I was about to ask about how your weekend was, past tense, until I realized that the weekend isn't over yet. There are still a few hours left with great possibility, like that episode of True Blood that is recording at this very moment in the other room. Or those cookies that are still warm, waiting for some visitors we're expecting tomorrow, visitors of the best friend variety (Alyce's best friend, that is). I think in honour of the weekend I should have at least one more. Maybe two.
Speaking of cookie baking, have I mentioned to you how foreign my oven is to me still? I just can't figure this new oven (or stove, for that matter) out. It runs what seems to be a million degrees (give or take) hotter than the temperature I set it to, with the obvious result that I am over-backing everything. Yes, I realize the answer is as simple as buying an oven thermometer to catch it in the act and to make the necessary readjustments, and I will. But I feel as though we are in a fight, me and my oven, and I'm feeling a little stubborn (my husband knows nothing of this approach of mine, nothing of my unbudgingness). Soon I will grow tired of overdone cookies and muffins and make a peace offering in my new kitchen.
But back to the weekend. It was filled with so many different emotions. There was the constant breastfeeding demands from Shira that made me think about, for the very first time, how I might be ready to end our nursing before she's ready. I hope to write about that later this week. For now, it's too fresh, too wrapped up in feelings of sadness over the end of this particular relationship with Shira, feelings of relief that I might just (finally) make a decision, and amazement that Shira has grown so much that we're here even having this conversation. No matter how I'm feeling I can assure you that Shira is not keen to make any changes. We'll see how this goes.
My weekend also included time with a good friend, someone I've missed dearly all these years we've spent away from Toronto. We wandered together downtown, shopping and snacking (a great combination if you ask me). Did I mention the girls were at home with their Papa? Sneaking away with good friends is reason 3,487 I'm happy to be back in Toronto. (You might want to visit, you know. Maybe this will inspire you further.) Today I spent time with another favourite girl, this time my Alyce. We adventured along the bus and subway in order to meet up with other good friends for a movie and some lunch. A weekend like this reminds me that I am rich in friends.
How was your weekend? I always ask and I always mean it: how did you spend your time?
Alyce has a job around the house now: she feeds and waters the cats. Just like that, she's old enough and completely capable (because let's face it: they probably won't die if she forgets for a day or two). We've had to accept a few puddles here and there, and the cats are receiving way more food than I would ever dole out, but no biggie. What I love the best about this is that I can think to myself, Oh crap, I forgot to feed the cats, and then remind myself, Oh, that's cool. Alyce will do it. Of course she will. Before I realize it I'll also be thinking, Oh crap, I forget to make dinner, and then remind myself, Oh, that's cool, Alyce can do it, Or, Oh, that's cool, Alyce can drive to the store and pick that up. Or, Alyce can choose her major at university. Gasp.
But for now she's still tiny. Matt has been sleeping most nights on the floor of the girls' room. A good habit, no, but in the face of all this change, and a few nightmares, what's a few weeks on the floor? One of the perks of having young kids: you are so unbelievably exhausted that you can sleep anywhere you please (or Alyce pleases). Or at least that's what Matt tells me. I wouldn't know because I sleep in our bed. (In case you're wondering, I've been waking up to breastfeed babies since 2007, so it's his turn to lose a tiny bit of sleep.) Sometimes Alyce starts complaining of feeling scared and I immediately start to roll my eyes (mostly on the inside, where she can't see them), because it is often simply a tactic to stay up later, but as soon as I remember that she is four, I can begin to imagine how complicated change is to a little one. She throws so much of herself into her world that she can't help but to get a little attached. I can see that she likes our new apartment, but I know she misses our old life, which mostly means she misses my mum. Shira, too, though mostly she's just concerned with the location of my breasts. If they're in Toronto, she's in Toronto, and she'll adapt as necessary.
Shira is Shira, which means she coasts through all of these changes pretty easily. Breastfeeding aside, she seems to adapt with little effort, a perk of being two. She's more concerned with other important tasks, like summer adventuring. She's currently checking off the following from her to summer do list: climbing on monkey bars and jumping, grin first, into a swimming pool. Matt, in case you were wondering, is also adapting well to our new surroundings. He is very happy to have finally relocated to Toronto, thrilled not to commute hours each day, and is grateful to be doing a job that he loves. That's a pretty special detail, isn't it? I saw an old friend tonight and he is also happily doing a job he loves. Isn't that the way it should be? Or can be, if we're willing to work at it? This is what I'm telling myself everyday, that no matter how much anxiety and panic I feel about starting all these new projects, that I can do this. This is how it should be.
