
Girls start out quite knowledgeable about their physical boundaries. Society blurs that line for them, however, from a very young age. There are a million insidious messages about how a woman should be, permeating a girl’s psyche as she grows. We should be kind, gracious, altruistic, polite, agreeable, generous, accepting, and friendly. All great qualities – I aspire to them myself, and encourage them in all the children I know. The problem arises when they are so ingrained, to the exclusion of other qualities, that they affect a girl’s protection of her boundaries.
Even in 2018, there are potent forces telling girls and women to avoid being confrontational, defensive, or inconvenient. I see ALL THE TIME our tendency to sacrifice ourselves and enable other people – sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. On the one hand, you have the professions I mentioned earlier in which women care and give every day in extraordinary ways. On the other hand, you have millions of women becoming recipients of unwanted sexual attention, language, and/or contact, from men who exploit that politeness, friendliness, acceptance, and the desire not to make a fuss or be a pain. And please don’t misunderstand: I do not blame the women. This stems from the burden of centuries of misogyny.
[Here is an excellent article about sex from a woman’s perspective that I honestly believe every woman who’s ever been sexually active, no matter how good her sex life may be, can relate to on some level. And here is a post I wrote when AB was a toddler about managing the complexities of the physical relationship between her and my son.]
My Hubbibi and I have had many earnest conversations about the word NO, especially regarding our kids. I know that sometimes no doesn’t really mean no… Sometimes kids screech and giggle “no” during a physical game when they actually enjoy it and want to continue. BUT. I don’t think it’s up to me or anyone else to decide which Nos are real and which aren’t. Not even if parents (for example) traditionally have that leeway. Some words MUST mean what they say. I always tell students: “When someone says stop, you must stop.”
If “Stop” and “No” are open for interpretation, how does a person make herself clear? If people feel entitled to construe another person’s “No” however they like, then you have… well, you have the status quo. You have #metoo, in its millions.
Don’t even get me started on the folks who object to the new Ontario Sex Ed curriculum that finally takes on consent. Keep kids in the dark about sexual health and of course they will be blindsided.
The Herbivore’s Dilemma
To take the above idea even further, girls learn young that the dangers they face can be grave indeed. Consensus says that girls aren’t safe by themselves. Young boys are in a similar category – all children have to be careful of “stranger danger” – but as we get older, the understanding deepens for women. It is an extraordinarily strong (and trained) woman who is physically able to overpower your average adult male. In the Survival Game of reality, female humans are the Herbivores – for their whole lives. Depressingly, this is a biological and statistical truth. We are the prey. We are always aware of it. It is part of our everyday existence to avoid situations that leave us vulnerable to predators.
In my mind, this is the most deep-seated reason why so many women had a profound emotional response to Wonder Woman. We vicariously walked with her right into danger, and just dealt with it like a BOSS. The idea of being unafraid, of knowing you can protect yourself and your people… That’s the dream. it’s huge.
I wish it were unnecessary, but I will be teaching my daughter everything I know about personal protection. [Here is a pretty good article that covers many of the things I learned in a personal protection workshop I took a few years ago. We also learned how to put up our “fence” – guarding hands – and say loudly and aggressively, “Back off!” and if that doesn’t work, “Back the f*ck off!!!” Haven’t shared that with AB yet, but apparently it can help a lot.]
Contradictions, Hypocrisy, and Injustice
Last year at OELC iArts, it was my privilege to have an in-depth discussion with our group of Dance Majors, based on the question “What bugs you about the way society treats girls?” These junior high students know what’s up. They are angered by the impossible standards of beauty, and the way that all forms of media prey on their insecurities.
Even more, the double standards in their daily lives are infuriating. Boys get away with all kinds of things that girls can’t. Boys can, for example, wear basically whatever they want. Girls are not allowed to violate the dress code – it’s distracting (to boys) – always the girl’s fault… but short shorts are IN. It’s impossible to be fashionable and adhere to the dress code. Girls reported being made to wear random lost-and-found shirts to cover up visible bra straps – but god forbid they should propose removing the bra to solve the problem. Already, in Grade 7, the sexualization of EVERYTHING involving girls is rampant.
