Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Even on bad days, I'll still be happy with you

Even on bad days, I'll still be happy with you.

This is a reminder to myself. I've been struggling with some low moods lately, trying to make some overwhelming (to me) changes, wanting so desperately to feel as though I'm doing the right thing.When I make decisions that don't fall in line with the life I want, I get down on myself. It's part of my DNA, being hard of myself, something I've had to maneuver around my whole life. It can be debilitating and confusing, because that kind of negative self-talk in no way helps my cause. My rational brain knows that. The rest of me doesn't. So as a shout-out to this year being about doing things differently, I'm going to work on being happy with myself even on days when my instinct is to dwell on all the things I wished I'd done differently. Positivity is a powerful currency.

Discipline is remembering what you want.

I didn't write that. I can't for the life of me remember which book I read that in (I'm pretty sure it was a cookbook of all things), but I love it. Some days I get all whiny and complainy about not being disciplined enough to accomplish my goals. I mope around longing for the secret the right amount of discipline I need to make the kind of decisions I want to make. Not to smoke. To eat nourishing food. To move my body. To get enough sleep. To do the kinds of things that might help me feel like such a slug (a well-meaning slug with fibromyalgia). But I'm starting to believe that discipline isn't magic but might be all about how we make decisions, and the only way I can make a decision is by understanding what I really want. I want to feel good. Vibrant, even! 

I have a lot of feelings. But I also have goals.

And clearly I am feeling all of these feelings right now. I'm in this in between space, putting some goals on hold in order to pursue other ones. Having goals is vital to this process of change for me (go read this on goal setting if you love to set goals almost as much as you love a good list) and I think I want to use this space to connect with my own goals more often. This blog used to be so much about my life at home with the girlies, and while I still expect to share about my family, I wonder if that's where it is going. I keep reading again and again that change is about the process, not the result, and I need the help to remember that. I remember by writing and sharing and feeling vulnerable. So my vulnerable self will enter this space more often. 

What are your goals? I'll be sharing mine tomorrow. 

Be well.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ten things

1. The girls have taken to doing rock/paper/scissors for all disagreements, even in the grocery store upon trying to decide which kind of cheese strings to buy. Shira usually just throws out a "paper" and loses to Alyce's "scissors" every time. In the end we went home with both kinds of cheese, so we're all winners.

2. The cats and I have been enjoying some quiet time in the morning lately because Shira has been regularly sleeping in until almost seven (which of course now she never will again because I said this on the internet). I wake up the cats at six and we settle into the living room with coffee (for me) and creepy stares (them).

3. Summer vacation is already in full swing. Our days are filling with summer reading clubs at the public library, wading pools, ice cream, and snail collecting. And to think it isn't even July yet. The girls have a summer bucket list that I'll share this week, but a sneak peak reveals a hefty portion of ice cream.

4. Quitting smoking is hard! I'll report back on that soon.

5. This coming weekend the girls and I are spending the night on a houseboat with my mum and her husband. There will be fishing, campfires on deserted islands, swimming, and other summer-appropriate adventures.

6. This past Saturday Matty and I enjoyed a date night out (thanks, Liz, for watching the girlies!) and we were finished dinner and ready to come home by 8 pm. We managed to stay out until a respectable 9:30. We are old and married and loving it.

7. Shira is reading! It makes my heart grin.

8. I am going to be making this tonight (minus the peaches because they aren't in season yet).

9. Alyce and Shira, two girls who wouldn't know a vegetable if it came knocking on their door, are sprouting. They just won't stop growing. I guess macaroni and cheese is a health food after all!

10. The man sitting next to me at Starbucks (I'm out blogging grading papers for the class I teach) just caught a rather annoying fly in this fist. He was about to squish it when he declared that it wasn't nice to kill a living creature and subsequently walked outside to release it into the wild. I like him.

Be well!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

And it's done

Oh the school year, you've dragged on forever around these parts. It's the last school day for most Toronto kids today and at our house we are celebrating loud and clear. They say the school year is only ten months long, but this one felt more like sixteen or seventeen, like someone added a few months in there when we weren't looking. Only the cats are a little disappointed that summer vacation starts tomorrow. 

I've mentioned before that this is has been a hard school year for Alyce, so in large part our palpable excitement comes from a deep need to leave this year behind. Her second grade teacher was a bad fit for her sensitive little self and it sparked all kinds of problems. (I once made the mistake of explaining to Alyce what homeschooling was and ever since she's been trying to negotiate her own schooling here at home. Not going to work, Alyce, I have babies to catch.)