I'd be lying (and I'm a terrible liar) if I told you that we were settled in, four weeks after our move. I've reached that stage that requires not just unpacking, but organizing and designing. I love both of these tasks (though I'm regretting having left my label maker in Delaware!), but I find them hard to do with two tiny beasts following me around everyday. Slowly it will all get done. Here is what I have left to do:
hang remaining photos and artwork
organize bookshelves that are destined to be filled with craft supplies, books, and some games
clear off and find a home for all of the things that have found their way to the top of the fridge and bookshelves (more photos, menorahs, the rooster tea kettle I inherited from my uncle)
clean and unpack our bedroom*
finish washing floors and baseboards
I won't be tackling everything this weekend, though I hope to get most of it out of my way by Sunday. What will you be tackling this weekend? Big projects? Little projects? Will you maybe even read a book? You're a wild one, aren't you?
*Matt, of course, had his clothes and personal things unpacked roughly two hours after having moved in. So when I write "unpack our bedroom," I am only referring to my stuff. Matt would never be so careless.
I should have known that baking cookies would do it.
I've been quiet around here for the past month. Some of that has to do with our big move to Toronto, not an easy feat with two young children. (We say that a lot, don't we? That things are made more difficult with the addition of young children. It's true that little ones are pure chaos sometimes, and their schedules often make planning life a challenge, and their whining can drive you to madness. But I do want to come right out and declare that life is made infinitely better when you throw young children into the mix, and I wouldn't have it any other way.) I've been busy readjusting to how this new life fits. So far I'm happy with our choice.
I've also been busy teaching again, an online course at a nearby university, and this just makes life very full. I'm learning a lot as I reintroduce myself to my course after two years off, including how to run a course in between all the events of my days at home with the girls. It looks something like this: get up and return emails. Read some posts from the discussion forums. Make breakfast for starving children in my kitchen. Return another email. Take children on new city adventure. Eat a popsicle. Do a tiny bit of grading during Shira's nap. Unpack. Chase children around park. Tuck them in after dinner, collapse, and then peel myself off the couch to start actually working for the night. Rinse and repeat.
But I'm always busy. We're all always busy, yet we still find time to do the things we love. I love writing this blog. What's stopped me from finding the time hasn't been all this other stuff, busy as I am. I could post three times a week instead of five, or one time instead of three. There are always ways to readjust (and I'm already doing a lot of readjusting this month). Nope, I'm quiet because I'm afraid. I'm suddenly feeling exposed and vulnerable here on the internet. I love the internet, love it a lot, but all of a sudden I'm feeling awfully open. A big part of this comes from my return to teaching. I know some of my students have read my blog, and this kind of exposure is a first for me. I've always been an open person and it's translated into my style of teaching. When I teach in-person courses I learn about my students quickly, and they learn about me. I don't hide my love of cooking, or my enthusiasm for Sookie Stackhouse novels, or that my American husband just doesn't get the CBC. But my academic mentor always taught me to keep a distance from my students, even when you share parts of yourself as you teach. I remember when an undergraduate student asked her religion, and she emphatically explained that it was None Of Their Business. Her interaction with the inquiring student left a mark on me, because my mentor shared so many things with her students, even her home sometimes, inviting us over to share a meal or an extra lesson. But there was a line, she taught me, and it was critical. The space of the classroom, it seemed, had boundaries.
On this blog I write very explicitly about breastfeeding, my religion, how it feels when I lose my patience with my children, and the devastation I felt when I wasn't accepted into midwifery school. The space of my classroom has changed a lot from the days with my mentor. Of course blogs don't reveal everything. I am always choosing to tell a very particular story in my posts and details are overlooked (I hope, the very boring and the parts that involve another person's privacy). But when I write I'm not trying to deceive anyone, and at the same time I'm intending to share some very honest, and traditionally private, feelings and ideas. It's this kind of exposure that makes writing and reading blogs both so exciting and so overwhelming.
Teaching and blogging, at the same time, has forced me to think about what I want to share on my blog. As soon as I realized that students were reading I felt paralyzed, caught in the act, if you will. I would jump up to write a post, or be brainstorming in the shower, and instead of wondering how I would tell a story in a way that was honest and interesting, I was worried about how a student might think of me after reading it. I immediately began censoring myself. If I wanted to write a post about how much my breasts were hurting because my two year old was enjoying yet another renewed fascination with nursing every two hours, I held myself back. No one wanted their paper graded by someone who had just moments ago complained loudly about her breasts. Or if I wanted to write a post about postpartum depression, my own included, I withdrew the idea before I could even consider how to write it. Writing about how to cope with the stress of multiple deadlines while parenting two little ones? Forget it. If I'm not perfect, I'll lose their respect. Or so I thought.