There’s a lot of unfairness. And a lot of pain. The unspoken expectations, the things that are just easier for boys, the things boys – and men – feel entitled to say and do around and to girls, the things that society says girls need to care about, the things it won’t let them do…. It’s a LOT.
Furthermore, the mixed messages start right away, and never stop. Girls can do anything boys can… but in reality, they are not treated the same. Girls should do everything in their power to be pretty, but they should not care or even really be aware of it. Women should own their sexuality, but not TOO much. Women should act more like men when they lead, but if they do they’ll be called cold and heartless – and people will still feel entitled to comment on their appearance.
As a family with two living children, a boy and a girl, things are sticky sometimes. Double-standards and mixed messages have to be dealt with, often on the fly as they come up. I try to be as honest as I can about how things are, within age-appropriate limits. We discuss how people grow up with different ideas about how to treat others, and then we think together about what we believe is right. My kids are already pretty thoughtful and astute people in many ways, and have some wise things to say. They know that we will never shut down their questions or invalidate their frustrations – and that we will love them no matter what. We hope that’s enough.
Dilovely, didn’t you say “Scary But Hopeful”?
Okay, right. I acknowledge that this started out as parenting advice and became a feminist Di-atribe. (And I almost apologized for it, then backspaced. Because raising a daughter to live fully in this world = FEMINISM. No apologies.)
Yes, my understanding of, and frustration with, the status quo for women has grown with every year that goes by. It seems like, in this day and age, in a country like Canada, we should be over the silliness. Over the stupid beauty standards, the antiquated attitudes, and the misogyny so deeply embedded that some people don’t even see it. At times, it feels like we haven’t come nearly as far as we should, given the work that has gone into dismantling the patriarchy. Sometimes it even feels like we’re regressing.
However! I am also very grateful to raise my family in this place and time. Here and now, I do feel safe most of the time, and my daughter does too. Girls attend school – at all levels – in numbers that couldn’t have been imagined a century ago. We explicitly teach about consent. The pay gap is a household topic of conversation. The Prime Minister’s latest budget focused heavily on improving the lives of women. The Cabinet has gender parity. Awesome female heroes are more and more visible in movies and TV shows – and in real life too.
[If you need inspiration, news, resources, book lists, blog posts, or anything else to learn about girls or help girls learn about themselves, please mine the riches of A Mighty Girl. It is an absolute treasure trove and will make you feel better about the world.]
I’m grateful for the campaigns that mainstream companies are working on, because although they’re not without difficulties, they are highly visible and they do seep into the public consciousness. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has done some good work, bringing up issues mothers and daughters need to consider. And the original #likeagirl video made by Always consistently makes me cry.
Particularly the moment where a smiling teenage girl acknowledges she doesn’t have to accept “run like a girl” for its connotations. She says, “I would run like… myself,” putting both hands over her heart. She does know her worth, but the world tries hard to rob her of this. The woman asks her gently, “Would you like a chance to re-do it?”
Yes. Girls would like a chance to reclaim their self-compassion and take loving custody of their own value as people, please. YES.
This can happen. The world is shifting. There may be a sexual predator slash nincompoop currently terrorizing the White House, but I’ll say this for him: he (unintentionally) rallied millions of women to take louder, stronger ownership of their feminist ideals. This is helping to put feminism where it should be: as the mainstream, default position for ALL non-misogynist humans. The #metoo movement has swelled past its banks on the power of women knowing they can’t let others just get away with shit anymore. Complacency is not an option.
I am also comforted by the knowledge that we have sisterhood to draw upon. We can bring our daughters into the fold as women who know the profound power of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We understand the strength of unity. The variants of our tenderness are blessings, sources of energy and healing. We know that daughters and mothers and sisters, joined with our allies, are already in the process of uplifting this chaotic jumble called humanity and making it better.
And there are lots of fantastic fathers out there, raising daughters with their own hearts and minds open to who those girls will become.
I am sincere when I say that I feel real optimism for our girls. It is truly exciting to be part of this new wave. We are in it together, all the daughters and all the sons, feeling the thrill of a changing, learning, evolving humanity.
It’s been a busy month for most of us. And cold and snowy for many of us, at least in our area of Ontario.