I had been noticing this year that Alyce didn't draw anymore. Our walls are covered in Shira's artwork (we could wallpaper two houses with the piles and piles of her daily creations) but Alyce wasn't contributing anymore. I thought maybe it had something to do with her school struggles and it broke my heart to think that some of her joy--joy that I had been used to seeing expressed in her drawings and paintings--might be disappearing. I had such a sad heart for her all year.

But as we went through the ritual of bringing piles home school work this week (one of my favourite rituals), Alyce showed me her sketchbook. An artist had visited her class a few months back  and gifted each student with an blank book for drawing and doodling. Alyce actually sparkled when she started walking me through the pages and I saw drawing after drawing filled with colour and most of all, joy. I started quietly crying because that's what you do when you're brought face to face with feelings you had been trying to avoid for so long. I have been so deeply worried about her for so long now and it was weighing on me more than I realized. 

Alyce's sketch showed me that she is way more resilient than I had given her credit for. She's had a hard year but she's okay, she's still my Alyce. I've gone through the book so many times now, turning the pages with a big grin on my face. Much like the grin on Alyce's face when she proudly showed me her favourite drawings.

 And Shira? No, we haven't forgotten about the other one. She glided through her school year, or more accurately, skipped through it. Junior Kindergarten was a safe and happy place for her, and for that I am grateful. She's just as excited for summer, however, because she's convinced herself that summer vacation means ice cream for every meal. Sounds delightful.

Be well!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to date your kids

Lately I've both missed the girlies terribly and felt flustered and frustrated by them all at the same time. It's been close to two months since I finished placement but it still feels like we are trying to find our feet, the girls and I. We all coped through the crazy semester and crossed the finish line with all players still intact, yet we're all a bit different. I, for one, got used to having some new independence, even if that independence came with a nearly constant full schedule of client visits, births, and studying. 

It was the first time in a while that I was out in the world without the responsibility of the girlies and at times that was exactly what I needed after years of parenting young children full-time. I was thrown into a world where I could move about without always calculating how it would impact my children. Of course I was thinking about them throughout the day and I missed them deeply, but I wasn't answering to them in a way that I had become accustomed to. We had neighbours who walked them to school (bless them), a caregiver who picked them up and  made dinner, and of course, another parent home with them all the times that I couldn't be. But I wasn't home running the show all the time and some days it was a good feeling.

The girls too, developed new routines, new ways of moving through their world. When I was back home for bedtimes on a regular basis after my placement ended, Shira started declaring (loudly) that she wasn't used to me and my rules anymore. Papa does it different. (I bet he does, I thought.) While everyone was relieved to have the family together more often, we all had to adjust. There were big feelings all around, more tears than usual, and some ramped up competition over who got to sit in my lap (mostly from the girls, though not exclusively).

Since the first week of May I've been home during the day by myself. The girls and I worked out a new routine for the mornings, I began walking them to school again, but then the day was mine until 3:30. I would work on the course I teach online, read, putter around the house cleaning and fixing things that had been ignored for months. I would be lying if I didn't admit that the past two months have been lovely. Don't hate me. School lets out for summer this week, so this alone time I speak of will be a thing of the past.

In honour of all this time I had on my hands, I decided to spend one day alone with each girlie. To reconnect. To be silly. To eat too much ice cream. As I mentioned above, the girlies spend a good chunk of every waking hour competing for my attention, so a day alone together is a treasure. It was delightful to spend a full day with them without the constant sibling bickering. No competition, no outdoing the other, no raised voices, just the two of us. For Alyce and I it was a chance to talk about some difficult things after a rough year at school. As for Shira, we just played.

So how to do date your kids? If you can swing it, choose a school day, since there are few things better than skipping school. For those of you who gasp at my pulling the kids out of school to eat ice cream, I suggest relaxing. There is life beyond school. If not, a weekend will do, since ice cream tastes like perfection even on a Saturday.

