Friday, December 18, 2009

More Spacious

On Christmas "The Virgin is more spacious than the Heavens!"

I've given birth to two children and I have never felt so spacious, my mind and heart have always been so cluttered with the cares of the world. I cannot imagine being more spacious than the heavens.

Perhaps this is why people are so driven to acquire things--especially this time of year. Why even my new 4 bedroom house feels small sometimes. We're so full, so crowded with these earthly cares. we don't know how to declutter. To make room for God.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ups and downs

Been reflecting on this year. Hard to believe it's nearly over and Christmas season is upon us. I have been resisting the temptation to get caught up in it because we are about to move house and will have a lot of things to do before nativity.

There's no question this has been a tough year. Three deaths, including one in the parish, the funeral for which was probably the most memorable, and strangely uplifting thing to occur this year. We had a tough start financially and we were surprised to find money trouble to be so trying for our marriage. And speaking of marriages we saw several friends end theirs. My beautiful girl was born with a birth defect that required a miserable stay in hospital over Holy Week and a very stressful weekend while they corrected it. She was also colicky making the sleep deprived months after her birth very difficult for us especially as we worked out which of us was really responsible for minding the children and when.

But we've also been surprised with incredible blessings. Several friends have started having babies (or started having them again). Against the odds Georgie's birth defect was incredibly minor. Most children born with the same defect also have many other defects in their internal organs that require extensive surgeries--if they can be fixed at all. The death of our dear parishioner brought our little community even closer together, boosted the confidence and morale of the choir (and it's hard working director) and gave us all a sense of peace--knowing we had such friends to bury us.

Greg's job continues to be a blessing to us and in spite of having resigned ourselves to living in our little trailer for as many years as it took for us to manage to get into the housing market we can now look forward to becoming home owners before Christmas. And the best part is that we will be moving into the familiar house I grew up in so it will already be home when we get there.

And in spite of all the chaos of having a colicky baby and a terrible two year old, the kids really are beautiful. I am very close to enjoying the freedom of a potty trained toddler and an increasingly independent baby. Not to mention the joy and relief of being able to really settle somewhere after years of having to pack up and move every other year.

Lots of ups and downs but over all a totally amazing and wonderful year.

Friday, October 9, 2009


That's what my brain feels like most days. But while Georgie has moved from colic to teething, things are generally easier in the Gascoigne house and I've managed to carve out a wee moment to actually make a blog entry! This is partly because Georgie, while more sensitive than Theo, and, as I discovered, far more reliant on a consistent nap schedule, is actually much more independent than he was during her waking hours. At not even 6 months yet she is crawling (more or less--and a good four months earlier than Theo did) and I find that if I baby proof the floor I can usually leave her there to play for most of the morning by herself.

It is also for that reason that I've felt free to experiment with cooking again. This recipe for porridge is one I got from my Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which focuses on traditional methods of food preparation as opposed to processed "food products" and so-called healthy recipes that cut out the fat-- and all the other things that are actually good for you. This recipe requires a little forethought but is worth planning ahead for. I'm not a carbs-for-breakfast person usually but since everyone at my house likes this so much, and it is also among the cheaper ways to eat a filling breakfast, I thought it was worth posting. Plus it's adaptable for fasting.

You'll need:

A cup of rolled oats (not quick oats)
2 cups of warm water
1 tbsp of full fat probiotic balkan style yogurt, or lemon juice
a pinch of sea salt
pinch of cinnamon (optional)

The night before (or the morning before) add one cup of warm water to the oats. Add the yogurt or lemon juice and stir. Cover them with a towel and leave at room temperature overnight. The water and the acids from the lemon juice or the whey in the yogurt will soften and sort of predigest the oats while they soak, making them quicker to cook in the morning and also easier to digest (plus yummy). In the morning add the other cup of water and the pinches of salt and cinnamon, and cook the oats for 5 minutes or so until done.

Now the best part is really how you serve this and with what. We are in the habit of pouring a few tablespoons of cream (either cereal cream or whipping cream--single cream for those in Britain) and topping it with maple flakes (dried maple syrup) and raisins. But you can add anything you like. Fruit, nuts, flax seed, syrup-- you name it. If it is a fast day simply prepare the recipe with lemon juice instead of yogurt and instead of adding cream use coconut milk. Viola! The yummiest porridge ever.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Adventures with two

I thought I was brilliant at kid juggling--two is a whole new level. I should have expected that. After a seriously difficult first few weeks we finally began to settle down and deal with the unique challenges posed by a second, very different child.

Firstly, my days of coffee chugging are indefinitely postponed. What I tried and failed to give up in Lent I have been forced to give up after Georgie's birth. Georgie began to appear colicky by three weeks and by five weeks I was so fed up I told my midwife about it. She suggested I give up my coffee habit. I was rather skeptical that coffee was the cause since it never seemed to bother Theo, but even one day off coffee brought miraculous silence to the evenings.

Turns out my little princess is of the fairy tale variety--delicate enough to feel a pea under her many mattresses. She's incredibly sensitive. A change in light, position, noise will easily wake her. We can't put the stopper in the kettle without waking her. And very sharp or loud noises make her burst into tears. She's also very sensitive to our moods. If we're stressed or frustrated she instantly begins to fuss.

She is so different than Theo was that I feel like I'm starting from scratch-- except this time I have a rambunctious toddler creating chaos ever time my back is turned. Georgie is not only far more sensitive than Theo was but none of the things that used to calm him work for her. We've had a terrible time introducing dummies. Of the plethora of infant size dummies I have tried she likes exactly one and I haven't a clue where to get one the same shape since it was given me by a friend. However, whereas Theo hated the swing, Georgie generally loves it.

She also hates sleeping on her back which has presented me with a serious dilemma. For those out-of-the-loop it is now considered a great parenting sin to put a baby to bed on her tummy since it is believed that this is a risk factor for SIDS. (When I was babysitting infants as a teen it was considered wrong to put them to sleep on their backs lest they should spit up and choke.) Theo was easily comforted by swaddling so it was never a problem. I swaddle him and put him on his back and go to sleep with an easy conscience. Georgie likes to be swaddled too (thank God) but it is rare that swaddling will keep her settled enough to sleep on her back. So do I follow the rules and risk killing her in a sleep-deprived rage or let her sleep on her tummy the way she wants to and risk SIDS?

My very wise midwife is convinced that tummy sleeping has nothing to do with SIDS, but rather the chemicals and fire retardants in commercial mattresses which a child inhales more of in their sleep if they are on their tummy. Scientists say that babies sleep more deeply on their tummies and if they are prone to sleep apnea (where they forget to breathe for a minute or two) they may completely forget to breathe and die as a result. Therefore we should keep our children as badly rested as we are--just in case. I'm finding I put her on her tummy a lot though I will try her on her back if she seems really out of it. I console myself with the fact that she actually sleeps in our room and very often right next to me in our bed so I am likely to notice if something is wrong.

Adding to the chaos around here is the introduction of the bunk bed as Theo's new place to sleep at night. We had half-heartedly tried to get him to sleep there at nap times for a while and only ever put him down in it if he was already asleep but he'd been so traumatised when we took the side of the crib off that we were reluctant to put him in the bunk bed at night. Given enough time in the crib he always fell asleep on his own-- but it's been a battle with the bed, At first he was scared if he woke up there. Then just scared if he went to bed there. Now he's perfectly happy to get out of bed, switch the light on and run out into the kitchen with a money grin and a giggle. He knows better though and if we ignore him long enough he will occasionally go back to be on his own. But he falls asleep late as a result.