I also know it’s a really hard month for people. Even for those who celebrate and love the holiday season, it’s hard. Keeping spirits up when there’s so much to do, when expectations are high (especially our own), through the emotional ups and downs of social occasions, anticipation and letdown, hopes and dreads.
I love this time of year, and I find it hard too. I love the music and the food and the family and friends. Gifts are fun too, especially when you get to give gifts to children.
But I still fight depressing thoughts. I worry that materialism and greed will take over my kids, despite our best efforts. I worry about the germs that spread scarily fast in winter. Especially when it’s really cold out, I worry about the people who don’t have someplace warm to be. I feel the emptiness when Christmas ends. And I struggle with the darkness. It makes me dwell on the things that are wrong in the world. It makes them seem overwhelming.
This has always been somewhat true for me. I remember the way it would feel on winter evenings when I was young… I would consciously turn on my warm yellow desk lamp and read an L.M. Montgomery book, to fend off the creeping knowledge that the world is dangerous and violent and dark and cold. I had to deliberately keep these thoughts at bay, even though I had very little actual experience with suffering. I can only imagine how hard it must be for people who don’t have loving families, who don’t feel safe, who spend their days hungry or in pain.
Right now, I’m hoping that you are okay, and have found some beauty in this month.
I hope you have spent time with people you love.
I hope you have also spent at least a little time just for you, doing what you love most.
I hope you felt awe in Nature, despite the darkness – a sunbeam when you really needed it, a bright star, a pink sunrise, the deep hush of a snowfall in progress.
I hope the shortening of nights has been a comfort, even though it’s hard to see.
I hope that if you were grieving, you did not feel alone.
I hope you deeply felt the support, purpose, creativity, and unity you needed.
I hope you’ve had a really good laugh.
I hope you saw – or were part of – generosity in action.
I hope your home was warm, and your candles burned bright.
I hope you’ve felt some true wonder lately.
And some joy.
Today is a beautiful snowy day. (And it’s packing snow, miracle of miracles!) Our tree is still up and smells sweet. Our kids are not completely healthy right now, but healthy enough to play. We have been blessed to visit with all family branches this month. There’s been singing, which is important to me. Also family games and jigsaw puzzles, which I love. Sean has actually had significant time off, which is a treat for all of us. I’m very grateful for all these things.
2016 has been a rough and upsetting year in many ways, but it’s almost done. We in this house are choosing to be optimistic about 2017.
I mentioned I’ve been absent from school twice within the last two months, for a week at a time. There are only good reasons for this, and this is what I wrote (and didn’t manage to post) when I came back from the first one – a rare and wonderful reunion of my dad’s side of the family in the U.S.
I’m feeling really grateful, for so many things.
Being given permission to attend a family reunion in North Carolina for a week, even though teachers are really never supposed to do vacation time outside scheduled breaks.
Our spacious new minivan that made the trip possible. (Toyota Sienna.)
My kids being, overall, very well-behaved and good sports about the 12-hour drive (plus stops and a teeny bit of getting lost).
My dear sisters, Auntie Em and Auntie Beth, who were part of the minivan crew and made the long driving time totally do-able. (In fact, when the kids look back on those long drives, they insist that they were fun… And they actually kind of were.)
The gift of hand-me-down Bakugan toys, from a thoughtful friend, that made both car rides way more cool.
Sean being an excellent driver, such that we arrived safely and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, despite my unexpected and uncharacteristic bout of anxiety during my own driving stint in the West Virginia mountains. (Tunnels through mountains = not great for claustrophobes.)
The fact that my two aunts somehow managed to buy houses that aren’t just in the same town – they’re RIGHT NEXT DOOR to each other.
The beautiful Smoky Mountains.
Tromping around in the mountain woods.
Gorgeous weather, like a sweet slice of summer. (While we were still having intermittent snow back home.)
The best screened-in balcony-porch you’ve ever seen.
Being given a bed to sleep on that’s actually more comfortable than our own bed; on our second night there, I had the best sleep I’ve had in… probably more than seven years.
A whole crew of family I don’t just like, or even just love – rather, family I am totally inspired by and adore to pieces. Including every one of the relatively new additions.