The rest is up to you. I chose to take them out for the full days, filling our time with a mixture of treats (like french fries), crafts (watch out not to let the seven-year-old burn herself on the stove while making paste for paper mache, not that I'm speaking from experience or anything), and playing. I took Alyce to the mall to buy some new earrings and for some lunch, then we had popcorn and a movie at home. For Shira we went to the beach, collected bucketfuls of rocks, and then stopped for lunch on our way home to paint said rocks. While I chose to take each girlie out for lunch, a date day doesn't require any extra money. A picnic on the beach would have blown Shira's mind almost as much as McDonald's did.

The result? Two magical days. I still do bedtime differently than their Papa, but they'll just have to get used to that one.

Be well!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How to quit smoking in only 753 days*

This is the post in which I publicly declare my intention to not smoke anymore.

If you would rather not read the following confession/meandering account of my complicated struggles with smoking, that's okay. You can maybe read this post instead. If you want to keep reading just so you can comment and tell me how gross I am for smoking, please don't. I'm hard on myself enough as it is. Trust me.

For those of you who have never been addicted to smoking, let me tell you that it's complicated. I know--I really know--that I shouldn't do it. I am well versed in all the reasons that it is a terrible choice to make. It is rotten for my body, it makes me smell, it pisses off people around me, it's expensive, and it is a waste of my time. I GET IT. (Sorry for yelling.) Asked directly whether or not I want to smoke and I'll say hell no. It's a stupid habit. But then you'll probably find me ten minutes later smoking secretly behind my house, away from my family, because I am one addicted human being.

I'm a passionate sort who throws myself into situations with every ounce of my being, and this holds true for smoking. Some might call me an addictive sort, too, and they'd be right. I'm addicted to coffee, to delicious food, to my family (probably not in that order), and sadly, I've been addicted to smoking off and on for over twenty years. I started sneaking my mother's cigarettes when I was fifteen and it was everything I had dreamed of. Sound ridiculous? Because it is. I had hated my parents' smoking for years, but there I was figuring out how to rebel against the world and discovering that smoking made me feel quite rebellious. Before long I was a regular smoker all the way up until the day I found out I was pregnant with Alyce.

I would like to tell you that I quit that day and never looked back, but no. Not only did I look back but I spun my head all the way around and never took my eyes away. For the better part of five years I didn't smoke, feeling pleasantly smug about my not-smokingness, yet I always thought about it. It was a terrible waste of energy, all that time I wasted thinking about smoking, but it was an obsession of sorts. Though not the obsession it has become more recently.

Two years ago I started smoking socially, and then quickly returned to committed smoking all the time once I started midwifery school. I blame my anatomy and physiology course and all those damn multiple choice exams, but honestly, the new stresses of school were just an excuse I gave myself. In reality I'd always known this was going to happen. I was no longer breastfeeding, I had some more independence from my young children, I was a free woman.

Yet every day I smoked I felt shame. Big, heavy, bossy shame about being a smoking mother (not that my girls ever saw me smoke), a smoking midwifery student, a smoking human being. I had endless conversations with my myself about how bad an idea it was to smoke again, and I had so many reasons not to smoke, namely that I want to live as long as possible so that I can kiss my children's faces until they are grandmothers.  Nevertheless, smoking quickly became a thing I did and I came to rely on it to get me through the semesters. Each week I'd hatch a plan to quit, and each week I'd keep smoking. I stopped once for ten weeks, but I was lured back again and again.

Fast forward to six months ago and I quit, this time for what I truly believed was the end of my smoking. My health was getting worse (unrelated to my smoking, though I'm sure it didn't help things) and I was about to start my first clinical placement. I put a lot of pressure on myself to quit. Who needs smoking when there are babies to be caught? Right? Right. Until seven weeks into my placement I succumbed to my still very active obsession and started all over again, this time with almost daily plans to quit.

This is where I am now. Smoking and quitting on an almost daily basis. Sound ridiculous? Maybe, but I'm not trying to be. I actually want not to smoke for the rest of my life. But MAN is it hard to follow through on the promises I make to myself about quitting. It's hard work, plain and simple, and hard things take work. I look back on these past two years and I like to believe that I just haven't had space in my head to the do this hard work of quitting. My head has been filled with school, work, financial stresses, and sometimes, depression. No space. Closed .

But now that I'm taking a pause I'm ready. Ready or not. I'm taking this year for myself and it's really time to relinquish my obsession with smoking. It's time.

Wish me luck. I need so very much it.

Be well!

*give or take a few

This week

So this was my week:

Shira and I had a morning to ourselves one day last weekend and as we were doing our errands and going to the market, she asked me to take her picture next to this. So I did.