We're also trying to potty train him which is proving a laborious task.He seemed a little interested at first, but quickly discovered how boring it was. The trouble is that my husband has now completely lost patience with dirty diapers since the one or two initial successes and got very angry when Theo refused to sit on the potty and then pooed in his pyjamas the minute our back was turned so now he seems to think going poo is bad and he isn't allowed to do it. We'll be lucky if we make any progress at all in that department this year.

It's partlyfor that reason and partly because Georgie is so sensitive that I've begun something I had heard about before and thought was completely nuts: Elimination Communication, or EC--also known as infant potty training. I was utterly gobsmacked by how easy it is. I thought it would be a pointless, messy, waste of time. But it's not like that at all. The theory behind it is that infants are born with an awareness of their elimination needs and have the instinct not to soil themselves-- they do not have much control over it however, and communicate using various signals that they need to go. They squirm or grunt or fuss or wake suddenly from a nap. So you pop them on the potty when you think they might need to go and cue them with a "pssss" noise and believe it or not-- it works! As they grow they retain their awareness of their elimination needs and soon associate the cueing noise and the position you place them in with the sensation of going to the bathroom. They wait for it. And soon they are old enough to learn the sign language to tell you they need to go--voila! Children who are conventionally potty trained however, lose their bodily awareness some time in the first year making potty training ridiculously difficult. We end up with Theo, completely unaware he's going-- and far too busy playing to care anyway.

Originally i chose to start EC with Georgie as a means to spark Theo's interest, but now I've started it I actually prefer to using diapers most of the time. Of course I still keep her in diapers-- I just pop her on the potty when I think she needs to go and she almost always does. There are exceptions. I don't get up at night to take her to the potty (I'm not crazy) and when we are out and about I just let her go in her nappy and make the cueing noise in her ear if she does. But while we are at home I try to pay attention to her signals and use the potty frequently. It's bizarrely gratifying to watch her on the little blue potty grunting away.

I've had some scathing criticism about it. Namely that infant potty training is really just training the parent-- which is utterly ridiculous. As if responding to my daughter's need to use the toilet is letting her train me.First of all-- she's two months old and has no concept of manipulation and therefore cannot "train" me. Secondly, I feed my daughter when she is hungry and change her when she is dirty and burp her when she has gas--why is responding to her need for the toilet any different? I don't mean to imply that those who use diapers are somehow neglectful of their child's needs-- we do what we can. It's a busy modern world and plenty of people haven't the time or energy. I personally won't get out of bed at night for it. Diapers are just fine. But having a clean bottom is still a basic hygenic need and whether you choose to fulfill that need by changing your baby's nappy or putting her on the potty is really up to you.

So the chaos has increased in my life. All kinds of new adventures...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Triumphal Entry, Passion Week, Resurrection--How Georgie arrived

Less than a month after my last post I gave birth at home to a lovely baby girl who we named Georgina Frances (Georgie for short). The labour and delivery were so miraculously perfect and predictable that we were entirely unprepared for what followed and I'm still sort of trying to work out how I feel about it.

I went into labour before my due date this time (I was late with Theo) but almost exactly when I expected to. I had a feeling the baby was going to be early by a few days and that I would be bringing her to Pascha so it didn't surprise me at all when I started having contractions on Sunday afternoon. By one am on Monday morning there was no denying the pain and I called my midwife who came to check and be certain. I was only two centimeters so we weren't in a rush, and the contractions weren't all that bad. My midwife wasn't convinced I would even have the baby that day. We had Theo picked up by his grandparents just in case and partly because I was fairly certain that delivery was imminent. I then rang my best friend and my doula and told them to come over.

At 11:30 am my midwife recommended I go for a walk to get the contractions going-- something I was reluctant to do because I had either forgotten how painful they could be or I was just too out of it while I was in labour with Theo to notice. But I went anyway. We got the mail and bought some chips at the corner store. When we got back my midwife said she still wasn't sure I would have the baby that day. By 1 pm I was on the bed pushing Georgie out, and she was born at quarter past. I think I was pushing for maybe 10 minutes. The other midwife barely made it in time to help catch.

It all happened so fast and so beautifully, the way I had hoped, sun streaming in the bedroom window on Holy Monday afternoon, that I was completely unprepared for what happened next. The moment Georgie was born it was clear that something was alarming the midwives. Instead of giving her to me they were asking each other questions and I heard one ask "Was that on the ultrasound?" Eventually they put a very purple screaming baby on my chest, but as I looked down I noticed that my midwife's hand was firmly pressing down on the baby's belly. At this point I didn't even know the sex of the infant bawling on my chest and everyone was so distracted with whatever the trouble was that it took a couple of minutes for someone to tell me it was a girl.

I caught sight of what my midwife was clearly concerned about-- a large protrusion on the baby's belly. I had seen and heard about umbilical hernias before so I wasn't too shocked or worried at that point--I knew they weren't meant to be cause for much concern, but the midwives clearly thought it was necessary to call the ambulance. I was assured by my midwife at that point that she didn't think it would be a problem since there was skin covering it and that it certainly wasn't life threatening. Nonetheless, there was enough of an upset that it took until after the ambulance arrived for us to worry about the placenta delivery and none of the usual measurements and exams were done until we got to the hospital.

The pediatrician at the hospital examined her and determined that the doctors and surgeons at BC Children's Hospital would want to examine and possibly operate on her before we would be allowed to take her home but that nothing very serious was likely to be wrong. We were transferred to BC Children's Hospital where it took 2 and a half days for the various doctors to determine that there was nothing wrong and the muscles in her abdomen had simply failed to grow together.

In the mean time Greg and I were set up with a family room in the neonatal unit where we were left almost no information from doctors and at best conflicting if not downright useless information from the nurses. Georgie was hooked up to monitors and a sugar IV and left in an incubator with a dummy in her mouth. After 12 hours they had determined she was safe to breastfeed and after 24 hours they finally told me I could breastfeed. It was practically impossible though because she was hooked up to so much equipment that I couldn't cuddle her or swaddle her to settle her long enough and of course she wasn't all that hungry because of the IV--which the nurses refused to remove because my milk hadn't come in. How my milk was going to come in when she wasn't hungry enough to nurse was beyond me.

I was stunned by how ignorant some of the nurses were about breastfeeding, but of course there is little you can do to argue with them. One nurse asked, when I was unsuccessful getting Georgie to nurse from me, if she could give her formula in the night. I drew the line at formula feeding and frankly told the nurse that if the baby was really hungry then she would eat breastmilk and that there was no danger of her starving if she was being shot up with sugar-water. I was furious. And course I was busy with using a breast pump to bring my milk in quicker --something that would have been entirely unnecessary if they'd been sensible enough to remove the gratuitous IV in the first place.

The second day at the hospital we were finally informed that the results from her heart ultrasound showed everything in perfect working order so we felt relaxed enough to leave the hospital and have a somewhat celebratory lunch at a sushi place. But we hadn't seen anyone all day and they were still testing things we knew nothing about. Nursing wasn't going well and by that night we were both so upset with the lack of news and the waiting in our pokey room and the bullshit being fed to us by the ignorant nurses that were decided we REALLY wanted to get out of there. The plan started out as coffee and quickly turned to beer (good for nursing right?) but since it was so late at night already nothing was open and we were so desperate to DO something that we drove all the way home to Langley to raid our own fridge. At least we felt like we were accomplishing something.