Finally cuddling my birthday buddy!! And getting a lovely baby-fix – without craving another of my own. Well, hardly at all.
Getting to hug and kiss my sweet grandma every day, hear her voice, and know that at 97-and-a-half she’s still a good listener and inclined to make sassy comments on a regular basis.
Fascinating, wide-ranging intergenerational conversations, especially leisurely ones over breakfast while we ogled the baby and drank amazing coffee (one of the cousins does coffee for a living, and we all reaped the benefits).
The interactions between the four smaller people – ages almost-one, three-and-a-half, almost-seven, and almost-eleven. They were all so good to each other and had so much fun, age gaps notwithstanding.
Delicious homemade meals every night, made by different folks so no-one had to do too much.
Having time to play two whole games of Cities and Knights of Catan, plus lots of Anomia, Dutch Blitz, Exploding Kittens, and one grand game of Taboo. Lots of laughing-till-we-couldn’t-breathe.
The opportunity to visit the Cherokee village and walk around the grounds (which seemed mysteriously open even though the village itself was closed even though its website said it was open) and then visit the nearby Museum, so as to have an idea of the real history of the area.
Seeing horribly grainy video footage of our clan talent show from New Year’s Eve 1995, to remember how young and big- and long-haired – and talented, of course – we all were.
Watching my children playing with their grown-up relatives, who seemed happy to get down on the floor to play, or participate in endless rounds of bounce-catch. (Thank you!!)
Both of my dog-scared kids getting to know little Tucker, who helped them loosen up.
Getting to see arty Asheville, including the coffee bus and Woolworth Walk and the used bookstore and Real Buskers!
The fact that my kids have aunts and great-aunts who do real art, super-fun full-on art, of a type that I never accomplish with them at home.
My Hubbibi being willing to put the kids to bed basically every night, so that I could spend more time with my relatives.
Being reminded of what it feels like to be at loose ends… having whole days with no set plans, to just loll around and chat and listen to birds and have drinks and hammock and strum and sing and look at old photos. What a crazy feeling.
Getting to celebrate the baby’s first Passover on our last evening in NC, with real matzo ball soup and extra-hot horseradish, and the short version of the sermon with genuine Hebrew singing.
Spending a whole week immersed in beauty and clan-love. It really doesn’t get any better.
That lady at McDonald’s during breakfast on our trip home who kindly got AB a separate plate when she was starting to melt down because of a syrup incident, and then also got us a lot of napkins when she spilled her milk. And smiled at us and seemed not at all perturbed by the perturbations.
Being so fortunate in our home that, even though we missed everyone, coming back across the border was a joy, and coming into our house was comforting. Even E, who had cried about leaving, said, “It’s nice to be home.”
Dear clan – thank you so much, for your hospitality, your generosity, your wonderfulness in general. We miss you and love you lots and lots, and are already looking forward to the next visit. Even two weeks after we got home, E still said that whenever he mentioned North Carolina, he felt sad that we left – but I know both kids had the time of their lives. And me too.
When you’re a parent, discussing parenting is what you do: the easiest way to find out what you have in common – and also to gauge how you’re doing at the parenting gig, and whether you/your kids are normal.
I can’t help but notice a trend among the parents I talk to with young kids – one that contradicts most of social media. If you’re to believe Facebook and Instagram, parenting is about going to the beach, making kick-ass birthday cakes, watching your kids frolic happily, dressing them up all cute, witnessing their endearingly messy faces, and recording their most hilarious soundbites.
In reality, for many of us, parenting is about the little things that are never done and seem to take up ALL THE TIME. Wakeup routines and bedtime routines, endless meals and snacks, potty breaks and body breaks and tantrum-soothing and squabble-mediating and dropping off and picking up and tidying up and laundering and reminding and re-reminding and outright nagging. Somehow, most of the time, Barely Keeping Up feels like all there is.
I don’t believe our social media masks are necessarily disingenuous. If you were to look at my Facebook profile, you’d think my life is all dancing and ukuleles and cute children and animals. Because who really wants to post about their ordinary-but-hectic schedule? More to the point, who makes time for that? We’d all rather look at cakes.