I herded chaperoned on a field trip with Shira's kindergarten class. We descended on an outdoor adventure centre where we played games, did crafts, and roasted marshmallows on an open fire. It was chaos, but mostly the good kind.

Have you seen these Little Free Library boxes in your neighbourhood? I fell in love instantly.

Walks to school in summer dresses.

I found this in my journal the other day. I had forgotten that Alyce had used it to write her detective notes. We had some missing flowers in our garden and she was on the case.

I took the big kid out on a date for an entire school day! More on that to come later this week.

Shira enjoyed at least one hot chocolate, maybe more.

How was your week?
Be well!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Taking Stock: June

It that time again!

Making : My first quilting square! And socks! And a blanket! Sorry for all the exclamation points, but it's feeling really good to make things lately.
Cooking : Salads. Next up? This one, this one, and probably this one, too.
Drinking: Barely sweetened iced vanilla lattes.
Reading: Everything! Now that I'm on a break from midwifery school I can read things that have nothing to do with uteruses uteri. But don't get me wrong--I love a good uterus.
Wanting: To finally start practicing yoga again.
Looking: For shade. As the summer heat builds up, and that darn sun shines brightly all day long, I turn to the shade, where I can enjoy the sunshine without having any of it actually touch my body.
Playing: Not enough board games. Why did I marry someone who hates board games?
Wishing: For some clarity on how to handle siblings.
Enjoying: Siblings.
Waiting: For the last day of school! We are all excited for summer vacation.
Liking: Watching Grey's Anatomy all over again on Netflix.
Wondering: What to make for dinner.
Loving: Time away for myself.
Pondering: Family budgets.
Considering: Trying my had at sewing a dress for the girlies.
Buying: Wool and fabric.
Watching: Game of Thrones.
Hoping: For some great adventures this summer.
Marvelling: At Alyce's performances on the monkey bars.
Cringing: At the news.
Needing: A meal plan for dinners.
Questioning: My ability to make a meal plan.
Smelling: The roses on my dining room table.
Wearing: Long summer dresses. Always.
Following: The sewing adventures of my friend, Sarah.
Noticing: That girlies are growing way too fast.
Knowing: That I am a good Mama, no matter how I feel some days.
Thinking: About my year off from midwifery school, hoping I don't miss it too much (which I will).
Admiring: This lemon and blueberry coffee cake. Thank you, Joy.
Sorting: Closets
Bookmarking: Quilting ideas.
Coveting: A purse I found at the Wychwood Market last weekend.
Disliking: The drivers that speed down our quiet and child-filled street on a daily basis.
Giggling: At my mother's text messages.
Feeling: Tired.
Snacking: On watermelon.
Helping: Alyce get through just one more week of school.
Hearing: Thunderstorms, I hope.

Do you want to take stock? I got the idea from Pip.

Friday, June 12, 2015

This week

This week features an amazing trip to Vancouver! I flew out to surprise my stepmonster, Kate, for her 40th birthday, with the added perk of seeing my Dad and little brother and sister (who are eleven and seven, respectively). And mytheir enormous, goofy dog. We are soul mates, he and I. 

It has been three years since I visited my family in Vancouver and it was beyond overdue. This family of mine, divided by too many provinces, makes my heart happy. It was just me flying out on this trip (much to the disappointment of Alyce and Shira, and the result was some pretty incredible time spent teaching Sydney how to knit, watching Noah show off at his baseball game, and of course, celebrating one of my favouite people in the world. And since I was on Toronto time the entire weekend, I was even able to enjoy some quiet time with my Dad, an early riser, before the rest of the family crawled out of bed.  May there be more trips in my future.

Here is a snapshot of my week.

Shenanigans with Noah at Sydney's school fair. 

Sydney was a natural knitter. It is pushing me to finally teach Alyce, who has been begging to learn.

 We celebrated friendship and sangria.

No one will ever convince me of this "half-sister" business. She's mine, through and through.

A gift from Syd.

I expect Noah will play in the majors one day, said the proud sister.

The weekend-long celebration called for my favourite red lipstick, which it seems was wearing off about the time I took this photo.

How was your week?

Be well!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

When we want what we can't have

When I was growing up we lived in a house I absolutely adored. It was very small brick house with green shutters and overflowing with beautiful trees, big and small. I had my own room with all of my favourite things tucked away in their place, a kitchen filled with delicious food, and a quiet street that was always available to play on. It was a great life, and most days it didn't seem to matter that almost all of my friends had more. My friends loved visiting our house.