By the third day we finally caught the surgeons doing their rounds. They were able to enlighten us as to everything that was going on and finally put our minds at ease. Up until then we had only had short, highly uninformative exchanges with various doctors who were ordering different tests. We knew they were looking for other birth defects, namely heart, lung, and intestinal defects. The cardiologist had briefly mentioned, as he passed right by us without looking at Georgie, that her heart ultrasound came back fine-- as though this explained everything. But since we were completely uncertain exactly what they thought what might be wrong in the first place we'd been left to imagine and fear the worst.

Turned out, according to the surgeons, that Georgie's birth defect was exactly what it looked like--just a gap between her abdominal muscles. There was nothing else the matter and the final ultrasound was being done that morning to determine if there was a hole in her diaphram which the heart may have slipped through. If there was a hole however, it wouldn't pose any threat to her, simply delay any possible surgery since they would want to wait until she was older to ensure her heart would have enough room to grow before they put it back where it belonged.

In fact almost all of the tests they had ordered were simply to determine the best time and method for surgery rather than if there was anything likely to threaten her life or leave her with a disability. After they had found that her heart and intestines were whole and functioning (which they had confirmed within the first 24 hours) all the other blood tests and scans were largely just gratuitous routine monitoring or else simply to help them decide when or if to schedule surgery and precisely how they were going to do it. If we had known that at the time we would have felt a lot less panicked and frustrated. And I would have insisted they remove her IV and allow me to dress her and take the other monitors off. Instead we were left for another whole day to wonder and worry.

We were so relieved to hear that she was fine and were told that we would be able to take her home that day--even though our previous night's trip to Langley saw us packed for several more nights at the hospital. They performed their few gratuitous blood tests while we went to get breakfast. My midwife turned up at the hospital and thankfully managed to corner the doctor who was to discharge her and got the whole scoop--as well as the job of post-partum care. We finally felt ready to relax and celebrate. Friends turned up to visit at the hospital and we were able to tell them the good news.

We brought her home that night and were told to take her in to the local hospital for one more test the next day. She was slightly jaundiced. But we weren't concerned and were happy to show her off the people turning up at church for Holy Week services. Theo finally came home and met his new sister and the first thing he did was give her a kiss.

The next two days we tried to adjust to the new situation. People visited, Greg did paperwork. We tried to get Theo settled down. He was completely out of routine and a bit short tempered and uncooperative. Meanwhile nursing was proving a bit of a challenge, though she was gaining weight. And the pediatrician was rather unhappy with her bilirubin levels. By Friday afternoon all hope of getting things back to normal had vanished and we were told we would have to take her back to hospital to treat her jaundice and perform MORE blood tests. At this point we were so depressed. Theo was completely beside himself with all the upset and we were far too exhausted to be patient with him.

The idiot nurse at LMH informed me we would be giving Georgie formula and was less than impressed when I indicated it would be over my dead body. Later the pediatrician told me we would have to "top her up" with formula only to make sure she was over-hydrated so the bilirubin would be flushed out more quickly, but in the mean time I was welcome to use the pump and bottle feed her whatever breast milk I could. I called my midwife in a panic and she wisely told me to just comply for now and get the heck out of the hospital--and out of their control--as quickly as I could.

To my delight, Georgie was almost completely uninterested in formula. My breast milk was almost always enough and she didn't like using the bottle much either. She nursed quickly enough for me to be able to take her out and feed her directly from the breast a few times, which was encouraging. But Greg wasn't allowed to stay with me in hospital this time and the doctor was not forthcoming as to how long we would be there. We weren't sure if we could even make it to Pascha.

To add to things, my body was quickly returning to pre-pregnancy shape and while it was nice to sleep on my almost flat tummy and have my cramps and varicose veins rapidly disappear, I was beginning to feel like the whole pregnancy had never even happened. Like I'd fasted for all of Lent and had to miss Pascha. Here I was, stuck in hospital, alone with a baby I wasn't allowed to bond with and had no idea when I could take her home.

Of course, as my dad AND my midwife reminded me-- it was Holy Friday. And of course I knew it wasn't the end of the world. Plenty of kids have jaundice. Greg and I both had it. And we were incredibly lucky that Georgie's hernia was covered with skin. My midwife had a client whose baby didn't have skin covering the gap in his abdomen and it was the grace of God that saved his life. The mother had been planning a home birth and she was lucky my midwife had been uncertain enough about the baby's position to order an ultrasound at 34 weeks. The scan revealed that all of the baby's organs were outside his body. She was flown to BC Womens and given a c-section, the baby was operated on immediately and her little boy was perfectly fine. But, like me, her 18 week scan had shown no irregularity in the baby's abdominal wall. And, like me, she had been planning a home birth. If my midwife hadn't double-checked the baby's position, her baby might have died. So I knew that in spite of the misery I was experiencing, God had been taking care of us.

But I couldn't understand why God wanted me to experience this challenge. I'm still not sure. Perhaps it was to help me appreciate the true reality of Holy Week, or perhaps it was to show me that He was taking care of me even when it felt like He wasn't. Or perhaps His purpose had nothing to do with us at all. I'll probably never know. But all I could think of at the time was that for some reason God didn't want us to go to church or be at Pascha-- and that was the hardest part to figure out. There could be any number of reasons for allowing us to experience the doubts and fears every parent goes through when their child is in hospital, but why keep us from the only thing that might help us to get through it?

As it happened, we DID get to bring our little girl to Pascha after all. My midwife--also Orthodox--arranged with the pediatrician to have us temporarily discharged so that we could bring Georgie to church for the midnight Pascha service. We returned to the hospital at 4am after the Paschal liturgy and later that morning she was permanently discharged as her bilirubin levels were back to normal.

We came away from the whole thing with a very unique experience of Holy Week that few could relate t0-- a true triumphal entry followed by a week of fear, doubt, disappointment and darkness, only to have everything restored to us in the end. It did not feel like we had really been given our daughter until Pascha. And maybe that's what God wanted for us-- to be able to welcome our daughter with Him. I don't know. But He resurrected our joy with Himself this year.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday morning shut-in

The beauty of living next to church is that you get to experiment with how to wrangle your toddler and manage to make it to all the services with comparative ease-- a luxury that most of my mum-friends don't have.

But with that comes the temptation to feel that you can and SHOULD make it to every service. After all, it only takes me two minutes to walk to church. And that's made it rather difficult for me to accept the idea of taking my 40-day break from church after the baby arrives.

For those of you who don't know, the Orthodox church prescribes a 40-day fast from church, as it were, for women who have just given birth. This is not because, as some might think, that the church thinks of childbirth as an unclean thing. It is not a banishment, but rather a sort of recommended holiday or permitted absence from church to allow new mothers time to bond with their babies.

I know I am not alone, however, in feeling resentful about this particular requirement. It's hard not to feel banished and I know a lot of women simply choose to ignore this rule, however common-sense it might be. Parenting is incredibly isolating at times so it can be a hard rule to accept.

And because my baby is due the week before Pascha this year, I have been determined to go to every service I possibly could regardless of whether it conflicted with Theo's bed time or I had the energy to go. My mother told me to just admit defeat and stay home and I guess she was right because after Presanctified Liturgy on Friday poor Theo started throwing up and hasn't stopped. It's all been too much for him. So this Sunday I sit at home watching Wallace and Gromit for the millionth time while the service is going on 50 feet from my door.