Sometimes I feel like we get that empty jar every day, and for some reason we can only fill it with pebbles, even though we know what the big rocks are, and we want them – and we’re sure everyone else must be fitting in their big rocks, like you’re supposed to.
Now, I’m wondering how many of us are getting any big rocks on a daily basis. There are parents I see as life experts who’ve got it all together… and often, they actually don’t. They are just as frazzled as I am. We all signed up for this parenting gig, and we knew the baby days would be hard, but we sorta thought it would get easier sooner. As in, it’ll be easier when they’re sleeping better… when I go back to work and there’s more routine… when they’re out of diapers… when they get to school… And you’re waiting for the moment when things fall into place. And you’re still waiting… and waiting.
I know there must exist families who are fine, who don’t feel like they’re struggling to keep their heads above water all the time… but I don’t know how this phenomenon is achieved.
Sean and I were talking about this recently, asking ourselves, Does everyone feel this way? Why are so many of us struggling to manage life? Shouldn’t we be able to handle this better? Is it really as hard as it feels?
Banal as it sounds, I think it’s partly “the times.” As a society, we’re in this moment where women having jobs outside the family is normal – which really has not been true for very long. Also, it did not happen that the patriarchs stepped in and switched places to take over the household-running – at least, not in many cases.
Also, in the space of one generation, the cost of housing in Canada has gone from reasonable to… frankly unreasonable. Back when my parents were originally in the housing market, a home was a big expense, but it could be paid off in the foreseeable future, like five to ten years, especially if you had the luxury of two incomes for any of that time. Nowadays, it’s common to be paying off your house for two to three decades – possibly more, if you want to do other things like, for example, send your kids to university. (Which is another expense that has skyrocketed, by the way.)
Of course this means that, for many families, a mortgage is simply not affordable on one salary – especially when so many jobs are unstable, temporary, or just under-compensated. But households still need just as much running as before.
And expectations of parenting are out-of-whack with this scenario. Right now, it’s de rigueur to actually play with your kids (wha??), read to them, snuggle them, do crafts with them, run around with them… unlike the days when you had a gaggle of offspring, let the big ones take care of the little ones, and put them to work as soon as they could carry a hay bale.
Child-rearing in the era of mommy-blogs and Pinterest is now a hobby, an occupation, a science, and an art form. For families with a stay-at-home parent, it’s all the more intense: society seems to accept, and even expect, that the parent will give her whole life to the kids, the household, and the community.
I’m all for playing, snuggling, and reading with your children. I love the kind of direct engagement that lets me get to know my kids as people. But other than family dinners and bedtime stories (which are sacred), these things don’t happen as much as I’d like. (You’ve probably noticed I don’t blog about my beautiful kid-crafts very much. Since I don’t do them.) That’s because the expectations of running a household – making good meals for your family, paying the bills, getting everybody where they need to go on time with the stuff they need, and making sure the house isn’t a constant fracking mess – still apply. And I always feel bad when I fail to keep up with those.
This is another problematic factor. The guilt.
If my kids ask me to play with them and I say no for the sake of housework, I feel guilty. When I do play with them, I feel guilty for “shirking” all the other things that need doing. When I come home from school right away to get some housework done, I feel guilty for not being more on top of my marking at school. When I am doing schoolwork, I feel guilty for the household slack that falls to my husband. When I spend time on email, I feel guilty because it’s such a time-suck – but if I neglect it, I feel guilty because I invariably let someone down. And when I go to the gym, ALL the guilt applies – except for the guilt I feel about wasted money when I don’t go to the gym.
Other things I tend to feel guilty about: letting my kids eat sugar, eating sugar myself, spending money on non-necessities, not taking good enough care of my plants, neglecting my cats, not seeing my friends often enough, forgetting things people I care about have told me… etc. You see how it is.
It’s true for many of us, with kids or not, that “catching up” with life is this mythical thing we never achieve, like getting to Solla Sollew. The tangled cycle of obligations and unease seems neverending.
Now, I’m pretty sure my personal sense of guilt is more finely-honed than many – for myriad reasons. I’m also aware that it’s unhelpful and borderline ridiculous. I certainly hope most people’s brains are less apologetic than mine. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t reproach myself, because I’m doing my best. (But… am I?? my inner guilt-monitor pipes up.) Unfortunately, guilt is like mosquitoes. You can’t just ask it to go away, and if you swat it, there’s always more where that came from.