It turns out that I have no interest in writing about my life if I can't be honest. I don't want to write about my trip to the museum if I can't also write about how many times my toddler pulled my shirt up to nurse. I can't share with you how hard it is to balance all the competing demands of my wonderful life if I can't permit myself to admit that re-learning how to fit in grading papers is hard sometimes. If I was so concerned with censoring my posts, I felt pretty sure I didn't want to blog anymore.
Nah. I won't stop. I just don't want to. And I've reached a decision about how to manage my concerns about exposing myself to my students: they'll get over it. Or they won't. Either way, it's fine. I'm not doing anything scandalous here (hardly). I'm not inappropriately discussing my course or students. I'm just writing honestly about how I spend my time, how I choose to carve out this life of mine. I'm a parent. I want to be a midwife one day. I want to be a doula right now. I love to teach. And I bake a lot. Nothing too crazy.
So when I was baking today with Alyce and Shira, the first real baking adventure in our new kitchen, and Shira's first time as sous-chef, I wanted to share it with you right away. I took their picture, the two of them bickering over who would sprinkle the baking soda into the bowl, and I wanted to share with you how glorious it feels to have our own space again. I wanted to tell you that I felt comfort baking with my girls, while Matt chatted with us from the other room. I wanted to tell you that adjusting to our new life in Toronto, as happy as it makes me, is sometimes hard, and that some days I spend a lot of time worrying about how we'll make ends meet or where we'll end up a year from now, but that no matter how much I worry, that baking with my daughters makes everything ok. That makes me human. I think my students already knew that. You already knew that, too.
So, I'm back. Let's get this going.
See you back here tomorrow. Let's make it a good Monday.
We moved back to Toronto for many reasons. They include, though are not limited to, reasons of community (good friends), Jewish life (good Shabbat dinners), vibrancy (by the truckload), things like that. Leaving the house with two young children isn't easy, but when I have an entire city just waiting for me explore, I can handle a little early morning chaos. Just so we're clear: leaving the house with Alyce (4.5) and Shira (2), in the summer, in a heatwave, for more than an hour, means packing snacks and lunch for three, preparing water bottles for three, finding swimsuits and towels and extra sets of clothes, applying sunscreen (which, if done properly, takes at least ten minutes between the two of them, not counting the argument you know you're going to have with Alyce about how putting sunscreen on her neck tickles), pre-departure bathroom stops, and at least one heated discussion with both of them over how many dollies can come with us.
Oh, but it was worth it yesterday. We packed ourselves up and visited a new place with a new friend (aren't those great?). Have any of you heard of Sugar Beach? I had not. The park opened up in 2010, and while it isn't a traditional beach where you can wade into the water, it is an incredible space for making you feel like you're at the beach. It's like they found a pier and dumped sand right on top of it, just for you play in. So you can sit in enormous adirondack chairs (bolted down for their safe-keeping), underneath enormous pink umbrellas, and enjoy a break from the sun while your two children bury your feet in the sand. Sound good? It was. Even better was the splash pad tucked off to the side where Alyce and Shira spent most of our time, leaving me to chat with my friend and stare at her beautiful baby. Shira, a bit shy when it comes to splashing water, was only devastated once, when the calm bubbles of water shot up three feet and surrounded her in a giant waterfall. She never quite forgave it that.
We were a tired bunch on the way home. Heading to the waterfront was worth the effort, but don't let all that sand and splashing fool you into thinking that it was always an easy trip. From where we live we took one bus, two (short) subways, and walked fifteen minutes. Each way. That's a lot to handle with a stroller and a bag filled with all that stuff I mentioned earlier. We were so exhausted after two hours at the park (three hours since leaving our house) that me and Alyce tucked ourselves away in an air-conditioned Starbucks for a lemonade the size of Shira, while the actual Shira caught a nap. But there was so much more than just being tired and I found enough patience yesterday to actually enjoy the good stuff, like watching Alyce discover buildings that seem to touch the clouds, or explaining to her sister how to ride the subway (because she's the expert now). We came home hot, tired, and some of us a bit sunburned (ouch my back), but I think we all had that feeling of accomplishment to get us through. We adventured. And then we came home to rest up for next time.
I was hiding in my room this morning trying to work for an hour or so before the day got away from me, and I was interrupted by the noise of my Shira screeching through the house, trying to convince Alyce to play with with her. No matter how much I craved some quiet, I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear at the sound of Shira's eagerness to join in on the fun. It got me thinking.