It's difficult for me to remember or accept perhaps that sometimes taking it easy is the least selfish thing I can do and I think that applies to a lot of modern women. We don't like to admit that kids just mean less freedom for us--even if we want to use that freedom for something like going to church.

So perhaps that's what God wants me to learn this Lent: to accept that parenting is the way God wants me to serve Him--even if it means I have less freedom to go to church or opportunities for fellowship with other parishioners. I need to learn that mothering is it's own form of Christian fellowship.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Journey of Obedience

So I've been thinking a lot about fasting as you know, and my husband said something that really made me think about it from a different perspective-- one which I think makes a lot of sense. He said that he wouldn't be giving up anything for Lent that wasn't required-- that he was just going to do his best to be obedient to the existing rules, and that to try to be better was setting himself up for frustration and disappointment.

Now, it has occurred to me recently that as Orthodox we are very blessed to have these rules, rather than to have the burden of choosing our own discipline, like our Protestant brothers do. That's because, as a pregnant woman, I simply can't follow the traditional rules, and have felt that I must choose something else instead. But while discussing the dilemma with some of my Protestant friends, I have come to realise that fasting, the way it was meant to be, is not really an exercise in self-discipline so much as an obedience. And I think that is because we are less likely to feel proud of our success in giving up meat if everyone at church did too. We are all on the same journey, united in Christ and walking together to joy of His Pascha.

Since I have come to understand this, I've realised why it has been so difficult for me to choose something to fast from: my part in this obedience, as a pregnant woman, is NOT to give up meat and dairy. And while this may seem like a freebee to my fellow Orthodox travellers, the reality is that it is much harder in some ways. First, my husband is fasting, so we are not making this journey the same way. (Also, I have to cook for both of us.) And second, it is much harder to experience the joy of the feast if one has not fasted at all-- it can be very isolating.

A good analogy is that we are all on the road to Pascha and must travel in the simplest manner possible, allowing more time for prayer, reflection, and fellowship. We have to use our bodies to search for God. In others words, we have to walk. I, on the other hand, am already allowing God to use my body for the creation of life. I have to take a cab. And while that might seem like the more desirable way to travel for those whose feet are already sore after one week, the reality is that I don't get to walk with the rest of you. I have to watch you as I drive past alone in the cab--no one but me and the baby. God is driving (I think) but I'm not good at conversation.

Luckily for me, the cab stops and lets me out at all the pubs and rest stops along the road where I can meet the rest of you for communion and fellowship (ie church). But in the mean time the journey can be rather lonely, which is why I kept trying to come up with things to fast from so that I feel included.

But I think I've been looking at it all wrong really. Realistically I'm still on the same road as the rest of my fellow Orthodox, so there should be no reason to feel left out on the day we arrive at the feast--IF I am following the spirit of the fast. It is not about the things we give up, but the spirit in which we choose to avoid them that matters. We are not avoiding certain foods to punish our bodies anymore than we choose to walk in order to develop blisters. We avoid certain foods because they take time and energy to prepare and digest that is better spent in fellowship at church or in our prayer corners. We walk in order to go there together. In other words, "feasting" means fussing in the kitchen, separated from each other and distracted by the cares of the world, like Martha. Fasting is sitting at God's feet like Mary and the rest of the faithful. And I can sit at God's feet (or walk at His side, or ride in His cab), cheese or no cheese.

I have said in other posts that what I want to do, and think all of us should try to do, is fast from stress during Lent. So what I have chosen to do is keep the non-fasting items I must eat as simple as possible--adding cheese to my plate of Lenten pasta or something--the aim of my meal plans being to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.

Of course, for most of us in the western world, we're so blessed with abundance that for us SIMPLE meals are almost always non-Lenten ones. We're not used to eating things without meat and cheese, so the fast presents us with quite a challenge sometimes. But the path is wide. Some people walk right in the middle on the hardest part of the road (I think these people follow the "no oil" rule), some people walk on the turf next to it, and a few of us give up and catch the bus.

The point is that we all go the same direction on the path that God has laid for us. And if we catch the bus occasionally and meet up with everyone else at the pub along the way, then we won't be able to stray too far.

In the meantime, my job is to rest in the car, let God control my body, let Him bring life from it, and learn to love communion with my baby and with God.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

There goes the bandwagon--and my butt hurts!!

Oh I am soooo pathetic. I give up TWO things for Lent: Facebook (so far a BIG relief) and coffee (except church coffee which, come on guys, really doesn't count). Today is day four of Lent and I couldn't handle it anymore. Tea just wasn't cuttin' it. My mother takes Theo on Thursday mornings for music class and I get the morning off and the only way I was going to avoid the housework itch was if I went out and the easiest place was Starbucks. And I'm just not going to have TEA.

But on the plus side my husband works from home and since his day's work involved mostly searching for client contact details online, he could come with me and bring the lap top. We had a lovely time. He worked while I scribbled in my journal. We had a REAL conversation for a change instead of the kind you have at the end of the day when you're too tired to be articulate or else you end up arguing over nothing.

So I figured if I get quality time with my husband out of my coffee obsession then it really doesn't count as falling off the bandwagon right?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fasting from stress.

There are two ways we can anticipate something as big and beautiful as having a baby. One is to watch the clock, count the minutes, run around frantically trying to ready the nest, pack the bags a week before the due date, go the hospital at the very first tweak of abdominal cramping-- basically be as stressed out and over-excited as possible. Or we can wait quietly, continue to enjoy life at a moderate pace, make no big plans, set no specific goals and let the baby come when it comes.

When I was pregnant with Theo I was smart enough (or lucky enough) to try the latter approach in preparation for the birth. My mom was two weeks overdue with both my sister and me and her labour took two days nearly so I considered myself as likely to be on baby death-row for at least that amount of time. (Baby death-row being perhaps not the best way of describing the feeling a pregnant woman has when she is overdue and waiting for her sentence to be carried out already.)

So when I started having contractions only a week after my due date I really wasn't sure that I was in labour at all. So I went about my business, did grocery shopping, stopped at the employment office to do my papers, had a bath, had a nap, watched a movie. It wasn't till my water broke that I figured I actually was in labour after all. And even then I expected I would be be busy with it for hours and hours so I tried to take a nap. In the end my labour lasted only five hours and I can't help thinking that my relaxed attitude contributed to the ease and briefness of my labour and delivery. (I acknowledge that I am also just genetically lucky to have had so little pain.) The result was a beautiful birth experience that left me feeling completely invigorated and overwhelmed with the kind of joy I've only ever known at Pascha.

Now that it is Lent I'm faced with the challenge of fasting and all the stress we Orthodox tend to associate with it. A friend of mine remarked that it wasn't the change in diet that was so hard for her, but having to drastically reduce the AMOUNT of food she ate. She said there was no point in trading steak and potatoes for lentil soup if you ate 4 helpings of it just to feel full. And she had a good point. What's the point of changing your diet so you can feast on perogies? The point is that we aren't feasting. However, in her mind, I think she felt that the opposite of feasting is starving-- fasting was meant to be difficult after all.

But that got me thinking about how easy it is for us as Orthodox to approach the fast as being either a different kind of feast (of the ethnic vegan food variety) or as a sort of self-punishing famine. I tend towards the latter habit and I think most convert Orthodox do too-- especially when they come from Protestant backgrounds where they had the burden of choosing their own discipline instead of simply being obedient to tradition. It is easy to think that giving up feasting means giving up things we like and thereby feeling guilty if we continue to eat something we enjoy or do something we think of as a luxury--even if they aren't a part of the traditionally restricted food items.