I have found that I can fend it off somewhat, as long as I’m doing one of the top three things (parenting, housework, schoolwork) needing immediate attention. But really, I know that neglecting the rest of life isn’t a good idea. Especially when my wishes for 2016 include being more fit and doing more writing. I simply can’t do those things… if I’m not doing them.
So! This month, I devised an approach that I think will motivate me (because I love lists and check boxes and points systems) to make the life I imagine but haven’t managed to prioritize. Sean hammered out a beautiful spreadsheet for each of us that will assign points for things like getting to bed on time, taking vitamins, walking, working out, etc. We can also get points for checking a small job off the to-do list – those annoying little jobs that would only take 10-15 minutes but never get done because they’re never quite urgent enough. And we’ve also assigned points to Writing (in 20-minute slots) and Making Music (in 20-minute slots).
Voilà! INSTANT LEGITIMACY, baby. It’s the key, I know it.
The only trouble is, so far we haven’t managed to get “checking off points chart” on the daily to-do list. But I’m sure it’ll be awesome once we get to it.
Hi, folks. Looks like I (completely, by a long shot) missed posting this “new year post” at the official beginning of 2016. But hey – Chinese New Year was only yesterday! Gung hey fat choy! And since we did not manage a proper Christmas card this year, this must serve as our retrospective message. Time to get this year bloggily rolling.
What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Me: Finally got rid of a lot of baby stuff (sigh), made my own Irish Cream on St. Paddy’s, performed with my dance troupe at the Pirate Festival, made Strata for Christmas morning.
Sean: Turned 38, bought a house while the wife was out of town, and sold a house – also while the wife was out of town.
E: Turned six; learned to draw a minion and read in French (as well as English); got glasses; moved; got a new couch; lost two teeth!
A: Saw aerialists performing on Canada Day, got to try silks myself at Family Camp… and have been aerialisting as much as possible since.
Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Me, Sean: Who can remember? And you betcha! They’re epic.
E: Six-year-olds don’t need to resolve things.
A: My parents didn’t know it, but I resolved to ONLY wear things I DEEM CURRENTLY ACCEPTABLE. I kept this resolution as firmly as possible.
Did anyone close to you give birth?
Me: My cousins had a son ON MY BIRTHDAY! Yeah, baby! Also, congrats and love to Lindsay, Eleanor, Catherine, Jaya, Katie, and probably more…
Sean: See above.
E: Well, I did spawn thousands of pigs in Minecraft.
A: No, but I’m the mama of many babies, including Minnie Mouse. And a minion.
Did anyone close to you die?
Me: Jonathan Crombie, a.k.a. Gilbert Blythe (sniff!), and Jurgen Gothe, a.k.a. my fave CBC Radio voice since I was a kid.
Sean: Leonard Nimoy.
E: All those pigs eventually died.
A: My Elsa crown got broken, which is about the same level of tragedy.
What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
Me: Organizational skills, for real this time. And an extra dose of will power.
Sean: Discipline. Other than that, I want for nothing. OFFICIALLY.
E: More pages for my Pokémon cards.
A: A light blue stuffed dog that I can take for indoor walks.
What countries did you visit?
Me: The exotic land of my garage. I cleaned that sh*t up.
Sean: Jakku and Takodana.
E: Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States (in my virtual car-racing schedule).
A: Arendelle. Many times.
What date from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:
Me, Sean: August 27th – moving day; October 19th – goodbye Harper!; November 13th – terrorist attacks in Paris.
E: Visiting the Science Centre and the African Lion Safari.
A: Visiting the African Lion Safari and the Science Centre.
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Me: That one kid-free day in October where I spent the entire day working my tail off and GOT SO MUCH DONE.
Sean: Making the perfect, harmonious configuration of apps on my phone.
Me and Sean: Ten years of marriage!! (Celebrated at Niagara-on-the-Lake.)
E: Surviving another new school – and liking it. Also my earthworm diorama rocked.