My Ten Favourite Sounds
1. Shira, trying to catch up with her big sister, declaring "ME, TOO!"
2. Coffee beans grinding.
3. The way Alyce hums happy food noises as she eats.
4. The sounds of a baseball game.
5. The thunderstorms we should be having in this dreadful heatwave, but aren't. (Update: see P.S. below)
6. My friends laughing.
7. Those hushed, secret whispers between Alyce and Shira.
8. Hearing music that makes me want to dance.
10. Matt laughing at his own jokes.
P.S. I wrote this list in the morning and in the afternoon there were storms, or so I hear. We were in Cambridge all afternoon and know nothing of storm. What's that they say about a no one being around to hear a tree falling in a forest?
P.P.S. And now I'm reminded of my very favourite Gary Larson comic of all time, from The Far Side:
"If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, and it hits a mime, does anyone care?" I read that one in high school and I am still giggling. No offence, mimes.
Ahhh, moving. You think you'll be unpacked in a week and then you realize you've gone completely mad to think that anyone could complete more than one task a day with two young children under foot. And so here we are, a few hours from a very special night, and I've got some work to do. (At least the sunflowers are already in place. Fresh flowers are a must for this Shabbat table.) I'll see you back here next week, with some posts that I can't wait to share. In the meantime, I am going to leave you with the following summer to-do list, created by me and Alyce earlier today. It is a list of all the things she would like to complete before the end of summer vacation. May it inspire your own summer adventures.
Have the most wonderful of weekends! Report back, would you? I'd love to know how you enjoyed this July weekend.
I had to be out of the house for bedtime tonight, and though the girls should have been in bed fast asleep, by the time I returned, these two were still awake. Life doesn't always turn out the way of a scheduled bedtime. Matt, who had probably imagined a couple of hours of quiet, spent two hours trying to convince Shira to fall asleep (and with his lack of lactating parts he was losing the battle before it had even begun), which in turn ignited Alyce to begin her own petition for no-bedtime, since why should she sleep if the other wasn't going to (fair question)? When I walked in the door two hours past Shira's bedtime she was a bit manic, in that joyful way she has about her. She immediately brought me to the couch where I nursed her for a few minutes, Alyce sprawled on top of the both of us. It was neither comfortable nor productive (who could focus under these conditions?), but it was absolutely worth a late bedtime. I was able to sit and enjoy my children for a few minutes before sending them off for the night, an absolutely perfect thing to do even when only away for a couple of hours. They climbed on Matt's lap for a few minutes before it was really, really bedtime, and now I have these photos.
This is why it's good to relax some days. Note to self.
I'm writing this on the "oh please let that never happen again"side of food poisoning (I made us a lovely dinner last night that I now deeply regret). Both Matt and I woke up over night with the dreaded pains and I won't go into any of the rest. Except to tell you that both parents suffering from food poisoning while attempting to parent a four and two year old is not easy. Matt and I were able to trade off all day, one barely watching The Children while the other collapsed in bed. All I keep wondering now is how single parents do it. How do they do it? We were so sick today and it felt unbearable to do things like make snacks or keep the room from spinning, and all the while I was able to depend on Matt, as sick as he was. So to single parents out there, that's a lot of work.
But enough about how terrible that was today. Let me tell you something exciting: our cats are no longer sequestered to a basement! The best place for the cats at my mum's place was the basement, a rather large and lovely, though still awfully dark, place. They were fine down there, fed and with room to lounge, but these cats are social beasts and they missed us. Matt and I would try to spend a little time each day with them, but it was never enough. Hille, the enormous one, likes to always be within arm's reach, and I think he was a little depressed these past eight months. Poor guy.
But now! They have embraced our new apartment as though it was their dream home. There are windows in which to collapse, rooms filled with bright sunny daylight, and a constant source of companionship, even if most of the time that means Alyce and Shira. It's only been a week but the change in their moods warms my heart, even if they smell of their food wafting through the house today did nothing for my poor stomach. It's been nice remembering why we adopted them in the first place. As truly annoying as they are, they are lovely just the same. It's been a good move all around.
I'm finally back from my move-induced break in posting, so I'll be back here tomorrow with some details about our move. I'll give you a hint: there are still many things to unpack, but boy do I not care. I am so happy to be back in Toronto that I'll take the boxes and the cleaning anytime (or for a week or two, at least).
My body is aching and my feet have quit on me, but we're here. We moved. We've said a good-bye to my mum and stepfather (though we'll happily reunite again when we visit in a couple of weeks) and a hello to a new start in Toronto. The girls are for the most part holding up amidst the chaos, only every so often succumbing to the emotional meltdowns triggered by too much change and too many boxes. Alyce clings to her sunflower seedling, I cling the knowledge that one day soon the boxes will be unpacked.