But I do not believe for a moment that the traditional fasting rules were designed as self- punishment, nor do I believe that God wants us all to walk around half-starved, feeling light-headed and ill. After all, our bodies are His temple and we are not meant to abuse them by walking around hungry and incapable of concentrating. (Think how dangerous it would be for truck drivers or surgeons to be Orthodox if that were the case).

So I wonder if perhaps the real purpose behind the traditional fasting rules is to require us to slow our pace of life and reduce our stress so we have more energy for church and prayer. A friend commented to me that she was planning to rest more during Lent--even though it didn't sound like a good Lenten discipline. But I think as a matter of fact she is doing what we should ALL be doing during Lent. That the traditional fasting rules make no sense at all if we aren't actively trying to rest and relax as well. Our lives are ridiculously full and overwhelmingly busy most of the time that we have no time and energy for God. We're all buzzing about like Martha, readying the feast that we are missing the better part.

Of course I'm a stay-at-home mom and I make my own hours-- mostly. But I do tend to set unrealistic goals for myself and add to my list of daily challenges by planning complicated meals that take a lot of organising. I invite people round and try to play hostess even when I'm too tired.

So for my son's second birthday I felt terribly guilty that I hadn't planned anything or made any kind of effort to host a party or a dinner because I was far too tired. But in the end we had the best kind of Orthodox party there is-- the spontaneous shin dig. We invited whoever was free to stop by and hang out for ice cream cake after church on Sunday. I didn't cook, I didn't clean, I just enjoyed the fellowship and so did Theo. He opened his presents and blew out his two candles and enjoyed the attention of all his parents' familiar church friends.

I think this is the sort of approach we should all have to fasting. To avoid not simply the feasting but all the stresses that come with preparing a feast. Cook simple meals, avoid too many extra social engagements and make more time for rest and for church, so that our minds as well as our hearts and bodies are prepared for the Great Feast.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Okay so Lent is coming and so are the last few weeks of this brutally long pregnancy. (Well, it feels long anyway-- as far as I know it will end at the usual time of 40-ish weeks. Thank God I'm not an elephant, even if I feel like one). And I've been thinking a lot about what I can really give up for Lent since fasting is almost completely impossible.

But the trouble is that I don't really want to give anything up-- or if I must, I don't want to give up the things I probably should because I can. The fasting rules, as far as I know, were set up not just because meat, fish, and dairy are yummy, but because people ate them at feasts and celebrations as special luxuries-- and we aren't doing that during Lent. There are plenty of things we have now in the 21st century that might be called little luxuries (or big ones) that the fasting rules don't necessarily apply to. For example: coffee. Okay, not everyone loves it as much as I do, granted, but it's not cheap and for me it's my special little morning indulgence (especially since I'm pregnant and it's not exactly healthy). Also, sugary things like candy and dark chocolate and tasty cakes and cookies-- not usually my vice, but I do have friends that regularly strike them from the list of allowable foods, even if they are technically fasting-friendly. And that's because they aren't necessary for proper nutrition at all (like coffee, they're actually the opposite of healthy) and they are beloved indulgences--even if they are regularly indulged in. They feel special and they make us feel special.

So I'm having this problem because I know that it really doesn't matter how I feel, that being a Christian is a duty, not a choice, but I really don't want to give up the little luxuries that make me feel special because I'm 7 1/2 months pregnant and waddling around like a penguin!

I went to see Confessions of a Shopaholic last night with a girlfriend as a special sort of girly night out. It was terrific fun (for me anyway-- I imagine my husband would have wanted to gouge his eyes out 2 mins in if I'd been mean enough to drag him along). The main character was ridiculously fun to watch because she completely sums up what I think a lot of us do in our lives --except that she really has no ability to moderate herself (which is why she's so funny). She treats herself to material things to make herself feel special.

And I have to say I rather identify with her. I'm not saying I'd be quite happy to rack up stupid amounts of debt on every credit card I could get, buying sparkly shoes and scarves from designer shops. But I understand how wonderful it is to buy something new for yourself or to indulge in little (or big) luxuries-- like the pedicure I insisted on for my birthday. Did I need that? Well no, not really. Not physically I guess. Emotionally? Maybe...and I can't help thinking that there is something wrong with that. Yet, on the other hand-- didn't God want us to enjoy ourselves? Is it bad that I enjoy frivolous things now and then? Or things that are not healthy-- like coffee?

And because I am waddling about with a bowling ball in my pelvis, and because the discomfort will be immediately replaced by serious sleep deprivation when the baby is born, I feel really reluctant to give up the little luxuries I indulge in so often. And where does is stop? Like for me, getting a shower and doing my hair and make up is a REAL luxury. Should I give that up? Are bubble baths right out? And what if I'm overdue and going nuts waiting and I want to go have my nails done? Not cheap, arguably a waste of money, clearly a luxury--is it wrong that it will probably make me feel much better than prayer? I guess so, but I also have a hard time believing that God doesn't want us to take joy in things other than Himself.

But then again, I also remember how hard the first Pascha after Theo was. Not only had I not fasted, but Theo's birth was like a Pascha of its own. It felt the same way Pascha did, and not celebrating because it was Lent really felt wrong, so we'd been feasting for all of Lent and it really made Pascha a bit of a let down. This time around I don't even know if I'll make it to Pascha because the baby is due in Holy Week, but then, the baby will be a Pascha of its own-- one I SHOULD prepare for by cutting out unhealthy luxuries like coffee and upping my prayer rule.

But then, I've been fasting in my own way-- for nine months!!-- by virtue of being pregnant and hormonal. I can't have sushi and alcohol. I have to watch my sugar and caffeine. I threw up for four months, and now I'm waddling all over the place. I've got swollen feet and varicose veins and someone's feet in my ribs half the day. Does that count enough to allow some other little luxuries-- or comforts? Or is the joy of my new baby the Pascha to my Lenten pregnancy and the joy of Christ must be prepared for separately in some other way?

I don't have any answers. But I bet if I asked, God would tell me to stop worrying about the details already, be grateful, enjoy life, and just pray. Which doesn't exclude whatever fasting I end up doing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Holiday Reflections

For the last several months I've been fighting off depression and trying to stay positive while feeling completely overwhelmed by the business of being "Mom," so when my family asked what I wanted for my birthday, there was no question about what was at the top of my list--TIME OFF!!!

I think I've had very little of it compared most of my mom-friends (at least the overnight or all -day kind), partly because I was lucky enough to have no troubles with breast-feeding whatsoever, so Theo was hooked on boobies until he was past age one. And partly because I honestly feel quite guilty (irrationally so) and really miss him when I pawn him off on other people. He was so easy to haul around with me everywhere for the first year, and so mellow. Now he's two and quite the hassle on some outings. Plus he's eating proper food now and has to be kept on a fairly consistent routine with meals and naps. And toddlers are just totally OCD about everything too. And since I'm pretty much the only one who knows all his little quirks and obsessions and I can understand his badly-pronounced words and how to get him to cooperate I often feel like I have to write a novel about how to deal with him when I leave him with people for more than a couple of hours.