A: Dancing at Talent Night with my Grammie and my friends.
What was your biggest failure?
Me: Major blog neglect, e.g. NaBloPoMo. Also, not managing to finish unpacking by 2016.
Sean: I did not manage to keep my bonsai tree alive.
E: I did not manage to convince my parents to move back to the old house again.
A: I did not manage to secure the title of Supreme Dictator of the New House. People keep thwarting my plans to be the OVERBOSS.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
Me: Teacher immunity, baby. I just stave it off.
Sean: I get cut all the time at work, but I’m cool. Nobody worries about it but my wife.
E: Chest infection. Two ear infections. Stomach bugs. But worse than all those… The times I bit my tongue.
A: Stomach bugs, to match my brother’s, and a flu or two. (Remember that time we tobogganed at the big hill and I throwed up on the road?)
What was the best thing you bought?
Me, Sean: New house! AND pretty area rug!
E: I earned myself a lot of virtual cars on the iPad – does that count?
A: My Elsa dress, even though *I* didn’t buy it.
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Me: Last year’s students. Every damn day.
Sean: Donald Trump.
E: Mommy and Daddy, when they make me wash my hands. Like, ALL THE TIME.
A: Mommy and Daddy, when they don’t let me have and do EXACTLY WHATEVER I WANT.
Whose behavior merited celebration?
Me: This year’s students! (Hurray for 20 kids in a class instead of 29.)
Sean: Trudeau’s, for being just such a nice guy, not to mention bringing everyone to the climate conference and fixing that Cabinet that was all crooked.
E: I got a sticker chart for doing my homework!
A: I got a sticker chart for dry mornings!
Where did most of your money go?
Me, Sean: See #11.
E, A: In my piggy bank!
What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Me: Essential oils and diffusers.
Sean: Two words: STAR WARS.
E: My new zebra backpack!
A: Turning three!
What song will always remind you of 2015?
Compared to this time last year, are you: i) happier or sadder?
Me, Sean: Not that simple, but working on happier.
E: Sadder. We can never live in our old house again.
A: Happier, but I wish I could go back to being two. I liked when I was two.
ii)thinner or fatter? Nope.
iii) richer or poorer? Poor in house-debt, rich in automatic dishwashing power.
What do you wish you’d done more of?
E: Play dates with my best friend from my old school.
A: Wearing tights. Tights are LIFE.
What do you wish you’d done less of?
Me: Raising my voice.
Sean: Spending money.
E: Putting my clothes away.
A: Wearing pants. Pants are for non-royalty.
How will you be spending did you spend Christmas?
All: We were lucky enough to spend time with all the branches – and we all managed to be not-sick over the whole holiday! A Christmas miracle.
What is your resolution this year?
Me: Go to bed earlier. Also, write 52 blog posts. I was going to aim for 100, and then I looked at this past year’s track record and realized I was setting myself up for failure. This is a one-post-a-week number, and I’m already behind, but tarnation, I’m going to make this one.
Sean: Five words: Joy, Patience, Humility, Discipline, Compassion.
E: Finish authoring a 90-page Pokémon novel.
A: Earn back my Pony tights (confiscated due to my bloodcurdling screaming habit).
Did you fall in love in 2015?
Me: Yes, with a golden beet. So much so that convinced my Hubbibi to base our main-floor paint colours on them.
Sean: I stayed in love. I think that’s better. (Direct quote! Aww. Points for you, honey.)
E: Not this year. In JK I was gonna marry Bronwen, but now I’m not planning on marrying anyone.
A: Why can’t I marry my big brother?
How many one-night stands?
If you count standing up at night to help a small someone go pee or feel better after a nightmare… then lots.
What was your favorite TV program?
Me, Sean: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bojack Horseman.
E: I spend my screen time on Minecraft these days.
A: Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Dinosaur Train.
I haven’t been sleeping well, so today was one of those tired, foggy, grumpy days where it’s an effort to muster the teaching energy. Still, so many things to be thankful for.
Today I’m grateful for:
Having both my sisters, if just for a few minutes, together with me for coffee this morning.
Noticing that E really does seem to be calming down in many ways – his reactions to things, and his overall stress level – when I compare this year to last year.