Life continues as usual it seems, even though all we're doing is unpacking. I wish there was a pause button I could reach for so that all the deadlines and responsibilities of life would just give me a few days There's also a heat wave going on around us making my hair enormous and the packing all that much more uncomfortable. But none of that matters. We made it. Here we are. Of course there is so much to do still, jobs to start, routines to develop (I'm learning the hard way that routines are golden), kitchen layouts to plan. My instinct tells me to unpack! Organize! Work! Plan! But between the chaos and the heat wave, sometimes you just need to searching for snails instead, and so we give in. The boxes will wait.
I'll be back soon. Just let me unpack myself out of this box over here. Also, if anyone knows where the other piece to my coffee maker is, Matt would really appreciate it. Until then he keeps finding himself in line at Starbucks before seven in the morning.
I didn't for a minute consider changing my last name when I married Matt. I made a lot of changes when we married, like my religion, or my dreams of marrying someone who loved the outdoors and would teach me how to kayak among the dolphins or how to get over my fear of bears, but my name seemed too much.
My reasons for keeping my name after marriage are many. First, I have earned my name. It is difficult to spell, has too many consonants, and no one can ever say it outside of Quebec. By the time I reached adulthood I felt as though I'd put my time in, taken one for the team, and I was unwilling to just change it, give it up to the past. It was my name and I would stand behind it no matter what. And on the practical side I had already published articles in my research field under my original name and I didn't want my previous work to go unnoticed if I started publishing under a new married name.
I am also a feminist and that means I have spent a long time thinking about what happens to women when they marry and struggle with a new identity, including a new name. Marriage hasn't always been the kindest to women, and while I am confident that Matt and I married as equals, as two people who loved each other and wanted to grow a family together, I was unwilling to ignore the way marriage has historically defined women as property, rendering them invisible under various institutions, like the law. Marrying my husband was the first step in our family, but I didn't want to get lost along the path. Keeping my name was a way of marking this part of me, the part that never wants to forget the efforts involved in creating and supporting a culture that values men, women, and children together.
Plus, did I mention how many years I endured under the wrath of the silent "b" in my name?
It's been five years since I made that decision, and now, I regret it. All of my reasons for keeping my name still stand, but now their are new ones. Their names are Alyce and Shira. When we talked about keeping my name, I remember telling Matt that they only thing that might push me to take his was the possibility of not sharing my name with my children. That was easy, he said, the girls can take your name. Well, that was easy. But then I was pregnant with Alyce and we found ourselves on the phone listening to Matt's father beg us to continue his family name, and I just didn't care enough (or have a strong enough backbone) to keep to my decision. Did it really matter, I wonder? Probably not. And always the people-pleaser, I suggested to Matt that we keep with tradition and name the girls after him.
It turns out that for me it does matter. Having a different name from Matt and the girls doesn't make me question my place in our family. I am just as much a part of this chaos as Matt or the girls. Of course. But on a regular basis I am made acutely aware that I stand alone with a different name. Alyce has started asking me questions, asking me to explain why we don't share a name. When I register her for school, or fill out the forms for Shira at the emergency room, I need to emphasize that I am indeed their mother. I don't know why exactly, because it doesn't make intellectual sense to me, but I really don't like that question. Don't they look at me and see the hours of labour I undertook to give birth, or the months years I've spent breastfeeding or waking up at unnatural times because my girls are early risers, because that's what I see. They see our names side-by-side and they look up at me and ask, are you the mother? Ugh. Of course I am. And I also want to order those silly reply labels for our mail and I want one name.
I don't quite recognize these preferences in myself, but they're mine nonetheless.
How do I reconcile this with my feminism? Is this just the beginning of my conflating my identity with that of my husband, or another one of those times where motherhood makes a woman turn away from feminism? Am I turning away from a deeply-treasured value simply because it's hard to feel left out sometimes? No, I don't think so. The feminist call for women to keep their names was timely and necessary. It was a call for women to redefine their marriage and the marriages of future generations. And while we can't turn our backs on the efforts of feminist movements past (because we must defend and protect the rights and opportunities afforded to women on account of this hard work), we can redefine some of the terms. My feminist commitment does not hinge on my last name. And while I probably won't change my name at this point, my unexpected reaction to my decision has reminded me how important one's identity truly is. It's complex. Things change.
If you get any mail from us in the future, just be prepared for a lot of extra letters on the reply stamp, including that silent "b."