But with the new baby coming in two months and me likely to have no sleep--never mind time off-- I was desperate to fit in a little parenting holiday before more chaos descends on me. So that's what I asked for and my family generously obliged and took him overnight so that I had a whole 24 hours to recall what it was like before Theo was the center of my existence.

Of course I had very big plans lined up for how I was going to spend all this spare time-- dinner out for my birthday, a pedicure etc. And my husband and I had a terrific time. We drove way out to a lake we'd never explored and had a lovely kid-free day. But standing in our kitchen in the morning-- the only morning we'd woken up in our own beds without the noise of a kid in two years--we couldn't help but wonder just what the heck we used to DO with all our spare time before the kids arrived. We stayed in bed till 9:30-- which felt stupidly lazy, but it was nothing compared to how late we USED to sleep in on weekends. And we took like an hour over breakfast and actually got to eat it together and it just felt ODD.

And of course half the conversation we had while enjoying our freedom was all about Theo and what we wanted to do with him in the summer and how cute he would look paddling a canoe. We went shopping for outdoor gear and the only thing we bought was a set of woolies for him. More than once I had to fight the temptation to call my parents and find out if he was behaving and whether or not he missed us.

It's funny how quickly you become "Mama" and "Dadda" even in your own minds after the kids arrive. I remember my dad telling Greg and I, while we were still engaged, that soon we'd have trouble recalling what it was like to be single, and that after the kids arrived it would be even harder to remember what marriage was like without them. He was so right. Of course I remember the freedom of marriage before kids, but it feels like it happened to someone else kind of. And I guess, in some sense, it did. I'm not the person I used to be before Theo came along, and in spite of stress and pressure (greatly enhanced by pregnancy hormones) I really don't miss it. :)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Positive Discipline

So, I came across a book in Chapters today that I'm really interested in reading called "Positive Discipline for the Preschooler." Or something like that. Now I realise I'm proving to be more and more of what my friend calls a hippie-granola mom, but most people I know at least respect me for planning to properly and strictly discipline my kid. And because Theo is generally very very well behaved and good-natured (so far), people tend to attribute this to my brilliant disciplinary parenting skills. But to be honest, much as I would like to take the credit for Theo's good behaviour, I really can't say it has anything to do with me. He's just kinda like that. And I have a bad feeling he won't be like that for long.

So I've been toying on and off with the idea of positive disciplinary practices-- as opposed to punitive ones. Now for most people (including myself until recently) this translates into "parent opposed to spanking." And we all roll our eyes and privately nod to each other and think "HER kids are going to be a nightmare." And realistically I'm not against spanking at all. I haven't had to use it yet and my kid is still very young so the jury is out on how awful he'll be-- especially when minibaby arrives.

But the reason a lot of people react this way (I'm guessing) is that they turned out fine (and their parents spanked them) and their kids turned out well behaved (and they used spanking). Plus a lot of parents who don't spank really do turn out the most awful children, who have no respect for anyone, least of all their parents.

Also if parents choose to use spanking to discipline it's hard not to feel judged by a parent who avoids it. In fact, choosing to take any different approach to parenting than another person is sure to illicit defensiveness. Trouble is that there IS a lot of research proving that spanking is NOT the best disciplinary method, even if it works for some kids. It's not an exact formula. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" isn't necessarily the rule for every misbehaving kid. Some kids misbehave WORSE when spanking is used. Besides-- "the rod" itself doesn't necessarily mean a literal instrument of punishment.

I have found, so far, that this method seems to really fail on Theo. Of course it's a bit early to tell. We've only had occasion to swat his little hands once or twice, but every time it illicited screaming and crying and utter misery and I'm not completely sure he even learned his lesson. What he DID learn was that Mummy and Daddy might hit him if he doesn't do what they want and while that might seem like a good thing (ie he knows there are boundaries) I think ultimately it just made him lose trust in us and taught him to hit when people don't do what you want. Of course it's quite easy to gain a toddler's trust back, they're so understanding. But that's all the more reason why I wouldn't want to risk breaking it again--otherwise what seems to me like a good disciplinary practice is really just teaching him to be afraid of me-- and that's when I might find that he starts lying to me or something worse.

Obviously all of this is really just specualtive on my part since my kid is still pretty little and generally good-natured, so I'm not making sweeping judgements about people's disciplinary practices or defining what works best. All I know is my kid and I'm definitely a fan of the "do-what makes-you-sane" approach to anything regarding parenting.

The reason I'm interested in at least trying positive discipline is that it is not, like some people might assume, some fancy way of just being permissive to your kid and letting them be bratty so you can go about your business and ignore their bad behaviour. You know-- go be zen and praise your kid's destructive behaviour for being "assertive" or "creative" or some bullshit. As a matter of fact it's quite the opposite. It stresses being very interactive with your kid and learning to communicate with them in a way they understand-- which, sadly, takes a hell of a lot of patience and work-- something most of us just dinnae got time for. Especially when we're sleep deprived.

It also requires that parents treat their kids with respect and behave themselves too, which I think is a really good approach, but rather difficult for grown ups to accept. We expect kids to behave for us and treat us with politeness, but almost never teach by example. God knows, when Theo is getting in my way before dinner and trying to climb up my leg or "help" with dishes or something, my first reaction is to yell in frustration or say something that, to an adult, would be shockingly rude. Like "Theo! Can you just PISS OFF!!?? I'm trying to get dinner made!!" Needless to say this reaction never illicits a compliant response. He usually gets more and more frantic and upset and frustrated-- and so do I--until we're both at our wit's end.

I learned very quickly that if I took the time and inconvenience to show Theo the appropriate way to help with dishes (that is to say, how to help by not getting in my way) that he would be a lot happier and we could do things together without a fight. After all, it's not unreasonable for him to want to help out-- just inconvenient.

Of course some things are more dangerous than others. He can't really help with cooking or he might get burned. But the idea of a form of discipline that requires the parents to be disciplined and well-behaved themselves (as opposed to assuming that kids act out just because they're bad) definitely appeals to me. At least, I'm hoping if I try it, it might increase my ability to handle difficult situations without freaking out or dissolving into tears of frustration too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Food for Thought

Lately we've developed great hopes of buying our own place, so we've been trying to stick to what is turning out to be a pretty modest grocery budget of $400/month-- including things like nappies and hand cream and shampoo and cleaning supplies. And while it might see like a lot of money to stretch between three and a half people it really is turning out to be rather tricky. I had no idea we were spending quite so much on food until I tried to set a limit and discovered that we really weren't being very careful at all.

Now I'm kinda torn about this because I really do want to make healthy eating a big priority in our lives-- mostly because I'm quite picky and I like what I eat to be delicious, varied, and filling, as well adding up to all various requirements a pregnant woman needs. I'm also rather concerned about making things from scratch with natural and healthy foods as opposed to highly processed substitutes (you know, butter vs margarine, home made soup vs tinned, tomato and cheese sauces from scratch) . But I discovered that even when I cut things down to the very barest of necessities--minimal meats and fish, plain cheeses (nothing but cheddar), and only the absolute staples in fruits and veg and grains--I am STILL having trouble keeping things under budget. And the very frustrating part is that, as a housewife, the only really creative job that I get to do on a daily basis is cook, so it kinda sucks when we have to limit my materials.

But the other problem is that I really would like to buy local and organic for reasons of health and social responsibility. Organic oranges aren't really all that necessary for our health because you peel them, but if you buy organic you're supporting farms that don't dump chemicals on the heads of their workers. Or we could skip oranges altogether because they come from too far away and bringing them out to the west coast of Canada is bad for the environment. But then HOW are we going to make sure we get enough vitamin C??