AB being happy to go to her babysitter – what a relief after the drama in September.
The students that made me laugh out loud today – even on tired days, there’s always at least one or two who are good for a real chuckle.
Our super-nice new vet, who’s helping us figure out why our cat Nico wants to do his business in random places instead of the cat box… (I’m pretty damn sick of cleaning cat scat these days.) I was most impressed when the doc cleaned Nico’s turds off the floor himself without batting an eye, complimenting Nico on their “high quality.” LOL.
Having a set of brand-new, non-sport bras that actually fit me, for the first time in seven years. (I know that seems random, but ladies – you know it can make a difference to your day when the girls are properly supported.)
Dinner with my l’l family. (I’m grateful for this every single time it happens.)
A mostly-smooth bedtime. (Ditto.)
This. (Thanks, Mary.) Sorry, I couldn’t access the subtitled version… But all you really need is “les fleurs… C’est pour combattre les pistolets,” and that little boy’s smile at the end.
And while we’re feeling warm and fuzzy, this. (Thanks, Ben!) I’m so glad there are people in the world who apparently have time to painstakingly choose clips that synch so beautifully with the funk.
This past week, we were having a play date at Skye’s house, and she gave me a very gentle and encouraging nudge about this month. She reminded me that I need to write in November. It’s true. I have been letting writing fall off my radar a lot, and Skye knows (as many of you do) that it’s good for me.
So here is my first post of the month, with a theme for y’all: gratitude.
I’m presently reading (along with three different book club books because I keep not finishing them) The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It is a very humbly- and intimately-written book, recommended to me by a friend, about things to work on in order to be one of those people who lives life not only with gusto (“Wholeheartedly”), but at peace with imperfections – one’s own and those of others. It has given me several Aha moments already.
One of the big themes in the book is gratitude. Not just gratitude, but deliberate thankfulness for ordinary as well as extraordinary things. I know it’s one of the buzzwords of our time, and that Oprah totally got on that train at least fifteen years ago, and going on about gratitude might at some points end up sounding cheesy or sanctimonious or smug… but it’s a worthy exercise nonetheless. I think of myself as a pretty appreciative person, because I am, in my heart, profoundly aware of how lucky I am to be me, but I find that doesn’t necessarily help me during those times when my patience is almost at zero and I’m not sure I can stop myself from, for example, yelling at my kids (again). I thought, Brené, good idea.
Then a few days ago, another friend decided to turn a bad day into a good one by pouring out gratitude instead of complaint on her Facebook status. I felt good just reading it.
When I think of focusing on the things I’m thankful for this month, it sounds so easy to ask myself to write every day. (Famous last words be damned.) I know I said something similar last year when I was going to do 100 Happy Days (still haven’t finished those) but I was having so many technical blog issues that the process was bringing me down.
So this year, I’m going to try not to take things too seriously. I just want to get back into the swing. Some days it will be brief, and some days it might be partly off-topic. But I want to be grateful, and I want to be writing… so I will.
Today, I’m grateful for Skye, for that nudge. (At first I typed “nudget.” That’s totally what it was. A nice, friendly little nudget.) Also, I’m grateful for our Halloween tradition of getting together to do whatever fun thing we can manage. (Used to be watching non-scary somewhat-Halloween-related movies, but now that we both have kids, it’s accompanying the trick-or-treaters and watching them eat candy.) This year, little G (the lion) wins the citizenship award for wishing almost everybody we encountered a Happy Halloween, in his adorable toddler way.
And I’m grateful for these kids. It was really fun to watch them have so much fun, and to watch people’s faces as they took in the cuteness.
While I’m at it, I was grateful last night for the realization that Halloween is not just about sugar, and not even about dressing up; it’s a lot about seeing and chatting with your neighbours, and feeling the community. We haven’t met large numbers of people in the neighbourhood yet, but we knew a few before we arrived, and the folks on our tiny street are lovely, and we are recognizing more neighbours every day. It’s a really friendly place. With lots of kids (grateful for that too).
Finally, I’m grateful for archival footage of my babies, so I will never forget just how delicious their little cheeks were. Let’s throw in a couple of re-runs, just for fun.
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.
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!!!”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.