But most of my friends had enormous houses, filled with rooms we could explore for days. Some of them had pools, garages filled with ski equipment, pianos in the living room, and what seemed like an endless number of toys. (One friend had Cabbage Patch Dolls in the double digits. Can you even imagine?) There were kitchens with two fridges to hold all of the food and bathrooms with cavernous jacuzzi tubs I secretly always wanted to try. Many friends had nannies at home with them, or women that cleaned their house every day. They went on trips to Disney or Whistler every year and spent summers at their cottages.

I was different from these other friends and I always knew it. What I can't remember is how it felt to be different. Is it because of these big houses and expensive clothes that I never felt popular? Is it a coincidence that my closest friends, friends I still hold dear, had families more like mine? I do remember coming home from days spent at my friends' houses or stables (yes, some of them owned their own horses) and going on and on to my mother about all the things my friends had. But was I upset with my parents for not giving me these things, too? Did I ever resent the middle-class-ness of my family? Was I grateful for the things I had?

I had plenty in my life. I had pretty clothes, ballet lessons five times a week, and books and toys for days. But did it feel like enough at the time? I just can't remember. I remember feeling envy sometimes, that seems perfectly human of me. But did I struggle with it? Because Alyce does, and it is eating away at her. 

Alyce is seven and generally loves everything about the world. She's shiny and bright and still skips or bounces as her primary mode of transportation. But lately she's been struggling with her second grade world. Like my family growing up, we are middle-class parents, earning enough to pay for the things we need, but not often enough to pay for all the things we might want all the times we might want them. We are an amazingly fortunate family. We eat good food, buy clothes when we need them, pay for medications when we need them, and we rent a home that is warm and comfortable. I have gratitude for miles and miles. 

Yet at school Alyce sees a world with so much more. So much. We live in a very wealthy part of Toronto and Alyce attends school with the kids of my own childhood. They take regular trips, have extra-curricular activities every night of the week, and I could go on and on about the things they have or do that we don't. I know these things because Alyce won't stop complaining about it, and of course, I see it, too. She feels very deeply that we belong to the have-nots while her friends have, have, have. Why don't we ever get to fly on a plane? she bemoans. Why don't we have stairs in our house, or a basement filled with toys? Or a trampoline or a cottage? she cries. She tells us that she hates our house. She asks me how much money we have in the bank. (One of her little friends walked into our house for the first time and asked me the same question.)

She wants things she doesn't have, no big surprise. Don't we all want things we can't have? I think these thoughts as I try to talk with her about her feelings, as we try to show her the meaning of gratitude and contentment for the things we do have. I try to channel the language of all those minimalist living blogs I read all the time, but I don't know if she hears a word we say in these moments. It wasn't until today that I realized why. 

At the end of the day I think Alyce is unhappy because she feels different, and feeling different can hurt. In a world filled with seven-year-olds trying to negotiate social status and the (unfortunate) hierarchies that develop, Alyce feels alone. She watches her friends find familiarity in the things that they share and she feels excluded. I get that. Sometimes I feel excluded when I think about other families that have more financial security, own their own home, or go on regular vacations. There are days I long for these things, too, except most days (not every day) I return to a place of gratitude for the life we have because I love it. Comparing ourselves to others is a normal human exercise, but it rarely feels good.

How do we learn to be thankful for the things we have? How do our kids learn to feel comfort and gratitude for the life they are living? (Someone please tell me.) The truth is I know what to do. I can't force Alyce to feel grateful, I can only help her to practice it a little bit every day. Each night before bed we all share one thing for which we are grateful, and sometimes Alyce contributes and sometimes she doesn't. (Shira is usually grateful for either me or candy.) We talk as a family about the different lives people live here in Toronto, that not all children attend a school like hers. Once I explained that there are children in our city who don't have enough food to have breakfast in the morning. That one seemed to sink in. 

At the end of the day all this practicing gratitude will slowly help to strengthen her, but it won't fix her feelings of being different now, and that's what so hard as her parent. I want so desperately to make her feel better today. I want to run out and buy her things and take her on airplanes. But I can't and I won't, not for these reasons. I want to let her know her feelings are normal without confirming her belief that she is always going without.

Any suggestions? 

Be well.