There are SO many issues involved in food choices these days. We're both blessed and cursed with the abundance we have in the western world. We have so much, and yet we don't even know where half of it comes from and if we tried to make both healthy and ethical choices it would be prohibitively expensive. And if we COULD afford it-- the question would be where did we get OUR money from and why aren't we giving more of it to charity. It's a vicious cycle.

I have already done everything in my power to keep us under budget. This includes not only giving up organic food and cutting our meat consumption down to a minimum. I also meticulously plan my menus a week in advance, with separate meal plans for Theo in case he won't eat what we're eating. On top of this, I buy in bulk, build leftovers into the week, and never ever experiment with new recipes lest I have to buy a lot of things I don't normally keep in the house or I mess it up and end up wasting things. I ration everything and strictly regulate what's permitted for snacking on. I probably spend over 3 hours hours every week on planning and working out the menu-- not counting the time it takes me to prepare the food. And if I don't keep strictly to the rules I've made for myself we'll go over our budget in a heartbeat. I don't even know what Lent is going to be like.

Now the Bible clearly states that it is what comes out of our mouths, not what goes in, that defiles a man. And with all this rigid planning I already feel like I care way too much about food to even TRY to shop in a healthier, more ethical fashion. Lent is approaching and it brings it's own set of cooking and budgeting challenges. And being pregnant puts another spanner in the works. I often feel that Orthodox Christians can be caught up in food ethics, not just when it comes to fasting, but also when it comes to buying and eating in a socially responsible way. We can so easily be tricked into caring far more about food than we should.

So while I think it's important for us to keep these social and ethical concerns in mind when we go out to the shops, personally, for the coming fast, I'm going to do my best to just be grateful for the abundance this world offers me and try not to over eat. God knows it can be harder to just be grateful for the gifts I have.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

People who inspire me

Okay, Facebook has this annoying new Tri-cyclen-lo advert on about "Who Inspires Us??" --for those of you who don't know, Tri-cyclen-lo is a birth control pill. I find this kind of advertising really annoying because it implies that people who choose to wait or to never have kids (through use of this new and freedom-enhancing drug!) are making their choice because they're so inspired! The subtext is that women who don't live the freedom-enhanced lives of the young and sexually unshackled (my phrase) are somehow boring uninspired people, which is why they could think of nothing better to do wth their lives than have kids.

Now it's funny, because how ever pro-family the Orthodox church might be, one cannot deny that the majority of well known saints out there-- both male and female--are ones who chose not to have children, given that a heck of a lot of them were monastic or, my favourite, got married and chose to "live as brother and sister" when they converted to Christianity. It's not surprising that a lot of non-Christians out there seem to think that we have this mortification with sexuality. The married saints (and there are quite a few) don't get nearly as much press.

However, the BIGGEST saint in the church IS a mother. Now granted, she perhaps gets a little less credit for this than she deserves, probably because she was a virgin and according to church tradition she remained a virgin. But all the celibacy and chastity in the world didn't do her any good because she was still informed she was going to have a baby-- that the birth control failed. And she chose to deal with the consequences anyway. She could have told Gabriel "No WAY am I doing that! I've got plans!!" but she didn't and instead she risked everything and took on one of the hardest jobs a woman can do-- motherhood. And she was willing to do it whether she had to do it alone or not.

Now maybe people don't think that's a fair comparison to your average mum because after all, her son was GOD. But I don't believe for a second that she didn't have to deal with dirty, leaking swaddling clothes, or humous on the walls, or many many sleepless nights. The Bible even tells us that she was pretty darn exasperated to find that her 12 year-old had stayed behind in the temple without telling them so he could preach. And she probably had to deal with it without the help and support and sympathy of her fellow mothers because, after all, she conceived out of wedlock and was therefore to be shunned. And she still managed to keep it together and say "Let it be to me according to Your word?" That's inspiring!

In fact all the people I find most inspiring are either parents or have parental qualities that I can't ever hope to achieve in this life. My Dad-- father not only to my sister and I but to a whole parish of people that he has nurtured for the last 20+ years and continues to do. Try being daddy to 100 kids at once-- and they keep coming! But he pulls it off with patience and diligence. It's his whole life. I've never know someone to more self-sacrificing.

My mother, who has managed to be the most patient and caring wife and mother that I can imagine, not only to us, but to the parish as well. Her job is a lonely one, having to share her husband with so many people, and be a model of propriety for all the women in our parish. Besides my dad she has no close friends here because she cannot simultaneously be both mother and friend to the people in the parish. She must bear her worries and trials almost alone with only my father to confide in. And yet she manages to pull it off with grace and peace. Plus she put up with me at 13 which says a lot.

My mother in-law. 1o children and not crazy yet-- seriously. How does one DO that??? In spite of her many children and rather itinerant life she's still a gracious, patient and self-sacrificing woman.

My closest most inspiring friends, who's names I'll omit lest anyone feel left out, are not mothers, yet, but they possess qualities that are nurturing, loving and show a depth of kindness and patience that I admire and wish I could hope to emmulate some day. One is not only a loving patient friend, but also works at a daycare and knows very well how trying it can be to raise kids. The other, while inexperienced with actual children has always been a model of kindness, patience and forgiveness to all her friends and family, cheerfully nurturing many of us through the toughest times in spite of her own personal trials.

These are the people I find inspiring-- the women (and man) who impress me. Not the people who chose to skip having children because they were inspired by Hilary Clinton or whoever, but because they possess qualities of patience, kindness, love, and self-sacrifice.

My Shameless Brag-list About Theo

Okay, I seriously have the CUTEST kid ever, and if I don't write down just how awesome he is then before I know it he'll be ten and making bombs in our garage and I'll have completely forgotten how rad he was as a baby.

So here's the awesome things I can remember at the moment.

He's an angel in church. He's almost always quiet and he will generally let someone hold him for the whole service. And if he wants to run around, he runs circles around me. You might not think that's very good church behaviour, but for a two year-old kid that spends an average of 2 1/2 hours in a service that you're supposed to stand through and listen to (unless you sing) every week, it's pretty darn good.

He goes to bed with hardly any fuss. Really. I don't have to stick to a SUPER strict schedule at all. Any time between 7 and 9 pm and he more or less goes down without a fuss. He might not go to sleep right away and we can often hear little protests coming from the direction of his room because he feels left out, but they don't last long and eventually he cuddles down on his own.

He has so many hilarious words and ways of viewing the world. My favourite so far: we take him up to Manning Park for a romp in the snow (which turned out to be higher than him, so not the best idea), and he spots a wee patch of yellow snow where someone's dog had been. What does he say ?? "Egg!!!"

He's usually very gentle and cautious, which I think is pretty rare for a two year old. He actually knows what I mean when I say "gently" which means I don't need to worry too much about him getting over excited and smashing something in his enthusiasm. He prefers to carefully inspect things. Like my mother in-law gave him a sort of racket with a plastic center that said "Sonic Smash!" on it and a spoon to whack it with while we were visiting. He enjoyed banging it for a little while and then he stopped and began to very gently touch the spoon on the racket to see why it made that drum-like noise. As though if he did it really slow he could figure out the secret of how it worked. His cautious approach to exploration is pretty convenient too for when we visit people with animals. He loves them and makes this hilarious high-pitched noise of delight when he sees animals, but he's very careful about getting too close or grabbing. Same with other babies.

He hasn't got many words, but he LOVES to talk and since his favourite words are all sound effects (choo-choo, mmmmmooo, bok-bok! etc) his sentences, which can go on and on, are punctuated with all kinds of hilarious sound effects.

He loves to read with us. Seriously, he can quite happily sit on our laps for hours reading and re-reading every book on his shelf. And he has the attention span for books well beyond his age which is nice because one gets really sick of "There's a Wocket in my Pocket!" after a few renditions. The great thing is that it isn't just the pictures he loves either. He really does understand simple story lines. He brought me a copy of "I Have to GO!!" by Robert Munsch and said "Pssss"--which is his word for potty or peeing.

He regularly uses his signs for "please" and "thank-you" without fuss, which is not only great for showing off in front of other parents, but it means that if he's fussing and whining about wanting something that isn't unreasonable I can actually give it to him and make him happy if he stops whining long enough to ask nicely. This is rad because he won't get the idea that whining is what got his needs met, but using the right words instead. It doesn't mean that he doesn't whine and scream plenty. He IS two-ish. But it does mean I can start laying the ground work for better behaviour now instead of when he's old enough to actually say the right words and understnad why they're important.

Oh there's lots of other stuff. Like the fact that he likes olives, and bawls his eyes out when Daddy leaves for work (which is really cute actually), and he knows all his body parts, and barnyard animal noises and I think he knows some of his colours too. Too many cool things that probably aren't out of the ordinary for your average two year-old, but they're impressive to me because I'm his Mama. :)

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Okay--is there like an institution for jerks? Did they lose their funding? Or go on a field trip to the mall today??

Random lady in RW--"Um can you move your buggy so I can browse too??"

Random other lady at Starbucks--"Can you not park your stroller there??" I smile graciously, apologise and then move my stroller to the opposite side of the table. Then I bend over to get into the diaper bag in the cargo rack to retrieve a sippy cup. Same random lady again--"Your entire butt is in my face when you bend over like that!" I laugh and say "Yes it's bigger than normal these days." Random lady "It's not that-- it's just I turned and like it's right there!" WELL IT BLOODY WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN IF YOU DIDN'T MAKE ME MOVE MY STROLLER!!!! Why, oh why didn't I think of something really cheeky to say like "I know-- it's hotter than yours too!" Or "you just looked the type that might appreciate it." seriously. What the hell is wrong with people???

I swear I'm like a jerk magnet these days. Like the other week when a lady in a Jeep honked irately at me for not waddling fast enough onto the ice rink of a sidewalk so that her stupid gas guzzler could take up the whole road at 50 clicks in the snow.

Did someone dump essence of bitch in the water supply or something? Or is it just some cosmic joke that world's biggest jerks seem to find as many pregnant women as they can to give a hard time to?

At least the bus driver was nice for a change...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Parenting Priorities

I have a low tolerance for criticism these days because I'm tired and pregnant and not enjoying it as much as last time. But I've also noticed that a lot of my other mother friends have been experiencing similar frustration. They're being criticised, often publicly, not just by strangers or friends without kids, but by other mothers!!

I'm trying to get my head around why this is such a common complaint-- maybe it always was a complaint. The nagging mother in-law who thinks you can't do anything right is generally a pretty universal parenting problem (though in my case not, my mother in-law is great). But it seems like more and more these days we're getting a lot of criticism not just from parents and grandparents but from our peers as well.

As far as I can tell there are two kinds of mothers. Mums who think parenting ought to be all- consuming and mums who like their kids but would like to have a life too. These ideals aren't restricted to parents either. Non-parents will often adhere to one school of thought or the other. And neither group is willing to cut the other any slack, leaving most mums-- who tend to fall somewhere in between the two groups in practice, feeling unappreciated for how hard they ARE trying and also that they really aren't trying hard enough.

For example, some mums want to work whether they have to or not. Maybe they love their job, maybe they just like the opportunity to get out of the house, maybe all their friends are at work, maybe they just need to feel appreciated for something other than their boobs. Other mothers want to stay home, whether it's financially easy or not. Maybe they don't have a good job to go back to, maybe cloth diapers and organic home-cooked food is a HUGE priority for them, maybe they aren't ready to give up the control over what their kid learns and who their kid interacts with to someone else yet. The working-mum group gets accused of being selfish and vain and the stay-at-home mum gets accused of being a control freak or a hippy. And neither groups cuts the other group any slack.

To add to the problem, mums have strangers and non-parent friends imposing their parenting standards on them. Case in point: when I was pregnant with Theo I was told by a customer that I was absolutely insane (translate reckless and selfish) to have chosen a midwife instead of a doctor. And I have been told the same by non-parent friends. I've also had random grocery clerks tell me to absolutely NOT share a room with my baby or he wouldn't be independent (translate: he would be spoiled). Some mothers take what worked for them and apply it as a rule to parenting in general and this is something I am guilty of myself. We work really hard to find a solution to whatever problem we have and when we are victorious we tell everyone about how clever we were to have figured out the secret of getting our kid to sleep through the night-- or whatever the problem was.

We also count it as a victory if our kid doesn't have a particularly inconvenient habit we've noticed in other kids, whether our brilliant parenting was the reason or just our kid's personality. For example, I have a friend with twins (bless her!) who's got her kitchen entirely locked down-- the whole house in fact--because the kids get into everything. It would be tempting to think that I'm such a great parent because my kid listens when I say don't touch and knows what he's allowed to play with, but realistically, I only have one kid to wrangle-- not two, (who encourage each other in their exploratory pursuits no less). She's doing what works for HER sanity and it's just as valid as what I do for my own.

Some people get very worried about the mess Theo makes with my pots and pans and containers in the kitchen when they come to visit. They try to be helpful by way of telling him "no, no!! Don't get into that!!" They're baffled when I say it's no bother. "What do you mean?" they say, shocked. "You don't care that he's taking all the cutlery out of the drawer and throwing it on the floor? I would!! I don't want to clean it up!!" Privately they're thinking-- MY kids will hear the word "no." But from my perspective, he can't hurt himself on the stuff he gets into and the poor kid already has so many boundaries he can't cross because he's little and because I don't get out often enough to let him run around. I'm picking my battles. If I say no to everything that's inconvenient as well as everything that's dangerous, I'm going to make a lot more work for myself and my kid is going to feel completely oppressed. Besides, I don't want to spend every minute of every day saying "no! don't touch that!" and trying to keep my house spotless or I'll go crazy.

Most parents set up HUGE standards for themselves long before they have kids and discover very shortly after their kids arrive just which things are big priorities for their sanity and which things aren't. They then take the priorities they do have and tell all the other parents they know about why their priorities are the most important ones and then justify not making other things priorities by criticising parents who do. For example, I use cloth diapers because I like em and their better for the environment etc. Some cloth using parents scornfully criticise women who don't for being lazy and irresponsible, while mothers who don't use em scornfully criticise women who do for letting their kids needs completely control them and take over their lives. No one says-- look, just go do what you want! We all need to feel the way we're doing things is the BEST way to do things and since kids don't usually appreciate the job we're doing we have to get our approval from our peers and from other parents.

But no two kids are alike and no two parents are alike and we all have different needs, so that approval is really hard to get. I don't know what the solution is, but it would sure be nice if everyone just relaxed and did their best and stopped criticising each other for what is more often than not, just a difference in priorities, not a real lack in parenting ability.